Monday, June 7, 2010

The Great Coleus Experiment -- Starting Coleus Plants From Seed.

MrMartha has had an interesting experiment going on the past several weeks: Growing Coleus from Seed.

Coleus are such wonderful and versatile plants, with incredible variety in shape and colorations....although, at 4 or 5 bucks for a 4" pot from the nursery, building an interesting collection of these surprisingly accomodating annuals can get quite pricey -- very quickly.

Trying to grow Coleus from seeds has been an interesting, eye opening, and frustrating experience, which is hopefully now about to pay off with some amazing results.

The seeds themselves are all but microscopic, they sprout as incredibly delicate seedlings, and seem to take a long time to get established and strengthen....
but it is nowappearing that it is all time well spent.

ReadMore about the details, and some additional photos of the progression.

MrMartha started the seeds in small 6pack type pots in new sterile potting medium. Indoors in early April, under plastic covering, with a soil heating pad underneath the trays.
After several days, the amazingly tiny seedlings emerged, looking like a tiny bit of confetti on top of a human hair.

The growth is slow....but patience pays off. After a couple of weeks, the seedlings can be thinned out (carefully, with tweezers), and the containers moved under plastic canopies -- in a bright light area, with bottom heat continuing.

It was interesting that in searching online for tales of others who have tried growing Coleus from seed, all the posted images would show seedlings up to a few weeks old...but then nothing after that, which made MrMartha think that most experimenters would give up and toss out their trays at that point.....So, intrepid grower, keep the faith -- eventually the gambit pays off (or seems to be)....keep checking back for more updates on MrMartha's Coleus success!
Coleus are also very easy to propogate by cuttings, but that's another post...


Sunday, March 7, 2010

MrMartha's OSCAR Pics......

MrMartha is actually not going to (even remotely) predict who will win.
Of course MrMartha will watch the telecast, how could one not....even though MrMartha has actually only seen one of the Best Picture nominees, and a couple of the acting award hopefuls.

What MrMartha loves about the telecast is the absolute overblown archaicness (not a real word according to -- but you know what MrMartha is trying to convey.)
It's not often they provide four hours of network primetime, to telecast a show that actually has 90 minutes of content.
And, lets face it, we watch for the fashion....good, bad, and just can't not watch.

Some FABULOUS photos from the more classic era of the Academy Awards are HERE, courtesy of Life Magazine Archives. Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn in the same photo....those WERE the days.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tying the Second Knot -- Interim Updates --11 weeks out

Most of the broad aspects of the happy couple's wedding day (third week in May) are starting to take shape for our favorite bride to be. Big decisions have been made....and now it is time to start making decisions on more of the "fine tuning" details.

The photo shows a view of the restaurant where both the ceremony and reception will happen. MrMartha thinks the deep ochre walls will be a stunning contrast to the ivory of the brides gown, and will make carefully chosen flowers really pop.

MrMartha has suggested some of the art on the long wall be removed and replaced with large central focal point (perhaps a "wall corsage" of curly willow with floral accents). Whatever materials are used for that focal point will be restated as additional decorations attached to the beams above and also in the area where the actual ceremony will happen.

The goal is not to transform the restaurant, but to enhance make a space that is very familiar to the wedding couple into something just a bit more memorable, and special, for their big day.

The restaurant itself is very informal, so MrMartha has suggested that the bride may want to select and provide her own choice of table linens and napkins to make the space a bit more formal for the event.

The tables are smallish, which means there is no need for large centerpieces, and whatever the overall floral decorations will be, they will likely be limited to one or two different types of blooms, in a monotone palette, but used en masse.

ReadMore for the current status of details and decisions about: The Bride and her attendents, the invitations, and the venue.

The bride and her attendants:
As noted in the previous post, the bride has chosen her dress and is selecting accessories that will match and complement her choice -- whether to wear some sort of headpiece, gloves, etc.

The bride has decided not to have designated attendants, as far as maid or matron of honor, etc. The groom to be's young grand daughter may be designated an informal flowergirl.

At first, the bride was unsure about whether to ask her father to walk her down the aisle, whether that might seen too archaic -- MrMartha advised that it would be both perfectly appropriate and absolutely charming -- so the current plan will be for the bride to be escorted about half way by both her father, and her stepmother, and then she will walk the rest of the way on her own. MrMartha thinks there is a lovely symbolism there, including the family members, and her own independence. Nobody, however, will be 'giving the bride away'.

