We had battened down the hatches and were awaiting the approach of impending destruction from hurricane Sandy.  Since we knew the boys would be stuck indoors for the next few days we decided to take them to our favorite park on the river.  We went to collect some leaves before all the trees were stripped bare from the high speed winds.  I don't know why I decided to take on the task of making a gluten-free peanut butter cookie the day before Sandy was due to arrive, but nevertheless I was determined. 

    It could have been due to my current hankering for homemade peanut butter whipped up in my brand new Vitamix!  What else is better suited for homemade peanut butter then cookies.  I thought, "I would much rather be stuck in my home during a hurricane WITH peanut butter cookies then without" (You can never be too prepared you know).  After a few tries and some burnt cookies later I realized why there are no good gluten-free peanut butter cookie recipes on the internet.  You can however, find countless "flourless" peanut butter cookie recipes.  I've tried a few of these "flourless" cookie recipes and for me they tend to be too crumbly, gummy tasting and nothing but sugar and peanut butter. 

    My recipe below is a healthier version of my favorite traditional peanut butter cookie with a kiss on top.  I decided to incorporate unsweetened dark chocolate (100% cacao) and chopped peanuts into the dough and top them with raw demerara sugar for a more sophisticated look.  This recipe makes a small batch because you don't want a lot of these hanging around with no one but yourself to eat them. There are quite a few "exotic" ingredients such as buckwheat honey, teff flour and powdered peanut butter, but it is well worth the effort to find them.  Grab yourself a few with a glass of homemade almond milk and enjoy them with or without a hurricane approaching you.
Peanut Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate (Gluten-Free)
Makes about 3 dozen

Wet ingredients
4 tablespoons coconut oil (slightly solidified) *
1/4 cup homemade peanut butter or natural peanut butter with no added salt
1/4 cup buckwheat honey
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (unrefined)
1 1/2 teaspoons premium Madagascar vanilla (I use Penzey's brand)
1 egg

Dry ingredients
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all purpose gluten-free flour mixture (homemade or Bob's Red Mill all purpose GF baking flour)
1/4 cup teff flour
4 tablespoons peanut butter powder (I use PB2 powder)

1/8 cup finely chopped raw unsalted peanuts
1 ounce of 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate - chopped finely

Raw Demerara sugar (to sprinkle on top)

* If your coconut oil is in liquid form you can slightly solidify it by placing it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.  It should be easy to scoop.  (Sort of like the texture of Crisco)

    Preheat oven to 325° F.  In a medium sized bowl whisk together the baking powder, baking soda, salt, all purpose flour, teff flour and peanut butter powder until combined and set aside.  In a large bowl with handheld mixer, or in a stand mixer with paddle attachment beat all the wet ingredients until combined and creamy (about 30 seconds to 1 minute).  On medium low settings slowly incorporate the dry mix into the wet mix, beating in as much as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon (The dough might be very firm so sometimes using your hands works better).  Mix in by hand the finely chopped peanuts and finely chopped unsweetened chocolate.  Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet leaving some room between them.  Press each ball with a fork making traditional crisscross pattern and sprinkle on some raw demerara sugar.  Place in 325° F oven for 8-10 minutes.  The edges should be firm and the bottoms lightly browned.  Place on a rack or plate to cool. 
    Two things come to mind when I think of Halloween: candy and parties.  As a kid all you can think about is the candy, but as an adult on Halloween, it is all about the party.  Nothing says Halloween without a costume party full of scantly dressed women and enough alcohol to send everyone searching for the illustrious hangover cure the next day.  Being not only a new food blogger, but someone who loves to read food blogs, I was torn between going the traditional route of posting a proper pumpkin recipe or doing something completely different.  As a mother of two, my getting "wasted" days are far behind me, but I'm not going to say that I don't enjoy a drink now and again. 

    The whole idea for this drink came about due to an impulse buy at the grocery store.  A bag full of perfectly plump little cranberries just waiting to jump in my basket, and small box of clementines that my son loves to snack on during the day.   My child (like most I assume) has an addiction to juice and a strong aversion to vegetables!  I did a lot of thinking about how I could get him to eat healthier, but the kid was determined never to eat anything green. 

