Cashew, Clementine, and Cream Cheese Salad

>> Friday, November 28, 2014

Cashew, Clementine, and Cream Cheese Salad

My older sister, Sheryl, made this salad for a holiday dinner once, and it wowed the whole family. It's quick to make and is nicely different. Like a lot of families, there's quite a bit of planning about who's bringing what when we celebrate a holiday together. Our holidays get complicated because my family is in Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona and Joe's is in Iowa and Minnesota.

Several things are certain, though. There's always more than enough to eat, Mom will always make pies from the fruit in her orchard, and we'll always play games until late in the evening (note: "late in the evening" for my mom is 9pm; "late" is midnight for us).


For the Dressing 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp tarragon
1 tbsp celery salt
1 garlic clove, minced

For the salad
5 cups mixed salad greens
4 Clementines, peeled and sectioned
1 cup cashew pieces
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
4 oz. cream cheese


Put the cream cheese in the freezer so that it becomes firm enough to cut.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a screw-top jar and shake until well mixed. Keep at room temperature until serving.

Arrange the greens on 4 large salad plates, then arrange the clementines, onions, and cashews over the lettuce. Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and sprinkle over the top. Pass the dressing at the table.

Makes 4 side salads.


Maple-Fig Preserves

>> Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maple-Fig Preserves

We ate fresh figs for the first time when we arrived at an agritourismo in Tuscany - a working farm with a bed-and-breakfast style accommodations.  The hosts had prepared an enormous five-course dinner, but on the sideboard sat a simple basket, lined with giant fig leaves, full of pale green figs.

Rosa dei Venti agritourismo, Tuscany
Rosa dei Venti, Creti, Italy

Joe picked up a fig and sliced it. We were enchanted by the simple flavor and crunch of the tiny seeds. Fruit in Italy is astoundingly better than fruit I've tasted anywhere else - and I grew up in the fruit-growing area of Southwestern Michigan.

We rarely see fresh figs in the Chicago area, and when we do they are too expensive to contemplate. Dried figs are a good alternative to make jam. I've been wanting to make this ever since I started to notice fig jam as a condiment on antipasto platters, alongside a selection of dessert cheeses, and as a sauce for pork and game.

I think this would also be wonderful poured over a round of brie and topped with chopped walnuts before heating. (Update: we tried this at Thanksgiving, warmed and poured over cream cheese and topped with pecans. Everybody raved about it, and there were no leftovers.)

Since this is my last week working with wonderful friends in my library, I brought in this jam with crackers last night, along with jars of Roasted Poblano salsa and Green Tomatillo salsa. They seemed to like it! It was nice being able to give them a going-away present; they are some of the friendliest, most helpful people I've ever worked with. I'm trying to hold back tears every time I say goodbye to another friend there.


16 oz. dried figs
2 cups boiling water
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tsp salt


Place the figs in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak 15-20 minutes, or until plump and tender.

Drain the figs, pouring the water into a pan. Set the fruit aside. Add the remaining ingredients to the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

While the syrup is simmering, finely chop the fruit. Add it to the syrup and stir well. Continue simmering 30-45 minutes, or until very thick. Check whether the jam is set by pouring a little onto a cold plate. If it sets, it is ready. You can pour the jam into a jar and keep it in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or follow the canning process below to keep it longer.

If you plan to can the jam, ladle it into sterilized 1/2 pint or pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims, then screw on the lids. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath, then allow to cool before checking the seals.

Makes about 4 cups of jam.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Get Out the Crockpot!

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our trusty old vintage crock pot. 

Our lives are so crazy busy these days, and I bet your lives are, too. Gone are many of our slow Sunday afternoons cooking together with Third Day or Miles Davis rolling off the turntable (yes, Joe and I are purists about vinyl records. I hope that doesn't make us too geeky.)

The slow cooker is the one way we can come home from work at 9pm and have a hot meal ready to dish up. This last Sunday, while Joe made a huge batch of Gyoza dim sum dumplings for the freezer, I started up a crock pot of pulled pork for sandwiches. Instead of eating it that night, I put the whole pot in the refrigerator and plugged it in Tuesday morning. Bless the person who invented the slow cooker.

So here are some of our most favorite around-the-world recipes that are crock pot-friendly. If you have a few of your own recipes, please share!

Crock Pot Pulled Pork Sandwiches

White Bean Chicken Chili

Guinness Irish Beef Stew


Tri-Tip Steak Marinade

>> Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tri-Tip Steak Marinade

Who wants steak? We do, we do! Joe whipped up this marinade when we were looking for something interesting and new to do with steak before we slapped it on a hot grill. A tri-tip steak has a lot of flavor and is fairly cheap, but it can be a little firmer than a butter-soft strip or sirloin. The herbs and vinegar in this marinade helps to tenderize the meat while giving it a great burst of flavor.

Joe grills year-round, sometimes with an umbrella or windbreak over the grill, though our balcony has a wonderfully wide overhang that protects us from everything but the most horizontal wind. Extreme cold doesn't faze him! Dedicated man, and I'm thankful.

The triangle-shaped tri-tip is sometimes called a California cut, "Santa Maria steak", or "Newport Cut", depending on your region. In Europe, it might be called aiguillette baronne, B├╝rgermeisterst├╝ck, or rabillo de cadera. It's also a traditional cut in the Argentine asado buffet of grilled meats.

This is also good on the trendy hanger steak or flank steak cut, but thankfully the tri-tip is slightly less trendy, and therefore a lot more affordable!


4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tsp fresh parsley
1 tsp rosemary
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dry mustard

Salt and pepper to taste


Whisk together all ingredients, then pour over 1/2 to 2 pounds of tri-tip or other beef steak. Let marinate for 30-90 minutes before grilling as usual.

Serves 4-6.

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