The Invitations:
The bride and groom have already utilized the ubiquitous Evite to send out a 'Save the Date' message to their wedding guests.

While sending out the actual invites to the ceremony and reception by email would be HIGHLY FROWNED UPON by MrMartha, it is a perfectly acceptable way to give the guests a little advance notice.

The couple is still making final decisions on the wording and the style of the invitations....but will need to finalize that within a week, to get them ordered, then have time to get them addressed without rushing, in order to get them into the mail sometime between Easter and TaxDay.

The Venue:
As noted above, a favorite restaurant of the nuptial couple has been engaged for the event. The ceremony will happen in the very late afternoon/early evening, with a cocktail buffet reception following.

The restaurant has a definite and somewhat quirky look -- with a strong personality in the decor.
Choosing an established restaurant versus a more neutral space -- like a hall or hotel banquet room -- has both benefits and limitations. It is easier to put an imprint on a more generic space, but there are definitely ways to personalize an established restaurant space.

MrMartha is currently helping the bride determine how to do just that....what the layout should be for both the ceremony and the reception...where in the space the ceremony should happen, etc. As well as decorations, flowers, and the rest of the big picture.

From there, still to be determined will be the smaller details like guestbook, favors, specific menu choices, cake.....(whew, MrMartha is getting a bit lightheaded just typing all that....but it will all come together and happen beautifully!


Seeds of Change.....Gardening From Direct Sown Seed

MrMartha has been thinking about what to do with the garden this summer. With less than a year in the new house, and having spent most of that (so far) concentrating on the interiors, very little has happened with the exterior landscape. Rather than putting a large investment into big shurbs, trees, and pricey perennials, MrMartha is planning to watch the landscape for a full summer, and then start to determine what the major changes and significant plantings should be.

For this interim summer, however, MrMartha is going to experiment with all kinds of plants from seed.

There are several borders and perimeter areas of the current landscaping that were cleaned out and groomed, but then never replanted. As MrMartha didn't move into the house till July, most of last summer saw those beds lie fallow and dusty....but this year, MrMartha is going to use them as a grand experiment of growing flowers and vegetables from seed sown directly into the ground.

MrMartha was always a bit afraid of seeds....preferring to start with seedlings in ponypacks or flats, and transplanting them into the garden. That will still be the case for tomato plants, but everything else will be direct seeded this year. MrMartha discovered some coupons that allowed him to acquire a large quantity of seeds for next to nothing. (A Walgreens coupon offered 5 seed packs for a dollar, and local FredMeyer Garden Center has seed packets at 50% off through March) the great seed experiment commences....

ReadMore to find out what MrMartha's plans are.....

For flowers, MrMartha is going to use a warm intense palette of reds and oranges, with yellow and even some magenta for accent. Tall Zinnias, bright Cosmos, and the lesser known Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower) all come easily from seed, and will be massed together in what will hopefully be a big profusion of blooms.

Vegetables and herbs, including Dill, Chard, and Squash will be mixed in with the flowers. Pickling Cucumbers, Beets, Radishes, Beans and Lettuce will be grown in areas that are less focal in the landscape.

Basil and tomatoes will be grown in large pots on the deck where they thrived after first moving in last summer. Marigolds and Coleus will be grown in pots as well.

MrMartha will be reporting regularly, so keep checking back to see how this grand experiment works out.....he has already started to amend the planting beds with bags of compost and manure, and will begin planting with Chard and Beets this weekend. Coleus seeds will also be started indoors in the next few days.

MrMartha has also received some wonderful gardening questions from blog readers and will be answering those over the next few weeks as well!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tying the Second Knot...planning update: The Bride's Gown

MrMartha has been working with the bride to be -- regarding the plans, choices, and logistics for her upcoming nuptials, many aspects are starting to take shape.

The location and date have now been determined. The ceremony and the reception will be held at a charming small restaurant with a lot of built in charm, and the guest list will number around 60 or so.

We are currently planning the overall look and style of the event, including decorations, flowers and table considerations. Additional, smaller details -- like guest book, favors for guests, the brides accessories, attendants, and a myriad of other considerations, are being discussed as well. MrMartha will continue to update and report as decisions are made. Currently, the focus is on invitations, which need to be ordered soon, and sent out several weeks in advance of the ceremony.

