Squash Marmalade

 My grandmother made wonderful preserves.  One of my fondest memories is walking with her picking wild blackberries growing along side her road.  She would make the best jellies, preserves, and cobblers from those.  My cooking adventure started with learning how to make preserves and jams.

My favorite preserve to make right nowIMG_2165 is a Squash Marmalade made from Butternut Squash and oranges.  It is a bright, sweet, smooth marmalade that goes well with any type of bread (particularly well on English Muffins), as well as roasted chicken or pork.  The squash really mellows out the zest of the orange, for those who think that marmalades are too strong.

There are a few things that you will need to make any type of preserve:  A large, heavy pot, at least 5 quarts.  a medium size pot to boil the lids in while the preserves are cooking, a good thermometer that will read at least 225 degrees F, a long handled spoon for stirring, and clean, intact jars.

Here is the recipe:

10 cups cubed butternut squash (Acorn will do nicely, just more of a hassle to peal.  If you hat peeling hard squashes, delicato squashes are great!   Just remember to remove the seeds, before you start cutting these up.

6 large oranges – I use Cara Cara or Moro when available.  Navel will do as well.

1/2 cup water

Pectin – 2 packets will work well with this much.

10 cups sugar.

1 vanilla pod, split in half and the beans removed.  Reserve both parts.

IMG_2281Cut the oranges into halves, or quarters.  Very thinly, slice each section.  Place the sections into a sauce pan and add the water.  Simmer until the slices are tender10 minutes, or so.  Pour into a strainer.  Save the water, and the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the pectin and the sugar with a whisk.

Place the squash into a large heavy dutch oven.  Add the water from the oranges.  Cook this until the squash is soft.  Once soft, puree half of the mixture in a heavy duty blender.  Mash the other half with a potato masher.  Add the puree back into the pot

Stir in the sugar/pectin mixture and cook on low.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Once dissolved, add the vanilla pod and the orange slices.  Increase heat to high and bring to a hard boil.  Cook until the thermometer reads 225.  At this point, the mixture should be fairly thick.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vanilla beans, and ladle into sterilized jars.  Wipe the rims of the jars to clean any preserves that ended up there.  Cover with lids and secure.

Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Allow jars to “age” for 2 weeks in a cool, dark place.

Notes on processes:

Sterilizing jars

I sterilize my jars in the dishwasher on the strongest setting.  I also vigorously boil the lids in a pot while everything is cooking.  It is imperative that your jars be as clean as possible.  Botulism is not fun.

Water baths:

This is a further step in killing any organism that may try to grow in your preserves.  This is simply taking the finished preserves and placing them in a large pot, covering them in water and bringing this to a  rolling boil.  This does 2 things:  It drives out more air from the jar, creating a stronger vacuum.  Additionally, the steam created within the jar will further sterilize the preserves.

For more information, Food 52 has a wonderful section on preserving.  Check it out!

Better Than A Sugar Cookie! -Gooey Butter Cake Cookies

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Kevin and I participate in a cookie exchange with a group from work and this year Kevin wanted to make something simple instead of over-the-top.  We have been busy and needed something what was easy and that would taste good.  This little gem came to us from our Twitter friend @brandiego and we thought that it sounded delicious and simple; so simple that I was unsure how this cookie would stay together since there seemed to be so little flour!
I have to admit: the first batch was undercooked, so undercooked that it still tasted somewhat of raw dough and could not keep its shape when held.   We made one crucial mistake:  since we were making a double batch, we had two pans in the oven and we forgot to switch their positions halfway through the baking process!  Luckily we were able to save them by throwing them back in the oven for a few minutes.
It was a hit! I thought these were going to be a sugar cookie, but they are so much more; these are moist and buttery, sweet but not tooth-achingly so, and feel so light that before you know it, you already had your third cookie!  Our friend Peggy Steele loved them so much that when she made a batch for her kids she made them fun by adding green food coloring and called them grinch cookies!
The recipe below is a modified version of the one found at www.Dessertfortwo.com
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Serves: 1 dozen
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (adding more when needed)
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese and butter. Beat together with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 30 seconds.
  2. Slowly add the sugar to the cream cheese mixture while continuously beating. Beat the sugar into the cream cheese mixture until light and fluffy, 1 minute.
  3. Next, add the vanilla, whole egg, and egg yolk. Beat until combined.
  4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the cream cheese mixture in three increments, beating in between each addition.
  5. Chill the dough in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325-degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Have the powdered sugar ready in a shallow bowl nearby.

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8.  Scoop out a heaping tablespoon of dough, with a 1 tablespoon ice-cream scooper (you can use a bigger one or a smaller one, just adjust placement on the cookie sheet as necessary). Drop scooped dough into bowl of powdered sugar and roll the dough into the powdered sugar before placing them evenly on the baking sheet.  Make sure the dough is completely covered.

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9.   Bake for 16 minutes. Keep a close eye on these cookies–they should not brown in the oven. The top of the cookies will be puffed. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet before serving.

