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The Quest for the Perfect Pepper Jam

October 11, 2011

Instead of boating during summer weekends, I was cooking up pepper jam.

I have stayed busy creating and testing new pepper jams (yes, I wore gloves while making the Mango Pepper Jam). It has been a lot of fun, a little frustrating, and very time-consuming. Fortunately, the learning curve for the basic process of making pepper jam is not too steep. Once learned, the process works for all the pepper jams.

The tricky part was coming up with just right blend of peppers to get the flavor I wanted. In most instances, it took only a couple of tries to get it just right. However, getting the color and flavor I liked in my Spicy Green Pepper Jam was a challenge. The recipe underwent three revisions – and rounds of testing – before I was happy with it. My patient friends have eaten a lot of pepper jam.

Label design and jar style are a big part of making sure that my jams are presentable. It doesn’t matter how good the jams taste if no one in the store notices them. I found great jars – and great people to work with me on shipping – at Specialty Bottle. My fast, efficient label printers are the super-helpful people at Maverick Label. Thanks to all of you for your hard work and patience.

My Mango Hot Pepper Jam and Mango Hot Sauce are now available. Spicy Green Pepper Jam and Tangy Red Pepper Jam will be available in stores soon.  And I have more jams in development … Mild Yellow, Hot Papaya, and Coconut-Cinnamon.


Potholes on the Road to the Mango Melee

September 16, 2011
Peppers and other good stuff for hot sauce and jam. I just need magoes!

Peppers and other good stuff for hot sauce and jam.

My last post was all about getting ready for the Mango Melee in St. Croix. Shortly after that post, I was all set. I had my ingredients prepped, jars and labels at the ready, and plans for getting to St. Croix with the sauce and jam confirmed.

And then it began to rain … And it didn’t stop. Mangos need rain to ripen, but they also need sunshine and we didn’t have any. For days. And days.

By the time the sun came out, I was down with the flu. Guess who didn’t make it to the Mango Melee? Right – me.

The days stayed sunny, I got well, the mangos ripened … And I wasn’t about to let them go to waste. Our friends, whose mango trees we planned to harvest, were off-island by then, so my husband and I harvested mangos at their place every other day. I’m not talking about a few pieces of fruit each day. We harvested a buckets of them at a time. I spent an hour or two each day processing them – cutting the flesh off of each one, pureeing it, and freezing bags of the stuff for use in hot sauce and jam.

This should be posted on mango trees.

Guess who is allergic to mangos? If you guessed me, you’re right again. Apparently, the mango is a relative of poison ivy and some people are sensitive to it. I wore gloves while I was cutting the fruit (most of the time), but I did not wear them when picking. Washing the fruit at harvest time, and then washing up when we got home was not enough to counter the effects of the chemical in the sap. Because I was exposed to so much mango, I had a severe reaction – swollen face and hands, and a rash on my hands, legs and feet. The rash not only itched, it hurt like hell. Benadryl, calamine lotion and oatmeal baths did nothing for me. I had to get prescription-strength cortisone ointment and put that goo on the rash four times a day. As of now, I can’t even eat mango without a bad reaction.

The silver lining in all of this is that people love my Mango Hot Sauce and Mango Pepper Jam, so I will be adding them to my list of “Summer’s” products, along with some other pepper jams I have developed. Those recipes aren’t available online, but you can enjoy some mangos in my recipe for Summer’s Secret Mango Bread, which I have just uploaded.

I wonder if this is available in purple?

As for next year, I might be able to attend the Mango Melee and sell my hot sauce and jam, but I will have to get a new outfit.

Happy – and safe – cooking!


Found Objects … For Dinner and Otherwise

June 10, 2011

Thursday I went to the beach for a morning swim (the rain had finally stopped and the sun was shining). I ran into John, who was getting his boat ready for a day of fishing.

As John and his Coconut Retriever, Rambo, approached the water, John called out, “Hey Summer! I used some of your seasoning when I made dinner last night. It was awesome!”

“Good to know!” I replied. I had visions of him having carefully selected a recipe from my website. “What did you make?”

Empty Refrigerator“I didn’t think I had any food in the house, so I just started rummaging around. I came up with some odds and ends and, with Summer’s Secret Seasoning, made myself dinner.”

I asked him to tell me all about it – I love hearing how people use my seasoning mix.

John’s pick-up dinner …

“I found a potato, some seasoned bread crumbs and an egg, so I decided to make a potato pancake. I grated the potato, and then stirred in the last of the breadcrumbs and the beaten egg. I needed a little more binder, so I scraped the last couple of teaspoons of mayonnaise out of the jar and added that, along with a teaspoon or so of Summer’s Secret Seasoning.

