Man oh man! It’s been a while since I’ve been here, even longer since I shared a recipe with y’all. There’s a lot going on in Darla-Land right now. (AKA Dar La-La land) I cannot even begin to tell you about it- so I won’t. I’ll tell you later, in another post when everything seems more real to me. For now, I want to talk about dogs. Of course! Of course, I want to talk about dogs because dogs are what I’ve been doing. I know I said I wasn’t going talk about what’s going on and I’m not, but I will tell you all four of them are a big part of it.
With that said, this needs to be said, “dogs need stuff to do when we are gone.”
Three of my guys are just under one year old- trust me…
What do experienced dog owners say? “Get a Kong! Get a Kong!” I think most dog owners are familiar with the big hollow red rubber toy known as KONG. For every dog I’ve ever wanted to make happy I have bought a Kong. I’ve always heard how great they were and how much dogs loved them. The idea is to fill it full of nice things that the dog will like and it will keep the dog entertained and out of trouble for hours. Indeed, if I smeared peanut butter on it and put some treats in it– it would keep my dog occupied for as long as it took them to eat the treats and lick the peanut butter. The longest it ever took? 10 minutes. And that’s an exaggeration! So the Kong became another toy that rolled under the couch no one bothered to retrieve because after 10 minutes it was a “tasteless rubber thing.” Great. $10. Wasted.
(cue the angel chorus)
And then a miracle happened. (Have you noticed that the theme in many of my blog posts are about miraculous food revelations?) While surfing the Interwebs I came across a discussion regarding this exact KONG issue. Someone mentioned if you freeze the big rubber plug with the good stuff in it it will last much longer.
Fill and FREEZE?
OH! OF-FRIGGIN-COURSE! GENIUS!
Friends, if you love a dog and you own a Kong go get it out from underneath the couch and throw it in the top rack of the dishwasher. While it’s washing make these:
2 large bananas
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt Greek or regular
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter (or any other nut butter your dog prefers
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
1 small apple, or berries or other dog approved fruits
frozen carrots or your dog’s favorite vegetables
your choice of dog treats (the number and size of which will depend on the size of your Kong toy)
Mash one of the bananas and put it into a medium-size bowl. Add the yogurt, sunflower seed butter, the vanilla extract and cinnamon. Mix this with a fork or whisk until it’s smooth. You might need to add a little warm water to bring it to the consistency of a thick milkshake. Set aside.
Slice the remaining banana. Wash the apple and chop it into appropriate size pieces for your Kong treat.
**Notice here that your big rubber Kong has a large hole in one end and a small hole in the other end. We need to plug the small hole so your wonderful banana mixture doesn’t run out.***
Take a piece of apple and smash it into the small hole from the outside. You’re actually creating a plug inside the Kong. Once you’ve smashed some of the apple into the small hole and plugged the hole (look and make certain it is plugged) toss that left over smashed piece of apple into the big hole of your Kong.
Add some banana slices, more apple pieces some berries or some sliced frozen carrots- whatever fruit and veggies your dogs like. I like to break up a few of the hypoallergenic dog treat from the vet and stick them in there. Sometimes I put some kibble inside, you could also use dry cereal if your dog is not allergic. If you feed raw you could use pieces of raw meat or your fancy frozen raw food. I think you get the idea, whatever your dog likes as treats stuff them in there! You don’t want to pack them too tight because the next step is very important.
Once you have your Kong toy stuffed with goodies you need to spoon the banana-yogurt- nut butter mixture inside. To do this successfully you need to stand it on its end with the small side down. (Please remember to plug the toy before you began to fill it with the liquid.) I stress this point because I know someone who happened upon this very important point in the R&D department for this very blog) If you’re making only one Kong you can stand it inside of a glass or coffee cup to fill and freeze. I’m usually making several at once so I have a few days worth to hand out so I stand mine a few at a time in a loaf pan or a shallow bowl. It is important to make sure that the toy does not fall over.
Use a spoon and fill the Kong with the delicious banana liquid mixture.
