Spicy Fruit: Plum Preserves with Star Anise

I have been making low-sugar jams or preserves for a couple seasons, after having helped my Mom for years during my childhood.   I usually make small batches which can be refrigerated or frozen, so the memories of canning (hot kitchen, no air conditioning, bushels of produc) have faded.   Now it is something I really enjoy & it is easy and healthy.   So I found myself with a lot of plums, which of course, all ripened at the same time.  And I thought plum preserves & next came Google.   Plain jam just doesn’t do it anymore and I am so enjoying adding fresh herbs or spices, especially since I use the end result with cheese & crackers more than with peanut butter.    

I found this great recipe on Food in Jars for Plum Jam with Star Anise.   She calls it jam, however if there is no pectin involved, I call it preserves.  And this one hits the spot.   The addition of anise with the plums creates an exotic experience…..even with cream cheese.   And, it is so simple.   Pit the fruit….no peeling…..and let it juice up.   Then boil until it gels.   One of the best parts of this recipe is the addition of the ‘plate test’ which I have always used with my Concord Grape Jam.   But then that is in big batches of 80-90 jars, so it is almost essential to ensure it will setup.   With plums or any stone fruit, it is more like making a ‘butter’…….and the skins just disappear.   Well worth trying this one ??    Ciao !!!

plum preserves

Plum Preserves with Star Anise  

(from Food in Jars)

  • 2 1/2 cups chopped Italian plums
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 star anise blossoms
  1. Combine chopped plums, sugar and star anise blossoms. Let sit for at least an hour, or until the fruit has gotten quite syrup-y.
  2. Put fruit in a medium-sized pan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam thickens and passes the plate test.
  3. Because this jam has such a small yield, you can skip the canning step and just pour it into the jars and pop it into the fridge. 
  4. NOTE:  you can also use small plastic containers, either round or rectangular 
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Harvest Time: Concord Grape Rosemary Focaccia

My ‘adopted’ family has a farm with 100 year old concord grape vines and every year when they ripen, I go over & make grape jam.   We usually get around 90 jars & the smell in the kitchen is marvelous.   Our friends have now come to expect a jar will be gifted to them and…..we do share most of it with friends & family.   They are very grateful, too.

We get so many grapes, I have searched the web for all types of other ways to use concord grapes.   Last year I made a grape pie, which was delicious but very sweet.   Everyone’s favorite treat is a recipe I borrowed from Bobby Flay…..Grape Focaccia with Rosemary.   It is absolutely beautiful when it comes out of the oven.   The grapes turn bright purple in little dimples amid perfectly browned dough.   And it is so yummy !!   In fact, it is so good, I have used red grapes or black grapes, if you can find them.   It is a little easier, since both are seedless.    The recipe is so easy……give it a try & you will be delighted !!!

grape focaccia

Photo from Smitten Kitchen

Grape Focaccia with Rosemary  (recipe from Bobby Flay) 

1 fresh pizza dough  (I usually use No-Knead dough, but have used fresh from the store)

Olive Oil

3/4 cup concord grapes, seeded (or substitute black or red seedless grapes)

1 T. fresh rosemary needles

Coarse sea salt

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil or use parchment paper.  Place a ball of dough (at room temperature) on the sheet & brush with olive oil.   Set aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel.

If using concord grapes, cut in half & remove seeds, while the dough is resting.  This is easiest done with a very sharp paring knife.  Half each grape & ‘flicking’ the seeds out with the end of a paring knife.   Make sure the skin stays attached.

Dip your fingers in olive oil and press/stretch into a 8-9 inch circle or a square, if desired. The bread will be dimples from your fingers which is the effect you want.   Cover again and let rise again for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  (If using quick yeast bread dough, it won’t take as long to rise as regular yeast.)   Preheat over to 450.

Brush the top of the dough with olive oil & cover with grape halves, skin side up.   Sprinkle minced rosemary over the entire surface.  Sprinkle coarse salt evenly over all.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Let cool a few minutes before cutting.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Oven Free: Turkey on the Grill

In the summer, I will try anything rather than turn on the oven……so when I was cleaning the freezer & found a turkey breast, I immediately thought….Turkey on the Grill.  It was so easy & absolutely beautiful.  After thawing, it was done in about an hour.    Isn’t this the best looking turkey breast you’ve seen since last Thanksgiving ??   OK, so not the best photo.     turkey_grill

Turkey on the Grill

1 4-5 lb. turkey breast, thawed

1 T. olive oil

5 sprigs rosemary, minced

5 cloves garlic, minced

salt & pepper

Preheat the grill on high for 15-20 minutes or until it reaches 375 degrees.  Combine olive oil, rosemary & garlic in a small bowl. Brush over entire turkey or use your fingers to distribute well.   Salt & pepper to taste.

