A Hand Made Christmas! Homemade Mustard, Easy Marinated Olives & Pear-Ginger Chutney

There is nothing like gifts from the heart, hand-made with love! This season make your best friends, co-workers or family some tasty treats like a home made chutney, marinated olives or a fancy condiment like mustard! Pick up some nice looking glass jars with a rubber gasket for preserving like these here from the Container Store. I have also seen them at craft stores, and World Market/Cost Plus.  Arrange a basket with chutney & store bought/home made biscuits, waffle/pancake mix or crackers. Marinated olives go oh so well paired a small high quality bottle of vodka (think martini!), or a cured sausage, cheese & cracker mix. Design a basket with nuts, pretzels, home made mustard & truffles for your most favorite of people! Make goody bags or gift as 'party favors' after your holiday cocktail party. You will truly impress with these delicious gift ideas!

Home Made Mustard
Yields 3/4 Cup

3 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 1/2 tbsp brown mustard seeds
1/3 cup drinking-quality white wine
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 shallot minced, about 2 tbsp
Pinch ground allspice
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

1. In a non-reactive bowl combine all ingredients and chill over night covered.
2. Next day transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until desired smoothness is achieved. You can leave it chunky or blend until smooth. Keeps refrigerated up to two weeks in an airtight non-reactive container.

Pear-Ginger Chutney
Yields 3 8oz. jars

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp. seeded minced jalapeno
1 2in. stick cinnamon
1 whole clove
2 lbs. firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4in. cubes. About 5 cups.
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
Sea salt/Kosher salt

1. Combine the sugar, vinegar, jalapeno, cinnamon stick and clove in a large, heavy-duty saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, 3-4 minutes.
2. Stir in the pears, onion, cranberries, crystallized ginger, mustard seeds, fresh ginger and 1/4 tsp salt. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft and the liquid has reduced somewhat, about 45 minutes.
3. Uncover and continue to simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, another 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and clove. If you are not canning the chutney, let cool, portion into 3 clean 8oz. jars and refrigerate up to one week.

To can the Chutney
1. Put 3 empty 8oz. glass canning jars in a large pot of water fitted with a rack insert. The water should completely cover the jars. Cover, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat. Put the lids in a bowl and cover them with very hot water (boiling water can ruin the seal).
3. Remove the jars from the water bath and drain them. Divide the chutney among the 3 hot jars. Fill to within 1/2in. of the top and wipe the edges clean with a paper towel. Screw the lids on tightly.
4. Return the jars to the water bath, and make sure the water cover the jars by at least 2in. Boil covered, for at least 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars; let them cool undisturbed on the counter. You should hear a popping sound as the jars cool, indicating that the vacuum seals have worked. Store in a cool place for up to 6 weeks.

Easy Marinated Olives
Yields 3 Cups

3 cups mixed olives, rinsed and drained well
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsp. whole fennel seeds
2 strips orange zest
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, slivered
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1. Put olives in a 1-qt jar. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, zest, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and garlic. Heat on very low for 10 minutes.
2. Pour the oil and the olives. Add the lemon juice and close the jar. Turn a few times to distribute the seasonings; let cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge for no longer than 4 days. When serving bring to room temp to drain off most of the oil.


Dreadlock Holiday!! Vegan Cheese Party Platters

The holidays are a time for indulgence. Rich fattening foods abound!! Well not all of us can eat rich triple cream cheeses & dairy laden dishes which typically constitute the fare for the normal holiday party. For that reason why not choose to prepare a healthy(er) vegan cheese platter for your guests? You don't have to be vegan or lactose intolerant to enjoy a cashew goat cheese log! Yum! Your guests will squeal with delight in your ingenuity on this party staple.

What you will need:
-Large non-reactive (stainless steel or glass) bowl for soaking
-Blender or food processor
-3 sheets of cheese cloth
-Large strainer

Steps Include:
1. Soak. Place nuts or grains in a bowl, cover with 3 inches cold water (the nuts will swell as they soak). Soak 12 hours or overnight, away from sunlight. Drain soaking water, rinse nuts, then drain again.
2. Blend Well. Puree soaked nuts in a blender or food processor for 6 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl often to ensure a creamy even texture.
3. Drain & Dry. Drain cheese through cheesecloth lined strainer to eliminate excess moisture and concentrate flavors. Bake at low-temp to remove moisture and firm up final product. The longer the cheese bakes the more crumbly it becomes.