The big news is, that the bride has selected her gown for the ceremony -- and it is just about as different as it possibly could be -- from what was worn at her first wedding in the mid eighties. The photo above shows how radiant a bride she was the first time around....while her posse of admirers were taking fashion cues from Miami Vice and the Preppy Handbook....(Don't fault MrMartha, who was a fan of bow ties at the time!)

What was an appropriate gown for a girl in her early twenties, getting married in a tiny country church, with a garden reception following, is worlds away from the sophisticated woman that she has become.

Read More to learn details about her new gown choice, and how the rest of the ceremony and reception will take their cues from the detailing on her gorgeous and fashion forward selection.

Spoiler Alert: If you know the bride, or expect to attend the wedding -- and want to be surprised by her gown, please dont expand this post! This means you, Mr Bridegroom.

The bride's first wedding gown actually managed to sidestep a lot of the excess of the "Dynasty" eighties. It was charming and relatively simple, compared to the huge lace and pearl encrusted meringues that dominated bridal fashions of the time, however, it still had a lot of details that were very much of the post "Princess Diana" era -- A fitted bodice with lace overlay, puffed sleeves, and a full skirt -- were all trends of the time.

Please note, to preserve the surprise of the bride's gown, the full length image shows a similar design, which caputures the feeling of the garment overall. The detail photo is from the actual gown.

Her new gown is a dramatic long sheath, with draping along the bodice at both the front and back, closely fitted through the mid section, and a narrow but not hobbled skirt, with a slight train at the back.
The ivory tone fabric has a lot of liquid movement, and will be perfect for a late afternoon ceremony and early evening reception.

The shoulder straps are net, heavily embroidered with crystals and pearls, which also runs along the bust peeking from under the draping.
There is a wonderful contrast between the simplicity of the gown overall, and the elaborate shoulder details.

The bride will not wear a traditional veil, but is considering a variety of 'low key' headpiece options. Her bouquet will likely be very simple and architectural -- again a big contrast to the bursting cushion of flowers that comprised her first bouquet.

The current discussion is to use the idea of the beaded detailing of the gown as a point of departure -- for the decorations and look of the ceremony, and also to restate the crystal and ivory theme in other aspects, like the corsages, boutonnieres, and table centerpieces.


MrMartha's Awesome Savory Onion Marmalade

There is nothing quite like that deep rich onion flavor that is especially evident in certain foods....think classic French Onion Soup, or a long cooked pot roast smothered in slowly braised flavorful onions.

You can get that wonderful flavor anytime, if you do a little advance work, and keep a jar or two of MrMartha's Onion Marmalade at the ready in your refrigerator.

Quantities of sliced or diced onions are cooked very slowly, with gradual additions of just a few carefully chosen ingredients to deepen and bloom their full flavor....vermouth, sugar, salt, and balsamic vinegar, are all that are needed to end up with a final result that is exceptional in taste, stores well, and can be used in literally dozens of ways to make a quick meal, snack, or appetizer taste like you have spent hours on it!

The process is simple, but it does take some time, and cannot be rushed. It does not require constant monitoring, but it will need regular attention. Its a perfect project to do silmultaneously with other extended kitchen activities, or when have to stick around for a couple hours waiting for a delivery, or serviceman.

The recipe itself is more about technique than a specific recipe.....quantities can be adjusted to your taste, and ingredients can be added or substituted depending on your preferences. MrMartha will give you the basic technique, which you can then change at will.

Read More -- for the many ways to use this flavorful and versatile condiment, as well as the recipe with step by step 'How-To' photos.

Once you have the completed marmalade stored in the refrigerator you can use it in so many wonderful ways --

In cooking: Add a spoonful to simmering soups for depth of flavor. Top a Pot Roast, Brisket, or other braised meat dish with some of the onions before cooking, and then serve more of the marmalade warmed on the side. Serve on top of, or as an accompaniment to, steak, chops, chicken, or slices of Meat Loaf. Add a little of the marmalade to cooked vegetables...especially good with Brussels Sprouts. Incorporate some of the onions into a quiche filling, frittata, or other baked egg dish.

For Appetizers or snacks: Warm slightly and spoon over Brie Cheese. Use as a component or topping in Bruscetta. Chop a quantity and add to softened cream cheese for a wonderful oniony spread, or stir into sour cream for the most amazing onion dip you will ever experience.