Place turkey in a grill pan or large aluminum baking pan & place on center of grill.  Close the lid & check after 30 minutes.   Turkey should be beginning to brown.  Rotate if you desire so browning is consistent.   Continue cooking for additional 30 minutes or until internal temperature is 175 degrees.   If your turkey is larger than 4 lbs., it may take another 15 minutes.   My turkey had a pop-up which did it’s thing at about an hour.

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board & allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Enjoy !!

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Long Time Away……Buffalo Chicken Soft Taco

Not sure why, but I haven’t posted anything in a long time…..not because I haven’t been cooking, since I have been eating.   So I am back…..

I usually grill a lot more than I can eat at one sitting & then I have ‘leftovers’ to fix in lots of different ways.  Yesterday I grilled about a pound of chicken fingers, which I had marinated in lime juice & cilantro….yummy.    My craving today was for spicy so between the refrigerator & the pantry, I  found all the makings for a Buffalo Chicken Soft Taco.   And was it ever delicious.

Luckily I had just gotten a huge bag of home grown lettuce from a friend’s garden, had bleu cheese in the cheese drawer, ranch dressing in the fridge, a bit of Frank’s Buffalo Sauce left in the pantry & I always have flour tortillas.   They are my choice instead of bread.   In a matter of minutes I had a delicious lunch.   Buen Apetito !!

 buffalo_chicken taco

 Buffalo Chicken Soft Taco

1 flour tortilla

3 chicken fingers, grilled

1/2 c. Frank’s Buffalo Sauce

1 T. bleu cheese, crumbled

Ranch Dressing

Fresh lettuce

Warm tortilla wrapped in paper towel in microwave for 20 seconds.   Place on serving plate.  Coat chicken fingers in buffalo sauce & place in center of tortilla.  Top with bleu cheese & then lettuce. Drizzle ranch dressing over top & fold over.  If desired, you can create a wrap.   Enjoy !!



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Pumpkin Hazelnut Biscotti

Fall recipes and comfort food are my obsession lately, especially pumpkin.   I live in a neighborhood with lots of children.  Halloween decorations are everywhere with jack-o-lanterns in all the windows,  orange lights in the trees and pumpkins on everyone’s porch.   So cooking with pumpkin seems very appetizing & although I usually like savory recipes, my sweet tooth came alive today.  Pumpkin biscotti sounded scumptious.

Vin Santo Italian dessert wine in a shot glass...

I haven’t made biscotti in years but I really love them with a great cup of coffee.   This recipe has no butter or oil so the calories are lower than most biscotti.   That’s enough reason to enjoy a sweet treat !!    Ciao !!


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups hazelnuts, chopped


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, salt, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice until completely combined. Set aside.
  2. In a mixer or by hand, cream together the pumpkin and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at at time, making sure the first one is completely incorporate before you add the second one. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. In ½ cup increments add the flour mixture to the wet mixture until all is incorporated, or until you have a very thick “cookie-like” dough. Gently fold in with a heavy wooden spoon the chopped hazelnuts.
  3. Flour your work surface and dump the dough onto it. Mold into a 12 inch by 4 inch log and transfer to your baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until just hard to the touch.
  4. Remove from the oven and let cool COMPLETELY for about 45 minutes to an hour. Transfer the parchment paper along with the biscotti to a cutting board and cut ½ inch slices out of the log. Line your baking sheet with another sheet of parchment paper. Lay out the biscotti slices, cut side down. Bake again for about 15 minutes or until crispy.
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.
  6. Once the biscotti has cooled slightly, dip in vanilla glaze or white chocolate if you wish or serve plain.
  7. The biscotti can be stored at room temperature for 1-2 weeks.
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Cooking with Beer: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Beer Dough

A baked cinnamon roll.

After making Pumpkin Beer Waffles, I had 1/2 can of leftover pumpkin & 1/2 a bottle of wheat beer in the fridge.   Since the weather is cooler, I’m back into baking.   I decided on No-Knead Beer Bread with the leftover wheat beer which I had intended to make into baguettes.   But then I got a taste for cinnamon rolls & since I had some leftover pumpkin…..why not use that in the filling ?? This is logical, right ??   It may have not been purely logical but they were purely decadent & absolutely delicious.

I shared them with a friend, hot from the oven…..but they were enjoying eating them so much I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying.   I think it was…..Yummy !!!     Or it could have been Gooey !!!

