Balsamic Preserved Cherries

I have a self imposed rule about shoes and purses.  In order for me to buy a new one, an old one has to go.  For the shoes, this isn’t so problematic.  I tend to go through them on a regular basis.  Typically, the pair I’m buying is to replace the pair that I’ve just worn out.

It’s a little trickier with the purses.  I have to think long and hard about which one I am willing to part with in order to add a new one to my collection.  Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve bought a new purse…but there was a lovely Kate Spade bag on ridiculous sale a few months ago that nearly pushed my beat up Coach bag into the donation pile.

In the year or so that I’ve been canning, I’ve come to realize that I need to expand this rule just a bit to include jars.  The collection of half pint jars…both empty and full…is threatening to take over what little storage space we have here at BAH.  That means that until we eat our way through what’s already been canned, or give it away, I am on canning restriction.  No new jars will be purchased and no new batches of jams or jellies will be cooked up.

Part of the canning collection that we’ve dug into recently is the balsamic preserved cherries.  Both savory and sweet, they are one of the more versatile jars in the stash…they could go with a pork or beef tenderloin as easily as they dress up my morning yogurt.  I can’t believe it has taken us this long to open them up and let them shine in all of their syrupy balsamic glory.

Fortunately, I should have plenty of time to work through the rest of the inventory before cherry season comes back around.  Because I need to make sure these get restocked.

Balsamic Cherries

Adapted from Nomnivorous

BAH Note: You’re going to want a cherry pitter for this project.  If you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one or just resign to buying one for about twenty bucks.  Pitting this many cherries is a bit of work, even with the gadget, but the pitter should cut down on the cursing and CSI worthy spattering.  If you absolutely can’t get your hands on a pitter, you could use a paring knife to carefully cut the cherries open and squeeze out the pits.

  • 4 cups sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1 /2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Combine the cherries and water in a large dutch oven or other non-reactive pot.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently and lightly crushing the cherries to break them up and release juice.

Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of kosher salt. Continue to gently boil the mixture for approximately 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens a bit but is still loose.

Ladle the mixture into heated jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space, and process for 10 minutes.

Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking the seal and storing the jars. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated or immediately reprocessed using new lids.

balsamic cherries

Flashback Friday – Book Report

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/13/09 at Exit 51.

Book Report

On our first date, SFC asked me what I like to do.  My answer could have doomed the relationship before it even got started.  I said, “I like to read”.  I’ve always been a reader, as long as I can remember.  Books take me to places filled with color and life, interesting people, and grand adventures.  They take me outside of myself.


My earliest literary memories are of my grandmother reading stories about Abercrombie, Benjamin, and Christopher or Babbar the Elephant at bedtime.  Once I could read the words on the pages for myself, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Nancy Drew, and Judy Blume all followed.  It is my opinion that Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret should be considered the official adolescent girls’ handbook.

Even now, I can be transported back to points in time just thinking of certain books.  There was my obsession with Stephen King from about 7th to 10th grade.  The Talisman?  Could not put it down.  Christine?  I started reading it in the afternoon and did not go to bed until I had finished it around 3:30am.  The Shining?  Scared the bejezzus out of me in a way the movie could not.  In fact, I scared myself so bad reading It that I could never bring myself to watch the movie.  Ever.  Put a Stephen King book in my hands now and I’m once again a 13 year old with feathered hair, sitting in my bedroom with purple as far as the eye can see, the obligitory unicorn artwork, and a rockin’ Steve Perry poster.  What can I say, 13 was a period of transition for me.

My taste in books expands and contracts over time.  Some, like Atlas Shrugged, will always be a favorite and have a permanent place on the bookshelf.  Others, like  The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, or the latest Vince Flynn thriller, fill a momentary void and are soon passed on.

