Spicy Peanut Butter & Jelly Burgers and Quick PB&J Tarts

 

Stuffed Burger

Wait! Don’t run away!  Listen – Lots of people have been doing weird stuff to hamburgers, these days. It’s just not enough to slap a patty on the grill, maybe a little cheese, and be done with it anymore.  Now, they have to be loaded, stuffed, and dressed for prime time.  Truth is, stuffing a burger with peanut butter, as we’re doing here today, isn’t a new thing at all. In the South, we call ‘em Goober Burgers.  But, you know me – the twists are coming…

You know how I’m always telling you to play with your Freakin’ Flamingo jams and jellies? What a delicious addition they are to both sweet AND savory foods? In fact, I’ve posted before about adding jam to your meatloaf instead of ketchup.  My favorite Freakin’ Flamingo flavors to add to meatloaf are the Blueberry Mojito and Blue Sunshine. It doesn’t taste like there’s jam in your meatloaf, but gives the meat a bit of a sweet/savory kick and helps keep it moist. In fact, not only does my husband love my meatloaf made this way, but even some of my customers have told me that it’s the best meatloaf they ever made!

I’ve been a fan of Peanut Butter & Co. for several years and use them at home on a regular basis, because they don’t use any HFCS or anything fake, and their imaginative flavors are just delicious!  Their “Bee’s Knees” (honey flavor) and “White Chocolate Wonderful” are among my favorites – especially for a quick breakfast or snack. So when I met a couple of people representing the company a couple of months ago (and I swear – it was purely by chance!), it just seemed like a match made in heaven, didn’t it? I mean, we’re both always telling people to “Think Outside the Jar!”  And when I heard that PB & Co. has a spicy peanut butter named “The Heat is On”? Make no mistake about it – this stuff is HOT! No, really. If you can’t take the heat, I suggest using one of their other flavors, such as Mighty Maple.

Thus, the Spicy Peanut Butter & Jelly Burger was born:

Stuffed Burger

Spicy Peanut Butter & Jelly Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 4 rounded tsp. Peanut Butter & Co. ® The Heat Is On peanut butter, divided
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 Tbs. Freakin’ Flamingo ® Blueberry Mojito or Blue Sunshine Jam (regular or sugar-free)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. (or just a few grinds) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Method:

Scoop out individual teaspoons of the peanut butter onto a small sheet of parchment paper and place into the freezer for about an hour or more.

peanut butter discs

In a medium bowl, lightly mix together the ground beef, jam, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, until well-blended.

Divide the meat into four portions and shape into large balls, then flatten.

Place a frozen peanut butter disc onto the center of each patty, then wrap the edges around it and seal well. It should look like a regular patty, with no seams showing. We don’t want that peanut buttery goodness to leak out! :-)

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Cook on your outdoor grill or on a stovetop grill pan (or even your broiler) to your preferred doneness, and top as desired.

This is easily doubled for a crowd and you can assemble them up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to grill.

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Now, who’s ready for a quickie dessert? Peanut Butter & Jam Tartlets are so ridiculously easy and quick to put together, I almost feel guilty turning it into a recipe. Almost.

These little tartlets are the perfect take-along dessert for any get-together, anytime of year. Make these for last-minute company, family night, or when you just want a little snack. You can even make them in your toaster oven – no need to heat up the kitchen! And all you need are three ingredients for the perfect bite!

peanut butter and jelly tarts

Peanut Butter & Jam Tarts

Ingredients:

  • Freakin’ Flamingo ® Jam (any flavor – except tomato – regular or sugar-free)
  • Peanut Butter & Co. ® Peanut Butter (any flavor)
  • 1 package of Mini-Fillo (Phyllo) shells
  • various toppings, such as shredded coconut, chocolate chips, or mini-marshmallows (optional)

You’ll find the phyllo shells in your grocer’s freezer section. There are 15 in each package.

Pre-heat your oven (or toaster oven) to 350º F. Place the thawed shells on a baking tray and bake for about 5-6 minutes to crisp them up a bit. Remove from the oven and cool.  Leave the oven on.

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Fill each tart shell with 1/2 tsp of peanut butter and top with 1/2 tsp of jam. Sprinkle with a little of your chosen topping, if using. Bake for an additional 5-6 minutes in the hot oven, remove and allow to cool before serving.  Can’t wait? You really don’t have to bake them at all!

My favorite combinations? Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter with any mango or strawberry flavor jam; Smooth Operator or White Chocolate Wonderful with Blue Sunshine, Lemon Ginger Jelly, or Piña Colada; Mighty Maple with Strawberry Joe (when in stock) or Strawberry Vanilla (when in stock).

I always have a package of phyllo shells in my freezer at all times. And if you have a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter and Freakin’ Flamingo jam around, you’re always ready for a snack attack! Because you just never know, right?

Visit Peanut Butter & Co. to find a store near you or, if your store doesn’t carry the flavor or style you want, order from them directly.  Of course, you know where to find your favorite seasonal flavors of Freakin’ Flamingo! ;-)

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Peanut Butter & Co. provided me with several jars of their peanut butter to experiment with Freakin’ Flamingo jams and jellies. All opinions expressed are my own, as always. You had doubts?
By RJ Flamingo ~ 1 Comment

Mushroom Faux “Philly Cheesesteak”

 

I’ll admit it: I’ve never had a real Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. I’ve been to Philadelphia for Eat Write Retreat twice now, and I still haven’t had one.  And, having a kosher kitchen, it’s not like I’m going to make one at home. What’s a girl to do?

