Small Batch Homemade Grape Jam

Jam is to peanut butter what the sun is to the sky.

It’s the fizz in your soda pop.

The ying in the yang.

You can’t have one without the other. It’s just not right.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself making my own jam. Wasn’t that for farmers and pioneer women?

Now, I can’t imagine not. With an abundance of fresh fruit at my fingertips and a secret hoard of glass jars to store it in, I have no excuse not to…. 

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S’mores Bread Pudding Bars

Smores Bread Pudding Bars

S’mores is the most loved of all campfire treats and in my opinion, the best part of camping. Nothing compares to the fire-toasted marshmallow treat for comfort and heart-warming goodness. The sticky, caramelized marshmallow nestled between two graham crackers and soft, melty milk chocolate makes sleeping in a tent seem not so bad after all.

I brought those same flavors into my bread pudding ‘bars’ by using chocolate graham crackers, homemade marshmallows and milk chocolate chips. I call these bars because I like my bread pudding to be on the firm side and after spending some time in the refrigerator they are easy to cut up into squares. If you prefer a looser, more ‘custardy’ pudding use less bread.

S'mores Bread Pudding Bars

S’mores Bread Pudding
(by Reeni)
8-9 cups stale bread, cubed*
5 graham crackers, cut into bite size pieces ( I use chocolate ones)
2 cups large marshmallows, cut in half or mini marshmallows (I use homemade)
2 cups milk chocolate chips
3 cups half and half or light heavy cream
3 eggs
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
whip cream, for serving

1. Grease a 9×13 baking pan. Toss bread, graham crackers and marshmallows together and arrange evenly across bottom. Scatter chips over top.

2. In a large mixing bowl whisk half and half, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon together.

3. Pour over bread mixture. Refrigerate at least two hours or overnight for dense bread, press down on the bread and make sure it gets soaked by the egg mixture.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Allow the pan to come to room temperature before baking. Bake for 45-50 minutes until top is golden and middle is set. Serve warm or cold with whip cream. Store in refrigerator.

*For a more custardy pudding use 2 cups less bread cubes.


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Homemade Marshmallows

Like most things, marshmallows are infinitely better when they’re homemade. They have an incredibly smooth creaminess to them that you will never find with the bagged variety.

With superior melting abilities they are more inclined to melt in your mouth before you have a chance to chew on them. They have a softer chewiness compared to store-bought which I would describe as having a tougher texture.

If you’ve ever wondered what a fluffy cloud might taste like…wonder no more…I imagine this is it!… 

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Recipe Impossible: Squash and Couscous Patties with Coconut Peanut Sauce

Butternut Squash & Couscous Patties with Coconut Peanut Sauce

I was chosen by my charming friend Joanne of Eats Well With Others to participate in a “Recipe Impossible” challenge. The premise was to use winter squash, one of her (and mine!) favorite things in the whole world, along with two ingredients that Marx Foods sent me as part of a ‘goodie’ box. The goodie box had eight ingredients in it:

-fennel pollen
-ginger salt
-coconut sugar
-powdered maple sugar
-vanilla beans
-espresso salt
-pasilla chiles
-aji panca chiles

I made two things, the first of which I’m not going to enter in the challenge, not because it isn’t good, but because the second is better. I simmered cubes of butternut squash and chick peas in coconut milk with fennel pollen, five spice powder, ginger salt, coconut sugar, cayenne and the chiles, then spooned it over whole wheat couscous. Sweet and warmly spiced with a little bit of heat it was mildly addicting. If you’ve never had five spice powder it’s made of a mixture of cinnamon, fennel, star anise, cloves and szechuan peppercorns to represent all five flavors: sweet, salty, pungent, sour and bitter. That’s the addicting part! I realized just how much I love five spice powder, a spice mix that is underrated and underused.

Then I had the bright idea to make squash patties. I mashed up cooked butternut squash, mixed it with cooked couscous and seasoned it in a similar way with fennel pollen, five spice, ginger salt and a little bit of smoked paprika. This was my first time using fennel pollen. It’s not as sweet as fennel, and has a bright and bold flavor with a floral scent. I did some research and found out it is sometimes called angels wings. And then I found out why. As I was was about to take the first bite the unmistakable scent of the fennel pollen drifted right up my nose. And stopped time for a moment. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

I paired the butternut squash patties with a coconut milk and peanut butter sauce made with coconut sugar, soy sauce and vinegar. For serving I also gave them a sprinkle of honey roasted peanuts, chopped cilantro and ginger salt. I used three ingredients out of the goodie box in this recipe; the fennel pollen, ginger salt and coconut sugar.

I’m sending out big thank-yous to Joanne and Marx Foods for letting me participate!

Butternut Squash & Couscous Patties with Coconut Peanut Sauce

Butternut Squash and Couscous Patties with Coconut Peanut Sauce
(by Reeni)

2 cups butternut squash, cooked and mashed
1 +1/2 cups whole wheat couscous, cooked
1 heaping teaspoon fennel pollen
3/4 teaspoon ginger salt, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 heaping tablespoon coconut sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
butter, for pan-frying
olive oil, for pan-frying
fresh cilantro or thai basil, chopped, for garnish
chopped peanuts

1. In a medium bowl combine squash, couscous, fennel pollen, salt, five spice, paprika and bread crumbs. Form into six 1/2 cup sized patties. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Warm up the coconut milk, whisk in peanut butter, then soy sauce and vinegar. Taste and tweak if needed.

3. In a large skillet heat about 1/2 teaspoon butter with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Fry the patties until browned about 5-7 minutes on each side. Serve with sauce, fresh herbs, a sprinkle of peanuts and ginger salt.

