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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

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I have a confession. First, I have never made chicken salad. Second, I don’t think until I’ve tried a waldorf salad I ever thought that a chicken salad could be delicious. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that when you add chicken, lemon juice, walnuts, and the kitchen sink you’ll get magic. And that’s exactly what happened.

You can omit whatever you like from the below recipe but I just thought what would be appealing, both visually, texturally, and …. well that’s it.

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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

(makes approx 6 cups)

  • 2 chicken breasts, boiled in salted water and diced/ cubed
  • 3 tbsp nigella seeds, or black sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup or more of pomegranate seeds
  • About a handful of shredded sweet cabbage
  • juice from one lemon
  • generous salt and pepper shaking
  • approx 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • approx 1 1/2 cups grapes, cut in half
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
  • 2 cups of light mayo
  • 2 tbsp dried basil

Start off by dicing the chicken, if you haven’t already done so. Make sure that it’s not just in cubes, but in actual small pieces, the size of a grape, no larger. This really helps with the consistency of most salads you’re used to, like in the markets or restaurants. Add in the nigella and pomegranate seeds. Add in the cabbage (mine was already pre-shredded thanks to Trader Joe’s) and squeeze the juice of a lemon over the whole thing; add zest if you like as well. I was too lazy to be honest. 

Add the salt and pepper and mix together.

Add in the walnuts, grapes (cut in half), celery and basil. Finish off with Mayo. Stir until everything is coated. Add or decrease the amount of the mayo based on your taste. About 2 cups was just right for me to coat everything and not be COVERED in the mayo. Which would be too overpowering. If you can’t find pomegranate seeds, I’d recommend adding in apples for added crunch. 

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Sunday Berry Picking and Blueberry Jam

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This weekend I was fortunate enough to be dragged out of bed by my friends idea (and admittedly it was a fabulous idea at that!) of berry picking.

Shelf over the farmers market.

Of course, I knew in advance what we were doing this weekend, but waking up at 8am on a Sunday by alarm is still not the best way to start the day of rest. The berry picking was wonderful, despite waking up on the wrong side of the best. We drove out to Underwood Family Farms in Somis, CA. They had their blue and raspberry picking stuff all set for visitors, as well as a small farm area to feel alpacas, chickens, sheep, and goats.

freshly sheared sheep

the cutest chickens I've ever seen

this brave little goat was on top of his hut, enjoying the sun.

Before entering the fields, I did have my portrait taken. I think it came perfectly.

The fields were wonderful. About half of the berries weren’t ready to be picked however. We had to venture out farther and farther into the fields to get the best, and most ripe of all berries. Aside from the tiny spiders and their webs, I had the best time! The light wasn’t the best so, sadly, there aren’t any pictures of the berry fun. I was able to pick 2 containers, about 4 lbs of berries or so, (each container had about 3 1/4 cups). I also got two containers, one from my friend and one from the boyfriend, generously donated to make my jam.

 

Blueberry Jam

I didn’t really follow one specific recipe for my jam. I just sort of continued to read about four recipes that looked the easiest and made the most sense. I’ve come up with this version, and it’s to my liking, with nice jelly and bits of blueberry throughout. However, if you prefer your jam more smooth, like jelly, you’ll need to skip my masher step and run them through the food processor.

8 cups of fresh blueberries

3 cups caster sugar

1.75 oz of sure-jell pectin

1 tbsp butter

1 cup of vanilla sugar (recipe below)

I used my 7-quart dutch oven to make the jam, but 5-qt and up is really all you need. The reason for such a large pot is because the sugar and berries will bubble when boiled, and they must have enough room to keep bubbling without the fear of bubbling over!

Pour the berries into the pot and put on medium-high heat. Warm the berries for a few minutes and then take a potato masher and start mashing and bruising the berries until they get to your consistency.

Add the sugar and pectin and stir for 1 minute.  Let simmer for about 4 minutes without stirring.

