Pumpkin Soup w/ Fried Sage & Hazelnuts

There it was.  Delicately placed between her thumb and index finger.  A freshly fried sage leaf.  Our eyes met.  I hesitated a second too long and saw that my option for fleeing had itself fled right out the window.  There was nothing left to do but take a long, deep breath, straighten myself up, and eat the damn thing.

I don’t know why I fight it.  My mom has never steered me wrong.  Well, there was that one Marmite incident… But when she told me I would love it, I didn’t believe her.  A fried leaf?  I had envisioned it being greasy and horribly bitter… But no, it was incredible!  So flavorful, and with a delicate crunch… I was hooked.

These days, I’ll put fried sage leaves on just about anything.  I picked up a beautiful sugar pie pumpkin at the farmers market this weekend and decided to whip up some soup topped with none other than… fried sage leaves!

After simmering big pieces of pumpkin flesh in vegetable stock, I let it cool slightly before pureeing it all in the blender until smooth.  After adding it back to the pot, I seasoned it with a little sea salt, freshly-ground nutmeg, cinnamon, a small amount of brown sugar (not to make it sweet, just to balance the flavor), the juice from one orange (previously picked from my dad’s tree), and a splash of Triple Sec, an orange-flavored liqueur.  Served with fried sage leaves and toasted, cracked hazelnuts.

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Baked Meatballs & Egg Noodles

I’m not much of a meat eater.  But my husband is.  So I’m always looking for easy ways to incorporate meat into more dishes.  Since we usually have a stock of organic, grass-fed beef in the freezer at all times, there are a few beef dishes that I always come back to when I need to whip up something quickly.  One of his favorites: meatballs with buttered egg noodles.

In the past, I would always pan fry the meatballs until beautifully browned.  But that requires a lot of attention and usually leaves my stove a mess.  This time, I decided to try baking them.  Although they didn’t get that golden crust from the pan, they cooked in no time at all and came out super moist!  Just delicious!  Short of making the traditional “Spaghetti and Meatballs” in a tomato sauce, where you would want to pan fry the meatballs to richen the flavor of the sauce you added to the pan later, baking them is my new favorite way to eat them.

Juicy Baked Meatballs

Serve with buttered egg noodles and top with parsley and freshly grated
parmesan cheese.

1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
3 tbsp plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup ketchup
splash of  Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
additional ketchup for topping formed meatballs, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In large bowl, combine beef with remaining ingredients.  Mix until just incorporated.

3.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  With 1″ cookie scoop, or hands, form 1″ meatballs and place evenly on lined baking sheet.  To add a little extra sweetness, top each formed meatball with ~1/4 tsp ketchup, if desired.

4.  Bake 12-14 minutes until just cooked through.

Serves 4.

NOTE:  If you subtitute “regular” ground beef for grass-fed beef, you may need to add on a few minutes to the cooking time as grass-fed beef cooks more quickly than grain-fed beef.

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Homemade Chocolate Bark & Fresh Oranges

I have this dream that someday I will have enough land to plant dozens of fruit trees.  Every kind of fruit; peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, apples, figs…  Oh, the things we could make!  But until then, I’ll have to keep pilfering fruit from my family’s fruit trees – which I am MORE than happy to do!

This weekend I stopped by my dad’s house and ransacked his orange tree.  Chris always gives me “the look” when I walk in the door loaded to the brim with bags of these beautiful, bright orange-colored juicy fruits.  But I always find a use for them!  I thought it would nice to keep it simple and serve the oranges as-is, accompanied by some homemade dark chocolate bark.  A wonderful way to end any meal.

Making chocolate bark is so easy and has endless variations.  By simply melting some chocolate and topping it with whatever nuts and dried fruit you have on hand, you’ll have a gorgeous and delicious sweet treat in no time.

I’ve always been a huge fan of combining orange and chocolate.  Freshly sliced oranges are wonderfully tart and make a delicious accompaniment to the rich dark chocolate bark.

Dark Chocolate Bark

12 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 cup assorted nuts, toasted and chopped (I like cashews, pecans and hazelnuts)
1 cup assorted dried fruit, chopped (I like cranberries, apricots and figs)
1/3 cup
candied ginger, chopped

1.  Melt chocolate chips in top of double-boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

2.  Line large sheet pan with parchment paper.  Pour melted chocolate over paper and spread chocolate out with an offset spatula until roughly about 1/4″ thick.

3.  Even sprinkle chopped nuts and dried fruit over chocolate.  Refrigerate until chocolate has set, about 30 minutes.  Remove and roughly chop bark into bite size pieces and serve.

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Men At Work

It’s so nice to have men around to help with things.  They’re strong.  They’re funny.  And they’re always so grateful for any food you throw their way!  What more could a gal ask for?

It’s time to start clearing our yard of all the winter growth (or lack thereof) and make room for our new raised beds and spring garden.  A few sandwiches in exchange for some manual labor?  Okay!

Our little guy, Henry, came out to help supervise the yard work:

After several hours of cutting and trimming, all that was left to do was sit back, relax, and enjoy a sandwich with some iced tea.

Thanks to my sweet husband Chris and our dear friend, Mr. Jack Passion, the yard was cleared of all overgrowth and prepped for Phase 2: implementing the new garden design layout!

Thanks, guys!  I couldn’t do it without you!  xo

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Grown-Up Cracker Jack’s & A Show

The girls and I recently went out to celebrate our dear friend Sherie’s birthday with dinner and a concert at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.  Since I’m always looking for an excuse to bring people food, I thought it would be fun to make a special treat for everyone to nibble on during the show.

Caramel popcorn sounded perfect!  Fun, easy, and by adding some peanuts, reminiscent of everyone’s childhood favorite; Cracker Jacks.

This is by far the best recipe I have come across for caramel corn and, shockingly enough, it’s from a page I tore out of an old Cooking Light magazine.  I just added peanuts!

Caramel Popcorn

Recipe Source: Cooking Light Magazine

Cooking spray
1  cup  dark brown sugar, packed
1/2  cup  light corn syrup
1/3  cup  butter
1  tbsp light molasses
1 1/2  tsp  vanilla extract
1/2  tsp  baking soda
1/2  teaspoon  salt
12  cups  popcorn (popped without salt or fat)

1.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2.  Spray large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

3.  In medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and molasses and bring to boil over medium heat.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring once.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, baking soda and salt.

4.  Place popcorn in a large bowl and pour caramel mixture over top and stir well until all popcorn is evenly coated.  Pour coated popcorn onto greased baking pan and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

5.  Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes before breaking up into pieces.  Can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

*Note:  I love peanuts so I always add a cup or two of them to the popcorn before I pour the caramel over.

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