Orange and Pomegranate Sparkly Starter Salad

2015-04-25 19.29.42We broke way out of our comfort zone about a month ago and prepared a three-course meal for 12 strangers, in an unfamiliar kitchen in the South End of Boston. We’d volunteered to be part of an online auction, and someone actually bid on us—well, to be completely honest, I volunteered and Chip, with his eternal good nature, went along. We worked with the host to create a menu, which ended up as:

Orange and Pomegranate Sparkly Starter Salad (aka Jewels on a Plate)

Grilled rack of lamb with cilantro honey sauce

Cauliflower cake with roasted red pepper sauce

Roasted asparagus with hollandaise

Poached Anjou pears in a dark chocolate sauce

Almost all of the meal was prepped in advance and finished on site, which was essential, since we had no idea what we were going to encounter. We learned from our last experience and brought EVERYTHING we thought we’d need, including salt and pepper, because you never know.

Ingredients for the salad (serves 4):

4 navel oranges

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 hot red chili pepper, thinly sliced into rings

1/3 cup olive oil

salt & pepper

1 cup fresh arugula

1 cup feta or other goat cheese, crumbled

4 tablespoons fresh parsley

4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds


Peel the oranges, removing the white pith. I do this with a knife so that I can get all the pith off. (Yes, I know, pith off.)  Cut the oranges into ¼ inch thick slices.

Boil the vinegar and sugar for 3 minutes, then add the chili and cook for another few seconds, just so the pepper softens. Pour over the orange slices, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the juices from the oranges into a bowl. Whisk the oil into the juices and add salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad, starting with ¼ cup of arugula. Then layer the oranges over the top, and add the cheese. Top with parsley, and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle the dressing over the top.

The dinner party was a big success—maybe there’s a boutique business there someday down the line. All I can say for now—we had a ton of fun, everyone ate every bite and asked for more, and we would have been delighted to find this meal on our plates in any restaurant. We’re getting pretty good at this.

Maybe one of the top ten (20?) most fun days I’ve ever had.

Photo Apr 25, 7 48 45 PM

Pears poaching, asparagus ready to cook, salads all plated.

Photo Apr 25, 7 49 33 PM

Lamb marinated overnight in cilantro and honey, flash-grilled at home, finished in the oven on location.

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Cauliflower cake.

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We stayed calm and happy the whole time.



Thai Chili Pepper & Lemon Pepper Jelly

Pepper JellyIn anticipation (and maybe a little dread) of making jelly with our Ghost Peppers (Scoville scale: One MILLION units)—we experimented with two other very hot peppers from the garden. Don’t ask us why we grew so many of these. Because, like Mount Everest, they’re there? We do like heat—but some of these, especially the Ghost Peppers, are lethal weapons.

We began with the Thai Chili Peppers—Scoville scale: about 100,000 units—looking to figure out what ratio of pepper to sugar would be hot enough, not too hot, and not too sweet. And it’s always a little bit of a guessing game with pectin, so it got messed with, too.

Start by preparing your jars according to the canner manufacturer’s directions. This will include washing the jars and sterilizing the lids. Have everything clean and ready to go, with a hot water bath on the simmer—this recipe doesn’t take long to put together, and you want to be able to plunge the jars into boiling water right away. (Note—it’s worth it to buy a real canner and accessories—they’re not very expensive and will last a lifetime.)

For the Thai Chili Pepper jelly:


  • 10 ripe peppers (they’re small but potent), washed, seeds and stems removed
  • 2 large red bell peppers, washed, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1 packet (3 oz) liquid pectin


  • Puree peppers and 1 cup vinegar in blender. Be smart, wear protective gloves when handling the peppers, and a facemask from the hardware store is a good idea too—the fumes can sting.
  • Combine the puree, 1 cup vinegar and the sugar in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Be careful, this mixture can easily boil over.
  • Stir in pectin and return to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
  • Remove from stove and skim foam, if any. Adding the pectin seemed to eliminate the foam in our test.
  • Ladle the hot jelly into clean hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. We used 4 oz jars and filled 12 of them, with some jelly mixture left over.
  • Adjust the caps and process 10 minutes in boiling water in your canner—make sure that jars don’t touch, and if you live at higher elevations, follow adjusted directions.
  • Let set at room temperature for 24 hours out of drafts. If a jar doesn’t vacuum seal, pop it in the fridge to use right away.
  • Store for up to 1 year.

This jelly is good, even delicious, but a bit too sweet and not really as spicy as we’d like. It’s a little bland. Next time, we’ll use more peppers, less sugar, and perhaps a little something else, like orange zest or grated ginger. We worried that this jelly was a bit thin—we might have been a bit light on pectin.

We tried to amp things up with the lemon peppers. Although they rank lower on the Scoville scale, at about 50,000 units, they release a lot of choke-worthy peppery essence into the air, and their taste is distinctively, well, yellow. The directions are the same—just the ingredients changed, slightly.


  • 8 ripe peppers (they’re larger than the Thai Chilis), washed, seeds and stems removed
  • 2 large yellow bell peppers, washed, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 2 packets (6 oz) liquid pectin

Otherwise, proceed as with the Thai Chili recipe. This batch was also a success—but again, too sweet and a little bland. Next time we’ll be bolder in the number of hot peppers used in both recipes—and will perhaps increase the number of bell peppers, too, so that the essence of pepper is what comes through, not so much the sugar.

Still, no complaints from family and friends on these—they complement just about anything, from a breakfast frittata to chicken, steak, lamb—and we’re happy to have them.  Plus, they look like jewels when the sun shines through the jars.

Pepper prep

The Urban Garden

The Urban Garden

Winter is officially over! It feels good to have our hands in the soil and faces to the sun. We are experimenting with these cool mobile planters. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs are the subjects and we will track the progress and (we hope) success.