It’s Fall! Let’s Make Vegetable Beef Soup!

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you get neither. C.S. Lewis

Just last Thursday we saw temps in the high 90s with humidity to match. Last night it was so cold we had to turn the fan off, and I woke up with a dog sleeping under the covers at the end of the bed. Though I thoroughly dread the coming winter (it’s just the snow and bitter cold I dislike) there is something about fall that is so glorious and breathtaking – when the sky turns that deep bright blue, and the trees are dressed in dazzling fall colors.  Such a treat for the eyes!  And then there’s the cool nights – I adore piling the bed with warm blankets and flannel sheets, and sleeping with the window wide open to let in the cool air.  Actually, we turn the heat down to 55° at night in the winter – I’ve been known to sleep in sweats with a knit hat – some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten is when I’m totally bundled up and the temperature in the house is super cold.

I’m a big fan of the author Bill Bryson.  In The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (one of his many incredible books) he writes a story about visiting his grandparents during an Iowa winter.  Iowa winters closely mirror Minnesota winters, so I got a huge kick out of his story.  He writes that his grandparents all but turned the heat off at night, and that the coldest room in the winter was the sleeping porch:

The sleeping porch was a slightly rickety, loosely enclosed porch on the back of the house that was only notionally separate from the outside world. It contained an ancient sagging bed that my grandfather slept in in the summer when the house was uncomfortably warm. But sometimes in the winter when the house was full of guests it was pressed into service, too.

The only heat in the sleeping porch was that of any human being who happened to be out there. It couldn’t have been more than one or two degrees warmer than the world outside – and outside was perishing. So to sleep on the sleeping porch required preparation. First, you put on long underwear, pajamas, jeans, a sweatshirt, your grandfather’s old cardigan and bathrobe, two pairs of woolen socks on your feet and another on your hands, and a hat with earflaps tied beneath the chin. Then you climbed into bed and were immediately covered with a dozen bed blankets, three horse blankets, all the household overcoats, a canvas tarpaulin, and a piece of old carpet. I’m not sure that they didn’t lay an old wardrobe on top of that, just to hold everything down. It was like sleeping under a dead horse. For the first minute or so it was unimaginably cold, shockingly cold, but gradually your body heat seeped in and you became warm and happy in a way you would not have believed possible only a minute or two before. It was bliss.

He goes on to describe the folly of any movement, which let the cold back in; and to tell how he remembers sleeping on the porch in the cold and silence of winter as wonderfully serene and peaceful. I absolutely implore you to READ THIS BOOK. Or really, anything by Bill Bryson – if you’ve never read his books, you are in for such a treat.  He is at once erudite and charmingly humble and self-deprecating.  His books are a treasure and you can read them again and again.  I think the thing I love best about Bryson’s writing is that I am learning so much while I laugh myself silly.

Anyway, every year when the weather turns cold, I start to think about big vats of soup, and chili and spaghetti sauce and…need I go on?  I like to make great big batches of the stuff and freeze it.  That way, when we come home on a dark winter’s night, we can pull out a packet of something yummy and have a hot and filling meal in a twinkling.  It’s also a great lunch to bring to work.

So today I made vegetable beef soup.  I’ve been making this soup for about 30 years now, and I still love it.  I don’t really have a recipe for it, so I had to concentrate on keeping track of how much of everything I used.  But, the beauty of soup is that you can easily amend the recipe to fit your own taste buds.  So use this as a jumping off point, and add whatever sounds good to you.  I’ve also always made dumplings for this soup, and I know there are a ton of recipes for dumplings out there.  I’ll show you how I make them, but you don’t have to make them, or you can use your favorite recipe.  I learned this dumpling recipe from my mom, and they are heavy and filling, definitely not light and fluffy.  But we love ’em!

 

Probably it’s important to put some veggies in vegetable beef soup? Today I used all these. Sometimes I add parsnips, too. I forgot to put the tomatoes in the picture, but I’ll use those too.

