December – Gifts From the Kitchen

December – Gifts From the Kitchen

This year I am having fun making many of the gifts I am giving during the holidays. As well, it is wonderful to have something ready for hostess gifts when invited to a party. Wrap any of these in a pretty tea towel for a personalized gift.

Here are some ideas, most have been posted on my blog over the past few years.

II didn’t realize I had so many recipes for lemons! Skip past this section if they are not available to you. But, if you are lucky enough to a backyard lemon tree (or don’t know what to do with ALL THOSE LEMONS), here are some options, make:

Meyer Lemon Confit

Confit Meyer Lemons in Olive Oil

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices (would work with regular organic lemons, wash and maybe add more sugar as Meyers are sweet):

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

Meyer Lemon Indian Spiced Pickle

What about preserved lemons? Use some holiday spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in the preserving process.

Preserved Lemons 

Preserved lemons

There is Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Just the thing for Christmas tea.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Toast and Tea

There is Meyer Lemon Aigre-doux. This is an Italian sweet and sour preserved lemon recipe, wonderful blended with olive oil for a lemony salad or roasted vegetable dressing.

Meyer Lemon Aigre-Doux,
Preserved Lemons

And lastly Lemon-Lime Curd, amazing on any kind of holiday bread or toast. You could also make this all lemon curd or even all lime curd. Panettone anyone?

Lemon Curd

Lemon Lime Curd

What about homemade applesauce? Apples are readily available in many areas. Add a few cranberries to the simmering apples to color them pink or red. Homemade applesauce is so much better than any commercial one you can purchase.

Gala Applesauce

Consider a pretty crock of cheddar beer dip or spread. Use a sharp cheddar and one that is the darkest orange for the best color (I used a white sharp cheddar which wasn’t as pretty).

Cheddar-Beer Dip

Or a jar of homemade mustard, there are two recipes on my blog. Choose the one that fits your schedule. Here is the second for hot and sweet mustard, it’s quick and easy.

Hot and Sweet Mustard

Give it in a pretty container for a special treat.

What about spice mixes? Most of the commercial spices are full of sugar, preservatives and other ingredients you don’t want to put in your food.

A popular mix with my friends is the Fennel Spice from Michael Chiarello. Although it is easy, I find most folks would rather receive a jar than make it themselves. I have given it many times in the past and it is always a much appreciated gift. He also has an excellent toasted chili spice. I use it to coat port tenderloin (or a slow cooked shoulder of pork) before I cook it sous vide. It’s also great on grilled chicken. For a vegetarian or vegan option it is wonderful coating slices or wedges of sweet potatoes.

Fennel Spice Before Being Blended – Can’t you just smell those fennel and coriander?

Pork Tenderloin Coated with Vinegar Then Coated with Toasted Spice Rub

There are other bloggers who have amazing spice mixes, Mollie from the Frugal Housewife has a delicious “smokin’ Chipotle Taco Seasoning‘. Any Mexican food fan would love a jar. She has a number of other spice mixes and blends, all of which don’t contain any preservatives or additives you don’t want to feed your family. Plus, they taste better than commercial blends. The Foodbod is another source of various spice blends, focused on vegetarian cooking. She is also the queen of sourdough. She sells her own starter on her bread website, which is full of tips and instructions.

You’ll also find a number of spice mixes on my Pinterest page.

I am taking these last minute ideas to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #254. Join the party by adding your own link. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives

November in the kitchen – Polenta with Mushrooms and Easy Roast Chicken Breasts

November in the kitchen – Polenta with Mushrooms and Easy Roast Chicken Breasts

We are up on the North Coast for a few days and it feels like fall. The rain and cooler weather has given rise to lots of mushrooms. I wish I knew more about identifying them. I’m afraid I would poison us all if I were to pick and cook any! Last year, because of the terrible drought we’ve been having in California, there were hardly any. I wouldn’t eat this one but it sure is beautiful.

