Parmesan-Polenta Crostini with Thyme

If you're looking for a simple yet delicious, make-ahead appetizer, you might consider this one ~
These are surprisingly flavorful for so few ingredients, perfect with a glass of wine, too.

The recipe is simply fine polenta cornmeal cooked in water, with some grated parmesan cheese and thyme leaves stirred in at the end of cooking.

The mixture is then spread onto a parchment sheet on an inverted, shallow-rimmed baking pan, another parchment sheet is placed directly on the polenta. A second baking sheet is placed on top then pressed to make a neat layer of polenta, about 1/4-inch thick.
Chill for an hour, or up to 24 hours, cut in triangles (or any shape you like), sprinkle the tops with additional Parmesan cheese & thyme, then baked off for a few minutes until hot throughout. Then place under hot broiler element until lightly golden brown.
You can serve them warm or at room temperature, I like them plain but you could offer a small bowl of warm Marinara Sauce for dipping if desired.

If you would like a printable copy of the recipe, you can find it on my recipe blog ~
Click HERE to access.

Thank you for stopping by and any comments you would like to leave.


Red Onion-Tomato-Ginger Jam Hamburgers with Fresh Basil

With 30 pounds of organically raised, grass-fed Angus ground beef in the freezer, um... we prepare it for dinner nearly once a week.
Since I had made some 50% whole wheat sandwich buns over the weekend I wanted to experiment with a couple of different condiments to go with the hamburgers we grilled.

It's the season for home grown tomatoes, the new crop of garlic, lots of fresh basil, and wonderful red onions so I decided to make two condiments (which happen to go very well together on grilled burgers.)
Since I'm sure (if you eat burgers) you already know how to shape and grill them... so I thought I'd share these very simple ways to dress them up.
First I made a simple Red Onion-Tomato & Ginger Jam,
then a Roasted Garlic Aioli, and served the burgers with fresh, tender leaves of fresh basil. I had thought of whirring the basil leaves into the aioli, but decided against it at the last moment to retain that appetizing emerald green color.

No recipe is really needed for the Red Onion-Tomato & Ginger Jam ~ you can just "wing" this one without much effort.
I used one medium-size red onion to about 4 to 5 smallish-medium size tomatoes.
Here are the ingredients, and the way I made mine:

Red Onion, peeled of outer skin, then sliced or chopped.
I like red onion here as it is milder than yellow or white, and just mildly sweet.
Ripe tomatoes, chopped
(although you could substitute good quality canned if it is not tomato season)
Slices of Crystallized Ginger, finely chopped.
(Alternately, a few slices of fresh ginger and some sweetener to achieve some sweetness)
A bit of good olive oil
Water as needed to keep the sauce moist as it cooks
Sea salt and/or a pinch of sweetener, optional

Special equipment?
A food mill, or sieve with a wooden spoon or pestle (to eliminate seeds, skin and to smooth the jam at end of cooking.)
How to do it:
Heat the oil in a pan over low heat; when oil is very warm add the onion and allow to slowly become translucent and begin to caramelize (this can take from 15 to 45 minutes depending upon your pan, and your stove top.)
Add the chopped tomatoes and ginger, stir. Cover pan with lid askew so steam can escape, cook over low heat for 45 minutes, up to two hours adding water as the liquid evaporates, check it and stir occasionally to assure it is not scorching or sticking.
At the end of cooking time the onion, tomato and ginger should be very tender and melding into each other.
Remove pan from heat, allow contents to cool slightly and run through the medium-fine of a food-mill, or press the mixture through by hand using a medium-fine sieve/strainer and the back of a wooden spoon or pestle. This step is necessary to refine the texture; to remove the tomato skins and any bits of tough onion bits.
A food processor just won't produce good results for this step.
Taste for seasonings, add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if desired.
Note: If the tomatoes and onions are sweet you won't need to add anything to improve the flavor, just taste it to decide.