So books and me, we go way back. Cooking, on the other hand, is relatively new in comparison.  Before I met SFC, cooking wasn’t really on my radar.  My meals consisted mostly of Lean Cuisine this and spaghetti that.  It just wasn’t a focus.  When I did try and cook, the results were not what I would call successful.  I still have not recovered from my first attempt to cook a ham.  No matter how long it stayed in the oven, that thing just would not get done.  Hours later, when the thermometer still refused to get to 160 degrees,  it was a lost cause since it had been pretty well ingrained into me that you don’t eat undercooked pork or chicken.  So when a recipe tells me to cook for so many minutes per pound, I move on to the next option.  This is why at our house there is no turkey on Thanksgiving and no ham on Easter.  Just so you know.

I would have to say it was after SFC and I started dating that my inner foodie surfaced.  Yes, I wanted to impress him with mad cooking skills.  I also wanted to stop eating out of boxes and cans.  So I rolled up my sleeves and got cooking.  If someone were to ask me now what I like to do, I would have to say that I like to read and I like to cook.

Usually, most cookbooks don’t make for enjoyable reading.  And most novels don’t add to your recipe collection. But sometimes, those two interests intersect.  When they do, I’m all over it.  Take A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.

You’ve heard me talk about Molly.  She’s the woman behind the curtain at Orangette.  I can’t remember how I found her blog.  But it was the first food site that I ever bookmarked.  Before Food Network and before The Minimalist even.  Sorry Ina, Alton, and Mark.

Molly’s blog is full of stories from real life.  Her real life.  The exciting days and the ordinary ones.  But there is  joy and beauty in even the most ordinary day that comes across in her stories.  And passion.  Passion for the people she loves and passion for the food that they share.   For me, reading her is like talking to an old friend.  Even if I don’t come around to visit for while, we pick right up where we left off like not a day has gone by.

In her book we are an angst ridden teenager.  We spend holidays with her family. We leave college and move to Paris.    Later, we move to Seattle and start a blog.  We meet our future husband courtesy of the blog.  We also lose our father, an aunt, and an uncle.  We get married.  And we cook.

Each chapter in the book ends with a recipe.  While I’ve never had a pickled carrot before, reading about how it was only natural for Molly and Brandon to make homemade pickled carrots for their wedding, I could almost taste them in my mouth.  Here, I’ll let her tell you…”…spindly and sweet, as small and delicate as a lady’s pinky and just the right height to stand, shoulder to shoulder, in a quart sized Mason jar.”  As soon as I find two Mason jars, I will be trying the recipe on page 290.

Each recipe tells a story and each story holds a recipe.  Molly brings the two together in a way that will make you cry as much as it will make you laugh.  Don’t be surprised if you find that this book calls out for a permanent spot on your bookshelf.

Advantium Wrap Up

there's no advantium hiding in this graphic. i just really love the image.

Over the last three months I have discovered that the Advantium really has helped me do more in my kitchen.  Do you mind if I review some highlights?

I used it to Speedcook an entire chicken in 45 minutes.  My first attempt showed me the importance of finding the proper cookware to get the most benefit out of Speedcook.  Thanks to a bit of internet searching and researching, I finally came up with a solution to that challenge.  Emile Henry has a line of microwave safe dutch ovens that work as beautifully in the Advantium (on all its various settings) as they do on the stove top or in my gas oven.  The 4.2 quart fits perfectly and rotates freely in the Advantium and it has easy to grab handles AND a lid.  Best of all, because the Emile Henry isn’t cast iron, it doesn’t weigh a ton like my other dutch ovens do. Oh happy day.

I harnessed the power of the Warm setting to keep my canning jars at a perfect temperature.  Never again will have I have to juggle jars in and out of a wee water bath two and three at a time to keep them ready for canning.  I can prep all of my jars at once and trust that the Warm setting will take care of the rest.

And let’s not forget that Speedcook took my tenderloin filet from raw to medium in less than 20 minutes.  For. Real.  No preheating.  No splattered cooktop.  It was a thing of beauty.

But those aren’t the only things I’ve been cooking up in the Advantium.

I’ve used the Quickcook preset for frozen pizza rolls to perfectly brown homemade meatballs before finishing them off in a pot of sauce.