Here’s the key, stick it in the freezer. Yep. That’s it! Freeze that thing! I freeze mine overnight but probably three or four hours would be plenty. Once it’s frozen it lasts forever. Your dog will lick this and stick his tongue in there to get out the frozen deliciousness for a very long time. You will be happy because you can do things like shop, or bathe or read! It is a glorious quiet miracle waiting in the freezer!
More than likely you’re going to have leftover banana mixture as well as leftover chopped up fruit. PERFECT! Use the leftovers to make a few frozen tart treats. I have a heart-shaped silicone baking pan that I picked up at Target last year for a dollar at Valentine’s Day. I used this silicone tray to make my little frozen tart dog treats and it worked perfectly. Here’s what I did:
Tarts of Ice
Place the chopped up apples, berries, carrots, kibble, sliced bananas or peaches and dog treats you had left over in a silicone cupcake mold, a muffin tin or a regular ice-cube tray. The more items you use the less liquid you will need. Also keep in mind if you use too many extras your tarts won’t hold up to chewing as long. It’s the ice – the liquid – that soaks into the fruit as well as the kibble and then freezes that makes these treats long-lasting.
Add enough warm water to the banana yogurt sunflower seed butter mixture you have left over in the bowl to fill as many ice-cube molds as you intend to use. You can always add a little bit more yogurt or sunflower seed butter or water if you need to. You’re going to do this simply by sight not by measurement. Mine is usually pretty dilute. Your dog is going to love this.
Pour the liquid over the fruits leaving a quarter-inch space at the top of the mould. Place these in the freezer until frozen solid. Once they’re frozen pop them out of the mould by running warm water along the bottom if necessary and store them in a Ziploc bag in your freezer. I find these smaller treats fun for any time OUTSIDE or on an easily cleaned surface such as my kitchen floor. I only give my guys the big Queen Kong toy treats if I’m crating them or if I need them occupied for a couple of hours while I’m working at home.
Have fun making these beautiful delicious treats and Kongs for your babies AND feel better about having a little alone time.
As I’ve mentioned before, I cook a lot of chicken for dinner. My friend Lana teases me about it constantly, she says every time she calls I’m cooking chicken. That’s probably true. Sometimes I like to mix it up and do a little spatchcocked chicken in the oven. Spatchcocking is just as easy as it is fun to say it. Spatchcock! Spatchcock! Spatchcock! tee hee! All this is an easy way to roast chicken that helps it to cook faster. Basically you just take your poultry shears and cut the backbone out of a whole chicken. Once the backbone is out push down on the chicken to break the breastbone. Because more of the surface of the chicken is in contact with the hot pan it allows the chicken to cook more evenly and quicker.
And then there’s this: I went to my local neighborhood butcher for this chicken. It was labeled “smart chicken”, I didn’t ask what that meant because I didn’t see it on the label until I got home. When I chose it, it was not weighed and labeled. Does anyone out there have a clue what a smart chicken is? My first thought is that this chicken is not too smart, he sitting in my kitchen!
Spatchcocked- Somewhat- Smart- Roast Chicken
Preheat the oven to 425°
Take a whole chicken- using your poultry shears cut on each side of the spine and remove the backbone.
Press down on the breastbone to flatten the chicken.
Brush the chicken with ghee or oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and the spices of your choice. For this recipe I used fines herbs. (Finely chopped herbs, specifically parsley, chives, tarragon, and thyme, mixed together. I also peeled a couple of large potatoes and cut them into several spears, brushing them with ghee, treating them the same way with the spices).
Place the chicken in an appropriately sized braising pan and arrange the potatoes around- it put the lid on and cook at 425° for 45 minutes or so.
Carefully remove the lid and place the chicken back in the oven for another 30 minutes or more/ less depending on how big the chicken is.
Use your thermometer to bring the chicken to the proper temperature, check both of the thigh and the breast. If the chicken is cooking faster than it is browning- increase the heat of the oven to broil and allow the chicken to sit underneath the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp the skin. (Keep an eye on it! You can overcook here very quickly) YUMMM! Easy chicken.