    I was eventually introduced to juicing (the juicer that I own), and quickly found out that it was not only something my son enjoyed doing with me, but he would drink any kind of juice I gave him.  So I vowed never to buy juice from a bottle again, and every day after nap time he gets up and comes to the kitchen, ready to make his afternoon juice.  Normally we fill up a tall glass and share it together, most days fighting over who gets the last drop.  I decided to make this juice for the two of us as a seasonal treat from our normal "green" juice.  As I sipped this lovely concoction I was thinking this was not only a lovely healthy juice for me and my children, but it would also make a killer cocktail for a Halloween party!
Halloween Cocktail

makes 1 drink (about 8-10 oz)

6-7 peeled clementines
3/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 Arkansas Black Apple*
1/4 cup ABSOLUT ORIENT APPLE Vokda (optional only for the responsible adult)

    Place the clementines, cranberries and apple through a juicer in the order listed.  Give your juice a few good stirs with a spoon, and pour into a glass over a few ice cubes.

    If you are making the alcoholic version place the freshly made juice plus the vokda into a mixing glass with ice cubes.  Shake and strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass and serve garnished with fresh cranberries, clementine curl or even an apple slice.

Note:  If you are planning to make this drink for a crowd, I would possibly suggest using navel oranges over clementines as your juice yield would be much greater and you won't have to spend an entire morning peeling hundreds of little clementines.  I would substitute 2 navel oranges for 6-7 clementines but you might have to experiment to find the most delectable combination. 

*Arkansas Black apples have a complex taste and crisp texture that is slightly tart, but yet it has a wine-like sweetness.  It is an apple that is considered ideal for juicing, and is a common find among apple growers in the Northeast United States. If this is not available then I would suggest either using what you have available or finding an apple that is semi-tart and crisp.

“You can learn a lot about a woman by getting smashed with her.” - Tom Waits

    This week sadly marks the conclusion of my local farmers market.  My once weekly trip with the boys down main street will be but a distant memory come this winter.  However, safely stored away at home are my locally raised and grown treasures from the market, which will one day soon make their debut for a family dinner or holiday dessert.  My cupboards will be stocked with canned heirloom tomatoes and raw buckwheat honey.  My freezer full of grass-fed cow meat, organic berries and sweet Jersey corn cut off the cob.  I am the kind of person who looks forward to the falling leaves and the winter snow, but this year I will definitely miss the summer for the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that helped to inspire dishes like this minestrone soup. 

    I always made a point at restaurants to order minestrone soup because I thought it would be too much work to make at home.  But, after a trip one day to our farmers market, and a bag full of fresh vegetables later I gained the courage to try it.  I didn't have any pancetta at home and I figured that with all my fresh ingredients why not leave it out and make it a vegetarian minestrone instead.  The result was the best soup I have ever made, with proof from 3 large empty bowls and an infant quite frustrated with the fact he doesn't have teeth yet.  (He must have known it was good from our lack of conversation that night).  Minestrone is a soup that dates back centuries, and is basically comprised of vegetables, beans and some sort of pasta or rice.  It can be altered to your tastes or preferences quite easily.  Below is my version, but feel free to change or add according to your own liking and availability of ingredients.

Minestrone Soup with Barley & Pesto

1/2 cup dried beans (I used Bob's Red Mill 13 Bean Soup Mix, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 quarts of vegetable stock or Ultrabroth (or chicken stock if you are not a vegetarian)
3-4 sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme bundled together with twine
1 bay leaf
1 (2-inch square) of kombu*

1/4 cup barley **
1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths (about two good handfuls)
1 pound of tomatoes (about 2), peeled, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Homemade pesto (Recipe below)

    Rinse your beans thoroughly.  Soak them overnight in a bowl full of water that is about 2-4 inches above the beans.  Or if you didn't plan ahead you can always put them in a pot full of water enough to cover the beans by 2-4 inches and bring it to a boil. Once they start boiling turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for 1 hour.
    In a large pot, heat your extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (about 5-10 minutes).  Add the beans, vegetable stock, parsley/thyme bundle, bay leaf, and kombu.*  Bring this all to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.  At this point if you are using the barley** add it and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
    Next, add your green beans, tomatoes, and salt. (if you wanted to use a pasta substitute in place of the barley now would be the time to add it).  Simmer another 25 to 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.  Remove the herb bundle, kombu* and bay leaf. 
    Serve your soup in bowl topped with a few grinds of fresh pepper, a spoonful of homemade pesto (recipe below) and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

* Kombu is dried kelp.  This is added for flavor and to help aid in the digestion of beans.  You can find this in Asian grocery stores and some of the bigger health food stores.  If you have difficulty finding this then you can omit it from the recipe.
**If you are avoiding gluten in your diet then either omit this from the recipe or add your favorite gluten-free pasta substitute.