Aside from the educational and informative sessions at Eat Write Retreat ’14, this year, the field trip to the Reading Terminal Market was especially revealing. That they were able to take the old Reading train station (remember your Monopoly board?) and turn it into an incredible indoor farmers’ market, must have been a real feat.

Our hosts, Iovine Brothers Produce and Molly Malloy’s restaurant, both located in the Reading Terminal Market, and sponsored by the Mushroom Council, prepared several unbelievable mushroom-centric dishes for us, including a (to me) mind-blowing Portabella Mushroom Philly Cheesesteak sandwich – which included the “secret” cheese sauce, by the way. That little sandwich was one of the best bites I’d had in a very long time.

Inspired, and not just a little obsessed by that session, I wanted to recreate that experience at home. Not being able to justify buying American cheese to make the sauce (maybe later!), I went with my favorite: mild and slightly nutty Jarlsberg cheese. Which I always have in the house, in case you’re wondering. You shouldn’t.

Here’s my version:

Mushroom "Philly" Cheesesteak

Portabella Mushroom “Philly Cheesesteak” Sandwiches with Jarlsberg

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half, then sliced in half-rounds
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
  • 1 8 oz package sliced “Baby Bellas” or Crimini mushrooms
  • kosher salt (just 2 small pinches)
  • Jarlsberg cheese, shredded or sliced  (2 – 4 oz., depending on how cheesy you like your sammies!)
  • 2 wholegrain sandwich rolls of your choice (or 4 “slider”-type rolls)

 Preparation:

Heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large grill pan or griddle over medium-high heat, using a silicone or heat-resistant brush to spread the oil around the pan.

Add the sliced onion and bell pepper strips to the hot pan, sprinkle with a small pinch of kosher salt. Stir occasionally and allow the vegetables to soften and char a bit. When the onions are soft and translucent (about 6-10 minutes), transfer the vegetables to a dish and set aside.

Add 1 Tbs of the olive oil to the same pan, again brushing the oil evenly over the surface of the pan.  Add the sliced mushrooms to the hot pan in a single layer, and sprinkle with another small pinch of kosher salt. Allow the mushrooms to cook for about two minutes, stir, and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until they are soft and brown with a bit of a char. Remove from heat.

I like to toast the rolls a bit, but you don’t have to. Place a layer of Jarlsberg cheese on the bottom of each roll, then add the hot mushrooms, followed by the grilled onions and peppers. Top with more Jarlsberg, if desired, then heat briefly in the oven, toaster oven, or even (heresy!) for a few seconds in the microwave, just to get the cheese melted a bit and gooey.

Treating Portabella mushrooms this way, makes them taste particularly meaty and satisfying. The flavors of the grilled mushrooms, bell pepper and onion meld beautifully with the Jarlsberg. Try this!

Image Courtesy of Dottie Foley Photography

Chefs from Molly Malloy’s Restaurant and Iovine Brothers Produce, both located in Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, construct Portabella “Philly Cheesesteak” sandwiches for our group in the demo kitchen.  — Image Courtesy of Dottie Foley Photography

 

Mushroom Taco

Molly Malloy’s chef also prepared Mushroom Tacos, garnished with marinated shredded beets and arugula. Delicious! And I *hate* beets!

I don’t want to give you the impression that I minimize the educational aspects of EWR ’14. I always look forward to the Eat Write Retreat food bloggers’ conference every year. It’s not the biggest of the foodie cons, but that’s why I love it. Limited to only about 100 bloggers and a few sponsors, it’s intimate and the takeaways are always relevant and eye-opening. I never fail to come away with something new – and I’m not talking about the swag! (Which was awesome – as always!)

 

By RJ Flamingo ~ 4 Comments

Vegan Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

 

Last year, one of my cousins asked me if I had any vegan/vegetarian recipes that his daughter would like, for Passover.  Increasingly, I’m getting requests for vegan recipes, gluten-free recipes, and recipes that don’t contain matzo meal, for the very religious who don’t eat “wet” matzo on Passover.  And you thought I had some tough dietary restrictions!

I was determined to come up with something for my cousin, this year.  When I read that the Orthodox Union of Rabbis had approved quinoa for Passover use, I was thrilled. Not technically a grain, quinoa is loaded with protein, amino acids, vitamins, and is perfect for people on vegan and gluten-free diets.  It’s so versatile, easy to prepare, and delicious, you can feel good about eating it anytime, not just on Passover.

