Cooking together: Peachy Keen Salsa by Trish & Miranda

I love my girlfriends–especially as I plunge headfirst into motherhood and my 30s. This week, I had the joy of cooking with one of my favorite Nana’s-in-Training Miranda (author of the fab blog At the Cookery). We cooked and canned up a batch of Peach Salsa–it is sweet and spicy and oh so peachy.
While we chopped (and I made her chop the jalapeno, sort of a hazing into the Nana program), cooked and canned; we chatted. It made me think of women everywhere–those of today and those of centuries ago. Whether it is women working together in an office to build a corporation or two fabulous Mommas preserving summer in jar–it is the sharing of stories, tips and laughs that makes the end product special.
In each jar of our Peachy Keen Salsa, there is laughter and love and friendship. There is the background noise of our children–Max, Emma, Lily and Chloe–laughing and throwing toys around the room. When I eat this salsa, I’ll always savor the taste of my girlfriend and our day together.
Let me tell you a little about my girlfriend Miranda. Miranda is absolutely a Nana-in-Training. She loves finding authentic solutions for her family–whether it is monthly meal planning, cooking for the season or planning a meal that even a picky 3-year-old will eat–Miranda is a solution oriented momma. She is way more analytical than I could ever be-
-which is a wonderful complement to my wayward and wandering ways.
Our Peachy Keen Salsa is tomato-less. Even though I love tomatoes, I really wanted to make something that showcased peaches. We produced 20 half-pints. You could halve (or quarter) the recipe and just make a batch for your refrigerator too. If you don’t can it, still simmer it together–the heat softens the peaches and melts their natural sugar into the spice of the jalapenos and cayenne. Also feel free to adjust the heat of the salsa–adding less or more peppers.
We snuck some from the pot and tried it with tortilla chips. Miranda can’t wait to try it on shrimp. I think it would also compliment a firm white fish–Mahi Mahi (which will be our dinner tonight!) or even pork.
Here’s the recipe we followed (based on something I found online called Katie’s Peach Salsa).
Peachy Keen Salsa
18 peaches-diced, skins left on
3 small-medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
8 jalapeno peppers chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup lime juice (if you can, use bottled lime juice. if you are not canning, you can use either fresh or bottled)
4 tablespoons local honey
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
Toss everything in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. If processing, pack into hot jars and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Eggplant Prep–salt, sweat and rinse

A common complaint amongst eggplant or aubergine lovers is the sometimes bitter flavor.
Most smaller varieties of eggplant (japanese, fairy tale, etc) do not become bitter when cooked. The larger eggplant varieties can be bitter. (The seeds contain something related to the tobacco plant that produces that bitter flavor when cooked).
To reduce and avoid bitter taste, slice and salt the eggplant (using kosher salt). Let the salted eggplant sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The eggplant slices will “sweat” and then you can rinse the slices, removing the bitter flavor.
Salting and sweating the eggplant will also reduce the amount of oil absorbed when frying or sautéing. It is a quick, fabulous step that will ensure the rich flavor of the eggplant shines through!

Triple mini tomato bruschetta

Tomato bruschetta was the first grown up dish I learned to make. Over the years, I’ve played with my recipe a bit and finally, I think I’ve stumbled on the most brilliant variation using food from the season.

I am absolutely loving the variety of summer tomatoes. You will love this triple mini tomato bruschetta made a mixture of yellow grape tomatoes, purple cherry tomatoes and red teardrop tomatoes. The variety of mini tomatoes infuse this bruschetta with sunshine and soil. It is absolutely fantastic. Bruschetta is great on fresh bread or use to top a salad, as a no-cook pasta sauce or on chicken or fish.

The good stuff:
About 1 pint–mixed variety of mini tomatoes (grape, cherry, teardrop), cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, snipped/chopped into thin strips
1/4 cup EVOO
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Kosher Salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
2 baguettes, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
Mix tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, EVOO, vinegar and salt/pepper (to taste). You can serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with sliced baguettes.

Weekend meals: World’s Best Chicken & Shrimp Skewers with Balsamic Grilled Vegetables

We’ve had a fair share of weekend company this summer and since our patio is bigger than our dining room, I always want to grill. This dinner is so easy–just takes some advance cutting and marinating. The cooking time is short and with veggies, chicken and shrimp–there is something for everyone to enjoy!