I formed the potato mixture into a patty and browned both sides in some butter and olive oil on high. After it was brown, I turned down the heat to let the potatoes cook all the way through. Then I went back to scrounging in the fridge.

I found some hamburger meat, a quarter of an onion, a little beef broth, and the last of a bottle of red wine. I minced the onion and mixed it with the meat to form a hamburger. While that was browning, I combined the broth and the wine, and then added it to the pan with the meat. While the meat cooked, my sauce reduced perfectly.

The hamburger fit perfectly on my potato pancake, and the red wine reduction was great with both. I really liked the herb flavors in the potato; it was the perfect seasoning.”


Gotta love a creative cook. The rest of the morning’s finds were not edible, but really cool.

I was the first one on the beach that morning. At the mouth of the bay, I saw what looked like a piece of wood tangled up with the remains of a life jacket or fishing floats. The current was moving whatever it was slowly into the bay. By the time I was ready to swim, the dive boat crew and divers were on the beach and speculating about the object, even wondering if it was a body.

I decided to swim out and have a look. What I found was a big tangled mess of old lines, plastic mesh and fishing floats. I immediately thought, Hazard to navigation, and decided to tow it in to the beach for disposal.

John was interested in it, thinking that someone might have tried to create a FAD (fish attraction device). He said that if he had seen this floating between St. Thomas and St. Croix, there would have been good fishing around it. When he hauled the mess on to the beach, we found – and rescued – living treasures in what had become a mini Sargasso Sea.

Sargassum Fish

This is not one of the fish we saw, but it looks just like them.

John found a Sargassum fish, a type of Angler fish, a two-inch Caribbean lobster (very cute), and several crabs. In total, we found 5 or 6 Sargassum fish, ranging in size from 3 to 5 inches. These fish are amazing, due to looking more like plants than fish; I’ve only seen them in books. The shallow water was crystal clear, so I followed the last one as it recovered from being out of the water for a few minutes and swam to its new home – Aqua Action’s stern mooring ball. I had my eyes on the fish the whole time, literally walking beside it, and it still “disappeared” when it nestled into the growth on the ball.

So take some time to look around today. You never know what you might find!


If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me*

June 4, 2011

*with apologies to Jimmy Buffett

On Friday I purchased a new cell phone. My old one was dying, my contract was running out … It was time. After picking through the limited selection of phone at the ATT store (island saying: “You go to the store for what you want, you come back with what they got.”), I decided on a touch-screen, slide-out keyboard model.

According to the Quick Start (ha!) Guide, while using this phone I can navigate via GPS, access news and social net works, browse the Web, take and send pictures, listen to music, watch music videos, draw pictures, video share, log into Facebook, Twitter and IM accounts, and download cool applications and games. If I step out  on to my balcony, I might be able to reposition satellites. If only I could figure out how to make a phone call …

So what does all of this have to do with cooking? “Phone for Summer” was at the top of a very long TO DO list, and most of the tasks revolved around gathering supplies to make Summer’s Secret Mango Hot Sauce and Anne’s Mango Hot Pepper Jam to take to the Mango Melee in St. Croix at the end of June.

Our last foraging run ended around 3:45, giving me just enough time to prepare Baked Goat Cheese and Baked Brie, and pick up the Cheddar Cheese Biscuits for the wine tasting at Marina Market Wine and Cheese Shop in Red Hook. Afterward, we went to Latitude 18 to have dinner and enjoy some music.

Peppers and other good stuff for hot sauce and jam. I just need magoes!

Peppers and other good stuff for hot sauce and jam. I just need mangoes!

This morning, I faced the daunting task of sorting habaneros, jalapenos, red onions, limes and other goodies – and processing same – in preparation for making the hot sauce and pepper jelly. With boxes of jars for my seasoning, hot sauce and jam stacked in the entry way, our condo already looked like a warehouse. With the addition of of cases of peppers and limes (and coolers to hold them), bags of sugar, large bottles of rum, and other ingredients, our place has become an obstacle course.

Sunday, I’ll finish preparing the hot pepper mix and squeezing limes, and then I’ll wait for the mangoes to ripen. Eventually, I’ll post the hot sauce recipe on my website. Until then, you can check back here to find out how things are going.

And if anyone needs to reach me, send an e-mail or call Bill.


PS to NORAD: If you get a message from the Virgin Islands asking you to scramble fighter jets, please disregard. I was just trying to call my mom.