I don’t add salt to my soup, at least not until I’m ready to eat a bowl of it. I think the salt loses it’s flavor if you add it early on, maybe gets too incorporated.  The result is salty soup that may not taste salty. I also try to use low sodium beef stock or beef broth, and had some of each for this batch. I add garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil and bay leaves.  I like to add barley – love the extra “something” it adds to the soup.

 

Yep, and we need beef for vegetable beef soup.  I also add flour (I know, sounds odd), and I’ll show you what I like to do with it a couple of photos from now.

Now, I think the beef stew sized chunks are too big for soup, but you may disagree. I cut each piece into about thirds.

Get out a big, heavy bottomed stockpot. This one is a 12 quart, and it will be full when I’m finished!

Heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the pan over medium high heat.  You could use butter or vegetable oil if you prefer.  I used to use butter, but I really like the taste of olive oil.  It’s your choice.

Put some flour in a pan or on a plate.  I like to use my old metal pie tin.  I probably put about 1/2 cup of flour, and a liberal amount of pepper (about 1-1/2 teaspoons).

 Mix up the pepper and flour and start putting small handfuls of the cubed meat in the flour.

Roll the meat around in the flour mixture, and then rub it briskly between your palms.  This will leave a very light coating on the meat.  Put the meat in the stockpot to brown.

Dice the carrots, celery and onions, and add them to the pot once the meat starts to brown nicely.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the veggies start to get tender and the onions are translucent.

  Chop up some yummy garden tomatoes if you have them, or use some canned diced tomatoes. Or both if you like.  If you use canned diced tomatoes, don’t drain them – add the juice, too.

 

Chop up a bunch of cabbage.  I used about 3/4 of a head.

Add the beef stock (about 10 cups), tomatoes, cabbage, rosemary, thyme, basil, bay leaves, and crushed garlic.  Add about 8 cups of water.  Now add about 1 cup of barley. Make sure to crush the rosemary, thyme and basil before adding to release the essential oils. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 2 hours.

 

 In the meantime, dice the potatoes.  I prefer red potatoes, because they kind of dissolve into the soup.  But you can use russets or whatever kind toots your horn.  I peeled them, but you wouldn’t have to.  This batch used about 6 medium sized potatoes. When the soup’s been simmering for about an hour and 40 minutes, drop in the potatoes and the peas.  I used two 12 ounce bags of peas, again, you can use more or less depending on your particular taste.

At this point, you can have a splendid bowl of filling and delicious soup, or…

You can also make some dumplings.  Start with some eggs.

Beat ’em up a little.

Add some flour and salt (about a teaspoon) and stir it in.

Keep adding flour a little at a time, and stirring it in.  You want to get the dough to the point where it is so stiff you can’t really stir it anymore.

Now add in some milk.  Just enough to get the dough back to a less sticky state.  Don’t ask me why.  This is how my mama does it and they always turn out to be delish!

It’ll look something like this.

Transfer some of the hot soup to a smaller pot.  I do this because the dumplings don’t freeze well – they get, well, mooshy. So I transfer enough for a couple of days worth of meals to a smaller pot, bring it to a boil and make the dumplings in there.  The rest of the soup gets frozen for later.

Drop the dumpling dough by heaping teaspoonfuls into the hot soup. They’ll sink right to the bottom. Cover it and let them simmer for 10 minutes or so.

It’s magic!!

Ah, that’s the ticket.  This is MY bowl of soup. Yum. That’s all I gots to say.

Vegetable Beef Soup (makes about 12 quarts):

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds high quality beef stew meat, cut into bite size pieces.
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground pepper (or to taste)
  • Olive oil, or oil of choice
  • 2 small bunches fresh carrots, washed and diced
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 10 cups beef stock or beef broth
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon each of dried rosemary, thyme and basil, crushed
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced (use all juice and seeds)
  • 2 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes (note: may use all canned or all fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 cup medium barley (not quick barley)
  • 3/4 head of cabbage, chopped
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 – 12 ounce bags frozen peas
  • 4 eggs
  • Approximately 1 cup flour (use more or less as needed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12 quart stockpot. Heat on medium high.