In one of the recipes for jam I referenced the author recommended adding in some butter to lessen the foam aspect when the sugar starts to bubble up. Although this is my first time making jam and I don’t have a reference of my own ,the bubbles were significantly lower than what I expected so I assume this step did it’s job.

the yellow dot in the sea of red-purple is the butter

Stir the mixture one more time after adding the butter and let it come to a rolling boil ( meaning it’s a solid bubbly mash, that’s consistent in temperature, usually at medium heat) and keep it there for 35 minutes or so. At this time, place a plate in the freezer for the pectin test. This step I borrowed from Nigella.

After 35 minutes, stir the jam once more. At this point it should be nice and deep in color and liquidy .Take a spoon and get some of the juice to spread on the plate that’s good and cold by now. Let the juice sit for a minute or so. Hold the plate to the side to see how slowly the juice will slide down to the side. The slower it moves the better. If it’s  completely solid, congrats! you’ve got jelly.

a good 35 minutes of bubbling away

Turn off the heat and let the jam sit for 10 minutes to solidify. While you’re waiting prep your canning jars. I used Kerr 1 pint jars. Fill 5-6 jars with boiling water and let them heat up until you’re reading to spoon in the jam.

you can see here that there are 6 jars but I only needed 5

Dump out the water and start ladling in the jam. About 2.5 ladles words wonderfully for me and got all the jam into the jars. Clean up the rims of the jars to make sure that the seal will the clean and tight. Put the lids on the jars and tighten completely.

At this point on the bloggers I read suggested that you flip the jars upside down (to help with the sealing). I thought, why not? and did just that. I held them upside down for about 5 minutes. While I was waiting for that I boiled some water and filled up a 13×9 rectangular baking dish with the hot water. I don’t use traditional hot water bath methods because I find them to be tedious and long. And you need a lot of materials which I don’t have room for, nor want to buy.

I just flipped my jars right-side-up and placed into the hot water. I’ve used this same technique for my apple butter canning.

water is about 90% of the way up the jars. Just below the lid.

The hot water around the dish will keep the temperature inside and outside the jars consistent which helps with the sealing process. At the same time, it allows proper cooling, as when the water cools down the jars will do the same. So in about 4 hours or so the jars should be cooled and sealed.

*I checked in about 15 minutes, while the water was still hot, and about half of the jars had already sealed.

Vanilla Sugar

  • 4 cups caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod
  • 1 glass container big enough to fit all the sugar

Place the sugar into the container. Slice the vanilla bean in half and cut each piece into half, leaving you with four pieces. Bury these in some sugar. Tighten the lid on the container, and store in a dark, cool place for about 1 week. When ready to use go ahead and stir the sugar around.

Because the vanilla will add moisture it will be clumpy but it’s totally worth it. I use this sugar in jams, apple butter, in pie crusts, and sometimes in scones instead of vanilla extract.

Indian Roasted Potatoes

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I was flipping through Nigella’s Kitchen, and I saw that  it’s been a good long while since I’ve made my favorites from her collection. I’m usually inspired by her recipes and while I’ve made her Indian Roasted Potatoes in their original state before, I’ve decided to take my own spin on her classic.

  • 2 lbs yellow potatoes (washed and cut into cubes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oils
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • salt
  • half a garlic head
  • 1 lime
  • 1 medium leek

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with foil, and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Take a simple ziplock bag and add the oil and spices.

Add the potatoes to the bag. Close the bag and shake and roll it around to coat all of the potatoes in the aromatic mixture.  Dump the whole thing onto the roasting dish you’ve prepared along with the garlic (you can bruise the garlic, or leave it whole with skins intact, regardless,  it’ll be delicious), season with salt to taste, and place into the oven for about 50 minutes.

If you’ve never worked with leeks before, they’re the easiest way to get an onion flavor into the dish, with great green color, and no stinging juices in the air. First, you take off about 1/2 the white roots, leaving the rest of the white part in-tact.  Then you cut off the bulk of the green, tough, and dry bits. You should be left with about 4-5 inches of greenery. You take the first layer and chuck in the garbage.

Leeks are dirty because they grown in the ground, don’t worry, just have the faucet ready as you strip each layer down and rinse it at you go. Then you line them up and cut into 1/4 inch rings.

Place the leeks in a bowl with the juice of one lime and let marinade till the potatoes are ready.

