...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Table for Two

Table for Two
This may have been the best Valentine's weekend ever.  Despite--or perhaps because of--our family's
conservative budget, I feel like it was the most fun I had celebrating the "day of love" in a long time.  Ben and I decided weeks ago that we would prepare dinner at home on the Saturday night before Valentine's Day.  We thought of it as "staying in for a date."  But before that we spent a rare Saturday together as a family.  It started with a leisurely breakfast of homemade (gluten-free) pancakes and local maple syrup; we warmed up with some coffee and hot tea.  Then we all bundled up and headed to Bradford Beach to check out the ice volcanoes, Daddy's idea to get us outside on such a gorgeous "warm" weekend.  We had some quiet time to read and knit while Vera napped then we all made holiday cookies together, which may have been my favorite part of the weekend.  I love seeing Ben in an apron getting his hands dirty in the kitchen.  To further stave off any lurking cabin fever we put together a jigsaw puzzle and made some stove-popped corn.  As Ben wound Vera down for bed I got dressed for our date.  I'd given Ben a heart-shaped invitation on Friday indicating that dinner would be around 8:00-ish (depending on V's bedtime).  It turned out to be more like 9 PM--thank goodness we had that late popcorn snack.  I covered the coffee table (for a change of scenery from the dining room) with a red
Ben's "Flowers" at our Valentine's table
 vintage cloth, set out wine glasses, our wedding china, and candles.  We sat almost tatami-style around the table and enjoyed a dinner of Tart Cherry and Dijon Smothered Pork Chops, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes, and Sauteed Green Beans and Red Peppers with local ingredients from our larder.  Dessert was a Salted Caramel and Chocolate Layered Shortbread.  Ben was asked to bring a bottle of wine (handpicked from our basement wine rack) and some "flowers," which turned out to be some of his gorgeous prairie photographs interspersed with family head shots placed delicately on skewers and stuck in a bud vase.  (My intention for this assignment was not only to save money on real flowers, but to stretch my husband's right brain.  His interpretation of a centerpiece was extremely creative and absolutely delightful.  We savored our meal, enjoyed dessert, and lingered over a bottle of Rhone as we reconnected and listened to my homemade "jazz" mix on the iPod.  We actually made it until 11:30 PM, which is LATE for us.  Today the family time continued and we took a snow walk through the Seminary Woods then watched a kid-friendly movie this afternoon.  It was exactly the kind of weekend I wish we had more often.  I realized that as we consciously kept it low-budget, we unexpectedly slowed down, created quality family time, and connected with nature.  It reminded me of some recent inspiration I got after reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende.  When we're not all racing around trying to make money in order to keep racing around to keep up with everyone, we actually enjoy life more.  We should really do this more often.

Ice Volcanoes at the Lakefront
"Look, over there!" (snow walk through the woods)

Holiday Maple Cutout Cookies
Makes 24 cookies

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.  We embellished ours with a little sparkling sugar (or "magic sprinkles" as I call them) and dried cranberries (after they came out of the oven so the cranberries woudn't burn).  I expected these cookies to be crumbly, but they were surprisingly stable. 

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 c. grapeseed oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 T. vanilla extract

Daddy and Vera Rolling and Cutting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Place the dough in the freezer for 1 hour.  Roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment.  If the dough is sticky, dust with almond flour.  Remove the top piece of parchment and cut out the cookies with a holiday cookie cutter, dipping it in cold water after cutting each cookie to prevent sticking.  Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake for 7-10 min., until lightly golden.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 1 hour, then serve. 

Cherry Dijon Smothered Pork Chops
Serves 2

Adapted from The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook by Cybele Pascal.  I used home-preserved tart cherry jam and boneless pastured pork chops.

1/2 c. cherry fruit-only jam
1/4 c. Dijon mustard
1 T. grapeseed oil (more if chops are extremely lean)
2 boneless pork chops, about 8 oz. each--patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper
salt and pepper
2 t. balsamic vinegar

Combine cherry jam and Dijon mustard.  Put oil in a saute pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Add chops and quickly brown on both sides (about 3 min. per side).  Reduce heat to low, spoon jam/mustard mixture over chops.  Cover and cook at a slow simmer about 20 min.  Remove chops to warm plate, and cover with tented foil.  Bring heat up to high, add balsamic, and stir. Cook at a steady fast simmer, stirring continuously, to reduce sauce to thicker consistency.  When it's thickened to consistency of nice rich gravy, pout it over the chops and serve.

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Layered Shortbread
Makes 9-12 squares

These are very rich!  I adapted a couple of recipes to fit my dietary bill--one was from the February/March 2011 issue of ReadyMade magazine, the other from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.  I drew some additional conclusions after preparing it (see *notes.)

Gooey Layered Shortbread!

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 grapeseed oil
5 T. maple syrup
1 T. vanilla sugar

Salted Caramel:
1 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. coconut milk
6 T. coconut oil
1 t. crushed sea salt

Chocolate Topping:
10 oz. dairy-free chocolate

For the Shortbread: 
In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, and pecans.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla sugar.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Press the dough into a disk, cover and place it in the freezer for an hour or until firm.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan and prick all over with a fork.  Bake for 10-12 min. or until lightly golden.  Let cool slightly then prepare the caramel.

Put the sugar and coconut milk in a heavy-bottom saucepan set over low heat.  Heat gently, stirring with a wooden spoon as it comes to a boil.  Once it is boiling, add the coconut oil and stir.  Bring the caramel back to a boil and let it bubble gently for 5 min., stirring occasionally.  Take the caramel off the heat, add the salt, and stir vigorously to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed in.  Then, working quickly, pour the caramel over the shortbread.  Put the pan in the fridge for at least 1 hour to cool.  (*Notes:  Next time I would use raw granulated sugar.  I found that the caramelization process of "white" sugar is essential to   knowing how long to cook this caramel.  With brown sugar, it's hard to know how "dark" it is, but with white as it caramelizes, it becomes the proper consistency to stand up firmly on top of the shortbread.)

Once caramel has set, melt the chocolate in a double boiler and pour on top of the caramel, spreading evenly with a spatula.  Allow to set before lifting shortbread out of the pan and cutting into squares with a hot knife.  These squares will keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days (if they don't get eaten first.)

1 comment:

  1. Happy Valentine's Day!! Looks delicious and romantic!