Almond Feta Cheese with Herb Oil
Makes 10oz. Round

1 cup whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp. plus1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves

1. Place almonds in a medium bowl, and cover w/ 3in. cold water. Let soak 24 hrs. Drain soaking liquid, rinse almonds under cold running water, and drain again.
2. Puree almonds, lemon juice and 3 tbsp oil, garlic, salt & 1/2 cup water in a food processor for 6 minutes until very smooth and creamy.
3. Place a large strainer over the bowl, and line w/ triple layer of cheesecloth. Spoon almond mixture into cheesecloth. Brings corners and sides of cloth together, and twist around cheese forming an orange sized ball and squeeze to help drain extra moisture. Secure w/ a rubber band or kitchen twine. Chill 12 hours, or overnight. Discard excess liquid.
4. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line baking sheet w/ parchment paper. Unwrap cheese (it will be soft) and transfer from cloth to baking sheet. Flatten to form a 6in round about 3/4in thick. Bake 40 minutes until top is slightly firm. Cool, then chill. (Cheese can be made up to 2 days ahead of your party).
5. Combine remaining 1/4 cup oil, thyme, rosemary in a small saucepan. Warm oil over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, or until very hot but not simmering. Cool at room temp and drizzel over the cheese before serving.

*Pair with a medley of olives & peppers, bread sticks or pita chips & lemon wedges

Pepper-Crusted Cashew Goat Cheese
Makes 10oz Log

3/4 cup raw cashews
6 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp tahini
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns or coarsely ground black pepper

1. Place cashews in a large bowl; cover and soak with 3 inches of water. Soak overnight.
2. Drain liquid, rinse cashews under cold water and drain again. Puree cashews, oil, lemon juice, tahini, salt and 2 tbsp water in a food processor until smooth and creamy.
3. Place large strainer over the bowl, and line w/ triple layer cheesecloth. Spoon cashew mixture into cloth. Fold sides over cheese and form into a 6in long oval loaf. Twist ends of cloth and secure w/ rubber bands. Set in strainer over bowl, and let stand 12 hours at room temp. Discard excess liquid and chill.
4. Preheat voern to 200 degrees F. Line baking sheet w/ parchment paper. Unwrap cheese and scrape into a 7in long log on cheesecloth. Rewrap and twist ends to secure. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 35 minutes, or until cheese becomes set on the outside but still soft, turning occasionally. Cool and chill.
5. Unwrap cheese. Sprinkle w/ peppercorns pressing to adhere.

*Pair with fresh figs, dried apricots or other dried fruit, champagne grapes, water crackers or thinly sliced baguette.

Cheddar Cheeze
Makes 1lb Block

1 3/4 cups unsweetened plain soymilk
1/4 cup agar flakes
1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp dry white wine
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp granulated onion
1 3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper

1. Line 2- to 3-cup rectangular (or whatever shape you prefer) container with 2 layers cheesecloth, allowing cheesecloth to hang over the sides.
2. Whisk together soymilk & agar flakes in a saucpan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook 8 minutes, or until agar dissoves completely and mixture is thick, stirring frequently.
3. Blend nuts, oil, lemon juice, wine, garlic, granulated onion, salt, and pepper in a food processor 5 minutes or until smooth scraping down side frequently. Add soymilk mixture, and blend for 2 more minutes or until smooth. Transfer mixture to cheesecloth-lined container; smooth top. Refrigerate 1 hour, or until firm. Unwrap slice and serve!

*Pair with sliced pears, apples, grapes, water crackers or think sliced baguette, pretzels or pretzel sticks and stone ground mustard


*These cheeses make an excellent gift arranged in a basket of home-made crackers, breads, jams, jellies, chutneys and mustard! Remember to remind your gift-ee to refrigerate.
**These cheezes can also be used in may recipes instead of cheese. Think of a yummy pasta, egg or a salad recipe and substitute.


A Handmade Christmas! Home Made Cinnamon Hard Candy

What better way to gift this season than to hand-make your own delicacies!! All December we will be featuring delicious edible ideas for small gifts, baskets and much more. To start we are featuring a yummy recipe from Saveur Magazine for home made cinnamon hard candies. These could be packaged in a vintage tin, or set on your table for guests. Spicy and bold in color, they are sure to add a little holiday cheer to any event planned for the season!