When it’s time to take the potatoes out stir in the leeks and leave in oven with the temperature off for 10 minutes. Stir once more before serving!

 

 

For Dessert I made my lovely Blondies (also from Nigella’s Kitchen, and which I’ve already blogged about in previous months).

 

Christmas

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So Christmas is in a week and I’m in the spirit of baking, cooking, searing, and soaking everything I possibly can as long as it’s got Christmas somewhere in it.

I had my Christmas Part with friend last Friday and it was a blast. I opted for a lot of finger foods, and my friend offered some lovely chili which I ate gluttonously the next morning before work. I have been pottering away at my Nigella cookbooks and a few stars of the show (Christmas Spiced Nuts and Pistachio Fudge) will make another appearance as I head out to family parties and give some Hostess gifts.

First, I got a hold of some fresh cranberries, and what better way than to make my Cranberry Bakewell Tart (courtesy Nigella). I have to say that the recipe was a slight challenge as I added too much water to the dough, however, it came out perfectly, and deliciously.

Next to that I had my lovely spiced peaches to go to friends and family, and spiced Christmas nuts.

Cranbery Bakewell Tart

For the pastry
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 stick plus 1 tbsp cold butter
1 egg, beaten
1-3 tbsp iced water
pinch salt

Put the flour, almonds and confectioners sugar into a food processor and pulse together. Add the diced butter and process again until the mixture looks like oatmeal.

Beat together the egg, salt and ice water and tip down the funnel of the food processor as it is running, to bind the pastry. Form the pastry into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge.

For the filling
1 stick plus 1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 eggs
zest and juice of 1 clementine
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
1 cup cranberry jam*
8 oz royal icing

Preheat the oven to 400.
Melt the butter and leave it to cool slightly. Beat together the sugar, eggs and zest, then add in the melted butter, stir in the ground almonds. Roll out the disc of pastry to fit in a 10 inch deep fluted tart pan with a removable base, and prick the base with a fork. Spread the jam onto the pastry and pour over the almond mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes, leave to cool completely on a wire rack. once cooled make the royal icing using the juice from the clementine, work over the top of the tart and decorate with almonds, nonpareils, cranberries, etc.

Cranberry Jam* 

This cranberry jam is the easiest recipe ever, and the one which is well worth it.

Take 4 cups of fresh cranberries to 1 3/4 cups sugar and about 1/4 cup of water and dissolve sugar in water. After this is done, and it will take a while, you raise the heat to make the mixture boil, about 10-12 minutes.

DONE! Let cool before adding to tart above.

Spiced Christmas Nuts
4 cups of assorted nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, pecans, walnuts).
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1.5 tablespoons of celery salt
kosher salt to taste
In a large skillet add nuts and heat for 3 minutes. Add oil and spices, leaving the salt out, and mix for another 7 minutes or so, making sure everything is glossed with the spices.
Pitch out onto a plate or aluminum tin and season with salt to taste.

shown: almonds, cashew, walnuts, and pecans

perfect for gifting!

Lastly, my spiced peaches for my boyfriend’s mother will be the tie in to the post. It’s really awesome, in my opinion, to give the gift of food and deliciousness. It’s not that it’s hard to find gifts for her, and in fact I’ve already done that, but it’s fun to get people stuff throughout the December time without them expecting it, and even if they do (because they know me so well) it’s nice to give all month long!

Sealed and Stored

Spiced Peaches
These are wonderfully perfect. You can eat them hot or room temperature, as long as they’re stored in a sterile jar and sealed they can keep for 6 months and if not sealed about 5 days in the fridge.
Ingredients:
2 14-oz cans of peach halves in syrup
an inch of ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper corns
3 cloves
2 small cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
Add peaches with syrup into a pot or deep pan. Let warm through about 2 minutes, add Vinegar, ginger root, cloves, black pepper  corns and cinnamon sticks. Let come to boil (about 5 minutes) and take off heat. Serve or store in sterile jars.