No-Knead Beer Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (makes 8 rolls)

For the dough:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup beer (wheat beer or pale ale)

For the filling:

  • 4 T butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • handful of pecans, chopped (optional)

For the glaze:

1 T. butter, softened
2 T. cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix all dough ingredients together in a plastic, lidded bowl.   It will be a sticky dough.   Allow to sit on kitchen counter for 12 hours, then refrigerate until you are ready to use.   No more than 2-3 days is best.   When ready, allow dough to come to room temperature, if possible. Sprinkle enough flour onto the dough in the bowl in order to scoop the dough out by hand.   Sprinkle work surface with a little flour and dump the dough on top.  Pat it into a rough rectangle and then use a floured rolling pin to roll into a rectangular shape about 1/2 inch thick.   If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough surface.  

Spread softened butter on rectangle evenly.  Spread pumpkin mixture over butter evenly. Combine brown sugar & cinnamon, then evenly sprinkle over entire surface.  If adding nuts, sprinkle over dough.  Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a cylinder & pinch closed.

Spray an oval baker lightly.  Using a bench cutter or very sharp knife, cut the cylinder into individual rolls  1 to 1 1/2 inch thick, approx 8 rolls.   Gently place them in the baking dish. At this point you can cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for 1-2 days or immediately bake.

Heat oven to 375.    Allow rolls to rise in the pan until they are slightly puffy,  30 minutes for already-warm dough and 1 hour for dough that’s been refrigerated. When the rolls are ready, bake them for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden and starting to look toasted around the edges. Rotate the pan halfway through cooking.

For glaze, blend butter & cheese, then add sugar.   Glaze should be ‘pourable’.  If not add a bit of milk, water or vanilla extract.  After rolls have cooled for 5 minutes, spread or drizzle over top.    Eat immediately.

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Cooking with Beer: Pumpkin Beer Waffles

One of my friends is a home brewer & they have introduced me to craft beers.   I’ve never been a big beer drinker, except in college & only then because it was the only thing I could afford.   During some travels in Europe, I did discover Belgian beer, which I really like.  So with their coaching I am finding beers I truly enjoy, which are normally ‘witte’ or   ‘farmhouse ales’.   My drink of choice is still tequila, but I’m enjoying experimenting with so many of the local craft beers….lately of course the plethora of pumpkin beers.   When I found a bottle of Blue Moon in the fridge after some friends had left, I decided to experiment with cooking with beer.   And since it is the season & I love waffles….it had to be Pumpkin Beer Waffles.   The beer adds a lightness to the batter & of course a marvelous flavor paired with pumpkin, including all the pumpkin pie spices.   What a lovely way to start the morning !!!

If you don’t want to make the entire batch, this batter will keep in the fridge for about a week.  Or you can refrigerate & reheat in a toaster.  They also freeze well.

PUMPKIN BEER WAFFLES  (from Hungry Girl Por Vida)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

2 Tablespoons sugar  (or Splenda)

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk (I use almond milk)

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup beer  (belgian wheat, preferred)

5 Tablespoons browned butter, cooled to room temperature

In a small skillet melt butter over medium until it becomes foamy. Once foamy, continue to heat butter over medium-low until the milk solids begin to brown at the bottom of the pan, you can whisk or stir it if you would like–the butter will become nutty and fragrant–allow it to brown as long as you dare before it burns. You will know by the smell if it is burnt. Pour into a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

Preheat the waffle iron according to manufacturers instructions. Oil, butter, or spray the iron lightly if needed.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder and soda, sugar, and spices. Set aside. In another mixing bowl combine the vanilla, milk, pumpkin, and eggs. Whisk well to combine, gently whisk in the beer. Make a well in the dry mixture and add all of the pumpkin/beer mixture, followed by the cooled brown butter, fold until just combined and there are no longer large dry pockets within the batter–some small lumps are okay. Ladle batter into the waffle iron and bake until done.  Serve warm with butter and syrup.

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Spicy Chocolate: Chocolate Diablo Cookies

I am an absolute ‘freak’ for anything spicy, so when it also includes chocolate you can count me in.   During an episode on Cooking Channel, they were highlighing a food truck that served ‘Chocolate Diablo Cookies’.   My ears perked up instantly and I was off on an internet search…..and there are tons of recipes.   I searched my pantry for the necessary ingredients and realized I had everything needed AND since I can be a lazy baker, it was all in one bag of Betty Crocker Double Chocolate Chunk cookie mix…..homemade cookies in 20 minutes.   The only needed ingredient was cayenne pepper…..which I always have in the spice cabinet.   These cookies are chocolate with huge chocolate chunks, obviously the reason I had picked up the package at my trusty Wegmans.   A girl has to be prepared for a chocolate attack.    I followed the package instructions & added 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper.   If you sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top prior to baking, it really pops the flavors even more.