Put about 1/2 cup flour in a pie tin or a shallow plate.  Mix in about 1-1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Roll the meat in small handfuls in the flour mixture and rub it between your palms to get a very thin coating of flour on the meat.

Brown the meat in the stockpot until partially browned.  Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the carrots and celery are tender crisp and the onions are translucent.

Add the beef stock/broth, water, spices, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and barley. Bring to a boil. Then turn down to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours.  The meat will get very tender.

About 20 minutes before the soup is done, add the peas and the potatoes. You may have to turn up the heat again to get the soup simmering.

At this point you can eat the soup, or make dumplings.  If you decide to make dumplings, take a few meals worth of the soup out and put it in a 4 quart saucepan.  You will likely want to freeze most of the soup for later, and the dumplings don’t freeze well.  So I just make enough for the soup that will be eaten in the the next couple of days.

To make the dumplings, lightly beat 4 eggs  in a medium sized bowl.  Start by adding flour (start with about 3/4 cup) and about 1 teaspoon salt and mix well.  Keep adding flour until the mixture is so thick you can barely get the fork through it.  At this point start adding a little milk at a time until the mixture is stiff but you are able to mix it easily.

Drop it by heaping teaspoonfuls into boiling the boiling soup.  The dough will sink to the bottom at first.  After you have all the dough in the pan, cover it and turn it down to a simmer for about 10 minutes.  When you take the cover off, you’ll the dumplings will simply be bursting out at the top of the pan.  Serve one or two with  each bowl of soup.  If you want to jazz the dumplings up a little, add some thyme, rosemary or basil to the dough before cooking.

This soup freezes beautifully (sans the dumplings, of course!).

Romesco Romesco Wherefore Art Thou?

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I am helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me. C.S. Lewis

One day at work I looked up and realized it was 11:30 AM. Not an unusual discovery, nor even odd.  I often look up at work and realize it’s 11:30 AM.  I have a Pavlovian reaction to that time of day – it’s when I eat lunch. What was unusual was that I had forgotten my lunch at home.  Bummer.  Okay, so what to eat?  We have lots of restaurants around, but nothing sounded good to me.  We even have a pretty nice restaurant in the building.  But still, nothing clicked.  Plus, it was an amazing weather day so I decided to go for a drive to see if anything called my name. 

As soon as I got in my car I remembered this amazing little deli called D’Amico.  It’s a little further away than I usually go, but they have great salads, soups and sandwiches. Once I got there I spotted this lovely salad made up of cold tender-crisp vegetables and garbanzo beans.  Very fresh, very enticing. So I asked for a serving and the guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted some of the sauce sitting next to it on my salad.  It looked like regular red sauce, which frankly, didn’t hold a lot appeal for me for topping a veggie salad, but I decided to try some anyway.  Needless to say, I nearly swooned when I tasted it.  I practically licked the container to get every last tasty bit. And I didn’t even care that for the rest of the day I was breathing the hot breath of death by garlic to every unsuspecting co-worker who happened by me that day.

Of course, I didn’t know it was called Romesco sauce, but I immediately went on line and looked at D’Amico’s Web page, found the description for the salad, and wrote “Romesco” on my hand.  When I got home that night, I was obsessed with researching this yummy concocotion.  And what I found is that it is mostly made of garlic.  Just kidding.  There is a lot of garlic in it, however.  I think it’s sort of the Latin version of Skordalia, the Greek garlic spread (which is just as lucious, by the way).  Frankly, as much as I love garlic I’m pretty disappointed in myself for just now discovering Romesco.  Which could also be called Red Nectar.  Apparently it’s sort of the ketchup of Spain.  The best thing about it is you can add different ingredients to it to slightly change the flavor – like mint, fennel, peppers, hot peppers, wine, bread, etc.  What I found is that the most common ingredients are filberts (hazelnuts), almonds, tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper, olive oil, salt, and vinegar.  So that’s how I made mine. I found a wonderful recipe here: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/romesco_sauce.aspx which I altered just a bit.

Here we have ground almonds, filberts, salt, yummy olive oil (this one is very fruity), tomatoes, GARLIC, red wine vinegar, pepper, an ancho chili, some bread, and some dry red wine.