Keep in mind that quinoa cooks like rice, that is, every one cup of uncooked quinoa will result in 3 cups, cooked.  This recipe can be made using mini bell peppers, such as the Bailey Farms Bella Fina peppers we told you about recently, for appetizer or side dish portions, or using full-sized sweet bell peppers for main course portions, so the number of servings will vary. Using the Bella Fina mini peppers is an economical choice, however, since they’re open-field grown and domestic to the U.S., they’re less expensive to produce and are less expensive in the store than the full-sized colored peppers imported from Canada or Holland.  Either way, you’ll enjoy the change of pace!

quinoa stuffed pepper

Vegan Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion (or about 1/2 cup, chopped)
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, smashed then chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • about 2 lbs sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), divided
  • additional olive oil for brushing

Preparation:

Dice several colors of bell peppers to equal about 1/2 cup each.

quinoa stuffed pepper

In a large frying pan, heat the 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onions, garlic, and the diced bell peppers. Add the salt, stir and saute until the onions are translucent.  Add the ground black pepper and the dry quinoa.  Stir and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Carefully add the water to the pan, cover tightly, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.  When all of the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is cooked, taste for seasoning (add more salt and/or pepper and mix well, if necessary), remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cut the remaining bell peppers in half (top-to-bottom), remove the seeds and pith, brush the outsides with a bit of olive oil, and lay them out in a single layer in a baking dish.  Fill the halves with the cooled quinoa mixture. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the pepper halves are a bit blistered and softened.

quinoa stuffed pepper

Notes:

You can add other vegetables to the quinoa mixture for variety, such as finely chopped zucchini. We sometimes like to add some finely chopped mushrooms (about a cup) in with the onions and peppers to saute and reduce. Mushrooms add a pleasantly substantial texture in conjunction with the quinoa. Make sure that any liquid released by the vegetables has been completely cooked off before adding the dry quinoa.

For even more Passover recipes, from breakfast to lunch to dinner to snacks, check out my Passover Central board on Pinterest!

By RJ Flamingo ~ Got a comment?

Pinwheel Meatloaf with Vegetables

 

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One of my all-time favorite foods for Passover week was Pinwheel Meatloaf. Reaching back into my admittedly faulty memory, I don’t remember my mother ever making meatloaf except during Passover.  But, whenever Passover came around, we always pored over the latest recipe pamphlet from one of the kosher food companies, and planned our grocery list around some old favorites and some interesting new possibilities.  We always put a great big check mark next to the meatloaf recipe!

Their version of Pinwheel Meatloaf revolved (you should excuse the expression) around a filling made with crushed matzo, dried herbs, and a lot of oil to hold it together.  It was (and still is) delicious. A little light on the nutrition aspect, maybe, but delicious. I’ve since lost most of those recipes. Or maybe Mom’s just hiding them from me.  So, it’s time to start from scratch and maybe lighten it up a little.

Here, I’ve adapted my go-to basic meatloaf recipe to use matzo meal instead of my usual oatmeal. If you’re not making this for Passover, feel free to use an equal amount of oatmeal, instead.  I’ve also added a surprise veggie ingredient to the meat mixture, and filled the meatloaf with an even more nutritious vegetable combination.

Such a pretty presentation and so full of flavor, you’ll definitely want to make this more than once a year! (The aroma was making us too hungry to wait for me to do the “food porn” photo styling. Forgive me. ;-) )

Be sure to read the Notes after the recipe.

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Pinwheel Meatloaf with Vegetables

Makes about 8-12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8-12 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • 1-1/2 lbs potatoes (reds or golds)
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms (button or cremini (crimini?)/”baby bella”)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • 3 Tbs. dried chopped onions (divided)
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (divided)
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1  26.46 oz Pomi Finely Chopped Tomatoes (or Strained Tomatoes)
  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Place the spinach in a metal strainer or colander, and dip it into the boiling water for just a few seconds to barely wilt the spinach. Drain the spinach well by pressing out as much of the water as possible, then rolling it up in several layers of paper towels. Set the bundle aside.

Cut the potatoes into roughly 2″ chunks and use the same boiling water to boil the potatoes, uncovered, for about 15 – 18 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and mash well until smooth. Do not add any liquid or fats. Return to the pot, cover and keep warm until needed.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor and chop very finely, until they reach the texture of the ground beef.  This will go faster and easier if you buy the the packages of sliced mushrooms. They’re usually the same price as the whole ones.

In a large mixing bowl, place the ground beef, chopped mushrooms, egg, matzo meal, 2 Tbs of the dehydrated chopped onions, the garlic powder, 1-1/2 tsp of the kosher salt, and the pepper.  Add 4 Tbs of the Pomi tomatoes. Mix it all together very well (your clean or gloved hand is the best and most efficient tool for the job), and all the ingredients are completely incorporated.

Place the meat mixture between 2 sheets of parchment paper, and with a rolling pin, roll it out to a roughly 13″ x 13″ square, about 1/2″ thick.  Remove the top layer of parchment paper.

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Spread the still-warm mashed potatoes in an even layer over the the meat to within 1/2″ of the edges.  Unroll the spinach from the paper towel and arrange it in an even layer over the mashed potatoes. Lightly sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt.

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Using the parchment paper at one end to do the rolling, begin rolling up the meat over the spinach and potatoes, jellyroll-style. You want it to be a tight roll, without squooshing out the filling.  Use your fingers to press and seal the bottom and ends of the meatloaf. Use the parchment paper to transfer the meatloaf into a lightly oiled (or use cooking spray) 11″ x 17″ oven-safe glass baking dish.  Make sure that the seam side is down.  Bake for 45 minutes.

