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Yikes! It's been a long time since my last post! It's just not as easy to get a decent photograph of food any more. I know that's not the most important thing, but the lighting in my kitchen is just so bad. The first floor of my house is more a basement than anything, so good lighting is a challenge. 
common violet

Anyway, violet jelly? Yes, violets! The common violet that many people consider a weed on their lawn. Since I don't have enough sunlight on my shady property to grow much, I'm now foraging--ha! Violet jelly is a rather old-fashioned recipe since it does use foraged plants, but one that should really make a comeback. All of the flowers in the viola family are edible (including pansies) as long as they haven't been treated or sprayed with chemicals. My yard is a weedy wonderland, so all the violets are safe to consume. This past weekend, my daughter and I collected a bowl full of violet blooms to make this jelly. It takes hundreds to do so. The best way to harvest them is to pinch at the base of the bloom because you don't want any greenery (stems or flowers) in your mix. Then, you just wash them, soak them, and make the jelly. It's really simple!

And the result is fantastic. First, the jelly is a beautiful dark purple that you can see right through. Filtering your lemon juice (or using bottled lemon juice) makes it even clearer. The taste is sweet and just a bit tart. It is really delicious and would be great on toast, but particularly accompanying some brie or a thin schmear of goat cheese on a piece of baguette.

violet jelly

Violet Jelly
yield: four or five 8 ounce jars

2 heaping cups freshly-picked wild violet blooms (fully opened)
2 1/2 cups water
the juice of one lemon (or 1/4 cup lemon juice), strained
4 cups sugar
1 package of pectin (I used Certo liquid pectin; use powdered pectin as directed)

Rinse the flowers and place in a large glass bowl. Boil the water and pour it over the flowers and steep for 8 to 24 hours. Strain the flowers and pour the infused liquid into a large sauce pan (strain through a jelly bag or fine cheesecloth if you want to strain out the finest debris or dirt for a super clear jelly). Stir in the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the sugar and return to a hard boil, stirring constantly. Boil for about a minute more. Turn off and remove from heat and skim off the foam. Ladle the hot liquid into prepared (sterilized) canning jars leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch at the top. Run a skewer around the edges to let out air bubbles (which are not likely), wipe around the rims (and just inside), and seal. Process in a boiling hot water bath for 5 minutes. (If you have not canned before, follow these canning instructions.)

A few notes:

I tried to reduce the sugar to 2 cups and I don't advise it. Tasted great, but did not jell well. Sugar is also a preservative, so it's necessary for long-term storage.

Don't boil for too long as that will also affect your jelling. Overboiling can break down pectin. Use the jelly test to determine if your mixture is ready to be canned. And be sure to use fresh pectin. Old pectin (more than a year old) will not jell. You can use a jelly test to see if it's ready, but you should be able to tell from a skim of jelly and foam that forms.

Overboiling applies to the hot water bath, too. If you are at 1000 ft altitude or lower, five minutes is plenty.

The foam you skim is still edible and delicious, just  not pretty. Set it aside and eat it later.

Here's another good primer if you've  never made and canned jelly before.

 

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I've been thinking about stuffing a pumpkin for a while. Specifically, I was looking for a recipe where I could just cram some uncooked wild rice or quinoa in a pumpkin and have a meal after a couple of hours. I didn't find that, but I did find a simple recipe that's extremely customizable that was originally from Dorie Greenspan. It's a perfect vegetarian main dish or side dish for fall or Thanksgiving dinners. It's really easy, too. The short version is: get a pumpkin, remove the guts, stuff it with cheese and bread, and cook it for two hours. But the longer version may be a bit more helpful.

And please excuse my photos. I snapped these as I was cooking and serving, not sure how it would turn out and not up for a photo sesh. But they give you a good idea of sizing and doneness. I placed my pumpkin in a 7 qt Dutch oven.

All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.
All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.

Vegetarian Stuffed Pumpkin
serves 4-6
adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan via PBS

  • 1 medium "pie" or "sugar" pumpkin, about 3 pounds (about the size of a basketball)
  • Smoked salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups stale or refrigerated bread cubes (½-inch)
  • 8 - 12 ounces cheese, such as Gouda, Havarti, Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2–4 chopped garlic cloves (to taste) or 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • About ¼ cup snipped fresh chives OR
  • 1 tablespoon of Wash Park seasoning blend from Savory Spice Shop
  • About ⅓ cup heavy cream or milk

Place the oven rack on the lower middle or lower setting and pre-heat the oven to 350F.