Preheat oven to 350°. Core the tomatoes and place them on a pan for roasting.  Drizzle some olive oil in the center of the tomato.  Bake them for about 1-1/2 hours.

 

Chop the top off of a head of garlic.  Now smell it.  Take a bite if you want!

After you’re done playing with it, put it on a piece of tinfoil, and drizzle it with oil.  Now wrap it up really tight and put it in the oven with the tomatoes.  You’ll leave it in for about 35 minutes.

Here’s how it looks after it’s roasted.  At this point you may have to physically restrain yourself from spreading it on a cracker and eating it right now.

Squeeze all this yumminess out of the skin and put it in your food processor or blender.

When the tomatoes are done, let them cool for a bit and then pull the skins off so you just have the meaty insides. Put these in with the roasted garlic. Leave the oven on.  Please accept my apologies for my complete inability to photograph anything red so that it looks remotely nice.  I will get it eventually, but…

Roast some filberts for about 10 minutes or so. Give them a shake every once in awhile. When they’re done, let them cool for about 30 minutes or so. 

Now toast the almonds.  I know this doesn’t look like toasted almonds.  I have a bag of blanched almond “flour” which is just finely ground almonds.  But they taste so much better if they’re toasted! Be careful, ground almonds will burn much more easily than whole ones.  I put them in the oven for about 7 minutes and stir every few minutes. When done, put them in the food processor. Alternatively, use whole blanched almonds and toast for about 10 to 15 minutes, and add them to the food processor.

Cut the ancho chili open and flatten it out.

 

 Take all the seeds out, and get rid of the stem.

Roast this in a frying pan over medium high heat, and press it down with a spatula.  Should take about 10 to 15 seconds on each side.

Now put it in a cup of warm water, weigh it down with a spoon, and let it soak for about 15 minutes to get nice and soft.  Discard the water, and put the chili in the food processor with the tomatoes and garlic and almonds.

Now it’s time to peel the filberts.  Put them in a clean towel…

Wrap the towel around the filberts and vigorously rub the nuts together through the towel.

All peeled!

So we have the chili, the almonds, the hazelnuts, the tomatoes, and the garlic. Add in the red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Slowly pour the olive oil into the food processor in a thin stream while the food processor is running.  It should be spreadable, but not really thick. If it’s too thin, you can add some stale bread crumbs.  Too thick?  A little red wine.  Now, if you want this super garlicky, you can add some fresh garlic cloves the mix.

I discovered it’s wonderful on bread! Seriously wonderful. 

Makes about 7 ounces.  Keep this in the fridge.  Eat it on things like veggies, pasta, meats or just with spoon.  You should make this as soon as possible.  It is loverly.

Romesco Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 garlic bulb, roasted
  • 4 or 5 medium tomatoes, roasted
  • 1/3 cup olive oil plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/3 cup filberts, toasted and peeled
  • 1/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds, toasted until light brown
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 dried anchoo chili
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  You will use this oven temperature for everything you roast, bake or toast.
  2. Core the tomatoes, drizzle the cores with olive oil,  and roast for about 90 minutes.  Let cool, and remove skins. Place in the bowl of a food processor or a blender.
  3. Cut the anchoo chili open, spread it flat, and remove the seeds and stem.  Press into a frying pan over medium high heat to roast – 10 to 15 seconds on each site.  Put into a cup of warm water and weigh down with a spoon.  Let it soak for about 15 minutes until soft, take it out of the water, and add it to food processor.
  4. Cut the top off a bulb of garlic.  Place on a piece of tin foil, and drizzle the top with olive oil.  Wrap in tin foil and bake for 35 minutes.  Let cool, and press garlic out of skins.  Add to the food processor.
  5. Toast the ground almonds for about 8 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes.  Alternatively, toast whole blanched almonds, let cool, and add to food processor.
  6. Toast the filberts for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Place on a clean towel and let cool for about 30 minutes.  When cool, twist the towel around and rub the nuts together through the towel. This will remove the skins!  Put the skinned filberts into the food processor.
  7. Add the red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to the food processor. Put the lid on, and start the motor.  While it’s running, add the vinegar in a thin stream until well combined. If it’s too thin, you can add some dried bread crumbs to thicken it up.  Too thick?  Add a tablespoon at a time of dry red wine until it’s the desired thickness.