A Visit to the Big Island

May 15, 2011
Deviled Ham-Stuffed Pastry Shells

In the US Virgin Islands, the “big island” is St. Croix. Forty miles south of her sister islands St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island, and with a land mass  of ~83 square miles, St. Croix is the largest of the US Virgin Islands. It is a beautiful island full of friendly people. On clear days we can see it from our condo; at night we can even see car headlights!

We visited friends John and Laura over a long weekend.  Louri Lynn, whose husband was racing that weekend, decided to join us. By happenstance, we visited St. Croix during the culmination of St. Thomas’ Carnival festivities. It worked out well, though; because of the long holiday weekend we were able to take the ferry over to St. Croix on Friday morning, and return on Monday afternoon. The ferry ticket is about half the cost of flying, has plenty of room, and there is no hassle about taking dive gear … And they don’t make passengers arrive 2 hours before departure time. (As of July 4, 2011, the ferry is no longer in service, due to running aground that night.)

Summer's Secret Seasoning on display at Polly's at the Pier

Summer's Secret Seasoning on display at Polly's at the Pier

Upon arrival, our first order of business was to have lunch at Polly’s at the Pier in Frederiksted, talk with them about carrying my seasoning mix, and to discuss Laura and Bill’s dive plans for the weekend. Lunch was delicious, as usual, and proprietors Steven and Seth decided to carry my seasoning mix! Polly’s is more than a restaurant; they have lovely paintings by local artists, hand-painted sun visors, and other local products. Some Saturdays they host a flower and vegetable market on their patio.

Marinated Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Asparagus

Marinated Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Asparagus in one of Laura's pretty dishes, on her fabulous granite counter.

Bill and Laura, and Laura’s friend, Katie, decided to dive the pier on Saturday morning with N2 the Blue Dive shop, which is just 100 steps from the pier. Louri Lynn and I stayed back to get some work done, though later we did go back to Polly’s to buy some beautiful tomatoes, which were perfect for my Tomato Mozzarella Salad. We also went to the farmer’s market and bought a delicious fruit called Java Apple. After lunch, I met Susan, the owner of Cache of the Day in Christiansted. Summer’s Secret Seasoning is now available in her store, too! This time, Bill stayed back to review and upload the pictures from their dive – they had a great time.

Deviled Ham-Stuffed Pastry Shells

Deviled Ham-Stuffed Pastry Shells with Fruit Salad, Laura's Scrambled Eggs, and Champagne.

Sunday was another diving day, this time with Cane Bay Dive Shop at the wall off the north shore of St. Croix. I tagged along to snorkel, but the sky was overcast and the water was cold so I stayed on the beach to read and enjoy the scenery. After the dive, we headed back to John and Laura’s to rendezvous with Louri Lynn and have a champagne brunch. I tried out a new recipe on the gang – Deviled Ham-Stuffed Puff Pastry Shells, topped with mozzarella cheese. It was great with fruit salad (including Java Apples), Laura’s scrambled eggs, toasted muffins and homemade blackberry jam.

We cooked a big dinner on Sunday night and had lots of fun sharing it with friends. We stayed up late and had so much fun that we got a later start on Monday morning than we had planned. Louri Lynn flew home, and Laura and I stopped by Island Tribe boutique – they have my patchwork pants! After shopping, we met the guys at Paradise Cafe and then visited Undercover Books and Gifts, where they now carry Summer’s Secret Seasoning! We had some time before we had to board the ferry, so we went to the Tamarind Reef and had a drink by the sea.

All too soon, it was time to go home. But we will be visiting St. Croix again at the end of June – partly to celebrate Bill’s birthday and partly to participate in the Mango Melee! I’ll be selling Summer’s Secret Seasoning and my newest recipe, Summer’s Secret Mango Hot Sauce!

Wine Tastings … Delicious!

April 30, 2011

I have been working at the (free!) wine tastings  at Marina Market Wine and Cheese Shop lately, which is why I am behind on my blogging. The manager, Jackie, who is the only female sommelier in the USVI, has been choosing great wines for the tastings, and I bring appetizers – made with Summer’s Secret Seasoning, of course – to go with the wines. (More about the appetizers later; first, the wines!)

Although I have favorite wines and pretty definite ideas about what I like, I am willing to try new things. So even though I don’t usually like Chardonnay, I have discovered that I like Hook & Ladder Chardonnay (Sonoma County, Russian River Valley).

Normally, I will skip the wine if I am offered a Cabernet Sauvignon, or any wine from South America, and yet … I now know that I like Terraza Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina! Live and learn.