Scrub the outside of the pumpkin to clean. Then cut a hole in the top large enough to clean out and stuff the pumpkin, making sure to cut at a 45 degree angle so that the resulting lid will rest on top (like a jack-o-lantern). Scoop out the seeds and strings and remove them from the lid as well. Discard or keep the seeds for roasting later. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the pumpkin (and around the edges) to taste.

Combine the bread, cheese, garlic, and seasoning in a large bowl and toss together to mix. Place the stuffing in the pumpkin and pour the cream or milk on top to moisten.

Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.
Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.

Place the lid on top and put the pumpkin in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven or on a large baking sheet (contents may bubble over or pumpkin may lose shape). Cook for two hours or until the stuffing is bubbling (check after 90 minutes for doneness). Remove the lid for the last 15 minutes or so to brown the stuffing, if desired. The pumpkin is ready when the skin can be easily pierced with a fork.

To serve, scoop contents and cut portions of the side of the pumpkin.

Notes: I used Gouda and Havarti, which tasted great. A Gruyère or Emmenthal would have made a creamier filling, though (think fondue). For a heartier meal, reduce the salt and seasoning and add veggie sausage. I served mine topped with arugula and with a side of rice pilaf (with golden raisins and walnuts).

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What's this? Finally, a post, but not a recipe? I have been in a real rut lately. I haven't been making anything new. A year into it, and the house is still under renovation. But! One room is completely finished! A powder room, but still. Many other rooms just need the trim painted and the windows cleaned, but both of those are still big jobs. Though the kitchen is functional, it's not finished and I don't have the time or energy to make big, elaborate meals in it. But someday!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some of my favorite vegan items since I'm trying to eat more vegan at home.

veganfood

First up is Gardein. I don't love a lot of fake meats, but everything I've had from Gardein has been really great. Their stuffed "turk'y" was as good as the Trader Joe's and Tofurky turkeys, but I only see it around the holidays (and I believe the TJ's version is no longer available). Their mandarin chick'n is also a favorite. Gardein is easy to find in most "healthy" freezer sections. I've seen Gardein products at Kroger and Publix as well as Whole Foods. Gardein really helps a good dinner come together quickly and easily.

Next, I finally got around to trying Dandies vegan marshmallows. I didn't realize that I even missed marshmallows, but I wanted to eat the whole bag right away. I think they taste better than standard grocery store marshmallows. There's a great vanilla flavor and the texture is perfect. As far as I know, Whole Foods is the only store around Nashville that carries them.

I've already proclaimed my love for all things So Delicious*, but lately, I've discovered that I can't handle much dairy ice cream any more, so these ice creams have taken the place of my beloved Ben & Jerry's favorites. The cherry amaretto is my absolute favorite. The Coco Whip is a Cool Whip substitute and it is fantastic. It keeps well in the freezer, too. It also doesn't have that weird aftertaste (and afterfeel) that Cool Whip has. I'd recommend Coco Whip be used for any Cool Whip recipe, regardless if you're vegan or not. So Delicious products are available at most groceries, but Whole Foods has the most comprehensive selection.
(*I thought I had, but apparently not here, just on Instagram. So Delicious is...um, so delicious! All the coconut stuff as well as most of the almond products. I don't love the almond yogurt.)

The BE Hive seitan is a product that--I think--is available only in Nashville, but if you're local, I highly recommend trying it out. I mean, I could make my own seitan, but I'm not gonna. Not when I can buy really good, already-made seitan (available all around the city). I used the filets on sandwiches to simulate a roast beef, but they can be used for any chunk purpose.

uptons

Last up is Upton's Naturals jackfruits. Again, this is something I could make myself (my recipe for barbecue jackfruit is here), but I often just don't feel like going to the trouble of preparing my own. I will say that Upton's doesn't take out some of the stuff that I do when I prepare my own, so the texture is different (it's moister, for one thing), so I like my own barbecue version just a bit better. However, the chili lime carnitas version is really great. We used them for tacos. If you want to try them out, you can find them at Whole Foods. I'm looking forward to trying out their seitan, too since it comes in several flavors.

And speaking of Tofurky, I like to use the Tofurky Italian Sausage in my red beans and rice. I use the Vigo brand, which does not contain any stock (though it does list "natural flavors," which I hope is not animal-derived). It makes the meal really hearty (and helps one package become four servings).