 

 

Keen on Quinoa

“I tell you the truth. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you”. Matthew 17:20

Yesterday I spent the day with two dear friends, Kim and Jen.  We had a blast going to garage sales and antique stores and lunch; and of course ended the day with a big old ice cream cone from this fabulous little Mom and Pop ice cream store called “Nelson’s” in Stillwater, Minnesota. These two girls are so much fun – intelligent, kind, encouraging and also a couple of goofballs.  It’s amazing.  Toward the end of the day we regrouped at Jen’s house and sat out on the deck and laughed and talked for a long time.  It was a terrific way to spend the day, and to top it off, I found a gorgeous plate at an estate sale for two bucks! 

It was crazy hot yesterday but even hotter this morning. Whew. The glass on the doors and window of the house and car are running with moisture – I believe the dew point or humidity today was close to 80%. Now I really know what the term “hot mess” means although, actually, sweaty Betty is probably more apropos to how I’m feeling.  We are so blessed to have air conditioning.

Sometimes Kim lets her little dog Twiggy stay with us.  Twiggy is part terrier and part whippet or greyhound and she is the funniest dog. She’s like a supermodel in the dog world.  All muscle and gleaming fur, with bright white teeth and shiny button eyes. And can she jump, holy cats.  My two dogs love the Twiglet, and my husband adores her.

Note the size difference between my “little” dog, Keats, and Miss Twiggy.  My other dog, Lou, is about half again as big as Keats (about 65 pounds vs Keats at 40 pounds), but when Twig tells Lou to jump, his first question is “How high?”.  Twiggy also has perfect pitch.  A police car went by one day while she was visiting, and the siren was going.  That little girl stuck her nose in the air and howled right along with it – a PERFECT imitation.  I almost fell off the chair laughing.  And of course the windows were all open that day, which I completely forgot about later on when I was howling at the top of my lungs trying to get Twigs to give a repeat performance.  She just shook her head sadly and walked away. So did my neighbor who happened to be out watering her flowers.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that most all Sunday afternoons are reserved for Dinner and Dominoes with my Uncle Dave.  Luckily he was inclined to come over here today (he’s such a good guy), because I truly wasn’t able to go out in this heat and survive. In the summer I really crave salady (I know that’s not a real word but I like it anyway) stuff, and being with Jen yesterday reminded me of this fab salad her husband makes.  I was able to score the recipe from Jen a while ago, and it turned out to be the perfect hot summer day salad. 

The main ingredient is called quinoa. It looks like it should be pronounced “kin-no-ah”, but it is actually pronounced keen-wah, emphasis on the “keen”.  And it is a pretty keen food. It’s not a true grain – it’s related to the beet family (thank you so much, Wikipedia!).  It’s a really great source of protein – very filling, and unlike a lot of foods that are good for you, it is quite tasty. It comes in several different varieties – I’ve tried white and red and find that I like the taste of the red best. You can eat it hot, cold or room temp (one caveat, you do need to cook it first or it really gets stuck in your teeth), and the texture reminds me of cous cous (love cous cous), but it’s a healthier food choice.

Here’s almost everything you’ll need except mint and garlic (Jim had to run to the store to get me some fresh mint and I just dorked out on the garlic)

Here’s some red quinoa.  Teensy little round seeds.

Here it is wet. “Why wet?” you may ask.  Or maybe not.  But it is important to rinse it well before cooking.  It’s coated with a natural substance called saponins which are awful tasting.  This keeps birds and animals from eating it while it’s growing.  It would likely keep humans from eating it as well (except for humans who can gag down wheat grass) if we couldn’t just wash it off.  So I just put it in a colander and run it under cold water for a couple of minutes.  It’ll foam up a little at first – probably the saponins protesting.