This is the barbecue of my childhood. I don’t recall the first time I ever had grilled meat. I must have been in my teens. We didn’t grill. Maybe when we went camping once, but we weren’t campers either. But I digress, THIS is pure home-cooking barbecue. Those are country-style pork ribs (barbecued) and mashed taters with the skins on. (That’s right I said tater. You might know them as potatoes, but I’ve eaten just as many taters as I have potatoes… the taters are always good, I’ve had potatoes that were not.)
There’s not really a recipe, I want you to do this just like you remember Mama doing back in Tennessee.
Get out the biggest rimmed baking sheet that you have and line it with foil. Put the ribs on the pan, salt them, pepper them, sprinkle them with garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Chop an onion and put it on top of the ribs. Cover this tightly with foil and put it in a 350° oven. After 30 minutes turn it down to 325°. In about an hour take off the foil and flip the ribs. Put them back in the oven uncovered at 350°. Check on them every 15 minutes or so to make sure the pan hasn’t gone dry. If it does, add a little hot water into the pan. Only an eighth of a cup or so. After another 30 minutes or so top them with the barbecue sauce of your choice and put them back in the oven at 400 until they’re syrupy and the sauce is sticky.
The mashed potatoes are just as easy of course. Take about eight small white or yellow potatoes and quarter them. Put them in enough water to cover, add a teaspoon of salt and boil. After you can easily stick a fork through them, drain the potatoes, add a half a stick of butter and mash them by hand with a potato masher. Add about a quarter cup of heavy cream and mash them a little bit more. Salt and black pepper to taste. We’re pretty fancy in my house these days so we had raw sugar snap peas by the bowlful while we were waiting for this to cook. Mama would’ve made green beans, or if it was Sunday fried okra, or fried green tomatoes. BUT This is an easy meal for any night of the week and tastes great tomorrow too! Enjoy!
This recipe is just in time because cherries are about to be unavailable in Texas. I’m sure over on the West Coast you guys are covered up with beautiful cherries for a good part of the year, here in the South, the person who finds them first in the stores each season is given a ruby chalice, a crown and a belly ache! I always eat too many- and I always forget not to eat too many until it’s too late! Whether or not it’s easy for you to get fresh gorgeous cherries, you need to make these now because these are little miracles for the holidays.
Last summer I made a lot of jams for gifts such as peach and strawberry hibiscus but the cherry creations; bourbon cherry jam, balsamic cherry jam, brandied cherries and bourbon cocktail cherries went over like gangbusters! Everyone loved them! Apparently they were so delicious that you could eat them directly from the jar. If that’s not a ringing endorsement I’ve never heard one ring before! I function pretty well on positive reinforcement so this year I decided to make several batches of cocktail cherries and less fruit jams. I had my recipes from last year but thought that I would search around for to see what else was out there.
Cocktails are sooooo fashionable (I blame the Mad Men series) there are “new recipes” available, but basically they are same. You make simple syrup. You boil the cherries in the syrup. Remove the cherries. Boil the syrup more. Sterilize the jars, pack the jars, fill them with syrup. Process the filled jars and all that’s left to do is wait three months. That’s right. Just sit down and wait because you don’t want to have these for at least three months.
You see where I’m going here? This is August. In three months it’ll be November. And that my friends, IS the time that you’re going to want to have these cocktail cherries to offer your friends and family when they come over. Even if you don’t want to make TONS to give away as gifts you should at least make a half a dozen jars to give away as hostess gifts. Things are hectic in the holidays; this is one less thing you’ll have to do to get ready for all the fabulous parties that you’ll no doubt be attending this season.
The jars I used here are beautiful diamond cut “Ball” brands jars. They’re easy to find at Kroger, Home Depot or the feed store. They look really beautiful with the cherries inside dont you think? You also notice I left my cherries whole with the stems attached. Not only does this look pretty in the jar but also leaving the stem on makes it the classic garnish for a drink. Leaving the pit intact lends flavor to the syrup. (When I make cherry jam although I pit the cherries I also crush the pits and take out the tiny little kernel inside and use it to help flavor the jam as well as add pectin – but that’s another blog post.)
