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Pickling season is upon us! The BEST farmers’ market – Willey Farms – is a 15 minute drive from here, and they are just loaded with Kirby cucumbers. They’re about five inches long (some are smaller) and hold up really well in a vinegary brine. They’re perfect for making pickles, but this morning, while I was gathering them up by the armfuls, I thought to myself, “I’ll make some relish!” I’ve been just dying for a hot dog cooked out on the grill, and I never seem to have any sweet, tangy relish in the house, so here was an opportunity not to be missed.

After hunting around for a good recipe, and finding several variations, this is what I came up with:

(Not-Too-Terribly) Sweet Pickle Relish – makes 5 half-pint jars

  • 2 lbs Kirby cucumbers, seeded and small-diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, small-diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, small-diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, small-diced
  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water

Cukes, peppers, and onions hanging out in the salted water bath.

Cut up the cucumbers, peppers, and onion and place in a large non-reactive pot. Stir in the salt, cover with water, and allow to sit for 4 hours. Drain vegetables in a colander, put back into the bowl, cover with fresh water, and allow to sit for an hour. Drain again and set aside.

In the same pot used to soak the vegetables, pour in vinegar, sugar, garlic, and water and heat to dissolve. Tie mustard seeds, celery seeds, allspice and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth (or put into a tea ball) and infuse in the vinegar solution. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes; remove cheesecloth. Add strained vegetables and return to a boil. Reduce heat, continuing to boil, for 10 minutes.

Fill prepared jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Fit lids on jars and screw bands down to fingertip tightness. Process in a boiling water bath canner with water at least 1 inch above the jars for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove the canner cover, and wait 5 minutes before removing jars to a tea towel on the counter. Allow them to sit undisturbed for 24 hours; check for seal after about an hour. If any jars haven’t sealed, put them in the refrigerator for use in the near future. What a great excuse to fire up the grill!

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I’ve been eyeing the bunch of bananas my husband bought at the grocery, wondering what to do with them. Neither one of us is a big fan of bananas, but there was talk of making up some smoothies with them. Just the same, I had my doubts. Not a big fan, personally. It occurred to me that I enjoy bananas in every possible way except for the way nature intended – peeled and eaten like the piece of fruit that it is. Ick.

Bananas foster, banana cream pie, frozen bananas – that’s it! Frozen bananas! I peeled them, cut them in half, and jammed a large lollipop stick up the middle and placed them on a parchment-covered cookie sheet and whisked them off to the freezer to firm up while I made the chocolate. To my horror, and possible for the first time ever as an adult, I found there wasn’t a chocolate chip in the house. How did that happen?! So I rummaged around and found a package of chocolate batons, the kind you use to make pain au chocolat. Eureka! This might work! So here’s how I did it.

4 relatively ripe bananas, peeled and cut in half, with a stick of your choice shoved up the middle
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate batons
2 tbsp. butter*
2 tsp. canola oil*
mixed nuts, chopped up fine (I had a container of already chopped nuts intended for use as an ice cream topping, so I used those)

Dispatch the bananas and put them into the freezer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for at least 15 minutes (but not enough to freeze them solid – the ice crystals that might form will totally seize up your melted chocolate and become claggy).

Melt the chocolate and fats together either in a microwave or over a double boiler. Spoon the melted chocolate over the bananas rather quickly, scraping off the excess gently. Sprinkle nuts (if using) over top and place back onto the cookie sheet.

Return cookie sheet to the freezer right away and allow bananas to freeze up firm. Enjoy!

* You could probably use 1/4 cup of cream instead, making it more of a ‘ganache’. But whatever, butter and oil worked just fine.

Impossible to resist!

With the abundance of summer produce comes a deluge of those lovely plump berries that suddenly seem to be juicier and sweeter when June rolls around. There are only so many bowls of cereal with blueberries one can eat, although I must confess, I’ve yet to reach my limit. Just the same, here’s a great recipe you can whip up in under a half hour, from pantry to breakfast table (or afternoon tea!). Makes a perfect dozen, and they freeze like a dream.

for the muffins:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (more if you’d like)
1/2 cup white sugar

for the streusel:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter (half a stick), melted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and cinnamon in small mixing bowl. Pour in melted butter; stir and set aside.

In a one-cup measure, pour in the milk and then the oil; crack in the egg and beat lightly with a fork; set aside.

In medium mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and baking soda. Stir wet ingredients into dry and then fold in blueberries.

Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin cups. Top with the streusel. Bake for 20 minutes and then allow to cool on rack in pan for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and allow to cool completely (if you can wait that long!) or serve warm.

Oven-roasted corn.

This chilled summertime soup takes gazpacho to a whole new level. It’s a velvety sweet departure from the usual tomato-based preparation one usually associates with gazpacho. The roasted corn, sliced from the cob and placed directly into the soup pot adds a lovely sweetness and crunch. Don’t be intimidated by the length of this recipe; it’s really quite easy. And don’t skip the step of making a broth out of the cobs that have been relieved of their kernels. This adds such a lovely, complex flavor that simply can’t be duplicated by replacing with canned vegetable broth that you might have in your pantry.

But wait! There’s more!

‘Nuff said.

OK, so I’ve never made jelly before. Jams, YES. Lots and lots of jams. But never jelly. Got to thinking about the two huge lilac hedges in the front lawn that are blooming riotously, and thought to myself, “Lilac + jelly = something delicious.” Never mind that I never tasted lilac jelly in my life, nor was I even sure it was an edible flower (it is). What a great idea it was! It tastes just the way lilac smells, only sweeter. It is, after all, jelly.

But wait! There’s more!

Last fall, my husband and I went to brunch at Amada, a Spanish restaurant in the Olde City section of Philadelphia. I’ve never been much of a fan of sangria — too sweet, too fruity, too ‘something’ — but I figured, if anyone could get it right locally, this place could. And WOW did they ring the bell with this one! I loved it so much that I brought my younger daughter here for drinks (sangria, of course!) for her 21st birthday. AND I got the recipe. SCORE!

But wait! There’s more!

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