Put it in a nice heavy pan with water – use a ratio of 2 to 1 – 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa.  Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cap it.  I’d start checking it at about 10 minutes, and it shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes.  It will absorb all the water and the germ will release from the seed (it’s a little white curvy piece). I think quinoa is really pretty, both cooked and uncooked. If you happen to have a rice cooker, you can cook it the same way you’d cook rice.

After the cooked quinoa is cooled (say that 10 times fast!), mince some red or purple onion (I bet shallots would be awesome) mint and cilantro,  and dice some red pepper, and cucumber.

Mix all the veggies and herbs into the cooled cilantro. Now mix up the dressing – red wine vinegar, minced garlic (yum!), olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Mix this into the salad and either serve immediately or chill until you’re ready to eat.  This is a great vegetarian meal as well.

Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups quinoa
  • 1/2 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons diced red onion (I use a bit more)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 Directions:

  1. Mix cooked and cooled quinoa and all veggies and herbs together in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Mix olive oil, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.  Whisk briskly to combine, and pour over quinoa.  Stir thoroughly.  Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for later use.

 


Getting Pickled

I love stuff that’s pickled. Tangy and salty and crispy. Mmmmm. When I was younger I occasionally got pickled myself, but I’m older and wiser now. Wait – there is a caveat – I like pickled vegetables and sometimes pickled eggs, but no pickled meat stuff (ewww). And if you’ve never had pickled green olives stuffed with garlic, then get your little tushy over to Trader Joe’s.  Best ones I’ve ever had and they are a real bargain!

My husband has a green thumb and graces our table every year with the bounty from his garden.  He cans tomato juice every year and I have to tell you, opening a jar of his homemade tomato juice in the middle of winter – oh my, it’s simply beautiful – like liquid sunshine. I’ve never done any canning though I have thought about it.  In fact, I’m going do pickled green beans one of these days.

But for now, I had a hankering for refrigerator pickles – also called ice box pickles I think.   Just good old fashioned treats – try them on sloppy joes – adds a nice tangy crunch.  They’re easy peasy and oh so good. Usually I make them in one big bucket, but today I decided to make them in canning jars just for fun. These isn’t canning in the traditional sense of the word (cooked and then vacuum sealed) but instead I just thought they’d look pretty in some canning jars.  They have to stay in the fridge – they’ll go bad if you leave them out.

The best part is that you can eat them as soon as they get nice and cold, but they will also keep for quite awhile in the fridge.

You need canning salts, vinegar, mustard seed, turmeric and celery seed. Whoops!  Forgot the sugar, but you need that too.

Cut up some cukes – about 6 medium size.

Put them in a big bowl (I used a big pot instead) and slice up an onion, too. Add some canning salt and let it sit.

In a heavy saucepan, mix the vinegar, sugar, turmeric, mustard seed and celery salt.  Cook over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves, then take it off the heat and let it cool.

Divide the pickle and onion mixture into canning jars. Or leave them in the big bowl.

So Pretty!

Divide the vinegar mixture evenly amongst the jars, and seal them.  Put them in the refrigerator and let them get really nice and cold. Then eat them for lunch!

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium cucumbers, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup canning salt
  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed 
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

Directions:

  1. Mix the cucumbers and onions together in a big bowl.
  2. Add the salt and mix well.  Let sit.
  3. Mix together the vinegar, sugar, turmeric, mustard seed, and celery seed in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until just until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and let cool for at least 30 minutes.
  4. If using canning jars, divide and pack cucumbers into jars – to about 1/2 from the top. Pour excess juice into the vinegar mixture.
  5. Fill each jar to the top with the vinegar mixture, or if using a bowl, pour into the bowl.
  6. Keep refrigerated.

 

Raspberry Salad with Sugared Walnuts and Blue Cheese

 The serious business of heaven is joy. C.S. Lewis

Oh boy, do I love raspberries! Little red jewels of flavor. They’re so delicate and so pretty!  Isn’t it fun to eat pretty food? And so versatile – amazingly good either in a sweet or savory dish. 

Many years ago I had a wonderful salad at one of our local restaurants, and this is my version of that salad.

