sweet and spicy roasted almonds

Picture this: a recipe for gingered, curried almonds, the perfect salty/ savory/ spicy snack to add to your gift baskets. A three-pound bag of almonds in your freezer. You assemble the ingredients: almonds, butter, sugar, and spices, and get to work.

jarred spicy almonds

I followed the recipe exactly. I don’t know what happened. Or rather, I know what happened, but I don’t understand why it happened. See, the recipe said to add the sugar and spices to the butter and melt it all together for about 5 minutes on the stove, until the sugar dissolved. It was supposed to make a glaze.

Instead (and I’m trying to paint a word picture here, so bear with me), what happened was this: The mixture bubbled and separated. The sugar and spices all clung to one another, refusing to dissolve or emulsify. The butter swirled around, failing to incorporate the spices. Eventually, I took the “glaze” off the heat and poured it over the almonds, hoping that adding in the almonds would mean things would sort themselves out.

spicy almonds, close-up

They. Did. Not.

As I used my hands to toss the almonds with the glaze, the butter separated from the other ingredients even further. It was like the spices and sugar were seeking each other out, eager to huddle together for refuge from the butter and almonds. Eventually, I had buttery almonds and a huge, Play-Doh-like lump of spices in the middle of the pan.

I called in reinforcements to know how to proceed. D is a lot better than I am at rescuing that which threatens to be lost, so he helped me redirect this project, suggested a spice mixture, and even suggested an explanation that made this strange paste failure not my fault. (Yes!)

Instead of the original recipe, I wound up with something radically different, but still complex and delicious. And now you all know that what happens on this blog isn’t magic, or even talent. It’s success, over and over again, snatched from the jaws of defeat.

spiced almonds

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Almonds
Makes 2 cups
Note: The chile and cayenne powder measurements are approximations– use more or less to your taste. Don’t be afraid to taste an almond to see what you think you need to do. Feel free to substitute another spicy mixture– curry powder, Thai spices, or pumpkin pie spices would also be great here, even with the cayenne.
Also, I wish I had cooked mine longer, as I really wanted them to be more crisp than they were, but I was afraid of burning them. Use the timing here as a guide, and don’t let the nuts burn, but err on the side of “more done.”

You will need:
2 cups raw almonds
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. chile powder
1 tbsp. cayenne
Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spread almonds in one layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Roast almonds, dry, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, chile powder, and cayenne in a small bowl and set aside.

Let the almonds cool until they are cool enough to touch. Pour the melted butter over the almonds and toss with a spoon or your hands to coat.

Using a spoon or your hands (I just got messy), sprinkle the almonds with the sugar-spice mixture and toss again. Shake the pan so that the almonds are again in one layer.

Roast another 15-20 minutes, until almonds are dry-ish. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still warm, then let cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

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my homemade holiday gifts

This is the first year that I’m being hard-core about homemade gifts.

collection of jars

I’m totally going to toot my own horn right now: I’ve eaten enough of my own canned goods to know that they’re pretty tasty. There are some talented canning bloggers out there who have yet to steer me wrong. I’ve also not hospitalized anyone, and the few “test” jars I’ve given to friends and family have received great reviews, so I’m going bigger. Almost everyone who receives a gift from me this year will receive at least one jar of something I’ve canned this year.

pickled pepper close-up

I haven’t published posts about everything I’ve canned this year, but here is a round-up of the various jars my friends and family will be receiving, just in case you’re wondering which recipes I wound up deeming “gift-worthy.” Enjoy!

As you can see, things are pretty heavy on the peach-strawberry side this year. I may try to get in a batch of something with apple or pear before the weekend, to mix things up a bit, but it’s also nice to have the taste of summer when it’s cold outside. (If you’re not in Austin, that is.)

jar labels

Now, let’s talk about packaging. I went pretty simple with my jars this year. I tried the whole “fabric under the ring” thing, but it just isn’t me. Instead, I got craft paper gift tags, plus a stamp, from a  craft store, and stamped each label with the “Homemade for the Holidays” stamp. On the back of the tag, I either signed my name or suggested ways to use this particular preserve. Then, I tied a bow around the ring with raffia and attached the gift tag. For the lids, I wasn’t a fan of my Sharpie scrawl on metal, so I cut out circles out of craft paper (tedious, but pretty) and used adhesive spray to attach the paper to the lid. Then, I labeled the jar with the contents and the month/ year I packed the jar.