Cinnamon Hard Candies
Makes about 120 candies

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tbsp cinnamon extract or 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon oil
1/4 tsp red food coloring

1. Line an 8x8" metal baking pan with parchment paper and grease parchment with non-stick spray; set aside.
2. Heat sugar, corn syrup & 1/2 cup water in a 1-qt saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cover; boil 3 minutes. Remove lid & attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan. Cook, without stirring, until sugar mixture reaches 300 degrees; remove pan from heat.
3. With a long handled spoon, stir in the cinnamon extract & food coloring. Pour mixture onto prepared pan. Let cool slightly, until candy reaches pliable consistency. Using a pizza cutter or a knife, cut candy into 1/2" squares. Let cool 30 minutes until hard.
4. Peel candies off parchment paper and wrap individually in confectioner's paper or dust candies with a mixture of 1/4 cup powdered sugar & 1 tsp cinnamon, if you like and transfer to another bowl.


Why Big Shopping Bargins are Bad News for America - Times Reports

I read this interesting article from the NY Times entitled - 'Why Big Shopping Bargins are Bad News for America,'  sent to me by a friend this AM. Not typically what I post on Carving-Tree, but I do see a parallel in the lifestyle of Americans to the way we spend, what we buy and ultimately the way we eat. I mean everything is connected and it is all the same mentality in the sense we want instant gratification with little effort for cheap.

I stay away from the malls, and most stores in general. I feel better spending money at a locally owned boutique even if the cost is more per item than a big box retailer. I choose quality over quantity, hand-made over factory made. America is addicted to materialism, and ownership of goods--even poorly made items which will not last even a single season of use. My mother just recently replaced a hand-mixer that was older than me, for a $20 Costco version which I can guarantee will not last nearly 30 years of use--but those are the products saturating the market these days.

I feel this is especially true for kitchen, car and home items. I choose to spend a little more knowing full well that I am purchasing quality. I may not be able to buy the entire 26/pc set of Wusthoff knives that I desire at once,  but I sure as heck am not going to settle for Kitchen Aid here just so I can have them all, right now.

Since the Christmas season is upon us, we are probably going to be feeling a lot of pressure to buy things for each other, and that's okay. Remember though that a quality gift--even one--is better than a dozen cheap disposable gifts, so do your research before making a purchase and find something that will last for a few years, even a decade. This is where we need to be going in our spending habits, and it starts with consumer education and raising our standards of the types of products we will accept into our lives and purchase.


Save a Little Green! Eat What's in Season: December

I'm just enjoying a piece of leftover pumpkin pie and thinking about this coming month's bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables!! I especially love red Bosc pears, with their crunchy juicy taste, and beautiful color on the outside. Stock up on some of these seasonal veggies now, since they are available in season and typically on sale!

December Seasonal Produce

Pears, oranges, tangelos, grape fruit, tangerines, papayas, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower

Always a Good Deal

Bananas, potatoes, celery


Fun Finger Foods for the Holidays!! Miniature Monte Cristo w. Raspberry-Chipotle Dipping Sauce & Spiced-Beef Empanadas w. Lime Sour Cream

The holidays are here!! That means let the holiday parties begin! What better way to celebrate than with fun finger foods for you and your guests?  These recipes are easy to prepare & really wow a crowd. Include a variety of different appetizers for your guests & you will be the toast of the party!!

Miniature Monte Cristo w/ Raspberry-Chipotle Dipping Sauce

Serves 12 - 3 or 4/pc each

Ingredients for the sandwich

1 loaf of Pepperidge Farm extra THIN bread (you can use regular white bread if the thin kind cannot be purchased, I suggest as thin as you can find)
3/4 lb deli sliced ham or turkey (or both if you want to be extra fancy!)
1-2 eggs beaten (add a splash of milk if desired)
3/4 lb slices of American, cheddar or Swiss cheese (your choice, I like Swiss or American)
1-2 tbsp butter for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting

Ingredients for the Raspberry-Chipotle Sauce
*This dipping sauce can either be purchased pre-made or made at home. We like the brand Fisher & Wieser Razzpotle Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce which can be purchased at most fine grocers or Costco/Sam's Club.