Homemade Pesto
    In a food processor, puree 1 clove of garlic and 3/4 a cup of lightly packed fresh basil leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  While the processor is running add 1/4 a cup of extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream and continue to puree until well blended.  Turn off the processor and add 2 tablespoons of pine nuts and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Process again until the nuts are chopped up just a little and the mixtures is well blended.

    For the premier of this, my newly created "food blog" I decided it would be not only seasonable, but also respectfully appropriate to venerate my Great Grandmother Ethel Gidney.  As a child I remember seeing unlabeled jars of a green substance that I knew I would never let touch my plate let alone even think about putting in my mouth.  My father would get excited just thinking about the contents in those jars, and my grandmother would crinkle her nose in remembrance of the smell produced by making such a condiment. 

    Green Tomato relish was an end of summer staple that was both highly anticipated and dreaded in my family.  At the end of summer when tomatoes are on their last leg there is yet hope for the remaining green orbs trying to push a blush of color onto their cheeks in hopes of making it before frost sets in.  As a child I remember this was the one time we had permission to pick to our hearts content the last of whatever remained on the tomato vines in our small family garden.  The slightly red tomatoes would be placed on the shelf to ripen, and the remaining green tomatoes would be sent to my Great Grandmother.  Ethel Gidney is now approaching her one hundred and second birthday and for years has not graced our family with her green tomato relish. 

    A few years ago she gave me her collection of recipes, most of which are barely legible, but in the back of my mind I always anticipated the day I would make that "weird green stuff."  I have never seen green tomatoes at my local grocery market so I thought my relish recipe would have to wait for the day when I finally got my own family garden started.  As fate would have it, yesterday I took a last minute trip to a local farm stand, and there they were in a tucked away corner; green tomatoes!  I promptly thanked the girl working the stand for allowing me to rummage through her almost hidden stash, and filled up a bag with as many as I could.  She asked me if I would be making fried green tomatoes, to which I replied "no, I am actually going to try making...Relish!"  
green tomato relish
makes about 7 cups (canned in 8 oz jars)

6 cups of ground green tomatoes (about 12 large ones)
2 cups of ground onion (1-2 large ones)
1 cup of ground green peppers (1 large one)
2 cups of white vinegar
3 cups of sugar*
1/8 cup of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon tumeric

Cut, seed, and coarsely chop the green tomatoes and place in a food processor or blender.  Gently pulse tomatoes until they are finely minced (but not to the point of a puree) and place in a large bowl.  Do the same for the onion and pepper and add them to the tomato.   Bring water to a boil in either a tea kettle or saucepan and pour boiling water over the tomato, peppers, and onions completely covering them.  Let the whole thing stand for about 5 minutes and then strain out the water.  Place the mixture into a large saucepan or pot and add the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium to high heat and continue to boil for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  **Spoon hot mixture into hot sterilized jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace and place caps on.  Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.  makes: seven - 8oz jars of relish
*Note:  This is considered a sweet relish because of the addition of sugar.  I normally do not include refined white sugar in my diet, but for this recipe I obviously had to kept it in for nostalgic reasons (and it is only a condiment after all - I hear veggie burgers calling)

**Disclaimer:  The use of old recipes in canning practices is not recommended by the Ball company because they have not been tested and verified safe by food scientists.  If this concerns you then skip the canning and just place your relish into a jar size of your liking and keep it in the refrigerator.  Make a note of the date you made your relish and label the jar someway because I personally would not keep homemade relish for more then a year.  So fill up a few small jars and share with friends and family.    
"One raindrop raises the sea."  - James Gurney, Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time