Serve it up with fresh corn-on-the-cob and maybe my Triple mini tomato bruschetta . If there are any leftovers–make salads or sandwiches the next day.
Chicken and Shrimp Skewers
1 lb boneless chicken breast cut into 1 inch chunks
1 lb peeled/deveined raw shrimp (medium to large in size)
4 cloves garlic–shaved across a micro-plane to make a paste
4 lemons-juice and zest
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of fresh herbs, chopped (I typically use basil and parsley–but use what you have)
Mix garlic, lemon, oil, herbs and s/p in a large bowl.
Put the chicken and shrimp into separate large ziploc bags (or tupperware containers). Pour half of the marinade into each ziploc bag. Place in refrigerator and marinade for 30 minutes-1 hour. Don’t marinade too long–the citrus cooks the chicken and shrimp.
Thread chicken and shrimp onto skewers. Don’t mix–the shrimp takes about 5 minutes to grill and the chicken slightly longer. Grill over medium-high heat outside (or inside on a grill pan). Place chicken on first–after about 3 minutes, add the shrimp. Grill both until cooked about 10 minutes for chicken and 5 minutes for the shrimp.

Balsamic Grilled Vegetables
You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand–this was what was in my veggie drawer.
2 eggplant–sliced 1/4″ (see note about salting and rinsing eggplant)
1 zucchini–sliced long way, 1/4″ thick
1 yellow summer squash-slice long way, 1/4″ thick
1 red onion-sliced 1/4″ rings
2 red peppers-quartered
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup feta cheese
Place vegetables in a large plastic bag or dish. Pour vinegar and oil over vegetables and toss to coat. Add s/p to taste. You can let the vegetables marinate or grill immediately.
Grill over medium heat on stove top (in grill pan) or outdoor grill. Grill in batches, cooking about 2 minutes per side. Vegetables are done when slightly softened and caramelized on both sides. Removed cooked vegetables to a platter. When all vegetables are cooked, top with feta cheese and serve immediately.

In a pickle: garlic-dill pickles


I am a pickle fiend. When I was turning 9, I begged my Dad to bring me home a large vat of pickles from Southampton Estates (where he worked as an overnight security guard). He did and I ate those hamburger dills until I was ill. My Nana always put out a pickle and olive tray with dinner. Nana typically included Heinz sweet gerkins. Yum. Sometimes she would include her homemade Bread and Butter pickles-which are sweet and sour and simply perfect.
Mike and I met in high school. One day after school, I tried a batch of his Grandma Rudko’s pickles. Those pickles were soaked in a garlic-dill brine and topped with oak leaves (so old school and marvelous!). After one bite I decided that I would marry Mike–if only to get more of those pickles.
I love our shared family tradition of pickling. Mike’s Uncle Vic cans pickles every year–and now, so do we. Mike and I have played with many recipes and finally, I think we came up with our own version of garlic-dills. This year Lily helped me the first batch.
The best part of pickling is working together. Lily is a pro at packing the pickles and pretty good company as she serenades me with whatever song is stuck in her brilliant little head!
You can use any size pickling cucumbers (which are available at farm stands and markets all over this time of year. It seems the small pickles can be hard to find–so sometimes I make batches of spears or chips (if I can’t find enough small whole pickles to fill a jar).
As you jar these up, if you run out of brine, just make more. This yielded about 4 quarts and 6 pints. Ha

ve enough supplies to make more than you think! Pickles are such fun gifts during the holidays–we pass out to neighbors, friends, teachers and anyone who mentioned that they love pickles!
If you aren’t up for the whole canning process–you could halve the recipe and just make this pickles in your refrigerator.
Pickling Cucumbers (4-5 pounds), washed
6 tablespoons kosher salt
4 1/2 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
2 large bunches of dills, washed
2 bulbs of white garlic-cloves separated, peeled
Mustard Seed
Bay leaves–a bunch
The process:
1. Wash, clean and sterilize your canning jars, lids and rings. If you need more instructions on how-to can, take a peak at the Ball website.
2. Fill your sink or a large basin with ice and water. Place cucumbers in ice bath. They will soak in ice bath for about 10-20 minutes, while you get everything else together. The ice bath helps ensure a crispy pickle. You can soak the cucumbers whole and then if you want to cut into spears or chips, do so right before you pack the jars.
3. Combine salt, water and vinegar (this will be the pickling brine) in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Heat water in your canning pot (or, we use a large pasta pot for processing).
4. While the brine and processing water heat, pack your jars. Place whole or cut cucumbers into jars–filling in the larger spaces with cucumbers (it is sort of like a puzzle). Leave 1/4 inch of head space.
5. To each jar add: 2 full stalks of dill, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon mustard seed and 3-4 cloves garlic.
6. Fill each jar with hot brine, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
7. Cap and process 15 minutes in boiling water.
Store pickles in a cold dark place (like your basement or pantry). Label and date!