The point is these are so easy it’s crazy! There’s no prep essentially! All you have to do is rinse the cherries and make sure the stems are still fresh. When you’re ready to start packing the jars use silicone tongs to place the hot cherries in the hot jars. Don’t be afraid to use the ends of the tongs to gently squish the cherries down a bit to make room for more. Once you add the syrup the cherries will float so try to get as many in there as possible. You can see in the photograph I probably could’ve gotten a few more in there but wasn’t really sure how they would hold up and I did not want to crush them completely. Next year I’ll be a little more enthusiastic in packing them tighter. Also using a heavy-duty oven mitt to hold the hot jar with one hand while you pack the cherries in with the other hand makes it go a little faster. But hear this, this is a messy process. There’s going to be cherry syrup everywhere around your stove. And there’s also going to be quite a bit of cherry syrup left over. I would suggest putting it in a jar and keeping it in the refrigerator. It will probably last about six months in the fridge. This cherry brandy syrup can be used for everything! Crepes, ice cream, more cocktails yummm! Sort of a bonus of your not-too-hard-work! I suppose you could even put it into a pretty bottle and give it as a gift too! Why not?
2 pounds of cherries
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
½ c. lemon juice
1 whole vanilla bean
1 whole star anise
½ c. brandy* see note
Sterilize a dozen 12 or 14 ounce jars in your dishwasher. Place the jars and rings on a small rimmed sheet pan in a preheated 250° oven. Heat the jars for at least 30 minutes before filling with cherries.
Prepare your water bath canner and bring to boiling, keep the lid on. Bring your lids to a simmer on the stove.
Rinse the cherries under running cool water and pick through them looking for bruised cherries, brown stems or rot. Trim the stems if they are unattractive but try to leave as much of the stem as possible intact. Bring everything except for the brandy and the cherries to boil on the stove in a medium-size pan. Allow the mixture to simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about five minutes. Add the cherries. Bring to a simmer for about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cherries from the syrup and set aside. Add the brandy to the syrup and bring to a simmer again to intensify the flavor. Simmer for five minutes.
While the cherry syrup is simmering remove the jars from the oven pack the jars with the cherries. Pack as many as possible pressing down on the cherries to fit a few more in. Try to keep the cherries intact. Carefully ladle the hot syrup on top of the cherries. Use a wooden chopstick or skewer to remove air bubbles by gently stirring the cherries in the syrup. Add more syrup if necessary leaving 1/2 inch head space. Top off each jar with a half a teaspoon of brandy. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet cloth, place the lids and rings on the jars and process in the water bath for 20 minutes.
Remove the jars to a towel on the counter and allow them to sit undisturbed overnight. Check each jar to make sure that it has sealed properly. Wipe the jars clean, add a pretty label and put them in the closet until the holidays. If any of the jars did not seal properly replace the lid and put them in the refrigerator. They’ll be fine. Let these be your secret stash for yourself, or tell the hostess when you give them to her that they are to be used as soon as possible and kept in the refrigerator. You won’t believe the squeals of delight that you’ll hear after these have been added to someone’s old-fashioned cocktail or whiskey sour or apparently just enjoyed straight from the jar!
* you could very easily use bourbon instead of brandy in this recipe. I made both this year.
I have this fantasy that I should be able to create beautiful things effortlessly. Why? Because that’s how everyone else does it of course! Things that look effortless but aren’t really, at least not for me, perplex me. Frozen puff pastry is one good example. I’ve bought puff pastry and put it in my freezer several times and brought it out to thaw with hopes of creating delicious beautiful desserts. But I have this fear of rolling it. I keep thinking of like biscuit dough and I probably shouldn’t mess with it too much. Or if I keep rolling it I’m going to roll away the layers of puff from the dough – so I end up either being afraid or in a hurry and it just doesn’t turn out. Generally I’m usually not pleased.. But hope springs eternal- I did it again. I brought home the best puff pastry I could find at Whole Foods Market -put it in the refrigerator to thaw and got to work on some beautiful fresh peaches that I bought at the farmers market earlier.