First we need a really good raspberry vinaigrette.  I found a great recipe on All Recipes from a lovely lady named Valerie Jordan.  I changed it just slightly because it was a tad too tart for my tastes (raging sweet tooth here) – so start with a little less sugar and taste as you go to make exactly the way you like.

Simple lovely ingredients make up this delicious dressing.  Mix them together – put them in a jar and shake shake shake. I like to make this a day or two ahead of time because the flavors have tme to meld.  Also, you can substitute a different mustard to give it a slightly different flavor.

Now some caramelized onions – a perfect addition for this salad.  And so easy to make. 

Get an onion and some butter.

Slice the onion into fairly thin slices.

Melt some butter in a frying pan.

Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium low or low.  You want to cook these babies very slowly for a long time.  I’d say 30 to 40 minutes.

Get out a few more ingredients (I like them all close to room temperature except for the spinach).

While the onions are cooking, we’ll make some sugared walnuts.  Line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil (I love this stuff!). Put the walnuts in a frying pan and turn the heat to medium high.

Add a nice amount of sugar…

And a little bit of water…

 

And stir it up.

Give the onions an occasional stir.  They should be starting to turn a light brown.  Remember to keep the heat low so they don’t burn.

The water in the walnuts should be starting to evaporate.  At this point keep stirring and turn the heat down a little if you need to.  You’ll see the sugar start to melt and carmelize to some extent.  And this smells heavenly because you’re toasting the walnuts so you get the rich walnut smell and the yummy sugar fragrance.

When most of the liquid is gone and the sugar is melted, take them off the heat…

 

…and spread them out on your non-stick foil or parchment paper. Whack ’em a little with your wooden spoon to separate them. Just let them cool (a word to the wise – DO NOT TASTE NOW – the sugar will stick to your tongue and burn it – somebody else told me that – I didn’t have to find out the hard way *I am such a liar*). When they are cool, hide them, they’re wonderful on their own and you need to save them for the salad!  Trust me!

When your onions look like this, take them off the heat and let them cool down.  You’ll want them room temperature. 

Now get out the spinach and some plates.  We’re making a salad! A spectacular fabulous salad!

Some pretty green baby spinach (or whatever you like)…

Some sugared walnuts…

Some caramelized onions…

Some gorgeous ripe red raspberries and yummy Gorgonzola cheese…

And finally, some of our wonderful raspberry vinaigrette. This is such a fresh tasty salad. I like to serve this with beef tenderloin or other heavier meals, because it complements the meal perfectly. It’s also great as a stand alone treat.

Here are the recipes you little chickadees!

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or mustard of your choice)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and shake well before using. Making it a day or two ahead of time allows the flavors to develop, but it is very good immediately as well.

Carmelized Onions

  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 1 quarter stick of butter

Directions:

  1. Slice the onion into thin slices.
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat.
  3. Add the slice onion and stir well to coat with butter.
  4. Continue cooking over low or medium low heat, letting the onions slowly turn brown.  This will take 30 to 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
  5. They will be a beautiful caramel color when done, and you can eat them warm, cold, or at room temperature.

Sugared Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 -1/4 cup whole or halved walnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water

Directions:

  1. Place a piece of non-stick foil or parchment paper on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
  2. Place walnuts in a frying pan over medium to medium high heat.
  3. Add sugar and water and stir to combine.
  4. Stir frequently until the water starts to boil and the sugar begins to melt.
  5. Turn heat to medium or medium low and stir as the water evaporates and the sugar begins to caramelize – it will stick to the walnuts.
  6. When the water is evaporated transfer the walnuts to the prepared pan and break up with the spoon.  Let cool completely.
  7. These can be chopped into smaller pieces if desired.

Raspberry Salad with Sugared Walnuts and Blue Cheese

Ingredients:

  • Baby spinach leaves or greens of your choice
  • Sugared walnuts
  • Caramelized onions
  • Crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • Ripe raspberries
  • Raspberry vinaigrette

Directions:

Layer all ingredients as desired. I like to try to make sure I have about the same amount of raspberries, onions and walnuts so I can get a bit of each in every bite.