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To make the sauce:

In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining Pomi tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, the remaining 1 Tbs of dehydrated chopped onions, and the remaining 1 tsp. of salt. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside while the meatloaf is baking.

After the 45 minutes of baking time, remove the meatloaf from the oven and pour/spread the sauce evenly over the top and ends.  Return the meatloaf to the oven to bake an additional 30 minutes.

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Remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing with a very sharp knife.

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Notes:

You can use any potatoes you like. We like the reds or golds for this, because they have very thin skins and we don’t have to peel them.  To plagiarize myself from a previous post: “In and of itself, the average potato is only about 110 calories and quite the nutritional powerhouse, containing 45% of the daily requirement of Vitamin C – and that’s just in the flesh. Eaten with the skin, you’ve got additional dietary fiber and more potassium than a banana!  And they’re fat-free… ”  If using a thicker-skinned potato, such as russet, you’ll probably want to peel them before cooking.

For you “mushroom-haters”, I swear that you will never know that there are mushrooms in here! I got the idea from the Mushroom Council people, last summer. They call it “blendability”. As an experiment, I made burgers by processing a pound of mushrooms, mixed them with a pound of lean ground beef with some breadcrumbs and a few seasonings. They were grilled and served to 6 people who had no idea that their burger contained 50% mushrooms. The burgers were moist, juicy, and got many compliments. Until I revealed my secret, no one knew!  This is a great and economical way to not only stretch the ground beef, but to cut a few calories, and sneak some extra veggies and nutrition into your and your family’s diet. Mushrooms are rich in vitamin D and B vitamins, so it’s a win-win!

If Pomi shelf-stable tomatoes are not available in your area (you can generally find them on your grocer’s shelves with the other canned tomatoes), you can substitute a roughly equivalent amount of canned chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce (2 15 oz cans or about 3 cups).  If using canned chopped tomatoes, you may want to chop them more finely with a food processor or stick blender. Or not. That’s the joy of cooking, right? :-)

For more Passover-friendly recipes, both classic and modern, be sure to check out my Passover Central Pinterest board! I’ve asked several other Jewish food bloggers to join in and Pin some of their favorite recipes, too.

Disclosure: Um, there isn’t one. Nope. Regrettably, no one paid me or gave me any type of consideration whatsoever to promote any brand or recommendation in this post. It’s all me.

By RJ Flamingo ~ 1 Comment

The Juicing Fad is Dead. Eat Real Food: Ready-To-Go Muesli

 

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I hereby unilaterally declare the “Juicing/Smoothie Fad” is dead.  No less venerable authorities than the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society, not to mention umpteen thousands of registered dieticians (heretofore known as “the Food Police”) are saying that: (a) You’re not detoxing yourself on juice fasts (Me: You’re just using the facilities more); (b) there’s no evidence whatsoever that you absorb nutrients faster by drinking your fruits and veggies, because they’re broken down by digestion; (c) you’re probably spiking your blood sugar levels, which is particularly dangerous for diabetics; (d) it’s not a great plan to lose weight, because when you eliminate most or all of the fiber, you’re more likely to get hungrier faster and will start surreptitiously hitting the snack food. And the “green” juices? Just like StarSux coffee, if you have to add that much crap to be able choke it down, you’re just adding more calories. And it’s still going to taste like liquified lawn clippings. (Also me)

Unless your jaw is wired shut and the only way for you to get any nutrition is through a straw, it’s done. Period. End of sentence.  Fancy cooking stores: It’s time to dismantle the displays of shiny, overpriced blenders/juicers and juicing “cookbooks” (what an oxymoron! rolleyes ) and relegate them to the Sale table in the back. Sorry, shiny-overpriced-blender/juicers.  See you in Daiquiri Season.

Rant over.

This Muesli was introduced to me in the 1980′s by the Swiss owner of the coffee shop in the office building I worked in, back then. Hans (I never knew his last name) swore by this particular concoction, and I admit that I was fairly addicted to it. Yogurt, oatmeal, a variety of fruit and nuts, you just mix up in a resealable container, refrigerate overnight, and spoon some out for breakfast, a light lunch, or snacks. It’s light eating but will stay with you all morning (or afternoon), without a let-down.  Here’s fuel to burn if you’re exercising, or just running the rat race.

This was breakfast, 5 days a week for nearly 5 years. When Hans sold the business, he finally parted with his recipe. I used to make it often, and then for some reason I stopped. Probably because it makes quite a lot, but it stays good in the fridge for at least a week.

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Make sure you use a really big container or bowl – you’ll need the mixing room. Oh, okay. You can cut the recipe in half, too.

Muesli

AmSwiss Muesli

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plain yogurt (or Greek-style yogurt)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (uncooked) (Yes, Virginia, you can get gluten-free oatmeal! Who knew?)
  • 2 large apples, unpeeled and shredded
  • 1 cup seedless green grapes
  • 1 cup seedless black or red grapes
  • 2 bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds – or any combination)

PLUS, in-season or frozen fruit in any combination, such as:

  • 1 pound (or quart) strawberries, sliced (or 10 oz. frozen sliced strawberries)
  • 2 dry pints blueberries (or 12 oz. frozen blueberries)
  • peaches, mangos, cherries (without pits & chopped) – fresh or frozen, etc.
  • Feel free to adjust the fruit combinations and quantities to your own taste

Preparation:

In a large bowl or resealable container, mix all ingredients together, thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight before eating.  In a resealable container in the fridge, the muesli will keep for about a week.  If, in the morning, it seems too thick for your preference, add a little more milk. If a little liquid forms on top during storage, it’s just fruit juice – stir it back in. For even more variety, mix a spoonful of your favorite Freakin’ Flamingo jam (regular or sugar-free) into an individual serving!