I’ve also become well acquainted with the frozen waffle-fry preset.  And I have begun devoting space in my freezer to bags of frozen sweet potato fries because of this.

Most recipes that require baking now get put in the Advantium on the Convection setting instead of my big oven.  Those bran muffins were just the first of many sweet (and savory) dishes that have done time in the Advantium.  Winter squash, braised pork, and raspberry oatmeal bars are recent additions to that list.

Now that I have had time to become more familiar with the Advantium, there are some things that I wish it did better.

If you have a toaster or toaster oven, I don’t think the Advantium is going to take it out of commission.  Toasting in the Advantium is different…in order to get both sides of something toasty brown, I have to carefully reach in and turn it over.  It took me a while to figure that out.  I kept wondering why my bread was as pale after three minutes as it was when I first put it in.  A quick investigation showed me that the browning happens to which ever side is in contact with the metal cooking tray.  And the toast setting isn’t as user friendly as it could be.  With a toaster or toaster oven, you set it on a light to dark continuum; with the Advantium you set it for a cooking time.  I still haven’t figured out how to convert the light/dark settings into cooking times.

In a perfect world there would be a single cooking tray for the unit that could be used in all cooking modes.  It’s a struggle, especially in a small kitchen, to have to store a second cooking tray but to also have it be easily accessible at all times.  In addition to the issue of finding a place for the tray that isn’t in use to be stored, there’s the matter of having to switch trays in order to change cooking modes.  Say you want to do something as routine such as going from braising a pork roast on Convection to cooking a side serving of vegetables, to go with that braised pork, on Microwave.  After you’ve taken your hot dish out of the Advantium and set it somewhere to rest you have to reach in to the hot oven,  carefully remove the hot metal cooking tray, find a place to put that so it can cool, get the glass tray from wherever you’ve stored it, and install it.  A single cooking tray would simplify this greatly.

The wire cooking racks, used in the Convection mode, do not slide in and out of the unit like the racks in my big oven.  This means that it is imperative for me to remember to put my cake pans and muffin tins on baking sheets before I set them in the Advantium.  Otherwise, especially since I am reaching up into the unit, I struggle to securely get my oven mitt on the pan in order to pull it out of the oven.

Would it be wonderful if GE were able to refine the Advantium further to make it even more user friendly?  Absolutely.  Would it benefit the home cook to have even more preset cooking options factory programmed into the Advantium…especially ones for cooking things other than frozen convenience foods?  You betcha.  Would it be less intimidating to figure out how to take recipes users already have and make them Quickcook friendly if some type of conversion guidelines were available?  Without a doubt.

But like I said a few hundred words ago, the Advantium has allowed me to do more.  It has given me confidence that I can overcome some of my biggest cooking challenges (yes, I’m looking at you bread).  I never imagined that a kitchen appliance would increase my self esteem…lord knows enough of them have chipped away at it…but that’s exactly what’s happened.  I doubt I will ever be fearless in the kitchen but I now have a powerful tool in my arsenal.

I am still giddy beyond belief to have had the opportunity to work with GE.  My sincere thanks go out to all the folks involved with the project for allowing me to help tell the Advantium story.  It truly has been a pleasure.

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.

LoveFeast Coffee Cake

The ladies of LoveFeast Table, Kristin and Chris Ann, know the importance of creating community around the table.  They also value the notion of giving back and paying it forward.  Last year they launched an initiative to raise $24,000 to provide 100,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children, a non-profit that works to provide nutritious meals to the world’s malnourished children.

No, that’s not a typo.  Do the math.  $24,000 for 100,000 meals.  That’s .24 per meal.

It absolutely boggles my mind to think about how many meals could be funded out of a tank of gas, a month’s worth of morning visits to the coffee shop, or even my weekly grocery budget.

How can you help?  I’m glad you asked.  The ladies of LoveFeast are offering a new coffee cake in their shop and will donate $3.00 from the sale of every LoveFeast Coffee Cake to the project.  Each LoveFeast Coffee Cake sold represents 12 meals for Feed My Starving Children.