Fresh Tomato Tart

I think garden fresh tomatoes are quite possibly manna from heaven. I love all the varieties–especially the heirloom tomatoes Mike grew this year. I can’t stop myself from popping the tiny teardrop tomatoes in my mouth (every five seconds, like they are candy) and from slicing up the larger beefsteak varieties, topped with salt and pepper. I am always on the search for new delicious ways to use up our crop.

I missed the boat on Quiche-tastic Monday this week, so I had some extra pie crusts. I’ve always wanted to make a Tomato Tart–it sounds so French. This tart is so easy–it takes minutes to put together and about 20 minutes to bake. Serve it along side a green salad and it is a perfect meal!
The goods:
Refrigerated pie crust (or make your own)
2 tablespoons hot or dijon mustard (I used Nance’s Hot mustard; but a good dijon would be great)
2 medium-sized tomatoes
handful (about 6) teardrop, grape or other small tomato
1 garlic clove, sliced extra thin
Dozen fresh basil leaves, sliced
4 oz goat cheese
Olive Oil
Make it:
1. Preheat oven to 450F
2. Roll out pie crust into a tart pan. Pitch the sides to make a nice edge.
3. Evenly spread mustard onto bottom of tart crust. Let sit while you slice tomatoes–medium tomatoes should be sliced into 1/8 inch slices; small tomatoes, slice into thirds.
4. Evenly distribute larger tomato slices on bottom of pie crust. Fill in any gaps with the small tomatoes.
5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, basil and garlic slices
6. Slice goat cheese (it won’t slice neatly like other hard cheeses) and distribute on top of the tomatoes and herbs.
7. Drizzle a little olive oil on top. Bake for about 20 minutes.
8. Let sit for 5 minutes and slice. This is great room temperature or even cold.

Quiche-tastic Monday: Ham & Cheddar Frittata

I know a frittata is it’s own beast and is perhaps closer to an omelette than a quiche. But in spirit, it is still an “egg pie” and a delicious option for breakfast (or lunch or dinner!).

Frittata’s look super impressive; but cook up super quick. Like a quiche, you can fill them with anything. I used what I had–some leftover deli ham from a picnic on the beach, cheddar cheese (a staple) and parsley from my herb garden.
I made this for my in-law’s last morning in town. Served with some cantaloupe–it is the perfect meal for company. Frittata’s are great reheated too–make one on Sunday and have the leftovers for a quick breakfast before your work day.
The goods:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup of deli ham diced (this equals about 8 slices)
6 eggs, beaten until light yellow and fluffy (use an immersion blender, takes 2 minutes!)
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon hot mustard (or dijon)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Cook it:
1. Preheat the oven to Broil.
2. In an oven proof skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Tilt the skillet so the melted butter coats the sides and bottom of the skillet.
3. Add the diced ham to the skillet and let cook until crispy at the edges (my mom always called this “frizzled ham,” because the ham would curl up at the edges). This should take 1-2 minutes.
4. Add parsley, mustard and salt and pepper to beaten eggs.
5. Pour egg mixture into the skillet with ham. Egg mixture should evenly coat the bottom of the pan.
6. Cook over medium heat until the bottom is set, about 5 minutes.
7. When the bottom is set, sprinkle cheddar cheese on top. Place skillet in oven under the broiler for about 4-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the frittata. It is finished when the top sets and gets all yummy and bubbly.
8. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut frittata into wedges and serve.

Three Princesses from New Jersey

This week Lily’s best friend is moving to Illinois. We adore
Maddie, Caroline and Chris. It is hard to loose them geographically–but we are friends for life. The Menold’s are the sort of friends that are family. They are three of the greatest people I’ve ever known. Lily, Maddie and Chloe are like sisters.

The top picture of Lily and Maddie was taken 2 years ago. It was the beginning stages of their friendship. I love the tiaras. It seems these two were born in tiaras, dress up clothes and with endless imaginations. The lower left photo was taken this past Sunday at Lily’s 4-H horseback riding exposition. The girls always support each other in style–fancy is the dress code!

Spending time with the Lily and Maddie is like jumping back into my childhood. Chloe adores her two older sisters. I love the love between the three. It always reminds me to love my girlfriends more fully and completely.

In my Nana’s spare bedroom, she had a low shelf full of children’s books. I loved when I slept over and could explore all the treasures on the shelf (plus there was always some fun trinket from my Nana’s travels on the upper shelves). There was one book that was personalized for me (my name was misspelled “Trisha”, but I loved it anyway). The main character had my name and I loved to read it. I always felt the story was really about me and my imaginary adventures.

Lily helped me write a fairytale about the Three Princesses from New Jersey. We had a blast writing it and throwing in some personal details and memories from the past. (Like the growling, one day Maddie was upset about something and had no words and was uttering a low noise. Caroline said, “Maddie, no growling.” I nearly died laughing. ) I’ve never written a children’s story before–but I think there might be more stories about my three princesses in the future.