Printable Recipe

Squash & Couscous Patties with Coconut Peanut Sauce

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My Mexican Inspired Luxury Dinner Party

Project Food Blog Challenge #3 Prompt: Celebrate! You’ve made it this far, and the next challenge is to hold a party for your friends and family. Whether you’re an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors. Share your hosting secrets with readers, like how to cook for a crowd, plan a menu, or involve guests in the prep.

My very first dinner party was a rousing success! My goal in the menu planning was to incorporate fresh, exotic ingredients, and bold, Mexican-inspired dishes that my guests would be tasting for the first time. Not only did I introduce them to some new flavors but myself as well.

Mexican Dinner Party Menu for Project Food Blog

Appetizers:

Sweet and spicy, finger-licking good Honey Chipotle Chicken Wings.

Honey Chipotle Chicken Wings

Sonoran Quesadillas with Manchego Cheese and Poblano Peppers and Onions. To make these a thin, flour tortilla is smeared with butter and baked until golden brown and crispy. The tortillas are then topped with shredded Manchego cheese and roasted, sauteed poblano peppers and onions.

Sonoran Quesadilla

Thick, creamy and mild Butternut and Chayote Squash Soup with Chipotle Cream and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds packs a sweet little kick of heat from the chipotle cream.

Butternut Chayote Squash Soup with Chipotle Cream

Mountains of hand-fried Tortilla Chips.

Hand Fried Tortilla Chips

Two kinds each of salsa and quacamole.

Salsa and Quacamole

Frozen Mango Margaritas.

Frozen Mango Margarita
Mexican Dinner Party Menu for Project Food Blog

Entree:

Melt-in-your-mouth, slow-cooked Shredded Flank Steak, tender and packed full of flavor, this was the main object of our affections.

Printable Steak Taco Recipe (Opens in a New Window)

Slow Cooked Shredded Flank Steak

Along with the “Puffy” Taco, filled with steak and topped with the fresh, clean taste of home-made Crema. The ‘puffy’ taco is made by quickly deep-frying corn tortillas; light, crispy and delicate, they put a whole new spin on the classic taco.

Shredded Steak Puffy Taco

A take on much-loved Mexican street corn, this Roasted Corn with Queso, Cilantro and Chile Powder may be the reason I never look at corn the same way again.

Roasted Corn with Queso, Cilantro and Chile Powder

Dense and starchy Yuca Fries dusted with chile powder and salt with a Sour Cream Salsa Dipping Sauce were a nice change-up from regular french fries.

Yuca Fries with Sour Cream Salsa Dipping Sauce

Vibrant, sweet and refreshing Prickly Pear Aqua Fresca.

Prickly Pear Aqua Fresca

Desserts:

A decadent Chocoflan with Dulce de Leche and Walnuts. The bottom half is a deep, dark, dense chocolate cake, the top half is a traditional flan, rich and creamy, topped with luscious homemade Dulce de Leche and walnuts. 

Chocoflan with Dulce de Leche and Walnuts

Chocoflan with Dulce de Leche and Walnuts

A traditional Mexican Churro, similar to a donut, mini-sized, with cinnamon and spice and a Dulce de Leche dipping sauce. We drank Mayan Hot Chocolate (not shown) with dessert, a hot chocolate drink seasoned with red pepper and cinnamon.

Mini Cinnamon Spice Churros with Dulce de Leche Dipping Sauce

Chayote squash, yuca and prickly pear were new to all of us. For some it was the first time eating manchego cheese, tomatillos, poblanos and flan. And it was the first time for all of us eating the famed “puffy” taco. I can say with all certainty it will not be the last! Everything was well received and loved by all! The puffy tacos, chicken wings, soup and chocoflan received the most praise

For my first dinner party this was very ambitious. It would not of been as successful without my meticulous planning. I did it all myself aside from a little bit of help with vegetable prepping the morning of the dinner and my family kindly washing lots of dishes for me.

I cannot stress enough the importance of mapping things out, right down to the tiniest detail.

This is what worked for me:

-Plan the menu with alternate recipes and also take into account any allergies your guests may have, whether they have specific dietary needs (like being a vegetarian) and if it’s a spicy meal, like this one, consider what their threshold for heat is. Also, consider seasonal ingredients and ways to incorporate them to make them special.
-Alternate recipes are important. Always have a back-up plan. You don’t want to be at the market to find they don’t have something and then have to scramble to think of something else, right there on the spot. For instance, I planned to make squash blossom and manchego quesadillas but couldn’t find the squash blossoms. I didn’t fret because I had an alternate recipe waiting in the wings – poblano peppers and manchego quesadillas. Print out all the recipes including the alternates/back-up ones and have them with you when you shop to refer to.
-Make a shopping list and check it twice. Go over the recipes and compare them against the list and with what you have on hand already.
-Make a time-line with detailed lists on the tasks that need to be completed and when. Plan to do as much of the cooking and prep work as can be done the day before. Enlist in some help. It will ease the stress on the day of and give you time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor with your quests.

I will be spotlighting these recipes over the next week or so and adding the recipe links here, if there’s a recipe you would like before then just let me know.

Here is a Printable Copy of My Three Day Plan (Opens in a New Window).
And a Printable Copy of my Shopping List.

My Mexican Inspired Dinner Party for Project Food Blog

So what do you think, would you like to R.S.V.P. to my dinner party? Please click on the badge below to vote for me and keep my dream alive. You can sign in with your foodbuzz, twitter or facebook. Thank-you! xoxo

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