So that’s the pitch.  No pressure; no hard sell tactics.  You can find the LoveFeast Coffee Cake here.

Disclaimer:  I have no affiliation with either LFT or Feed My Starving Children.  And I  haven’t sampled the coffee cake so I can’t describe it to you.  But I know how hard Kristin and Chris Ann work to secure quality products and value for the LeaveFeast Table.


father of the bride, 2004

Today is your birthday.  Right now I am thinking back to one year ago when I flew down to make you birthday dinner.  I can’t recall what I made, except for the cupcakes…you know the ones I mean…the ones that were devoured in a span of only two or three days.

I remember we stopped off for supper on the way back from the airport.  You ordered your steak to be so charred beyond recognition that it could have been considered a crime against decency.  I suppose you could have said the same about my bleedingly rare cut of beef.  Over your scotch on the rocks and my diet coke we managed to joke about the challenge of finding a birthday card for you.  I never imagined anything as innocent as that could be so awkward…or so funny.

Those visits last year have all kind of melted together in my memory.  But I clearly remember that when I went to leave that weekend, I told you that we should do this again next year.  Despite knowing what I knew, I had a hope that today I would be in your kitchen filling the house with the smells of freshly baked rolls, hearty meat sauce, and, of course, those magic cupcakes.

So today is sad for me because I’m not there and neither are you.

I can’t get used to referring to you in the past tense. Over the last four months I’ve found myself looking for you…looking for signs of you.  Sometimes I find you in the turn of a phrase.  Sometimes you are in the clock on the microwave, or my cell phone, turning off without warning.  And sometimes you are in the smell of freshly ground coffee beans in my kitchen, when there is no coffee to be found.  Thank you for popping up in these “moments” and giving me a fleeting hello.

So today, on your birthday, I will fill my kitchen with the smell of those magical cupcakes.  And maybe, just maybe, there will be a “moment” when you’re there too.

Flashback Friday – Happy April Food Day

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/1/09 at Exit 51.

Happy April Food Day

No, that is not a typo.  I really want to wish everyone a Happy April Food Day.  Because many of us are fortunate enough not to have to be worried about where our next meal will come from.


However, I can still remember days when grocery shopping was an exercise in creativity.  It would usually happen towards the end of the month.  Always the end of the freaking month.  No matter how many generic substitutions we made, it seemed there was never enough money for everything on the list.  And that was shopping at the sketchy grocery store, the one where there were no brand names and all the canned goods were dented.  This manner of trying to make ends meet has resulted in some dishes being permanently banned from my adult life.  Yes, that’s why BBQ Chicken, Tuna Melts, and Tacos are never served at our house.  Even if you ask nicely, the answer will still be no.

For many, the economic turmoil has turned everyday into the end of the freaking month…there’s not enough food or money to go around.  The safety nets that used to act as the main line of support have been overwhelmed by need and number.  Here in Maryland, 54,013 people lost their jobs in 2008.  Our unemployment rate sits at 6.2% according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.  And we’re a small state.  What happens when places like California, Texas, and New York post 6%, 7%, or even 10% unemployment?

It may not have been ideal that I got to know exactly why government cheese had a bad name.  But at least we had that block of processed cheese food to complain about.  What do you do when even ghetto Velveeta is a luxury? Like missing the forest for the trees, the irony of going from shopping on food stamps to shopping at Whole Foods or Wegman’s is just now coming into focus.

Easy & Elegant Life and Pigtown Design have dubbed April 1st as April Food Day to raise awareness of the need facing our food banks across the country.  If you are able, even a small donation to either your local food bank or Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), can have an impact.  For what I spend in one average trip to Wegmans, a food bank can provide 450 meals. For real, that is a Happy Food Day.

Please, contribute if you can.  And spread the word so that others may have a  Happy Food Day as well.


