Quick pickled kumquats

Spice up your salads, sandwiches and charcuterie boards!

I’ve frequently joked that I’d happily pickle anything in my kitchen that’s not nailed down. Search “pickles” on my website and you’ll see I’m not really kidding. Quick pickles are just so easy; some of my favourites include  apples, blueberries, turnips and tomatillos. I love the tanginess of pickled fruits and vegetables which can transform a mild-tasting meal into something that’s just popping with flavour. Since it’s been a long and very cold winter where I live, I’ve also been all about citrus lately and I am particularly entranced by kumquats. I have to confess that I didn’t even know what kumquats looked like, let alone how they tasted, until a few years ago when someone offered me one to try. The English word ‘kumquat’ is a derivation of the Cantonese gām-gwāt which means golden orange. The ones we can most often find in Canada at specialty produce stores are oval in shape and are eaten whole (which is a good thing, because they’d be super tricky to peel). Their sweet-tasting skin and sour flesh make them ideal for pickling.

Quick pickled kumquats are a perfect sweet and sour way to enjoy these tiny citrus fruits. Great on salads or charcuterie boards.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) kumquats
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) white vinegar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) kosher salt
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL ) ground cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 1 slice fresh gingerroot
  • 1 Thai chili, halved lengthwise (remove some seeds if you don’t want too much heat)

Method

  • Wash and quarter the kumquats and place in a clean 2 cup (500 mL) canning jar.
  • Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. As soon as salt has dissolved, remove from heat.
  • Carefully pour hot brine (including seasonings) over kumquats in the jar.
  • Place lid on jar and let cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to the refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to eat in 24 hours and will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Makes one 2 cup (500 mL) jar.

Quick pickled kumquats are easy to make and offer a tangy punch of flavour to salads, charcuterie boards and more.
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Blackberry-mint panna cotta

An impressively elegant yet easy dessert!

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to try my hand at panna cotta, one of Italy’s most famous and delicious desserts. The name means ‘cooked cream’ but it’s so much more than that (and the cream is, in fact, just heated and not actually cooked). Panna cotta is often made with just vanilla for flavouring, then garnished with fruit-based, caramel or chocolate sauce; for this recipe, I decided to make fruit one of the central elements. I love three things about this dessert: it’s super easy to make, it’s not too sweet and it’s the perfect light finish to any meal, especially a rich one. Any fresh berries will do (avoid icy frozen ones as they will release too much liquid but if they have been flash frozen and are not covered in ice crystals they should be fine). I plan to try raspberries and blueberries next.

blackberry mint panna cotta is an elegantly impressive yet easy to make dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (500 mL) fresh blackberries
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (500 mL) heavy (35%) cream
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cold water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) gelatin powder
  • Additional blackberries and mint leaves to garnish

Method

  • In a medium-sized pot, combine the blackberries with the mint and sugar and let macerate (sit) for at least one hour (up to 4 hours is fine), stirring occasionally. This draws the juice out of the berries.
  • Add the cream to the blackberry and sugar mixture and place the pot over medium heat. Warm the mixture, stirring often and pressing down on blackberries with the back of a spoon to release more juice. Do not let it come to a boil – you want it to be just steaming (about 170F).
  • When it begins to steam, remove pot from heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, combine the cold water and gelatin mixture in a large glass measure or other non-reactive vessel with a broad opening and, preferably, a pouring spout.
  • Return the cream and fruit to medium heat, bringing it just to the steaming point again.
  • Place a large fine-meshed strainer over the vessel that has the gelatin mixture in it (if you don’t have a fine-meshed strainer, line yours with several layers of cheesecloth.
  • Pour the hot cream and fruit through the strainer into the container. Press down on the blackberries to extract as much of the juice as you can, without pressing seeds through the strainer or cheesecloth. Discard the fruit pulp.
  • Stir the panna cotta mixture a few times so that the gelatin gets thoroughly mixed it, then pour or ladle the mixture into six serving dishes.
  • Let set in the fridge for a few hours.
  • Note that panna cotta can be made up to 24 hours before serving; it’s a good idea to cover the serving dishes with plastic or beeswax wraps once they’ve cooled so the surface does not dry out.
  • When ready to serve, garnish with blackberries and a sprig of fresh mint.

Serves 6

blackberry-mint panna cotta is an impressively elegant dessert that's super easy to make
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30 minute turkey stew with puff pastry crackers

Tastier and easier than turkey pot pie!