Bottom Line....if you think it will add something to just about anything you are cooking or probably will! Don't be afraid to experiment! The marmalade will keep perfectly in the fridge for a couple months or longer (if it lasts that long!) -- just date the top of the jar, and after several weeks watch for any evidence of mold or off odor.

Note -- that it is just as easy to make a double batch, and have two pans going on the stovetop at once...saves steps and time, and you will have lots on hand!

MrMartha's Onion Marmalade

6-8 Medium to Large Onions, variety of your choice
2 Tablespoons cooking or olive oil, plus 1 Tablespoon of butter
3 Tablespoons White Vermouth
1/4 to 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
Large Pinch of White Sugar
Salt to taste
Currant Jelly or Plain Pectin (optional)

Peel the onions, and make sure to peel off any additional outer layers below the peel that seem overly thin or papery.
Slice the onions into rings, or chop the onions -- your preference, MrMartha prefers a combination of both.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the prepared onions and stir and toss carefully to coat with the oil. The pan should be more or less full with onions.

Cook the onions slowly, till they soften and start to become transparent...the timing on this will vary depending on your onion variety, pan, and stove....but will likely take 20-30 minutes, or longer. Stir the onions occasionally but regularly during this period.
The onions should NOT be allowed to brown, so continue to lower the heat as necessary.

Add the vermouth and continue to slowly saute the onions until the liquid has absorbed and evaporated.

Add the brown sugar and continue to slowly saute and regularly stir the onions for another 10-15 minutes, until the start to take on a lovely browned tone.

Add the Balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until mostly incorporated and absorbed. The onions should start to take on a lovely, almost creamy, texture, but should still be holding their shape -- you don't want to end up with mush.

To finish, turn up the heat slightly, and add a large pinch of white sugar. Stir more frequently until the onions carmelize to a slightly darker tone, but are still soft and moist. If you prefer a glossier texture in the finished marmalade, stir in a couple of spoons of currant jelly, or plan liquid pectin, right at the end of cooking.

Taste the final product, and add salt to taste if needed. Place into clean glass jars, and store covered in the refrigerator.
This also makes a wonderful hostess gift if placed into a smaller jam jar, and presented with a tag that includes some use and storage suggestions.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tying The Second Knot....Planning the Encore Wedding

One of MrMartha's dearest friends of long standing will be getting married for the second time in about four months.....
(MrMartha didn't want to say she is one of his 'oldest' friends -- far from it)
Best Wishes (to the bride to be) and Congratulations (to the groom) are well in order.

MrMartha will be helping as an informal advisor to the process, and be posting regularly about the planning and preparation leading up to the big day. Anyone on the path to fresh nuptials can benefit greatly by following and learning from Bride Lesa's process.

Any wedding is always a big undertaking, even if it's to be a simple day overall. Knowledge is a key to success. Second weddings are often much different than first tastes and life experiences have likely changed in a bride since her first trip up the aisle. The next wedding is often smaller and simpler. Conversely, a second bride who eloped or had a small wedding the first time around, may elect the big event for her encore.

NOTE: (MrMartha has been informed that the preferred term for remarriage, of late, is 'Encore Weddings' -- however, MrMartha does not approve. Encores are usually hastily arranged and quite short in duration -- or may be a literal repeat of something which has already happened... none of those would bode well in a new marital future.)

In the coming weeks, we will examine Bride Lesa's choices regarding locations, food, cake, guest list, invitations, decorations, gown, and overall tone and theme of the event. MrMartha hopes to give the Bride some valuable guidance and suggestions, and will enjoy chronicling and sharing the process with you.
Click on the STYLE link at the upper left, to sort all the wedding related posts!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conception Classique de Mode de la Semaine

Is it just MrMartha, or does the model in this sketch look suspiciously like a very young Joan Collins?

Here, the classic New Look silhouette from the late 40's is taken forward into the fifties with just a bit of streamlining (though still yards of skirt) and some very modern detailing in the origami folds of the bodice -- which are again today at the fashion forefront, in John Galliano's recent Haute Couture collections for Christian Dior.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Easy Foolproof Slow Roasted Standing Rib Roast - Prime Rib for a New Years splurge!

A Standing Rib Roast can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned cook. Part of it is not wanting to ruin such an expensive cut of beef....part of it is just not undertaking the roasting process very often, and being fearful of the task.