Maybe next year I’ll get even braver and there will be a Christmas giveaway!

candied clementines

bowl of clementines

These clementines might be my favorite thing I’ve canned. They’re easy, quick, seasonal, sweet with enough bitterness to be fun, and so pretty in a jar. When I first saw the recipe on Saveur, I knew I had to make them immediately, but then I got cold feet. What would people do with a jar of candied citrus? All manner of things, my wandering mind discovered.

Since they’re delicious, peel and all, you can use them to garnish cocktails, serve them alongside hot chocolate, dip them in chocolate, mince them and fold them into scones or mix them into icings, layer them on top of a cake, or just snack on them. Which is what I’ll probably do with most of mine. I think they’d also be nice served in a spicy Christmas ale.

candied clementines in jars

Making them makes your house smell wonderful, too. The sliced clementines on the counter and the vanilla-infused syrup heating on the stove made my apartment smell like Christmas. Since it was 80 degrees in Austin that day, I’d have taken any tiny bit of Christmas spirit I could get. As citrus season is upon us, I’d like to try candying other sweet/sour fruits: Meyer lemons, key limes, tangerines. If you try another fruit, let me know how it goes!

The night I made them, I had about a pint of the sugar syrup left over, and it was so infused with the vanilla and citrus that I just ate half of it with a spoon, and then dreamed of all the wonderful things I could do with it. As I ate too many clementines right out of the jar, I thought of the following things to do with the leftover syrup:

  • Use it in mulled wine.
  • Make a lemon-rosemary cake, and soak it in the syrup.
  • Use it in mojitos.
  • Add powdered sugar to make a glaze for sugar cookies.
  • Drink it. Straight up.

You might not have the leftover syrup that I had, but I sincerely hope you do, because it inspired me in a way that a leftover ingredient never has before.

clementine jar labels

Candied Clementines
Adapted from Food in Jars, via Saveur
Note: Marisa says she got a total of 64 ounces of candied clementines (8 8-oz. jars). I did 16-oz. jars, but only got 2 (32 ounces). Your mileage may vary.

You will need:
3 lbs. clementines, sliced (I discarded the ends.)
2 c. water
4 c. granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved

Prepare your jars for canning: sterilize the jars and rings, and simmer the lids in a small pot of water. Also prepare your canning pot by bringing a lot of water to boil.

Combine sugar, water, and vanilla bean in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add clementine slices and cook about 15 minutes, until clementines are softened.

Divide clementines up among your jars– I used tongs to fill each jar with clementine slices, then poured the sugar syrup over the slices until the jars were full to within 1/2″ of the top of the jar. Wipe the lips of the jars, and add lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Let sit overnight, without disturbing. Any jars that don’t seal, refrigerate immediately and use those first.

clementines and jars

For a great canning primer, see the Food in Jars Canning 101 posts.

Candied Clementines on Punk Domestics

butternut squash and potato pizza

Friday nights are generally pizza nights at my house. D and I come home, straighten the kitchen, put together a pizza (frequently just using whatever leftover odds and ends are in the fridge), and curl up with Netflix.

butternut squash and potato pizza

That was generally the formula when I still lived at home with my mom and sister. We’d stop at Blockbuster or whatever video store to which we didn’t owe a fine, pick up some soda, and either order a pizza or take a Chef Boyardee pizza kit out of the panty. Mom, Alyssa, and I would watch a romantic comedy, cover our slices in parmesan cheese, and eat boxed brownies straight from the pan.

The biggest difference now is that, since pizza night is no longer “just us girls,” the romantic comedy is generally replaced with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or a fantasy movie. The boxed brownies have become pints of Ben and Jerry’s. The pizza no longer comes in any sort of box, and the toppings have become more varied. I’ve moved on from being a strict pepperoni lover to embracing the presence of green things, fancier meats, and root vegetables on pizza.