I’ve loved turkey and chicken pot pie since I was a little kid. I remember being so impressed that leftover cooked poultry could be transformed into something so delicious and, of course, the pastry crust that my mom put on top was always flaky perfection. I switched things up and started using storebought puff pastry on my meat pies years ago – it’s a shortcut I’ve been very happy with, although sometimes I found it tricky to get the pastry as crispy all the way through as I wanted it to be. This recipe solves that problem, since you bake the pastry separately from the cooked vegetables, turkey and gravy. It’s been such a hit at my house I doubt I’ll ever make it any other way now.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped into 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground sage
  • 4 medium or 6 small potatoes, cut in 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut in 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces
  • 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped fresh green beans, in 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cooked turkey, in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) all-purpose or gluten-free flour
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground sage
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • In a large pot over medium heat, warm olive oil.
  • Add onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add white and sweet potatoes and just enough water to barely cover the vegetables.
  • Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Let cook for about 8 minutes, until potatoes are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
  • While potatoes cook, prepare crackers. Roll the sheet of puff pastry out between two fresh sheets of parchment paper, making a 10 or 11 inch (25 – 27.5 cm) square.
  • With a sharp knife, cut the puff pastry into 2 inch (5 cm) squares (approximately). Put the top sheet of parchment used from rolling on a large baking tray and transfer the cut squares to the baking tray. Prick each square several times with the tines of a fork then put the baking tray in the oven.
  • Bake for 12 – 14 minutes until crackers are golden brown and slightly puffed.
  • While potatoes and crackers cook, melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Whisk in chicken stock a bit at a time to form a smooth, thick sauce. Add sage and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm on low heat.
  • When potatoes are just tender, add carrots, zucchini and beans to the pot and stir gently. Add the sauce from the smaller pan and stir again.
  • Heat until the mixture is simmering and carrots are tender (about 5 – 7 minutes).

Serves 4 – 6.

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Baked pasta and cheese bites

Humble mac ‘n cheese gets a delicious makeover!

I’m always looking for ways to make healthier, baked versions of favourite deep-fried dishes. My super crispy oven-baked chicken wings are a great example as are my fish and chips. This new recipe is inspired by my love of arancini, stuffed rice balls which are coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. I decided to swap out the rice for rice-shaped orzo pasta, and switched things up to bake the pasta balls instead of deep frying. The results of this experiment were fantastically delicious. I chose to add in a little chopped kale to make them even healthier; chopped spinach and/or onions would be good too. I can pretty much guarantee that anyone from toddlers to great-grandparents will love these beautiful bites.

it's a mac and cheese switchup as cheese-sauce coated orzo gets breaded and baked for a delicious treat

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup (180 mL) orzo
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) butter
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) grated cheese *
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) each salt, pepper and smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon (.65 mL) cayenne
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped kale or spinach (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup (180 mL) panko
  • Flavoured olive oil in a spray bottle (optional but delicious)

* I used Tex Mex; Italian blend would be good too

Method

  • Bring a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add orzo and stir. Cook for 7 – 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just tender (al dente). Drain and set aside.
  • While orzo cooks, make cheese sauce by melting butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  • Whisk in milk and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Add cheese and spices and whisk until cheese has melted (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and stir in kale or spinach, if using.
  • Add cooked orzo to the cheese sauce and stir until well blended. Put pot into the fridge to chill. Note that you can make the dish up to this point and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.
  • If you want to speed up the chilling, transfer the pasta and cheese mixture to a shallow glass dish (about 8 x 10 inches / 20 x 25 cm is ideal) and put the dish in the freezer for 15 – 20 minutes, until orzo mixture is cold to the touch.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425F.
  • With a small cookie scoop or two teaspoons, scoop out golf-ball sized portions of the cold pasta mixture and place on a parchment lined baking tray. You should get about 15 portions.
  • Beat the egg in a small dish (a ramekin or custard cup is ideal). Put the panko in a small, broad bowl (like a dessert dish).
  • One at a time, dip the shaped pasta bites in the egg mixture then roll in panko and place back on the baking tray.
  • Once all the bites are coated, spray lightly with flavoured olive oil (I used roasted garlic oil) or baking spray. You don’t need to spray them if you don’t want to – they’ll still be very tasty!
  • Bake for 13 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot with ketchup for dipping, if desired.

Makes 15 pasta bites.

it's a mac and cheese switchup as cheese-sauce coated orzo gets breaded and baked for a delicious treat
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Warm beet and pear salad

An easy, elegant appetizer!

sauteed beets with a little balsamic, topped with warm sauteed pear slices makes for an easy, elegant appetizer.