Northcoast mushroom

North coast mushroom probably a toadstool

What I will eat is these lovely porcini and chanterelles found in a local store. Now, what to do with them? There is some polenta in the pantry, and some dried porcini mushrooms, also a jar of Michael Chiarello’s Fennel Spice Rub that I made last year. The market had some lovely boneless chicken breast with the skin still on (I think cooking them with the skin results in far more flavor, don’t you?). The menu was made!

Mushrooms - porcini and chanterelles

Porcini and Chanterelles

When I first read the recipe for “Fennel Spice Rub” in Michael Chiarello’s cookbook “Casual Cooking”, I knew I would love it. It has that wonderful combination of fennel, pepper, and cardamom. I added my favorite to the mix, cumin. I have used it with multiple recipes…chicken, turkey, and roast veggies. It has always resulted in a standout dish. It’s also easy to make and is a wonderful holiday gift. I have friends who specifically request it each year.

You will find the recipe for the rub at the end of this post.

Sunset at Seaside Beach

Sunset at Seaside Beach

After a lovely romp on the beach with the dogs, it was time to start preparing the meal.

Porcini Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms (serves 4)

  • 1 cup of polenta
  • 1 tablespoons of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, divided
  • ½ cup of finely grated parmesan
  • 3 cups of roughly sliced fresh mushrooms (I used one large porcini and a dozen chanterelles 
  1. Mix the polenta with the dried mushrooms.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water and the salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. While whisking, slowly add the polenta mix to the water. Bring back to the boil, put the lid on slightly ajar, and turn the heat down to simmer.
  3. As the polenta starts to thicken, thoroughly stir the sides and bottom of the pan every 5 minutes. Cook for 35-40 minutes total.
  4. When done, stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and the Parmesan cheese. Add more salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Polenta

Polenta

Mushrooms browned in butter

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet on medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and sauté until browned and cooked through. Don’t crowd the pan, as they will start to steam. You may need to do this in two batches.

While the polenta was cooking, I started the chicken.

Chicken breasts with Fennel Spice Rub

  • 4 chicken breasts, skin on
  • 4 tablespoons fennel spice rub (recipe below)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F
  2. If your skillet isn’t oven proof or won’t hold the 4 breasts without crowding, place a baking sheet or pan in the oven to heat.
  3. Rub each chicken breast with 1 tablespoon of fennel spice rub.
  4. Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet until you see it shimmer
  5. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down. You may need to do this in two batches, don’t crowd the pan.
  6. Brown the skin side, then turn the chicken and brown the other side. Brown any additional breasts if you need to do this in batches. Remove the first breasts to a plate.
  7. When all are browned, put them in the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Check for doneness. Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
chicken breasts

Chicken breasts with fennel spice rub

Browned chicken breasts

Browned chicken breasts

All that was needed was a salad of arugula, simply dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Polenta with mushrooms and roast chicken breasts

Polenta with mushrooms and roast chicken breasts

What’s missing? Oh, yes, the wine! We have a new favorite, this Australian Shiraz.

IMG_0247

Fennel Spice Rub

  • 1 cup fennel seeds
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds (my addition)
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt

 Directions:

  1. Put the fennel seeds coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and peppercorns in a heavy pan over medium heat. Watch carefully, tossing frequently so the seeds toast evenly.
  2. When light brown and fragrant, pour the seeds onto a plate to cool. They must be cool before grinding, or they will gum up the blades of your blender
  3. Pour the seeds into a blender and add the salt. Blend to a fine powder, shaking the blender container occasionally to redistribute the seeds.
  4. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dry place, or freeze.

Cheers!

This turned out so well that I will be taking it to the party on Friday to be with Angie and her friends at The Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday #42. Come visit and sample all the great food.

fiesta-friday-badge-button-i-party

Also posted at Full Plate Thursdays and Showcase Your Talent Thursday.