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Look! Real food for breakfast! Didn’t you miss it?

By RJ Flamingo ~ 2 Comments

Everything I Know (About Farming) Is Wrong

 

(Today, the Flamingo admits his ignorance. Savor the moment – it doesn’t happen often. :)  )

Mike_PotatoHead

The Flamingo is a Potato-Head Today

Now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that.  After all, I’ve been involved with a couple of farmers’ markets, done some gardening of my own, and considered myself a card-carrying “foodie” for years. But real farming? I didn’t know “squash.”

All it took to point up my ignorance was a tour of one of Bailey Farms’ fields out Bonita Springs, Florida way. The focus of the trip was their Bella Fina peppers, a tri-colored pepper variety developed by Monsanto subsidiary Seminis.* Bred to be sweet, crunchy, and attractive to kids (although I’m not sure I would waste such a fine pepper on any children in my household. If I had any.), they were very attractive to me.

Bailey Farms Bella Fina Mini Bell Peppers

Bailey Farms “Bella Fina” Mini Bell Peppers

But this post is about me, so back to the issue of my farm-ignorance.

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Okay, it’s Sherlock Holmes time. What’s right about this picture? At least about my presumptions as I was looking over the view. You got it, practically nothing. First, how about the big, tall weeds over on the right? What’s the right answer?

  1. A fallow row that’s “recharging”
  2. To separate one field from the next.
  3. They just forgot about that one.

Actually, none of the above. (Yeah, it’s a trick question.) My guess was actually (A) but the real answer is that it’s a windbreak. The Baileys have farms in North Carolina as well as Florida, and this is not something that they do up there. As the old Florida tourism campaign used to say “This is Florida, the rules are different here.” That applies to farming like everything else. As Mike Clevenger, the farm’s manager, says, growing crops in southwest Florida is like planting on a beach. It’s all sand. And when the wind kicks up, those sand particles with their jagged little edges go flying through the field like micro-razor blades, slicing up leaves as they go. So the weeds are a fast-growing windbreak to protect the peppers.

So far I’m 0 for 1. Now, when is an acre not an acre? Take your time; you’re looking right at it (just like I was). Of course! There’s all that empty space between the plants. So for every acre you plant, you’re really only getting half-an acre that bears. If you’re lucky. Few farmers are that lucky, particularly in Florida. Unlike our readers in the Western states (who barely remember what rain is), growers in Florida deal regularly with thunderstorms that can drop 2-3 inches of rain in the space of a half-hour. Again, the sandy soil of South Florida is all bad news; tons of water will remain long enough to possibly drown plants, but will be long gone before they provide any nourishment. This means the water has to be pumped out of the field as quickly as possible, and it has to go someplace. That someplace is a miniature Venice of canals and catch-basins that allows the remnants of the deluge to sink back into the water table. Unfortunately, that takes up a lot of space, and the amount of land given over to actual food production dwindles further. Just because a farmer technically has, let’s say, 500 acres, doesn’t mean he gets crops out of anywhere near that amount of land.

Zero for two; I’m beginning to think of myself as an “urban bumpkin.” Finally, just to add insult to injury, I concluded that the rows of Mexican sunflowers planted near the peppers had the obvious purpose: to attract bees. These peppers have to be pollinated, right? Nope. Wrong, again. These peppers are self-pollinating. They do, however, need protection. In this case, the Mexican sunflowers are nurseries for pirate bugs that prey on the Western thrip— a tiny insect that considers a developing pepper the equivalent of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Luckily, the pirate bugs look on the thrip the same way,  so far less pesticide goes onto the field to control the thrips. Which puts me at zero for three— making my agricultural IQ somewhere in the negative range.

But I’m a Flamingo. Pass the shrimp.

*Yes, that Monsanto. We’re not getting into any of the controversies surrounding that association, here. At least, not right now. We can assure you that the Bella Fina pepper varieties  (and all of Bailey Farms’ produce) were developed through good old-fashioned cross-pollination techniques, and are absolutely not “GMO/transgenic”. Remember Gregor Mendel and the pea plants from elementary school science class? Yeah. Like that.   — RJ

We received a stipend to offset our travel costs in connection with our field trip to Bailey Farms in Bonita Springs, Florida, as well as some crispy and delicious Bella Fina mini bell peppers from Bailey Farms. Some of which we had to pick ourselves.  All opinions are our own, as always. Really? You had doubts? Please.

By Mike J. ~ 2 Comments

Make Your Own Fast and Easy Salad Dressings and Sauces

 

What is “salad dressing”, really?  It’s a sauce. Dressings are great to add flavor – not just to cold veggies – but to hot ones, as well. And meats. Even tofu and other meat substitutes. You don’t have to restrict yourself to those expensive bottles lining the shelves of your grocery store, either. With a minimum of effort (and I really mean a minimum), you can literally throw your own together.  And you know what’s in it!