This pizza feels like winter. The roasted, starchy veggies go so well with the melted cheese. A thin, crisp crust is the perfect vehicle for this marriage of sweet and salty. It was particularly exciting for me to make because I used butternut squash I grew in my garden, and olive oil and herbs that D brought back from a Paris business trip. (I came home to a Provence-themed package on the table: olive oil and herbs, plus regional wine and artisan soap.)

butternut squash and potato pizza

Butternut Squash and Potato Pizza
Note: Make the whole pizza crust recipe, and make it stretch for two people by dividing it into 4!
Serves 2.

You will need:
1/4 pizza dough recipe
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
4 (or so) small red potatoes, sliced into coins
1 cup shredded mozzarella
3 oz. pancetta or prosciutto, shaved super-thin
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Herbs de provence or Italian seasoning

Prepare pizza dough. When it’s about half an hour from being ready to spread out, proceed.

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss butternut squash and potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs until they are well coated. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast until tender and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

Bump oven up to 500 degrees.

Spread pizza crust onto your favorite pizza pan.Drizzle pizza crust with olive oil. Spread cheese onto crust. Scatter roasted squash and potatoes on top of the cheese. Lay pancetta or prosciutto on top of the vegetables– the thin pancetta will cook in the oven.

Bake pizza until crust is golden brown, cheese is melted, and prosciutto/ pancetta is nice and crisp, about 15 minutes. If desired, drizzle with more olive oil before serving.

fancier pigs in a blanket

Pigs in a blanket

I got my undergraduate degree from the football school to rival all football schools. I’m an Auburn tiger, I bleed orange and blue, and I still keep a copy of the Auburn creed in my wallet. Most fall weekends in the “Loveliest Village on the Plains” were spent preparing for tailgating, tailgating, watching the game, and post-gaming at a bar. I’ll keep to myself how much of this prep work involved jello shots and flasks, but we prepared some real food, too.

Most of us had crock pots, even in our tiny apartments in which we never cooked, so someone always brought some Velveeta-and-Rotel queso and someone else brought Lil Smokies in barbecue sauce. The lazier of us would run to Publix to stock up on every variety of chips we could think of. My roommate would usually make cookies or monkey bread. And someone almost always made pigs in a blanket using the “tiny sausages rolled in canned crescent dough” method.

Pigs in a blanket., uncooked

Pigs in a blanket are addictive. At our tailgate parties, the little hot dogs in bread were the first to go. They are the perfect gameday food: they don’t require plates, napkins, utensils, or condiments. They are tasty hot, room temperature, or even cool. They’re bite-size, so if you don’t want to look like you’re hogging all the food, just hang out near the food table and pop them in your mouth one at a time.

Pigs in a blanket, uncooked

The crescent-roll method is classic. But the fancier frozen puff pastry makes people think they took more work than they actually did, and the sprinkle of poppy seeds elicits stunned “oohs” and “ahhs.” I’ve made these a few times for potlucks, BYOB-and-side birthday parties, and Superbowls, and they’re always a hit.

Pigs in a blanket, cooked

Fancier Pigs in a Blanket
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes about 60 pigs in a blanket

You will need:
2 pounds mini hot dogs/ Lil Smokies
1 box (17.5 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Flour, for work surface

Optional:
Sesame or poppy seeds, for garnish
Shredded cheddar cheese
Caramelized onions

If using cheese or onions: Cut each hot dog lengthwise about halfway down– don’t actually cut the hot dog in half. Stuff the hot dog with cheese or onions.

If not using cheese or onions: Poke each hot dog a couple of times with a fork.

Working with one sheet at a time, roll each sheet of puff pastry into an 11″ x 14″ rectangle. Cut lengthwise into  7 equal strips, and cut each strip into 4 equal rectangles.

Working with one rectangle of puff pastry at a time, roll a hot dog in the puff pastry and seal the pastry well. Set aside on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When you’ve completed this process for all hot dogs, brush all pigs in a blanket with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450. Bake pigs in a blanket for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

These are tasty fresh from the oven, or if you let them cool to room temp. Perfect for gameday!

strawberry thyme jam

I’m in love with small-batch canning.

I made jam out of less than a pound of black mission figs that turned the richest raspberry red and had the most complex, tart and sweet flavor profile I’ve tasted from a jam. The only ingredients were figs, sugar, and some lemon juice. I’ve also made small batches of peach jam with rosemary, with bourbon, and with strawberries. I’ve made strawberry jam with basil. I made pure peach-and-sugar preserves from the last few cups of chopped peaches I had in the fridge.