I’ve been doing a fair amount of canning since I first dipped my toes into the boiling water bath last year.  I jumped on this bandwagon too late in 2010 to hit apple season.  So there’s been this little voice in my head all year since then reminding me not to miss out on the fresh, local apples.  And then of course, life gets turned upside down, the calendar fills with all sorts of dates and appointments, and before I know it the glorious days of fall apples are coming to an end.  All before I’ve even cooked up a single batch of applesauce.

There would be no pick your own apples for me.  I had missed them by weeks.  Instead, I was left picking through the last of the season’s offerings that were rescued from the orchard before Mother Nature told the apple trees that it was time to rest for a while.

They weren’t the prettiest of apples.  But since my plan of attack included a long, low cook in the crock pot followed by a quick dip in the canner, I didn’t much care what they looked like.  I just wanted to transform those late bloomers into applesauce.

When I’m canning, my stove is a three ring circus.  I’ve got the 16 quart stock pot on one burner.  I’m gently warming lids and rings on another.  A third burner is usually occupied by the dutch oven of hot preserves.  And I cram a fourth pot on the last burner to warm the empty jars.  It is always a struggle to get everything to fit.

When I’m feeling especially savvy, and what it’s not in use, I put the rings and lids in my crock pot, fill it with water, and set it to high in order to free up a burner.  But I never had a way to keep all of my jars warmed and ready to be filled and processed.  The pot that sort of fits the back burner can never keep more than three jars warm at a time.

While I was launching Operation Applesauce, I got to thinking that maybe I could use the Advantium to alleviate the crowding on the stove and keep all of my waiting jars warm.  So I gave it a shot.  I installed the wire shelf and placed the metal tray in the bottom of the unit.  I placed the washed jars upside down on a wire rack set inside a sheet pan and carefully set it on the wire shelf.  Then I scrolled through the Cooking Options menu, selected Warm (Moist), and hoped for the best.

Let me tell you, seeing all my jars lined up inside the Advantium was a thing of beauty.  It kept the empty jars perfectly warm….not so hot that I couldn’t grab them with my bare hand but warm enough to prevent thermal shock in the canner.  And unlike my old way of having a burner going the whole time to warm jars in a small pot of water, I didn’t have to run the Advantium the entire time I was canning.  That thing holds onto some heat.  So I’d run it for twenty or thirty minutes then turn it off until I could tell that the jars were cooling off.  Then I’d put it back onto Warm.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  Never in a million years would I have thought that I’d find a way to use the Advantium to make my home canning easier. And yet, it was the perfect solution for my need.


Adapted from Sugarcrafter

BAH Note: I fancied my applesauce up with some of that lovely cardamom spiced sugar.  It gave the finished applesauce a depth and sophistication that you just can’t get from the grocery store.

  • 6 pounds apples (pick the ones that you like best)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar (optional)

Peel, core, and roughly chop the apples.  Some I cut into quarters, others I only cut in half.  They’re going to cook down in the crock pot so don’t stress over this step.

Place the apples, cinnamon stick, and cider into the crock pot, cover, and cook on low approximately 8 to 10 hours.  I let mine go overnight.  Use a wooden spoon to smash the softened apples into sauce.  Turn the crock pot to high and cook, uncovered, until the applesauce has thickened to the consistency you want.  Add the lemon juice and any sugar (if using) and stir to combine.  Turn off the crock pot but replace the cover to keep the applesauce warm.

Ladle the jam into heated jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and process for 20 minutes.  Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking the seal and storing the jars. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated or immediately reprocessed using new lids.

{printable recipe}

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.

Chicken a la Advantium

Common sense says that anytime you start using a new tool, it takes a while to get the feel of it.  You have to learn what it’s tolerances are and how it performs.  You have a learning curve to get over before you can feel like you can use it with your eyes closed.  That’s where I am right now with the Advantium.  In just a short period of time, I’ve learned a few things.