I first tasted the combination of warm beet and pear in Tuscany decades ago and was instantly smitten. Nutritious, colourful and delicious, this salad remains a favourite to this day and makes a nice change from the beet and goat cheese salads that were all the rage a few years ago. I recommend using dark purple beets for the colour contrast they provide, though any variety would taste wonderful. You can cook the grated beets ahead of time if you like and then re-heat them in the pan as you sear the pear slices. Note that for super-speedy prep, you can cook the beets in an Instant Pot; simply sauté for about 3 minutes then cook under pressure for 2 – 3 minutes until tender.

Ingredients

  • 3 – 4 beets (enough to yield 4 cups / 1 L when grated)
  • 1 medium-sized ripe pear
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar (or more, to taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh herbs to garnish

Method

  • Peel and grate beets and measure out 4 cups.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan placed over medium heat. Add the grated beets and toss well to coat with the oil. Add water and cover pan with a lid.
  • Sauté, stirring often, for 10 – 15 minutes, until beets are tender. Reduce heat to low and stir in balsamic, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Peel, core and slice pear. Put remaining oil in a frying pan large enough to hold pear slices and place over medium heat. Cook pear slices for 2 minutes, flip and cook for 2 minutes more.
  • Divide the warm, cooked beets among two serving plates. Top with pear slices and a few sprigs of fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Serves 2; can easily be multiplied.

sauteed beets with a little balsamic, topped with warm sauteed pear slices makes for an easy, elegant appetizer.
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Melt in your mouth cinnamon hearts

A no-bake treat that’s fun for the whole family!

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve sneaking sweets out of my grandparents’ always-stocked candy dishes. In hindsight, I now realize that I likely wasn’t very sneaky at all and they surely knew who the candy-napper in the house was, but they were ever so kind not to thwart my thievery. Among my favourite treats as a kid were pillow-shaped butter mints. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re pastel-coloured, melt-in-your mouth candies that resemble the texture of thick frosting. For Valentine’s Day this year, I decided to recreate this retro sweet in a cinnamon version. They’re super easy and absolutely delightful and you could easily use peppermint extract if you prefer that flavour to cinnamon. Cake decorating supply stores are a great source for good quality, affordable extracts.

based on old-fashioned butter mints, these melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon hearts are easy to make and super tasty

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (340 mL) powdered (icing) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon extract
  • Red or pink food colouring (optional)

Method

  • Put the butter in a medium sized bowl with high sides. Beat on medium-low speed with an electric mixer (or beat vigorously by hand) for 1 minute.
  • Add the icing sugar, milk and cinnamon extract and continue beating until the mixture takes on a crumbly texture.
  • Stop mixing and test the dough by pinching a small amount between two fingertips. It should stick together when pressed and have the consistency of play-dough. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more icing sugar (1 tablespoon / 15 mL) at a time) or a bit more milk (1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 mL at a time) until dough achieves desired consistency.
  • Add just a few drops of food colouring and continue beating until the colour is thoroughly mixed in.
  • Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4 inch / .6 cm thickness. Cut with a small cookie cutter (I used a 3/4 inch heart) and place on a wire rack to dry overnight. Dough scraps can be re-rolled.
  • Note: if not rolling dough out immediately, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks before bringing to room temperature and rolling out.
  • If you have difficulty picking the hearts up off the parchment paper, refrigerate the oval of ‘stamped’ dough for 10 minutes and it will be easier to peel the individual hearts off the paper.
  • After 12 – 18 hours of drying, transfer the hearts to a container with a tight lid and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Makes approximately 75 hearts.

based on old-fashioned butter mints, these melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon hearts are easy to make and super tasty
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Celebrating citrus

Some unique was to enjoy fresh, flavourful fruit!

While Mother Nature may be a practical joker by times, she did get one thing right. Having citrus fruits be in season in the south when it’s freezing and snowy in the north is a good thing. I’ve been gorging on oranges and grapefruit for weeks now, and putting fresh lemon and lime juice on just about everything. It’s not just for all the extra Vitamin C; I’m also craving the bright, fresh flavours of citrus. I was excited when asked to come up with a quartet of citrus-based treats for an episode of Shepherd’s Fashions Coffee Talk – below are the recipes I shared. You’ll find lots more citrus recipes if you use the search function on the Constantly Cooking website.

four great recipes to make the most of citrus season

Quick pickled fennel with orange and star anise

Fennel is ideal for pickling and adds a bright pop of flavour to any plate.

Citrus salad with arugula and pomegranate

A mix of citrus fruits with arugula and pomegranate plus a light lemon vinaigrette makes for a delicious winter salad

Grapefruit shortbread bars

Bright, fresh grapefruit curd over a shortbread base

Candy-coated fresh fruit lollipops

candy-coated clementine segments are great fresh fruit lollipops
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