Most likely you have a favorite recipe for Roasted Garlic Aioli ~ I just slowly roast the garlic, drizzled with olive oil in a wrap of aluminum foil in the oven until very tender, squeeze the flesh from each clove--as little or as much as you like, then stir it into mayonnaise (homemade, or fine quality store bought... (such as Best Foods TM)

Finally, add freshly plucked basil leaves as desired, and ENJOY!

Thank you for stopping by today! I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead.


Fruit Jam with Low Amount of Any Sweetener

Not long ago sugar concerns emerged in my family, thus we have tried to avoid super-refined sugar products whenever we can. Since that time, traditional homemade jams and jellies had been relegated to a once-in-a-while treat.

This was sad news for me because summertime always meant both freezing the bounty of summer fruits, as well as putting up many jars of homemade jam for gifts and to enjoy throughout the year. Apricot, Peach, Cherry, Nectarine, Plum from the trees and fresh berries from our vines would be preserved-- but these days, not so much.

We've tried the commercially prepared sugar-free jams, but honestly they are not very pleasing to my palate. Prior to our sugar restrictions I enjoyed making Fresh Fruit Freezer Jams using less sugar. But still they were sweetened with refined white sugar.

So when I recently discovered Pomona's Universal Pectin I was practically dancing in the aisle of my healthy food store. :D
You see, ordinary fruit pectins call for 55-85% sugar to set firmly but Pomona's Universal is composed of low methoxyl pectin (from citrus peel), and calcium (included in the package) is what activates the jelling properties--not excess sugar.

There is nothing quite like a smear of homemade jam on a slice of toasted whole-grain homemade bread.
And more good news ~ this pectin can be used to make cooked jam and jelly, as well as freezer jam sweetened to just the degree you like it, using honey, sugar, fruit juice, artificial sweetener, agave syrup (my personal favorite), or any other sweetener.

This time I made Nectarine Jam with some just picked-tree ripened
(and still warm from the sun!) fruit.

And as heavenly as it tastes today, it will be treasured even more on a cold, stormy/ snowy morning come this winter ~ a sweet reminder of warm summer days.

If you have trouble finding this brand of pectin in your area you can visit the company website at http://www.pomonapectin.com/ for "where to purchase", and you can also buy directly from the site.
This is my submission for:
"Simple Lives Thursday"


Foodie Friday.
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Thank you for stopping by!
I hope you each have a beautiful weekend.

I have received no compensation whatsoever for recommendation of this product.


Preserved Grape Leaves ~ Lacto-Fermented

Soon it will be harvest time here and one of the things I like to preserve are grape leaves; harvested before they turn color in autumn and fall from the vine.
The leaves picked in spring are more tender, but since my grape vines are young I prefer the leaves stay with the vine during the growing season. As the vines become more prolific I'll switch to harvesting the leaves in the spring.

My favorite way of serving the preserved leaves is to use them as an edible wrapper for stuffing, for such things as Dolmas/Dolmades:

Photo credit: igourmet.com (Click image to learn more.)
Dolmas are stuffed grape leaves; a traditional component of a Greek mezé ~ or appetizer assortment, I serve them as a side dish or snack as well.
They can be stuffed with a number of things; rice or bulgur (cracked wheat), onion, pine nuts, currants, seasonings such as dill or mint, a touch of cinnamon, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Yum!
For the leaves, you can cook and can the freshly plucked leaves so they are shelf stable, or do it the way I prefer. Simply soak them in a '3-ingredient' lacto-fermentation brine, pack them in a jar and allow them to ferment for a day or three on the kitchen counter then refrigerate until ready to use as you wish.

I like to pick the leaves (organically grown only) in the cool of the early morning, submerge in cool water to freshen, then wash in fresh cool water and drain.

The ingredients for the lacto-fermentation brine are:
about 2 cups filtered water
1/4 cup whey
1 tablespoon sea salt
And, of course, you'll need some fresh, tender grape leaves (organically grown)
This time I picked 32 leaves--but the amount is up to you, just increase the amount of brine if you use more leaves.

Note: If you don't happen to have whey on hand, add an additional tablespoon of salt.