I can’t take credit for this handy infographic (I’m artistically-impaired), but it beautifully illustrates the point that some things, like salad dressings, are easily made yourself in just a couple of minutes.  All you need is a jar and a quick look around your pantry:

Simple Vinaigrette Infographic Thanks to CookSmarts for creating this awesome infographic!

For even more variety, try some unsweetened fruit juice, like pomegranate or orange juice, as your acid instead of vinegar.

Of course, I recommend the Freakin’ Flamingo jam flavor of your choice to create your own unique dressings. ;-)   For example, whisk a spoonful of Freakin’ Flamingo Piña Colada jam into that Asian dressing recipe in the graphic for instant sweet and sour chicken or tofu.

This is just vinaigrettes. You can make your own creamy dressings using the same formula. Think of mayonnaise as your “oil”, and buttermilk, ketchup, even pickle juice, as your “acid”:

Ranch dressing can be made by stirring or whisking together mayonnaise and buttermilk, plus a bit of sweetener (sugar or xylitol) to taste. Toss in a bit of finely chopped (or dehydrated) chives or other herb you like.

Blue Cheese Dressing: Mayo, buttermilk, some crumbled blue cheese, to taste.

Thousand Island (or Russian) Dressing:  Mayo, ketchup (or Freakin’ Flamingo Spicy Tomato jam) – just enough to make it your desired shade of pink – plus a couple of tablespoons of pickle relish (include the juices).

Tartar Sauce for fish:  Mayo, pickle relish & a pinch of paprika.

This is just a jumping-off point to create your own signature dressings and sauces with little effort, but tons of flavor!

What’s your favorite?

By RJ Flamingo ~ 3 Comments

Spiced Pumpkin Chickpea Stew for #ElleAPalooza

 

Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

I’m following up last week’s post with my official contribution to #ElleAPalooza.  Today’s post is a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Chickpea Stew, inspired by Elle of Elle’s New England Kitchen.  As a tribute to my friend, LeeAnn (a/k/a Elle), I’m joining with a number of other food bloggers who count her as friend, in picking a recipe from her blog this weekend, and cooking or baking our own version of it.

For me, this wasn’t a new concept.  Elle inspired me all the time. Sometimes I blogged about it, but usually I didn’t.  Here are some Maple Blueberry Muffins that I adapted from one of her recipes, to add more whole grains and cut the sugar.  Most recently, I took her “Copycat Campbell Tomato Soup” recipe, and made it into Vegetarian Vegetable Soup with Mini-Grilled Cheese Croutons.  And she cheered me on, every step of the way.

This stew was cooked on Thursday. I photographed the leftovers (like all stews, this one only gets better with age) last night (Saturday). I edited the photos this morning.  I’ve been procrastinating writing this post as long as I can. I feel like, once I click the “Publish” button, it’s final. It’s real. Elle’s gone, and with her, her original voice and enthusiasm for cooking and baking, and her passion to motivate her readers to dare try something new in the kitchen. But I know she isn’t really gone. Elle lives on the hearts of those who love her, and you can still hear her voice in her blog and the blogs of all of us participating in our #ElleAPalooza.  See the list at the bottom of this post, to see who else is blogging #ElleAPalooza, and what inspired them!

Pumpkin_Chickpea_Stew_500-3

Spiced Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

Adapted from Spiced Pumpkin Chickpea Stew at Elle’s New England Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large leek (or 2 smaller ones), white & light green parts only
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 large red potatoes
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 egg yolks*
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • (about) 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 freshly ground chipotle chili (Or chile. Fine.) *
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 cup milk*
  • Additional salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Start out by prepping your vegetables. Cut off the dark green top of the leek and discard. Slice the leek lengthwise and rinse well. Slice the halves thinly in half-rounds.  Peel and smash the garlic cloves, then mince them.  Scrub the potatoes and cut them into a roughly 1/2″ dice.

Heat the olive oil in a 6 quart soup or stock pot, over medium-high heat. Add all of the vegetables, sprinkle with a good pinch of kosher salt. Stir and sweat the vegetables, cooking until the leeks are softened, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Add the chickpeas, vegetable broth and pumpkin. Stir well and bring the mixture up to a gentle simmer.

Measure the yogurt into a medium bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks and the turmeric until well combined and the mixture is very liquid.  Slowly add the yogurt mixture to the simmering pot, stirring well.  Add the spices, honey, and milk.

Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Check the potatoes for doneness.  Taste to see if you need to add any additional salt and/or pepper.  When the potatoes are firm, but completely cooked through, you’re ready to serve.

Makes about 4-6 main dish servings.  Serve hot with a little crusty bread and a green salad, and you’ve got a complete, filling and satisfying meal.

Pumpkin_Chickpea_Stew_500-2

*Notes – I’m not married to the inclusion of egg yolks in this recipe. The chickpeas give you plenty of protein, and between the yogurt, pumpkin, and cooking the potatoes directly in the stew, you’ve got lots of thickening power, so skip the yolks if you want to.  If it’s still not thick enough for you, give it a couple of smacks with your handy-dandy stick blender, or if you don’t have one of those, a potato masher. But not too much! You want lots of whole chickpeas and potato chunks in there for texture.