It's really quite simple, and is ridiculously easy if you keep the overall plan in mind ...Sear on the stovetop till a perfect brown.....roast long, low, and your meat thermometer....slice and serve.

A big Rib Roast is certainly a splurge in all but a carte blance food budget, but they are often on sale near holidays. Even at full price per pound, you can serve six for less than two prime rib restaurant dinners would cost.

MrMartha likes simple sides -- perfectly cooked green beans, with some crisped bits of fresh leg of pork (thank you Gale), silky mashed potatoes with butter, and really good rolls. Horseradish Sour Cream is traditional as sauce on the side. A simple salad and low key dessert are all you need to make a flawless special occasion dinner....or to make any dinner a special occasion.

Read More for full directions on the roasting process, and step by step photos.

The concept --
is to brown the outside of the roast first, this is neccessary because roasting at the low temperature will never crisp the exterior.
The long slow roasting period at low temperature gradually warms the roast, and leaves it perfectly juicy with a wonderful balance of textures.
There is no need to let the roast rest, it will serve perfectly direct from the oven. The roast will also hold perfectly for an hour or more in the oven at 150 to 175 degrees.

These directions are for a 3 rib, 5 pound roast, which has had the meat sliced from the bone plate, and then reattached with string -- most butchers do this, or will if asked. Sometimes this is called "Golden Lion Style" . MrMartha prefers the roast cooked just past medium rare, with a slight ring of darker color on the perimeter, with a lovely but warm pink center. If you prefer a rarer roast, it is also easily acheived.

You will need a roasting pan with rack, heavy dutch oven, meat thermometers (MrMartha prefers using both a regular and an instant read), vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder if desired.

Remove the beef from refrigeration about 2-3 hours before you plan to begin roasting, approx 20 - 30 min per pound, depending how warm your kitchen is.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Dry the roast with paper towels to remove any surface moisture.

Sear the roast on all sides in 1/8" of oil heated to hot but not smoking. Use the sides of the dutch oven to brace the roast as needed, and be very careful not to splash oil as you reposition the roast. Allow the roast time to turn a deep rich color, and make sure you have given attention to all parts of the roast.

Position the roast on the rack in the roasting pan, seating it with the bones down. Sprinkle liberally with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a little garlic powder if desired. Insert regular meat thermometer diagonally into the center of the roast, being careful not to go all the way to the bone. Make sure it is at an angle that you will be able to see through your oven window.

Place the roast into the oven, and immediately lower oven temperature to 225 degrees.
Allow 20-30 minutes per pound or fraction of a pound roasting time. Watch your thermomenter, and remove from oven when the roast is 125 degrees for very rare, 130 for rare, and 137 for medium rare.

MrMartha prefers to build in a little extra time, feeling it is better to hold the roast at serving temperature, rather than to hold the guests waiting to be calculate how long your roast should take, and then add an extra hour of time.

When the roast reaches the proper temperature, just remove it from the oven for a few minutes while the oven cools, and then return it, uncovered to the oven now set for 150 to 175 degrees. It will hold perfectly for an hour or more.

There is no need to allow the roast a long rest before carving, though five minutes or so is not a bad thing. Remove the roast to a carving board, snip the strings, and separate the bone section from the meat, slice the roast to your preference. (MrMartha likes a three quarter inch thickness) Use your longest sharpest knife, and make long strokes for the most beautiful slices. Place on warmed platter to serve.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Thanksgiving Appetizer Surprise....MrMartha's Cheese Turkeys!

MrMartha was trying to come up with a fantastic and unexpected little appetizer tidbit to take along to a Thanksgiving gathering. Being that MrMartha was not cooking and serving the full dinner, it seemed appropriate to lavish a little attention on the process, and come up with something fun. In 60s cocktail speak, what would be called a "clever hors' d oeuvre" -- which one would nibble with a "smart cocktail".

These little gems have a very retro feel to one sense they seem to have stepped out of Better Homes and Gardens circa 1967, but at the same time, they are guaranteed to be unexpected and totally charming.

The recipe is simple and tasty, the wafers can be baked more simply as rounds -- but forming the little turkeys, and seeing the looks on peoples faces as they examine them, is more than worth the little bit of extra work in preparation.

Read more for the recipe, and to see just how simple the process really is.