Mix up the brine ingredients, making sure salt is dissolved. Place the leaves in a non-metallic vessel (good quality enamel lined, or glass), and pour the brine over the leaves.
Allow to marinate at room temperature for about an hour ~
Then stack the leaves neatly one upon another and roll the lot from the stem end to the tip (see note below) and place them in an impeccably clean quart size canning jar.
Pour the marinating brine over, adding additional filtered water in order to cover leaves if necessary. Allow about a 1-inch headspace between leaves/brine and jar lid.

Instead of one BIG roll of leaves, I prefer to make stacks of 8 to 12 leaves and roll each so I have smaller rolls, then pack them into jar(s) and pour the brine over.

Then allow to sit at room temperature (out of sunlight) for 24 to 74 hours, at which point fermentation will have begun to develop, then refrigerate for longer storage.
Over time the leaves will darken and become more pliable which is exactly what you're aiming for. When I make the dolmas/dolmades I will post about them, so please stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you'd like a recipe for Dolmas you can click the tab below to visit
Thanks so much for stopping by today, friends.


Green Bean and Roasted Cherry Tomato Salad

Green beans are in season, the basil plants are going crazy, and we're nearly overrun with tomatoes-- particularly cherry tomatoes right now.

So it's not difficult to deduce what inspired this dish. I combined a couple of other recipes to come up with this one ~ it's one of the treasures of my collection.
If you've grown weary of eating the tomatoes right from the vine at this time of year it is a welcome change to roast or saute them in a little olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper to intensify the sugars in the fruit.

To me they are the star of this this delicious salad or side dish ~
it's worth the bit of effort it takes to cut each in half before roasting.
I use to roast tomatoes (and some vegetables) in a very hot oven, but as I've become more aware of the health risks of that practice I've returned to lower temperatures for slow-roasting.
And even if you don't subscribe to that concept, you may agree with me that it's a waste to destroy the vitamins and flavor of extra virgin olive oil with high heat, so this is how I prepare these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 225* (F), or convection oven equivalent. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, then prepare the tomatoes: Rinse them, remove the stems then cut them in half through the axis, from stem to blossom end. Arrange the cut tomatoes skin-side-down on the parchment line pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper if desired. Then drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin over all, distributing over tomatoes as evenly as possible.
Place on a center rack of the oven and allow to slowly roast for two to two and and half hours.
I rotate the pan once during the roasting time.
This is what you end up with:

Still moist, but slightly chewy, toothsome little buttons of sweet and slightly salty goodness.
While the tomatoes are roasting I toast the pine nuts (or other nuts) either stove top or in the oven. This recipe adapts well to almost any other favorite nut -- walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, etc.
And I whisk (or shake in a jar) the very slightly sweet rough-mustard vinaigrette --- I adore this particular recipe for mustard vinaigrette. A bonus recipe, it's fabulous on grilled or broiled chicken or fish, too.

You can either blanch or steam the green beans ~ but to retain the bright green color don't over-cook, and immediately plunge the cooked beans into a big bowl of ice water as soon as you remove them from the heat. This stops the cooking, then allow the beans to completely cool in the ice water. Drain well as soon as they have cooled.

The components can be made/prepared ahead, then assembled just prior to serving.
The dish is "okay" cold, but I much prefer , at room temperature. To avoid discoloration and vibrant flavors, serve it at it's optimum peak of freshness, do not add the basil or dressing until the very last moment before serving. I don't toss, but I prefer to pass the dressing separately, so each can add as much or as little as desired.
I love this dish!
Back to edit:
Gigi has a great question, which I meant to address when I first posted ~As to whether any leftover roasted cherry tomatoes can be stored to use later...

Yes, by all means any extra roasted tomatoes (and the oil they were roasted in) can be placed in a clean jar (I prefer glass to plastic) with a tight fitting lid and refrigerated for other uses ~ anywhere you would use sun dried tomatoes. I don't bother submerging them in extra olive oil. Because they are not dehydrated to the point of sun dried tomatoes and to reduce the risk of botulism, I usually use them up within a week or so.
If you would like a printable copy of the recipe, you can find it on my recipe blog HERE.