Raspberry-Chipotle Sauce from Scratch
1/3 cup raspberry fruit jam
2 tsp minced canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce
1-3 tsp lemon juice
*In a sauce pan stir together the chipotle, fruit spread & 2 tbsp of water. Simmer on low heat for about 2 minutes until hot and saucy. Stir in 1 tsp lemon juice. Add more water if the sauce is too thick, add more lemon juice to taste.

Directions for Sandwiches

1. Slice crusts off of the bread using a long bread knife to make a square. Discard heels. I find stacking them and slicing many at once works just fine. Discard crusts of which a good use is bird feeding.
2. Add once slice of cheese--you may need to crop to fit inside the bread depending on how your deli slices them.
3. Top with meat, folding so meat fits inside the bread as well. Repeat until all sandwiches are prepped.
4. Beat egg and milk in a square tupperware, or other type container that the sandwiches can be dipped into.
5. Heat skillet on medium heat, add butter until melted and hot. Meanwhile dip your sandwiches in egg on all sides and fry in the skillet until golden brown (only a few minutes on each side). You can use a lid to ensure cheese melts if desired.
6. Remove and cut cross-wise into small triangles, getting 4 tiny sandwiches out of each. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Place on your serving plate and serve immediately. Sometimes we cook them as the party is going on, or you could pre-make them and place them in a very low temp oven (150 degrees) to keep them warmed slightly--you don't want the cheese getting too hot and runny.

*To serve: garnish serving platter with sliced high quality dill pickles, lettuce (not for eating!) & a bowl of raspberry sauce to dip.

**The raspberry chipotle sauce is particularly good on scrambled eggs-FYI if you make extra

Spiced-Beef Empanadas w/ Lime Sour Cream
Makes 22-24/pc

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion diced
1/2 lb ground beef or bison (80-85% lean)
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp ketchup
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
salt & pepper
2 store bought refrigerated rolled-pie crusts
1 large egg beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2-1 tbsp lime zest, and a little more for garnish

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet, over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, stirring occasionally 5-6 minutes. Add beef and cook, breaking it up into small crumbles with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink 4-5 minutes.
2. Stir in the raisins, cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp pepper.
3. Using a 2 1/2in. biscuit or cookie cutter cut out circles from the pie crusts. Divide the beef among the circles. Brush the edges with water and fold in half. Then press a fork to seal.
4. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with egg. Bake until golden about 20-25 minutes.
5. Put sour cream in a small bowl and sprinkle with lime zest, adding a little water to thin and mix. Transfer to serving dip bowl. Sprinkle a bit of zest on top to garnish.

Make-ahead: You can assemble and freeze the empanadas up to one month in advance. Freeze them unbaked on a parchment lined baking sheet until firm and transfer to a freezer proof Ziplock type bag.  To cook, bake frozen at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Keep warm at 250 degrees. You can make the sour cream mixture 1/2 before serving.

Still Tasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide - Save Money, Eat Better, Help the Environment

Ever wonder if that bottle of ketchup in the fridge, or those spices that have been sitting on your shelves for forever are still good for culinary? Hmm, when were these capers and olives purchased? Or those jars of salsa in the pantry? In case you have wondered these things (I do often), there is a fabulous website dedicated to this plight entirely at http://www.stilltasty.com/

At stilltasty.com you are able to type in the exact food product in question whether it is a can on the shelf, a bottle in the fridge or dry goods bought in bulk to find out its opened and unopened shelf life. How great is that? Check it out!!


French Onion Soup

There is something to be said for the simplicity of this recipe, and it's ability to stand the test of time. I made this classic soup for the first time, just a few weeks ago. I was amazed at how simple it was, not just the preparation of it, but also the richness of the flavor, and with so few ingredients! If you have never caramelized onions before, be prepared to wait (especially for this many onions)....but I promise you, it's worth it.