I added the surprise ending and gifted my three favorite girls with a special pink rock. (Read the story and you will understand. . .). Feel free to share with your favorite princesses (put their names in the story).

Three Princesses from New Jersey
by Trish Adkins

Once upon a time, in the far away kingdom of New Jersey, there were three princesses. Maddie, the oldest princess, was beautiful, brave, kind and strong–so strong she could swim across a river just like Pocahantas. Maddie also liked to live dangerously.

The middle princess was Lily, who was beautiful, brave, kind and very courageous–so courageous that she could face a very scary VooDoo man and not not even shiver or cry, just like Princess Tiana. Lily also loved to dress in disguise.

The littlest princess was Chloe, who was beautiful, brave, kind and sweet–so sweet that she could charm all the forrest animals just like Sleeping Beauty.

The three princesses were best friends. They were so close, that they were really like sisters. They loved to do everything together–pick strawberries, visit with other princesses, make new friends at Build-a-Bear, clean, cook, avoid eating, dance, put on shows and go on adventures.

One day, Princess Maddie found out that she had to move to another far away kingdom with her family. All three princesses were very sad.

“Oh Princess Maddie how will I ever keep it fancy without you?” cried Princess Lily

“Argh Faggle Babablaaaaaahhhhh,” wailed Princess Chloe.

“And who will swim across the river to get us princess dresses, tiaras and glitter glue? WHO?” added Lily, who was now so distraught that she began pulling out her fake hair.

“We will only have our mother’s cell phones and text messages. It is devastating,” moaned Princess Maddie.

“I am so sad and now, Chloe is eating my shoe!” screamed Princess Lily.

Sure enough, in her hysteria Princess Chloe was eating Lily’s shoe. Princess Lily shook her off and went to the corner to continue pulling out her pink fake hair. Princess Lily had no words. She could only growl.

“My real concern,” began Princess Maddie, “Is the kingdom. How will we ever control our mothers and make sure they don’t stop being fancy? Surely someone must be able to help. And I think I know just the person.”

“Bababa?” asked Princess Chloe, spitting out the toy she was chewing on.

Princess Lily paused from growling and hair pulling.

“We must go through the Pine Barrens and visit the Little Mermaid in Atlantic City,” exclaimed Princess Maddie.

“But the Pine Barrens are forbidden and filled with lots of spaghetti. What if we get tangled or worse–forced to eat meatballs?” asked Princess Lily.

“Lily, it is the only way. Chloe, are in you?” asked Maddie.

“Yessssss,” hummed Princess Chloe.

Lily nodded in agreement. “I will begin packing for our journey. We will need Polly Pockets, LIttlest Pet Shops and all our Build-A-Bears. Oh and footie pajamas for an entire week!” declared Lily, getting into the spirit.

The next day the three princesses set off on their adventure through the forbidden Pine Barrens and to Atlantic City. They wore footie pajamas and tiaras everyday to protect themselves from getting tangled in spaghetti. Princess Maddie swam across rivers with Lily and Chloe on her back. Princess Lily bravely guided the trio through the dark. Princess Chloe charmed the meatball trolls with a wink and a smile.

When they arrived in Atlantic City, the three Princesses were starving. So, they stopped at the Rainforest Cafe for french fries and gigantic chocolate milks. After drinking, the trio went to the beach to look for the Little Mermaid.

“I see the pink rock!” exclaimed Princess Maddie.

“YAY!!!” screamed Princess Lily doing a dance.

“WOOHOO!” agreed Princess Chloe.

The girls ran to the glittering pink rock and to the Little Mermaid, who was painting her finger nails.

“Little Mermaid!!! You have to help us!” yelled the three girls in unison.

Princess Maddie told the Little Mermaid the entire story and then got her nails painted.

While giving the girls manicures, the Little Mermaid told the princesses a similar story–about her two best mermaid friends who left Atlantic City to live in Ocean City.

“I was so sad. But, we do girls weekends all the time and we have our special pink rocks,” explained the Little Mermaid, who picked up three beautiful pink stones and handed one to each of the princesses.

“What’s this?” asked Princess Lily.

“This magic pink rock is for each of you. When you hold it, you will always be connected with your Princess sisters. It does not matter where you live or where you go, because you will always be together,” exclaimed the Little Mermaid.

“I love pink!” exclaimed Princess Maddie.

The three princesses took their magic rocks and set out on the adventure back to New Jersey. Princess Maddie went to rule a new kingdom. Each morning, in each of their kingdoms, the three princesses held their magic pink rocks and thought of each other. And they were always best friends and sisters.

The end (or really the beginning! the princesses are only nearly-6, 4 1/2 and 18 months!)