I'm participating in
REAL FOOD WEDNESDAYS, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Cop ~
please click below to visit Kelly's wonderful blog (click logo.)

Foodie Friday @ Designs by Gollum
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A big THANK YOU to Michael Lee for hosting us so faithfully! xo
And t hank you for stopping by! If you try this recipe I hope you love it.

Herbed Yogurt Cheese

Today I'm joining Wardeh at Gnowfglins.com for Tuesday Twister.
Wardeh is a wonderfully gifted and knowledgeable teacher (and more!) Visit her lovely blog to find out more about this delightful woman, her beautiful family, and to find out the meaning of Gnowfglins.
Currently I'm taking one of Gnowfglins e-courses--"Fundamentals" to help us on our path to getting back to healthy, whole traditional foods. If you're interested in improving the way you and your family eat but don't know where to begin (or like me, need a serious brush-up course) I suggest you check Gnowfglins' e-courses out. The content is comprehensive, very well organized, easy to follow and you can work at your own pace. Wardeh provides downloadable & printable sections for each lesson, as well as excellent video tutorials which accompany each lesson. You can find out all about the courses at Gnowgflins (link is above.)
I'm thoroughly enjoying it!
~ Now on to Tuesday Twister ~

Please click the logo to see all of this weeks "Tuesday Twister" participants.

In keeping with loading our diet with the good-for-your-gut probiotics I made some yogurt this weekend and used a portion of it to make this delicious Herbed Yogurt Cheese. It's wonderful on bread, bagels, crackers, and you can also thin it out to make a fabulous salad dressing.
Very similar to cream cheese in texture, you can make the fresh cheese with non-fat, low-fat, or whole-milk yogurt (store-bought, or home made.) Non or low-fat yogurt will produce a more tart end-product, whole milk makes a creamier, more full bodied spread.
If you buy the yogurt rather than making it, you want to find a high quality plain, natural yogurt with live cultures and no gelatin or thickeners. If I don't make my own I usually buy "Nancy's" brand (once produced only regionally fairly near to where I live) I understand it is available nationally now ~ but use any good unadulterated yogurt for the best results.
The process is so simple, it is merely a matter of allowing the yogurt to drain away some of the whey (liquid). When I'm only making a small amount this is the set-up I use ~ a piece of doubled cheese-cloth (or butter muslin), a disposable paper coffee filter, or even a sturdy plain sheet of paper towel will work:

I just set mine on the countertop for a couple of hours or overnight, until the 'cheese' is the consistency I want. And when the draining is finished, don't throw that whey away! It is teaming with active good-for-you cultures. It can be used in a number of ways, as a healthful beverage, or added to hasten the fermentation process for vegetables such as sauerkraut, pickles, kim chi/kim chee, etc. You can substitute it for the liquid in recipes, and so forth. If I'm not using it right away, I just store it in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for future use.

When the yogurt is finished draining, place it in a bowl and season as desired. You can use fruit (chopped fresh and/or dried, and some honey or jam to sweeten) for a lovely "smear" for toast, pancakes, waffles or bagels--nearly any way you would use cream cheese.
This time I wanted something savory as a spread for crackers so I stirred in a little sea salt, a half a clove of minced garlic (more if you like), and some fresh, finely minced herbs (chives and thyme) from the garden.
The combination of herbs and other additions you can add are seemingly endless:
  • Finely chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • A dab of pesto
  • Smoked salmon
  • Chopped olives
  • Chopped roasted red peppers
  • A spoonful or two of chutney (along with favorite curry powder if desired)
  • Salsa or hot sauce
  • Marinated artichoke hearts and lemon zest
  • Whip in some crumbled gorgonzola . . .
You can serve it right away or allow the herbs to mellow a bit in the refrigerator and enjoy within about a week.

Thank you for stopping by and for any comments you would like to share!
A huge thanks to Wardeh for hosting Tuesday Twister, and for your incredible contributions.