Blondies

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Yet another recipe to cross off my Nigella Kitchen cooking challenge. I love these bars, and I”m eagerly awaiting dinnertime so I can have some more… but then, no one is around, and why wait.
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
10 tablespoons  soft butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 14-oz can condensed milk
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips (or chocolate chopped up into bits)
1 rectangular baking dish, 13 x 9 x 2 covered in foil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the oats, flour, and baking soda in a bowl.
In another bowl, mix or beat the soft butter with the sugar until pale and airily creamy, then beat in the condensed milk followed by the oats, flour, and baking soda mixture.
When these are well mixed, beat in the egg, and into this relatively thick mixture fold the chocolate chips.
Dollop this thick , bumpy batter into the prepared pan, and smooth it down with a spatula, then cook in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes. When ready, it will be quite a pronounced dark gold around the edges and coming away from the pan. It will look and feel cooked on top, though just beneath it will still seem frighteningly squishy, not to say, wibbly.
But it firms up as it cool in the pan, so to end up with the requisite chewiness you have to take it out of the oven while it feels a tad undercooked.
Freezer note: they can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container, layered with parchment paper. Thaw overnight in a cool place.

Blackberry Lemon Crisp for Emergencies

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Today was one of those days. Actually, it was a full 48 hours, where I’ve been getting bad news after bad news, from all corners of the bad news spectrum: financial, medical, scholarly, and familial.

I haven’t been dealing with it quite as well as I would have hoped, just because it’s hard to handle it all, without going completely mad. And I’ve gotten to that point, twice, today. An hour or so ago, I was able to pull myself up out of the disaster and stop feeling sorry for myself.

I looked up a few things online and turned on my Nigella show, and started to pick up the pieces again. I organized and Post-It’d everything I could imagine that needed to be sorted through, organized, and managed, and then I found this recipe.

It’s perfect for one of those days, and I just about over 2 cups of Blackberries waiting to be used up, and baked.

excuse the slight blurring of the image

Adapted from http://www.pinchmysalt.com

Serves 2-4

2 cups fresh or frozen and slightly defrosted blackberries
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 scant tablespoon + 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
pinch of salt
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons cold butter, chopped into small pieces

I also added some cardamom, about 1/7 teaspoon.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 1-quart baking dish (or as I did, which was in two 16 oz.  ramekin dishes).

2. In a small bowl, toss together blackberries, lemon juice, sugar, scant tablespoon of flour, cardamom (if using), and small pinch of salt.  Pour berry mixture into a greased 1-quart baking dish or divide between the ramekins.

3. In a separate small bowl, stir together oats, 1/3 cup flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest.  Add pieces of cold butter and cut in using a pastry blender or two knives (or rub in with your fingertips) until crumbly.  Sprinkle topping over the berries.

4. Place baking dish(es) on a sheet pan and bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and topping is lightly browned.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

I don't have Vanilla Ice cream, but my homemade Pomegranate works just as well.

Inspirations from Nigella

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Ouefs En Cocette 

I stumbled upon this while watching Nigella Express and flipping through her cookbook of similar name; this is basically a fancy French name for a egg that is prepared with cream in a ramekin, as a souffle would be. I noticed that I’ve always wanted to make this ramekin egg dish from “Retro Rapido” section, and the show just reminded me of how delicious it looked.

It’s Sunday, so I figured a little bit of indulgence was perfectly fine.

note: I added two eggs instead of one for this dish simply because I’m hungry , and my ramekin is large enough to fit it.

2 eggs

white truffle oil

kosher salt, 1 teaspoon max.

1/3 cup of  heavy cream

boiling water

butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter the ramekin generously, and break in two eggs.

Add the salt and heavy cream, making sure not to break the yolks.

Drizzle some white truffle oil, and remember that a little goes a long way, so try not to over-do it. I drizzled the equivalent of 1 teaspoon, maybe half that, in fact!

I just love that glistening oil

Put the ramekin in a larger, oven safe dish. Fill with recently boiling water so it goes half way up the ramekin walls. Place in oven carefully, and cook 20-22 minutes. Original recipe called for 15 min, but since there are two eggs you have to cook it longer.

Serve immediately, with lots of buttered toast.

  

That yolk was dying to be broken