Elle’s version of this recipe contained curry powder and adobo powder for spicing. Both of these are spice blends (one Indian, the other Mexican/Latin) which, between them, also contain cumin, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, and some form of hot pepper.  Which is kind of redundant.  So, I merely broke down these two spice blends, increasing the amounts of some of the individual spices, and added the paprika (contained in adobo), rather than make you go looking for something else at the store.  If you don’t have dried chipotle, feel free to use some other chile (chili) or its powder form that you do have.  Or none at all.  It’s not about the heat – it’s about flavor!

 

This part stolen blatantly from Heather over at He Cooks She Cooks, who stole it from Jenn over at Leftover Queen:  If you would like to join the food blogging community in supporting Elle’s family, please join Friends of Elle on Facebook to learn more about the auction be held to benefit her family. It is also a place where you can share your thoughts about Elle and gather with friends old and new who all loved this beautiful woman.

Other Blogs Participating in #ElleAPalooza

He Cooks She Cooks
Taste as you Go
Kudos Kitchen
Gourmet Traveller 88
Leftover Queen
Leftover Queen post 2
SpaBettie
SpaBettie Post 2
The Spiced Life
Food Lust People Love
Girl Chef
All That’s Left are the Crumbs
Savory Moments
The Feast Within
A-Z Cookbook
Vanilla Sugar Blog
Creative Culinary
Zebot’s Kitchen
FamFriendsFood
Dine and Dish
The Adventures of Kitchen Girl
And Then I Do The Dishes
No Fear Entertaining
Mommy? I’m Hungry!
Baking and Boys
Flanboyant Eats

By RJ Flamingo ~ 13 Comments

Helle’s Kitchen Hard Cider Jelly: A Tribute To Elle

 

Woodchuck Cider Jelly

By now you may have heard that one of my dear friends and blogging mentors, Elle of Elle’s New England Kitchen, passed away suddenly on Tuesday morning. She was a generous friend, one of the most supportive and talented people I know, and had a wicked sense of humor.  Of course, there’s so much more I could say about the kind of person she was, but at the moment I’m still kind of trying to keep it together.

When food bloggers mourn, we turn to what we know: food.  We have organized an event celebrating Elle’s life and food for next weekend, February 8-9, 2014. We’re calling it #ElleAPalooza. Food bloggers from all over the country and world, who knew and loved Elle, will be cooking from her blog, inspired by her recipes. I hope you’ll join us on the Facebook page, Friends of Elle, and either cook with us or follow along on the #ElleAPalooza event page.

If it was ever possible to fall in love with an ingredient, Elle loved Woodchuck Hard Cider. It’s made in Vermont, practically right next door to her New Hampshire home, and I could never find it down here in Miami. I kept forgetting to tell her that with the opening of our new Trader Joe’s, Woodchuck can now be found here! I know as the days pass, I’ll think of a zillion things I want to tell her, but won’t have the chance.

Aside from #ElleAPalooza, I kept remembering how much Elle loved her Woodchuck Cider, and even created several recipes around it.  Since I don’t think you’re probably game for sorbet in February, I thought I would create something special in her honor: Woodchuck Cider Jelly.  Elle also loved Halloween very nearly as much as I do. She couldn’t wait for the calendar to turn to October 1st, so she could change the header on her blog to “Helle’s New England Kitchen”.  :-D You can help me give it a better name, later.   In the meantime, this is what I’m calling it, and here’s the recipe (standard boiling water bath canning instructions apply regarding heating your jars and lids for long-term storage):

Helle’s Kitchen Hard Cider Jelly

Ingredients:

  • 3  12 oz. bottles of Woodchuck Hard Cider
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 lemon, cut as a wedge
  • 2″ knob of fresh ginger, cut into 4 or 5 thick pieces.
  • 5 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin calcium water
  • 5-1/2 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Preparation:

Put a small glass or ceramic plate (freezer-safe) into the freezer, for gel-testing later.  Start the heat under your canning kettle.

Add the cider, water, ginger and calcium water to a large saucepan (about 4 quarts).  Squeeze the juice from the quarter lemon into the pot, then add the whole wedge.  Heat over medium heat until it begins to simmer.

In a small bowl, mix the pectin and sugar together until well blended.

Raise the heat under the cider mixture to high and bring to a rolling boil. It might foam up, so adjust your heat accordingly. You want a fast boil, but you don’t want to boil over!

Remove the lemon wedge and ginger pieces from the pot.  Add the pectin/sugar mixture to the boiling cider and stir vigorously for about a minute or two, until the sugar and pectin are completely dissolved.  Remove the pot from the heat.

You may want to perform a gel test at this point. Take one of the small plates out of the freezer and put about a teaspoon of the hot liquid jelly onto it. Return the plate to the freezer and set your kitchen timer for 2 minutes.  At the end of the 2 minutes, remove the plate and hold it vertically. If the jelly stays put and wrinkles when you push an edge with the tip of a spoon, you’re good to go. In fact, if the whole thing slides in one piece, that’s perfect!  Also a good opportunity to taste the jelly and make sure that it’s sweet enough.