There are no words to describe these marvelous concoctions.   Now I understand why people were standing in line at that food truck.   I made them for a Ravens tailgating party & my friends are in total agreement.   You can’t eat just one  !!!

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Now I have a batch made most of the time & I keep the cookie dough in the freezer.   When I feel the need for chocolate, it so easy to make just a few.   If not, the entire 3 dozen cookies would disappear I am sure.

In case you feel the need to make these from scratch….here is the recipe.

Chocolate Diablo Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or granulated sugar, if prefered)

Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with oil.

Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, cayenne & cinnamon in large bowl.  Stir in chips.  Whisk eggs in a medium bowl.  Add both sugars, oil & vanilla.   Combine with dry.

Roll into balls & place on cookie sheet.  Slightly flatten & sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake in center of oven until cookies start to crack, 11-13 min.  They will be fudgy in the middle.   Cool & eat immediately.   Or store in covered container, if you have any leftovers.

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Frugal Gourmet: 39 Spice Hummus

A friend and I ride our bikes a lot on a local trail that is a 41-mile long converted train track.   It is really beautiful since it runs through the woods along a river.  The change of seasons is amazing to watch.   Relatively flat with a bit of incline in places,  I prefer going down much more than going up those long inclines.   We try to do 20-22 miles usually 3 times a week, which has been interrupted lately by a plethora of rain.   On occasion we do more….our longest ride was 35 miles.   To add a little spice to our exercise, we drive to different entry points along the trail,  so we’ve ridden most of it but haven’t been able to work up to the entire distance……yet.   Afterward we are really hungry, so we sit on one of our porches, usually with our ‘go-to’ snack of hummus and pita chips.   My favorite has always been spicy roasted red pepper hummus but one day she had 40 spice hummus which was really fabulous.   Since we can consume an entire container in a single sitting, we were commenting on how expensive it is.   So of course, we Googled it & found this great ’39 Spice’ at a blog called 28 Cooks.   I doubt there are 40 spices but even if we left out a few…..this is really tasty.   And since I realized how easy making hummus truly is……I am now a connoisseur or homemade hummus.  There are so many flavors & combinations, you can never get bored.   So far, I’ve made red pepper, lemon, green pea, pumpkin, beet and black bean.    This one is definitely a favorite !!

39 Spice Hummus (adapted from 28 Cooks)

1 (30 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 c minced onion
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c olive oilProcess chickpeas in food processor until smooth.  Add remaining ingredients and whirl until creamy.
Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve with chips or fresh vegetables.
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Summer Spicy: Curried Coconut Cauliflower Soup

I don’t usually make soups in the summer, especially spicy soups.   However I got this huge head of cauliflower in my CSA at the Farmer’s Market from One Straw Farm.  So, after making a bunch of it roasted, I still had enough left to be called an entire cauliflower.   And, it has been rainy….oh, so rainy everyday & unexpectedly cool for August.   Suddenly curried cauliflower came to mind & one of my favorite soups.   I did this soup after a day of hiking the Appalachian Trail for the group I belong to & everyone wanted seconds.   Yup, it is that good.   I make mine pretty spicy at home, but with a group I usually do it a bit tamer and put the bottle of sriracha within easy reach.   Hope you like it….Chow !!!

Curried Coconut Cauliflower Soup
(adapted from Food & Wine)

1 head cauliflower, cut in florets
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & minced
4 teaspoons curry powder  
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 can coconut milk (regular or lite)
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 tsp cayenne (or more according to your taste)
fresh cilantro, if available, or dried
fresh basil, if available, preferably Thai basil
thinly sliced jalapeno & cilantro or basil, for garnish
diced chicken breasts (optional)


Heat oil in a large pot & add onions, garlic & pepper.  Cook on medium until onion is transparent & then stir in curry powder.  Toss & heat together for about 1 minute.      Add broth & cauliflower, then bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer & cook, uncovered until cauliflower is almost tender.   Add coconut milk, cayenne & cilantro bringing soup back to a low boil or simmer for 5-10 minutes.    Adjust seasonings to taste.   Serve topped with diced chicken, chopped cilantro/basil & pepper slices.
OPTION: Some like this soup blended & served as a puree.  I prefer the chunky texture, myself.
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