Tips and changes:

  • Bring the butter to near room temperature, the cream cheese needs to be close to that as well, doing this will allow the dough to mix much better.
  • I adjusted the time in the fridge because I feel that the original 30 minutes is not enough to solidify the dough, especially when you make a double batch.
  • Disregard the powdered sugar amount: just pour a lot of powdered sugar into a bowl and then scoop the dough into it and roll it around. Don’t bother rolling with your hands…it will be too tacky and besides, using an ice cream scooper will help make them all uniform.IMG_5554
  • The cookies should not be brown, they should be golden, on the other hand, the cookies should not be undercooked either!

The Kick-off and a Few Birthdays

IMG_5870While I was in Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving, Michael called me and suggested that we cook a formal sit down dinner for our friends instead of our normal tradition of a group of us going out to dinner for our birthdays.  IMG_5882Michael, Kevin and I have birthdays that come one right after another during the holidays, there are several factors during the holidays that play against our group of friends from getting together: the holidays, holiday travel, family gatherings, work IMG_5840_2gatherings, and booked restaurants!  The idea of a home cooked dinner really excited me as Michael, Kevin and I love to cook!  Michael and I quickly decided on what to make, a roast or turkey, green beans or potatoes, and (Oh my gosh!) we cannot forget about our vegetarian friends!!!  The menu was settled: Maple and Calvados Glazed Pork Crown Roast with Apple Chestnut Puree; White Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Leeks and Gruyere; Over the Top Creamed Brussels Sprouts Gratin; Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Parsley Puree; IMG_5891_2Challah Bread with Saffron, and for dessert, after much discussion, we ended up with Michael’s creation: a Maryann Cake with Caramelized Nuts and Chocolate Ganache.

We pretty much didn’t think about it any further until around early December when I realized that we should decide on a date and send out the invites before everyone’s schedules get booked up with family and holiday parties.  IMG_5879_2We agreed on January 3rd, 2015 as we wanted to get past all the holidays; I immediately sent out the invites by email.  Michael, Kevin and I also met up mid-December to discuss the details of the party.  We ironed out how many people we have to feed, if we have enough tableware and silverware, and who will cook what recipe.  Michael had a wonderful idea to have dinner out on our front deck with lights strung above and a view of the Hillsborough River from the tables.  I was worried that we couldn’t fit everyone on the deck!! IMG_5867_2

Michael would make the bread, lasagna and cake, Kevin would make the Brussels sprouts and I would make the roast. Leading up to the party, Kevin and I tried our best to remember to place an order for a sixteen rib crown roast; keep the house clean and clutter free; got our front and back decks fixed with help from my In-Laws; and cleaned up the yards as much as we could.IMG_5852_2

I have to add, there was a little bit of confusion after I placed the order for the crown roast.  IMG_5837_2I told the butcher that I would pick up the meat on Friday, January 3, 2015, but I suppose with all the holiday orders they thought I wanted it on Christmas eve! Imagine my surprise when I was at a Christmas service and I got a phone call telling me my roast was ready!  It wasn’t an issue, but it caused a lot of worry when I got another phone call on December 29th asking about the roast.

The day before the dinner we spent shopping for all the ingredients that we needed and I crossed my fingers about the crown roast.  IMG_5836 This was an all-day affair that took us on a personal tour of Tampa, from vegetables at Sanwa, to Cacciatore Brothers for the roast, to Cheese Please, and a small wild goose chase for gruyere.  We also stopped by The Taco Bus for lunch since all the focus on food was making us ravenous.  I must emphasize how important a step it was that when you plan for a party of this size, you must read the recipe beforehand and create an ingredient list for when you go shopping.  IMG_5835_2This made our shopping more efficient and quick!

No turning back now! We got back to the Riverhouse (mine and Kevin’s place) to divvy up our grocery items and do one last check to make sure we have everything we needed to make the food. Michael had brought over a table so we arranged the tables that evening to make sure we can indeed sit 16 people and we didIMG_5866 a quick inventory of chairs.  We also discussed the timing of the food since more than one item required the oven and we wanted everything to come out hot or warm and we had one last discussion on decorations.

The day of the party, Kevin prepared the Brussels sprouts in the morning, and set it aside.  Michael came over with the lasagna and cake that he had made the night previous and he quicklIMG_5857_2y made the nuts and chocolate ganache.  The meat was then removed from the fridge, seasoned, and allowed to marinate and come to room temperature.  Afterward, Michael and Kevin braided the Challah dough (after a brief braiding lesson).  While the dough was rising, we decided to grill the challah bread, as we did not have enough room in the oven.  The meat was in the oven at 2 o’clock to be removed by 6, at which point the oven temperature will be lowered and the lasagna and Brussels sprouts gratin can warm up by IMG_22266:30 for dinner.  Kevin then prepared the cheese appetizer trays and both he and Michael put the finishing touches on the tables (Kevin had a great idea to use folded paper cranes as place settings). Michael’s partner, Mark, brought flowers and arranged them with some bright pink bougainvillea cuttings from the back yard.  Everything was ready.

Guests started IMG_2230arriving, and we could not have asked for a better night!  The evening was a perfect 75 degrees with no humidity for a great dinner with friends, lights had been strung amongst the live oak’s limbs in our front yard, candles were lit, the chimnea was stoked, and dinner would be surrounded by a warm and magical glow.  This was the perfect setting for the kick off dinner of this site, and our birthdays!  All the recipes in this post can be found at the “Recent Recipes” tab.

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