Cheese Wafer Turkeys

3/4 cup Butter
1-2 cups Grated Cheese (see note)
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Dry Mustard (prepared dijon or brown mustard can be substituted)
1 tsp Salt
Dashes of Tabasco or Hot Sauce

Note about Cheese. Traditionally these are made with sharp cheddar cheese, you can get a different result by using a swiss or a pepper cheese, or Parmesan always works too.
Grate the cheese a couple hours ahead, spread on a sheet and leave to air dry for a few hours.
Use the lesser cheese amount for a firmer "shortbread" cracker.
Use more cheese to get a softer texture.

In a food processor, place the flour and half the cheese, process in small short bursts, until cheese is very finely chopped. Add the rest of the cheese and continue to process until incorporated. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the butter, and process till well combined.

For Wafers, form into logs with half dollar width, wrap in waxed paper and chill or freeze-- until slicing before baking.

For Turkeys, place dough into cookie press with "camel" disc, and make 2 dozen camel forms. Switch to "wreath" disc, and press out a dozen wreath forms. CAREFULLY lift up one half of each wreath form, and place against camel to form tail feathers.

Sprinkle before baking with grated Parmesan Cheese, Kosher Salt, cracked pepper, finely crushed parsley, or herbs. Use just one, or a combination.

Bake on a very VERY lightly greased baking sheet at 375 degrees, until lightly browned -- may be baked longer, until darker brown and crispy, if that is what you prefer.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adventures in Homemade Pectin

Contrary to popular conception (which MrMartha most heartily encourages), not everything MrMartha does is a raving success (at least not the first time).

An example of MrMartha
"learning by doing" -- and not quite succeeding the first time around --happened with a certain, now infamous, chocolate mousse filled cake.
The fact that one cannot rush the final assembly process resulted in near disaster.
The importance of inter-step refrigeration was learned as MrMartha watched the whole cake structure slide into a precarious angle -- While being transported by car.
Quick action involving a fast food chopstick from the glovebox saved it. Luckily, it still tasted wonderful, even if it will be forever known by the guests attending that dinner party as The Leaning Tower of Cake.

Please pardon MrMartha, as he has digressed off topic.

The most recent learning experiment has been with homemade pectin.
MrMartha loves to preserve, and there is just nothing like homemade jam from perfect why wouldn't it be even better (and less expensive) with homemade pectin? A noble thought AND a quest.

MrMartha has only one word for you. Unpredictability.

The pectin extraction process is both easy and somewhat miraculous, with a tiny bit of high school chemistry thrown in. Unlike packaged commercial pectin, however, you cant be quite sure how it will behave, and how your recipe will work. The main thing seems to come down to how long to boil in order for it to jell, but not to turn into something in between a rubber ball, and the worlds firmest aspic.

Read More for some details of MrMartha's exciting adventures with pectin, and you too may want to learn the delights of this archaic but fascinating process.

The extraction process is very simple:

Cut up your desired quantity of unripe green apples,
Place in a large kettle with just enough water to barely cover.

Cook slowly for several hours, till the mixture disintegrates into a watery applesauce mess, with skins and seeds floating in it. MrMartha has been cooking the mixture for about 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally but regularly, with good result.

Strain the resulting mass into cloth lined colander set over a clean bucket or tub.
Add a bit of lemon juice to keep from darkening.
Let the pulp drain overnight, but do not squeeze or press on the solids.

Check the pectin for jell by putting a Tablespoon full of the liquid into a cup of rubbing alcohol.
The resulting mixture should mound up and stay on the end of a fork when pulled up out of the alcohol. Discard your test sample.

If it seems too loose, boil it down by 20% or so, to reduce volume.

Place the pectin into clean jars or freezer containers and refrigerate or freeze till needed.

More information about the science, and additional detailed instructions can be found at these two great links:
Organic Gardening, homemade pectin article

Wildflowers & Weeds, homemade pectin article

MrMartha's follow up post, which will be published soon, will cover how the homemade pectin behaves -- and what MrMartha is discovering are the keys to its successful use. Check back if you want to learn more....plan to go pick some green apples next spring, and try it yourself!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

MrMartha's AWESOME Raspberry Thumbprint Butter Cookies

This is one of MrMartha's most popular holiday cookies....friends wait all year to savor these incredible morsels. The dough recipe is only 4 ingredients, and while they take a little time to shape and finish, they are well worth the effort.