The whole idea behind a rustic tart is its free-form easy effortless construction. Anybody can make a rustic tart right? Especially if they’re going to use pre-made pastry. I cleaned and scored the peaches. Once I dipped them in hot water they peeled easily. Freestone peaches are lovely to work with- these split in half easily and the seeds came out clean. I gave them a rough chop and threw them in a pan with some cane sugar from Mexico and a squeeze of lemon. I also mixed in a couple of tablespoons of a delicious raspberry freezer jam that I made a couple weeks ago to add some tartness. Lastly, there were a few nectarines that needed to be used up so I chopped them and gave them to the pan as well. I let the jam cook down on medium high heat for 20 minutes or so. Afterwards I put it into a bowl and slipped it into the freezer to cool down. Now for the pastry.
The whole idea behind the rustic tart is its freeform easy effortless construction. Anyone can make a rustic tart right? especially if they’re going to use pre-made pastry! I took the thawed pastry out of the packaging and unfolded on to a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. It immediately cracked. (of course!) I smooshed the cracked edges back together and rolled it out some. I feel like maybe not enough, it may have been too much frankly I don’t know. It fit into a half sheet pan. I brushed the pastry with a bit of an egg yolk mixed with water and placed the cooled peach jam in the center of the puff pastry. I brought the edges of the pastry in toward the center and cut some of the corners off. Some of the corners I tucked under. Some of the corners I just left as they were. (see what i mean?) Of course the filling started leaking out immediately. This was not the glamorous effortless experience I was looking for. All of my fears and insecurities realized right here in front of me. I try to stop the leak as best that I could, and sliced a few beautiful perfect peach slices to lay on top of the jam for nice presentation. I brushed the whole thing with the egg mixture and sprinkled raw sugar over the top. I put the completed tart in the freezer for about 30 minutes, then into a 400° oven for about 20 minutes. I took the oven down to 350 and gave it another 15 or 20 minutes
Instead of whipped cream I had some ice cream on hand that I’d made last week. It’s a lovely vanilla bean and bourbon that complements the peaches perfectly. The tart tasted great when it was warm. But I’m not very happy with the pastry on bottom. Maybe that’s just the nature of puff. Maybe it was the leaky juices, maybe I undercooked it? The bottom seemed hard but not really cooked. Do you have experience with puff pastry? Did you have a beautiful effortless experience? If so please give me your feedback in the comments. I want it too!
Last year I had so much fun making jam. I went crazy with the jamming and canning. Last week I decided it was time to make jam! So bought a bunch of raspberries that were on sale thinking I would start-up this year’s Jam-o-Rama. I would start with a huge batch of apple pectin and a small test batch of peach jam. The peaches are the goal for peach jam- but they are not ready yet. Not to be put off-I made the pectin for the peach jam (in the freezer now) and I cooked a few peaches. I made this mixed berry jam and I made these lovely shortcakes. They remind me of biscuits, my husband called them scones. I thought they were delicious. A little nutmeg, a little lemon- yum. I probably would have added the sugar at the end of cooking rather than at the beginning. My sugar browned before the bread did. I would have liked to bake them a little longer. Next time….
The recipe from Bon Appetit magazine I used calls for blueberry jam to mix with berries to make more jam. I had a lovely blueberry jam from last year and then of course the raspberries. I used those and added the blackberries I had on hand too. Why not? Making small batch jam is fun and feel less risky than a whole monstrous jam pan full of boiling sugary fruit. Oh, I also made the lemon whipped dream. IT WAS AMAZING. Easy and fun to do, it was a nice mix and stayed lively a couple of days in the fridge.
You’ve already seen them presented as the classic 4th of July light dessert – but I confess I liked them better as breakfast the next day. I also made some roasted strawberries. They are amazing. I would like to use them in a jam. I used these as a jam and they are pretty intense. You can see them in the photo below. This was a wonderful breakfast. I thought of the song “California Dreaming” while looking at this the morning I was enjoying it. By the way- That’s my favorite coffee as a pour over with half and half and brown sugar. No matter the coffee I like it creamy and sweet- and in a large mug, even “if I was in L A.. ” Oh I froze raspberries. Those are to be continued.