I also love the tiny, four-ounce quilted jars. They make me feel more accomplished. A small batch of jam might yield 2 half-pint jars, if you’re lucky, but it can give you four or even five of these tiny jars! Since I’m planning on giving a lot of jam in Christmas gifts this year, more jars are better.

They’re also portable– I took a soy-and-sesame sauce to work with me in one of these baby jars, to dip dumplings into at lunch. It stayed sealed in my bag all day without leaking, and made me feel just a little fancier in the middle of the day. I’ve been putting out three or four jars of jam with breakfast, along with sliced cheese, fruit, and toast, and seeing the little cluster of jars gives a simple meal much more ceremony.

The smaller jars, and smaller batches, also free me up to try new combinations. Strawberry-thyme jam, for example, is just herby enough to make it really interesting, but still pretty sweet and familiar. It’s made with honey and comes together quickly. The instructions say to weigh the honey, since it doesn’t come out of measuring cups easily, but I have a trick (and I don’t have a kitchen scale, so…): Run your measuring cup under hot water for a minute, then measure the honey. The heat from the cup will encourage the honey to slide right out.

Marisa from Food in Jars does a great job of explaining the instructions for this jam on The Kitchn, so pop over there for the recipe and start experimenting!

vegetable dumplings

chinese dumplings on a tray

Dumpling-making is a calming activity. The process of chopping many things into small, uniform pieces, mixing them, repetitively spooning the mixture into skins, folding, and lining up on the pan gives me a sense of order and accomplishment. I like seeing the cookie sheet go from holding one lone, intrepid dumpling to being crowded with them. I like sitting next to D while we do this together, watching something we’ve seen a million times because we can’t really watch it, anyway, since we have to watch the dumplings. I like how we fall back into inside jokes, congratulate each other on dumplings that come out folded properly, and how we make fun of the awkward ones, the ones we over-stuff, the ones that leak and won’t seal and will probably make a mess in the oil. I like hearing the oil pop when D drops the first one into the pot. I like eating one when it’s still too hot, dipping it in soy sauce that’s still reducing on the stove. I like how we say we can steam them, saute them, or bake them, but we almost always fry them, because I like the crispy exterior. I even like how, between the shopping, prepping, folding, freezing, and frying, it takes all afternoon to make dinner.

folding dumplings

Making a massive amount– about 150 dumplings– every few months has become a tradition for us. Dumpling-making is a team sport, and we are grateful for each other’s contributions to the big win we have at the dinner table.

deep-fried dumplings

Vegetable Dumplings
Makes about 150 dumplings

You will need:
1 pound soft tofu, diced
1 pound mushrooms (I used a mixture of woodear, shitake, and oyster mushrooms), chopped fine
3 carrots, grated
1 jalapeno, diced
4 scallons, chopped thinly
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. black vinegar
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. sambal
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 packages gyoza skins, thawed
Oil, for frying
Dipping Sauce, for serving

Combine tofu, mushrooms, carrots, jalapeno, scallions, garlic, ginger, and all seasonings in a large bowl. Mix well, breaking up the tofu as you go.

Working with one gyoza skin at a time, place about a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture in the center of the skin.

filling in the center of an open dumpling

Wet the outside rim of the skin and fold it, making pleats along each side. (Use Real Butter has a great step-by-step tutorial of the folding process.) Pinch it well to seal, and set aside. Repeat until the mushroom mixture is gone.

lots of folded dumplings

Deep-frying: Heat about 1 1/2″ vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. The oil is hot enough when, if you stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil, the oil bubbles up around the end quickly. Working in batches, cook about 6 dumplings at a time in the oil until they are a deep, golden brown, about 7 minutes. Drain them well on a dish cloth or paper towel.

Potstickers: Works particularly well for frozen dumplings. Place the dumplings in a skillet that has been preheated over medium heat. Pour water into the skillet until the water comes about 1/3 of the way up the dumpling. Cover the skillet and cook until all water has evaporated from the skillet and the bottoms of the dumplings are slightly crisp, about 5 minutes.

Freezing the dumplings is easy: Just spread the dumplings out, not touching, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour, and then transfer the dumplings to a freezer-safe container. These will keep for several months in the freezer.