The keys to success:
** USE ONLY real butter -- these cookies are so simple, that using good real butter is critical to making the best cookie.
** Use strained or seedless raspberry jam -- you don't want a bunch of seeds ruining the look of the finished cookie.
** If the first batch of cookies seems to spread too much during baking, pop the cookies into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes, on their baking sheets, before they go into the oven -- and lower your oven temperature 25 degrees.
** The recipe doubles easily (or even triples if you have a heavy duty mixer with large bowl) -- so make lots!
** MrMartha likes these to have a strong almond flavor, so usually doubles the almond extract amount of the original recipe.

Read More for the easy Recipe, additional photos, and detailed preparation and baking directions.


2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Butter, softened
1 teaspoon Almond Extract (or more to taste)
2 Cups All Purpose Flour

Raspberry Jam for filling, and melted White Chocolate or simple glaze for topping.

Cream together Sugar and Butter with the Almond Extract, at medium speed, till light and fluffy - a couple of minutes.
Stir in flour with mixer on low speed, until well combined, with uniform texture -- do not overmix.

To prepare in advance for baking later:
On a waxed paper lined baking sheet, pat the dough out until it is uniform thickness of approximately 3/4".
Use a bench scraper, spatula edge, or knife to score the dough into 3/4" squares, so that you end up with uniform cubes of dough.
Place the whole sheet into the freezer until solidly frozen. Transfer the dough cubes to ziplock bags, and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To complete the cookies:
Thaw the frozen dough until it softens and is pliable.
Take each cube of dough and roll between palms into a ball shape.
Arrange the balls on an ungreased baking sheet with approx 2" spacing between the balls of dough.
Use your thumb, index finger, or some sort of blunt, round end tool, to make an indentation in the top of each cookie.

Place approx 1/2 cup of Raspberry jam into a small ziplock bag, and seal. Cut a small corner off the bag, and squeeze a small dollop of jam into the imprint of each cookie. It doesn't take much -- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cookie. If you have any concerns about how much jam to use, bake a couple of test cookies with varied amounts of jam.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should barely color with just a tinge of golden tone, they should not have much color, and they should not be overbaked.

Allow to cool slightly on the sheet, and then transfer to waxed paper or wire racks to cool.

Melt 1/2 bag of white chocolate chips, slowly (30 second increments in the microwave), stirring between each heating until just smooth. Place the melted chocolate in another ziplock bag, cut off a tiny corner, and add a squiggle of the white chocolate to the top of each cookie.
If you prefer, a simple powdered sugar glaze can be drizzled on instead.

Store the cookies in airtight containers, stacked in single layers with waxed paper in between each layer. These will keep perfectly and taste just baked for about 10 days. They are certainly still good after a couple weeks...if there are any left!!


Monday, November 2, 2009

Conception Classique de Mode de la Semaine

MrMartha offers up some vintage fashion confections with a double shot of pink today.

The mid fifites were really the apex of giant ballgowns, and these two sumptuous designs certainly illustrate that particular point in all of its voluminous lushness.

The strapless gown with the twisted bodice detailing is reminiscent of many gowns worn in sophisticated 50's comedies, but something about it just screams "There's No Business Like Show Business" and the image of Ethel Merman shoehorned into it.

The gown with the off the shoulder ruched detailing is strongly reminiscent of something Audrey Hepburn could have worn in "Roman Holiday" and every inch the princess she would have been!

Viewed together the designs have stepped right out of another Audrey Hepburn movie, "Funny Face" -- and the fabulous Think Pink montage which ends with models in giant pink ballgowns twirling around amid confetti to song lyrics:
"Go out dancing, but just remember one thing....
you can get a little wink
if you got a little pink
In your swing....."


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Baking Incredible Holiday Cookies... without losing your mind....Just Dough It

Is it the same for you every holiday wish you had baked some awesome cookies, but you just didn't get around to it?
How nice it would be to take a lovely tray of indulgent delights into the office, or effortlessly produce a plate of flawless little confections when a friend stops for a cup of coffee. (or a demitasse of espresso as the case may be.)

Are you that person who never quite gets around to that concentrated flurry of baking....despite all your good intentions?
Well, Are You?

It's ok, MrMartha understands, and would like to provide some simple you CAN be that other person -- who does bake!

MrMartha has a rather checkered, if proud, history of baking nearly 1000 cookies each holiday season...and not just any cookies mind you, but artful little tidbits -- that always inspire a careful once over with the eyes, before being popped into the mouth. MrMartha doesn't expect you to bake 1000 cookies....well not this year anyway....