I have always like Prosecco, and now I have found a new one – “Pink” – from Riondo. It is pretty to look at, delicious to drink (Katie and I drank a whole bottle with dessert the other night, just to be certain) , and reasonably priced. Lovely for any occasion.

Last night, I discovered Oomoo, a Shiraz from Australia (oomoo is Aboriginal for “good” and it is). It was particularly good with the raspberry butter cream-filled dark chocolate from The Belgian Chocolate Factory. Marina Market Wine and Cheese Shop is now carrying boxes of their delicious chocolates.

Now to the appetizers … I make my Cheddar Cheese Biscuits for the wine tastings, and a couple of new things: Baked Goat Cheese, and Deviled Ham. The recipe for Baked Goat Cheese is on my website. The one for Deviled Ham is below.

Summer’s Secret Deviled Ham

Cube half a pound of Danish ham and put it in your food processor. Add 8 hamburger dill chips, or a couple of tablespoons of dill pickle relish.

Sauce: stir together the following:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Summer’s Secret Seasoning
2 teaspoons Pommery mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 to 2 teaspoons Roland’s Chili Hot Sauce

Summer's Secret Deviled Ham

Deviled Ham with Almond Nut-Thins

Put the sauce in the food processor and blend with the ham and pickles to a spreading consistency.

Serve on crackers or as a sandwich filling. For a little more spice, top with finely diced red onions, or add thinly sliced red onions to your sandwich.

You can also stuff puff pastry shells with the Deviled Ham, top with mozzarella cheese, and bake at 350 until the cheese is bubbly – nice for Mother’s Day brunch!

 As with all of my recipes, play with this – using different hot sauces and mustards – until it becomes your deviled ham!

Ahh, Appetizers

April 9, 2011

Great for happy hour.

When you are hungry late in the day, but are not ready for dinner, is there anything better than a variety of little bites of delicious food? I don’t think so! I just love appetizers (synonymous with hors d’oeuvres, according to all Internet sources I can find), and can make a meal of them.

My love of appetizers started when I was a child. My parents used to have cocktail parties, and the bits of food served with drinks were fascinating, out-of-the-ordinary fare: fancy cheese with crackers, caviar on toast points, assorted olives, and exotic rumaki (marinated chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and broiled … Heaven!). I got to taste – and learned to make – these delicious bites at an early age.

My first public experience with appetizers involved junior high school and speech class. I had 20 minutes to demonstrate something I knew how to do. By that age I could ride a horse, rig and race a sailboat, and make a perfect martini (thanks, Mom), but those were not things I could do in a classroom. After quite a bit of thinking, I finally had the solution – I could make hors d’oeuvres!

When it was my turn for the demonstration speech, I proudly made a platter full of cubed cheddar cheese topped with pimento-stuffed green olives, and held together with a decorative toothpicks. The class got to enjoy a snack, and I received an A – and a strange look – from the teacher. I have been making, and enjoying, appetizers ever since.

Marinated mushrooms are yummy on their own, as a side, or on salads.

Given my history, it is no wonder that some of my favorite Summer’s Secret Seasoning recipes are appetizers. Find recipes for Cheddar Cheese Biscuits, Salmon Spread, Marinated Mushrooms, Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Chili Garlic Mayonnaise and others – with more to come – on my website.  Try them at your next cocktail party, girls’ night, or as starters for a romantic dinner for two … Enjoy!

I don’t know who invented scrambled eggs …

March 12, 2011
Fried Eggs
Fried Eggs

Another fine mess for breakfast.

But I know WHY they were invented – because some cook got tired of  trying to make perfect fried eggs! She decided, “To hell with this,” stirred the eggs, served them up, and dared anyone to complain (I’m betting that no one did).

What does this have to do with Summer’s Secret Seasoning? Well, scrambled eggs are really good with a little of my seasoning sprinkled on top.  So I thought that fried eggs over easy – my husband’s favorite – would be good that way, too.

I used to be able to fry eggs – honest! I even taught some cruising sailors my favorite, easy method … hot butter in the pan, pour in eggs, splash in a little cold water and cover with a tight lid. The top of the eggs steam to a pretty pink, with no flipping involved, and the combo of butter and a little water keeps them from sticking.

Apparently, I have lost my touch. Lately, I have been unable to turn out perfect  fried eggs no matter what method I use.  I’ve tried a smaller pan, butter, olive oil, an olive oil/butter combo, a bigger pan, and even flipping them using just the pan, à la Julia Child (don’t ask).