Vinegar-Free Cucumber Pickles (Fresh and Easy!)

Late July and early August are when the pickling cucumbers are in season in my area, so it's pickle making time. And the good news is, there is no standing near a hot canner in a steamy kitchen for these beauties ~ there is no cooking involved.
Because I've been attempting to incorporate more healthful probiotics (the good-for-your-gut bacterias/cultures) into our diet these lacto-fermented pickles are yet another way to do so. These delicious pickles taste more like kosher-style dills than average heavily vinegared dill pickles. To me they are a bit more sophisticated on the palate, and won't over-power whatever you are serving them with. I adore them.

We didn't grow cucumbers in our veggie garden this year so I picked up these organic ones at the Farmers Market. When I grow them myself I prefer to harvest them when they are a bit smaller than these, but I went with what was available. The first step is to wash the cucumbers thoroughly.

Then the cute cukes take a nice leisurely ice water bath (from 1 to 6 hours) until they are thoroughly chilled and hydrated, to assure maximum crispness.

This time I decided to use elements from Sandor Katz's recipe in his book

and one of Sally Fallon's recipes from her fabulous book
These cucumber pickles aren't canned, but are allowed to develop at room temperature for a few days, then transferred to the refrigerator to be enjoyed anytime during the next several months.

You can adjust the herbs and spices to suit your own tastes. I used fresh dill ~ and although I grow it in my herb garden, I bought these monster organic stalks for $1. per bundle at the Farmer's Market. Here you see them standing in s bucket of water--and nearly as tall as me-- in a corner of my kitchen.
What I don't use immediately, I'll dry most and package for use throughout the year, I'll make a couple of bottles of Fennel & Dill vinegar as well. Dill is also wonderful used to season sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, dips and spreads. Some use dill as a salt substitute, it compliments fish, meats, eggs and potato salad, too. Dill tea can be used to settle stomachs as well. I just love the smell (and taste) of dill.

The other herbs and spices you may be able to see are Bay leaves (from the garden), garlic cloves, mustard seeds, fennel and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, whole allspice, whole cloves and a few whole black peppercorns. I used Celtic sea salt and also tucked some sweet red bell pepper slices into the jar ~ they are marvelous when pickled. Ditto the garlic!
TIP: An ancient secret for CRUNCHY pickles ~
Add a leaf or four of one of the following to your jar:
Oak, Sour Cherry, Horseradish, or Grape leaves.
(Pick them the day you will be making your pickles.)
I plucked some grape leaves from the garden this time and at day 5 the pickles have still retained their crispy crunch which makes me very happy!

To help promote the fermentation process you can add some whey (the liquid from cheese making, the whey which separates from plain, natural yogurt), or kombucha (fermented tea ~homemade, or store bought.) These are optional, and if you don't have them, just add an additional tablespoon of salt.

The sea salt is dissolved in filtered water, and kombucha or whey, (if you are using) is stirred in. This solution is poured into the sterilized jar/s to cover the cucumbers completely.

Some recipes instruct to leave the lids off of the jar, but I screw them down and leave the jars on the counter for 3 days to allow the fermentation process to begin. Before refrigerating you can take a taste of one of the pickles to make sure they are developed to your liking, if not leave out an additional day or two. This time mine were ready for the refrigerator after 3 days at room temperature.
Note: Don't be alarmed if the brine/liquid turns cloudy after a few days, that is simply the fermentation process doing it's work, and is to be expected.
Incidentally, if you prefer pickle spears, or slices, simply cut them the way you like after washing, then put them in the ice water bath and proceed with the directions from there.
Yum! I love an excellent pickle ~ very well flavored, nicely sour and extra crispy-crunchy!

Thank you for stopping by, and any comments you would like to share.
Have a GREAT weekend, friends!

If you try these non-vinegar pickles I hope you like them too.

I'm participating in: Foodie Friday, with thanks to Michael Lee for hosting us!

And ~

Click logo to link.
Simple Life Thursday.
With greatful thanks to Wardeh of Gnowfglins and partners for hosting us!

A Sampling of my food . . .


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