But truth be told, it will be very simple for you to have 4 or 5 varieties of very nice cookies on hand through the holiday season, and they ship beautifully --MrMartha packs and ships plates of cookies perfectly all over the country, and the recipients are just thrilled. Plus, it's always so nice to give or share something that we have put ourselves into.

MrMartha will be posting favorite cookie dough recipes a couple times a week through the holidays.

Take one or two nights a week, and give yourself a half hour after dinner to put together a batch or two of dough, portion it, and then get it into the freezer.

Pick a Saturday or Sunday a week or two before Christmas, or take one of those vacation days you still need to use, invite a friend over to assist, and bake all of your premade doughs production line style. Separation between the dough prep and the baking makes the whole process so SO much simpler and easier....and is certainly time saving as well as sanity saving.

Get your basic supplies on hand....
Grocery stores will be having pre thanksgiving sales on most baking staples, so make sure you have at least 10 lbs of Flour and Sugar, Several pounds of butter (MrMartha does prefer to bake with real butter...not just for flavor, but for texture -- but you can always use have butter and half good margarine or high quality shortening.)
Get some good Vanilla, and make sure Baking Powder and Soda, are in stock.
Watch for Chocolate (white and semisweet) Chips, and nuts on sale, and stock up when you see excellent prices. Its best not to skimp on the chocolate, but any of the good national brands work fine.
You may also want to have some Almond Extract, Raspberry Jam, Cocoa Power.

KEEP CHECKING BACK.....MrMartha will walk you through this and you will astound yourself!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Solution For The Green Tomato Conundrum

Have you been looking longingly at all the green tomatoes remaining on your plants, knowing they will never ripen, but wishing they didn't have to be sacrificed to an upcoming frost?

Go pick them now, and make MrMartha's Green Tomato Salsa!

It's easy to prepare, incredibly tasty, uses just a few simple ingredients, -- and if you don't want to process and preserve your salsa for long term keeping, it also stores beautifully in the refrigerator for several weeks....if it lasts that long!
This salsa is wonderful just as it is. Enjoy it with chips--over burritos--stirred into a Mexican Chicken and Rice Casserole, or added to just about any Mexican recipe.
For an extra treat with chips or as a condiment, dice a couple of ripe red tomatoes and finely chop some fresh cilantro. Stir both into the green salsa for a fresh and complex taste that everyone will rave about.

MrMartha actually makes this salsa twice during tomato season. Once during midseason with green tomatoes culled from the plants to encourage the remaining fruits to ripen more quickly, and again at the end of the growing season, to utilize all the remaining green fruit which will not end up ripening on the plants.

Read More for the simple recipe, and additional 'How To' photos.....then enjoy buen tomate verde!

MrMartha's Green Tomato Salsa

Note -- This recipe makes a salsa that is somewhere on the milder side of medium hot. MrMartha figures it's easier to add additional heat later on, than to be stuck with a huge vat of salsa that makes smoke come out of your ears....Taste the cooked salsa and add additional heat to your preference.

The recipe can easily be cut in half if you have a lesser quantity of green tomatoes available. You could also use Tomatillos instead of green tomatoes.

10 Cups cored, coarsely chopped, green tomatoes (approx 5 lbs)
4 Cups chopped onions
2-3 Cups chopped peppers

(Mr Martha uses a combination of Jalapeno with some Red Bell Pepper for color. If you are using milder chili peppers like Anaheims, or including chopped bell peppers, use the larger quantity. MrMartha prefers to remove the seeds and inner ribs from the Jalapeno's to decrease heat a bit, but that is up to you).
1 Cup white vinegar
1/2 Cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan or dutch oven, and slowly bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer slowly for about 20 minutes -- or until all components are soft, but still retaining texture.

Remove a bit of the salsa, cool slightly, and taste for desired level of heat....
If needed, add your choice (or combination of ) cayenne pepper, cumin, chipotle chili power, or additional bottled hot sauce -- to taste.

Ladle the hot salsa into clean hot prepared canning jars, wipe the rims and set the lids.
Process in boiling water canning bath for 20 minutes (pints) or 35 minutes (quarts)
Remove from the water bath and allow to cool, check the seals.

If you prefer not to process for long term keeping, store jars in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

MrMartha likes to use both pint and quart jars....The pints make wonderful gifts -- and the quarts are best for home, because it disappears so quickly!