I played with heat settings: start with high heat, then reduce; start with high heat and keep high; start low and go high – No luck. I finally resorted to my old standby method – steaming – using my favorite old pan … See the top photo for the results.


A perfect late Saturday morning breakfast: Puerto Rican coffee, crisp bacon, a toasted slice of my husband's homemade bread ... and scrambled eggs.

So I have given up, at least for now. I need to move forward, developing and posting my other (successful) recipes using Summer’s Secret Seasoning. If anyone can suggest a way to create perfect over-easy eggs – one that does not involve using a non-stick pan – I’d love to hear about it. If  it works for me, I’ll send you a free sample of Summer’s Secret Seasoning.

I cooked all day … That’s why there’s no dinner.

March 6, 2011
Empty Refrigerator
Roasted Garlic

A baking dish full of roasted garlic.

A few days ago, I came home with a 3 pound bag of beautiful heads of garlic – there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. Overwhelmed by my good fortune, I decided that I would spend the next day working on new recipes.

When my husband got home from work the next evening, the first thing he said was, “It smells great in here.” Then he asked, “What’s for dinner?” I just stared at him. Finally, I said, “There’s no dinner.”

He looked around the kitchen. “What’s all this?”

I could understand his confusion. From his perspective, it certainly looked like dinner was imminent. There was a big pan of garlic soup simmering on the stove. Next to that was a sauce pan where garlic pesto was merrily reducing. One counter held a large baking dish full of roasted garlic; another counter held my food processor, set up and ready for action.

This scene perfectly illustrated the irony of developing – and testing – recipes … I can cook all day and still have nothing to eat by dinner time (reminiscent of the scene in Julie and Julia when Julia’s husband comes home to a kitchen full of chopped onions, and nothing else; he went out for dinner).

Fortunately, my husband is an understanding person. He got himself a couple of pretzels, and after I had finished with all of my note-making, tasting and clean-up, he made us a pizza!

For those of you who are wondering about the outcome of my recipe-testing from that day, my Garlic Soup recipe is below. Try it and let me know what you think!

Garlic Soup

4 heads roasted garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1.5 teaspoons of Summer’s Secret Seasoning
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
.5 cup of white wine
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
.5 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat olive oil in large sauce pan or skillet over medium heat. Add onions and Summer’s Secret Seasoning and cook until onions are translucent – about 10 minutes or so. Add the roasted garlic. Stir in the broth and wine, and then simmer about 20 minutes. Cool the soup for about 10 minutes, then  in food processor until smooth. (Please see this safety note from Cook’s Illustrated about puréeing hot liquids.)

Return the soup to the saucepan and re-heat. Taste and correct seasoning, adding freshly ground pepper.

If using the Parmesan cheese, divide it among 4 bowls and ladle the soup over it. Serve with crusty bread and the rest of the wine.


PS: This recipe is not yet up on my website. Blog readers, you are the first to see it!

Support from Friends

February 26, 2011

One of the best things about developing and launching Summer’s Secret Seasoning has been the unqualified support for my endeavor from my friends. My website has been up less than a month, and they are already using my seasoning, developing recipes, and giving me great feedback.  They are my cheering section, taste-testers, and unpaid promoters and I couldn’t do this without them.

Friday night we had a small pot-luck dinner at a friend’s place. I took some sample packets of my seasoning to the friends who did not yet have any. Kathy had made a huge, beautiful green salad to go with the pasta dishes (more on those later). While we were putting the final touches on dinner, Kathy asked, “Can I use your seasoning on the salad?”

Her question immediately reminded me that my mother used to put dried herbs into great salads she made when I was a kid. She would toss the herbs with the greens, and then lightly dress the salad with oil and vinegar (I use fresh lemon juice now). I realized that a number of things have  contributed to the development of Summer’s Secret Seasoning; some from recent experiences, such as travel in Italy, and some from my past … Thanks, Mom!

So I said, “Sure!” Kathy sprinkled some of my seasoning over the salad, and everyone seemed to enjoy the flavor.  Jennifer told me that she plans to use my seasoning on seared tuna tonight; she promised to let me know how it turns out.

My friend, Danielle, who lives in Houston, has already developed Baked Pork Chops, using my seasoning mix. I plan to try her recipe tonight – my husband loves pork chops – and will feature the recipe on my website soon.

So my friends, thank you again for your support and for developing new recipes. You are the best!

Happy Seasoning …

PS: My pasta dish was Cheese Tortellini with Summer’s Secret Garlic Pesto Sauce. I’ll be putting that recipe up on the website, too.

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