My half size sheet pans (which are a little larger than a typical cookie sheet) fit perfectly in the over the range model.  This was a huge surprise to me, since I had assumed that they wouldn’t fit.  I had even gone out and bought a couple of quarter sheet pans, before it even occurred to me to see if the sheet pans I already had would fit.  I don’t mind having the extra sheet pans though, those quarter sized pans make great prep pans.

You can use aluminum foil in the convection cook mode.  I wasn’t sure and had to go to the source and ask the folks at GE.  This means that the next time I roast beets, I can wrap them in foil and cut down on the amount of time they need to perfectly roast.

Having the appropriate cookware is essential.  In my cooking, I primarily use my enamel over cast iron dutch ovens for stews and braises.  But the Advantium literature didn’t mention whether they were safe to use.  So again, I reached out to the GE specialists who informed me that it was not advisable.  I’m glad I asked because I’ve grown quite attached to my two workhorse pieces of Le Creuset and I would hate to damage them, or the Advantium. Instead of enamel on cast iron, GE recommends using glass or ceramic cookware in the Convection and Quickcook modes.  Metal pans can also be used in the Convection mode for baking.

Not only do you need the proper type of cookware, it is also important that they be able to rotate freely during Quickcook mode.  Take my first attempt at preparing a whole chicken using Quickcook (shown above).  The chicken was too large for my only round casserole dish, so I used a rectangular one.  If I had been using the Convection setting, it wouldn’t have posed any challenges.  I could have simply put in one of the two wire racks that comes with the Advantium and set the dish on the rack.  But since I was in Quickcook, that wire shelf was a no no.  Because the baking dish wasn’t able to freely rotate during the cooking time, the chicken didn’t cook as evenly as it would have otherwise.  Those areas that were directly under the intense halogen lamp came out a bit overcooked.

Your cookware also, and I can’t stress this enough, needs to have some kind of handles.  The technology utilized in the Advantium means that everything gets rocket hot…the turntable, the metal interior, AND your cookware.  Imagine you’re making a stew and you have a couple of quarts of hot food and liquid in your dish.  Not only is that dish extremely hot but it also weighs a ton….ok, maybe not a ton but a good couple of pounds at least.  Maneuvering that hot dish in and out of the Advantium to stir or check for doneness can be pretty tricky if it doesn’t have handles.  I know, because I’ve tried it.  And I don’t advise it.

Lastly, you need to clean the inside of the Advantium more than you would a microwave or regular oven.  Depending on what you are cooking, and the cooking mode you are using, you could get a lot of splattering and moisture in the oven.  I find that the inside of the Advantium cleans up easily.

So what was the verdict on the Chicken a la Advantium?  Despite the challenges I encountered by not having the proper dish to allow the chicken to rotate during cooking, my 4ish pound bird was completely done in the 45 minutes preprogrammed into the Advantium.  If anything, I probably should have checked it before the 45 minutes was up and checked the temperature on an instant read thermometer because it might not have needed that much time.  After I let it rest for about 10 minutes, I introduced the chicken to some lovely sweet potato and Brussells sprout hash.  Start to finish, this meal probably took just under an hour to get on the table, but didn’t require a lot of fussing over. This makes it as likely to make a return appearance on a weeknight as it might on a weekend.

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.

Flashback Friday – Peeps Show

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 3/9/09 at Exit 51.

Peeps Show

What do you get when you mix Marshmallow Peeps with Pop Culture?  Not some freaky science experiment…step away from the microwave.  No, what you get is the third annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest.

image from
image from

Read all about it here and get moving, the entry deadline is March 15th.  Need some inspiration?  Look no further than the 2008 contest and photo gallery. My personal favorite is the Peep Art.

For those who are less artistically inclined, but still want to get their Peeps on, check out the following:

Marshmallow Peeps Official Website where you can join their fan club, get fun facts and recipes.

The Big List of Peeps Links is pretty self explanatory.  Although, the page is in serious need of an update.

And my personal favorite for the DIYer – a review of the WHAM-O Marshmallow Peep Maker.  For real, how come I never found this in MY Easter basket?