French Onion Soup
6 large Yellow Onions, preferably a "sweet" variety, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia
5-6 c. Beef Stock
3 tbsp. Butter
2 Bay Leaves
2-4 sprigs fresh Thyme and/or fresh Parsley (tied into a little bundle with string, etc.)
Black Pepper, fresh-ground
8 oz. shredded Gruyere Cheese
Sm. Baguette (or other crusty bread) sliced 1/2" thick

Optional Ingredients: try any combination of these...remember to taste as you add....
- Dry Red or White Wine
- Apple Cider (for a sweeter soup)
- Dry Sherry
- Cognac/Brandy

1. Cut Onions in half (root to tip) and slice into 1/4" thick crescents by cutting across the rings.

2. Caramelize the Onions: melt Butter over medium-low heat in large soup pot (big enough to hold the whole batch of soup). Add Onions in 3-4 layers, sprinkling each layer with Salt (this will help draw the water out of the onions). Stirring the Onions every minute or two let them cook for at least 40 (and up to 60) minutes. Towards the end they will start to brown quite quickly, so keep them moving and reduce the heat a bit if you need to so they won't burn...brown is good, black is bad (my best advise is: use your nose).

3. When the Onions are caramelized to your liking, add the Beef Stock and bring to a boil. If you wish to add Herbs (Bay, Thyme, Parsley) put them in now, trying to keep them whole so they can be removed easily once their flavors have cooked into the soup.

4. After bringing to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you want a thinner consistency, add some Water (1/2 c. at a time). After you've adjusted the thickness, use this time to flavor your soup if you are planning to add any of the optional ingredients (Wine, Cider, Liquors, etc.). Also, Salt and Pepper can be added to your liking. **Be sure to taste as you add...you can't get these ones back out!**

5. Remove Bay Leaves and/or Herb Bundle before serving.

To Serve:
Traditionally, French Onion Soup is presented in individual ramekins or other small bake-able bowls. After ladling soup into the bowls, the sliced Baguette is floated on top and smothered with Gruyere. These are then Broiled in the oven until the cheese is browned and bubbling (1-2 minutes).

If you do not have Broil-friendly bowls, here is an equally delicious solution: Simply place the sliced bread on a baking sheet, smother with cheese and Broil for 1-2 minutes. Then float the already-broiled bread on the soup. Sprinkle a little more cheese over the top. (It's also WAY easier to clean up...no baked-on mess!)


Colorful, Easy, Roasted Autumn Vegetables

My mother and I made this recipe the other day and it was simply beautiful, not to mention tasty--& did I mention easy? I'll say that the colors involved in this dish exemplify 'fall' to a tee. We chose mostly root vegetables, rosemary and fresh sage to really bring out the autumn season in these veggies.

These vegetables are perfect paired with a roasted chicken (try roasting the chicken parts on the same pan with the veggies), or pork chops. Pair with brown rice, rice pilaf/wild rice or quinoa grain as a solid accompaniment!

Colorful Roasted Autumn Vegetables
Serves 8-10

1 large turnip
1 small or medium sized butternut squash
3-4 parnips
5 large carrots
15 (or so) brussel sprouts
2 medium sized red onions
1 lemon
1 large red bell pepper
fresh sage
fresh rosemary (optional)
Herbs de Provence (for coating)
Olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Prep your veggies -- Peel carrots, parsnips, turnip & butternut squash. Cut in half and de-seed the squash. Cut the parsnips and carrots into 2-2 1/2in. size sticks, making sure they are about 1/2in. or less thick. Chop butternut squash and turnip into the same size cube shapes. Cut onions into quarters, chopping from root to stem. Add all veggies to a large bowl.
3. De-seed and de-rib the red pepper, and chop into 1in. size pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture.
4. Cut the lemon into 6 wedges. Add to the vegetable mixture.
5. Cut an 'X' onto the bottom stem of your brussel sprouts, reserve these for later & do not add to the vegetable mixture.
6. Drizzle olive oil on a large jelly roll pan (or two if necessary). Add a little oil to the vegetables in the bowl. Add a generous amount of herbs de provence, until each piece is coated with a noticeable amount. Season with salt and pepper, and add fresh whole sage leaves, and rosemary sprigs. Lay out on the pans, making sure they are mostly single layer. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring every so often until browned and soft.
7. After the veggies are done, you will need to roast the brussel sprouts. I find that brussel sprouts are a little over powering in dishes such as this if added during the roasting process--you don't want everything tasting like cabbage! To keep the flavors separate, roast these by themselves and add later. Combine the sprouts with oil, salt/pepper, sage/rosemary/herb de provence and roast for 20 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and add to roasted vegetable mixture.
I like to garnish this dish with a little fresh sage and rosemary sprigs! Keep in mind that you can really use any vegetables that you like or have on hand from your fall garden. The key is to be creative ;)
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