Ladle the hot liquid jelly into your hot canning jars, leaving 1/4″ – 1/2″ space at the top. Clean the rims with a damp, clean paper towel, top with a lid, and twist on the lid ring, finger-tight.  Put the jars back into your boiling water canning kettle, put the lid on the kettle, bring it back up to a rapid boil, and boil for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from the pot at the end of the 5 minutes, and place on a towel or newspaper covered surface to cool completely. The lids should make a ping or popping sound as they seal.

(Recipe Note:  I only use Pomona’s Universal Pectin in my recipes. Each pack consists of 2 packets: one smaller packet that contains the calcium to be mixed with water (that’s the “calcium water”), and one larger packet that contains the pectin.)

This recipe made five half-pints (8 ounce jars). I’m pretty sure that it’s safe for small children and other living things.  This is an apple jelly with a kick in the taste buds! Delicious with just about everything I can think of.  I think you’ll kind of love it.

I’m keeping at least one of these for myself. What to do with the rest?  Well, watch this space!  An auction of Elle’s jewelry from her Etsy shop, Helle’s Belles, along with autographed cookbooks, food, and all kinds of interesting things (not necessarily food) that you’ll want(!), is being organized to benefit Elle’s husband and 4 young children in this hard time.  I’m thinking of donating the remaining jars of Helle’s Kitchen Hard Cider Jelly under the Freakin’ Flamingo label to the auction. Along with a sampler or two of FF’s “famous” jams.

A fund has also been set up through PayPal to benefit the Ritchotte Family: Self-Healing Journal, In Loving Memory of Elle Ritchotte   Even a small donation will help.

This is what we do.
Hard Cider Jelly on Punk Domestics
By RJ Flamingo ~ 15 Comments

Coquito (Puerto Rican Eggnog) Cupcakes

 

coquita_cupcakes03_600

Chances are, if you’ve made it this far into the New Year, you’ve finally used up all that eggnog you bought for Christmas and New Year celebrations. If you live in South Florida, you made vats of either Crema de Vie or Coquito (add a can of coconut milk to your crema de vie or eggnog, and you’ve got “coquito”!). And your friends and relatives took care of that for you. Hey, spike anything with rum and coconut, and we’re there!  It’s not too late, you know – in Miami, we like to keep the festivities going till Three Kings Day (Epiphany, to the rest of you), which this year is January 6th. Any excuse to keep that holiday feeling going as long as possible, right?

My friend Sandy of Eat Real, recently posted a recipe for Eggnog Cookies with Whipped Eggnog Buttercream, that I thought was just to-die-for. You should absolutely try them!

As happens frequently, however, I was inspired to take it in a different direction.  Now, if you’re (one of) my regular reader(s), you might notice that I don’t really make cupcakes. It’s too intimidating these days, what with cupcakes having become a virtual art form. You’ve got Cupcake Wars on television, professional cupcake bakeries on nearly every corner or in every food truck rally, and it seems that the product of a modest home baker doesn’t stand a chance, right?  I couldn’t possibly compete. Especially since I really don’t do “pretty food”.  But, this one time, I actually had some Coquito leftover (I know! Unthinkable!), and I decided to get over my fear of frosting.

For you. I’m only doing this for you. And the rum.

Coquito Cupcakes

This is the “pretty” side of the plate. Or at least, passable. ;-)

Coquito Cupcakes

(makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes)

Cupcake Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup coquita

Coquito Frosting Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup coquita
  • Toasted coconut for garnish (optional, but recommended)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl (using either a stand mixer or hand mixer), cream the softened butter until light and fluffy. Slowly blend in the sugars, followed by the eggs, then the coquita, until well blended.

With the mixer on low speed, start adding the dry ingredients, a little at a time, until moistened (or you’re sure the mix won’t come flying out of the bowl), then increase the speed, mixing well.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners equally, about 3/4 full. Bake for 15 – 2o minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one, comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.  Or screw the frosting and just eat them. Tell people they’re muffins.

For the frosting:

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy.  Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is completely incorporated. Slowly add the coquita and blend completely until you have a thick, creamy frosting.

Frost the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with toasted coconut, as you like.

Notes:

To toast coconut:  Simply spread about 1/2 cup of shredded coconut on a small cookie sheet and bake in your heated oven for about 2 minutes. Check it after a minute and stir it around a bit. Watch it like a hawk, people! If you can smell it, you burned it.  Make sure you have enough shredded coconut on hand to make another batch after you’ve burned the first one. You will. Trust me.

You can certainly make these flavorful cupcakes with Crema de Vie or plain ol’ eggnog, if that’s what you have. Is it spiked with rum? Even better! Just keep in mind that, while the alcohol will “burn off” during baking the cupcakes, it will still be there in the frosting, since that doesn’t get cooked. Best keep these for the grownups!

Never, ever, ever try to frost cupcakes (or anything else, for that matter) when it is warm and humid in your kitchen. While the frosting will set up, this is what will happen in the meantime:

Rejects03_700

Now, we turn the plate around and see the effects of frosting said cupcakes in a warm, humid environment. :-D Don’t make my mistake! LOL!

 

By RJ Flamingo ~ 1 Comment
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