a step in a different direction

Many of you might not know this, but Just a Red Letter Day started as a place to gather inspiration and posts that would help me lead a more creative life. Although it's never lot its true focus, the blog has grown and changed over the years. It's time for one last big change.

Just a Red Letter Day is about to take a step in a new direction and become a shop called La Mercerie. We are founded on the idea that anyone can live a creative life, if only they know where to begin. Beginning this fall, La Mercerie will be selling kits that provide everything you need to complete an heirloom-quality project from start to finish. In the meantime, please follow us at www.shoplamercerie.com for the latest news, shop updates, and of course, inspiration to lead a life full of creativity.

a fall harvest salad

I know, I know, salads are supposed to be a summer thing.
But I can't resist a hearty salad when roasted vegetables can be tossed in and words like "balsamic" and "cider" are being thrown around in every new recipe I come across.

I first tried this salad at a pizza place in Cincinnati last year while I was visiting a good friend. And while no one can say no to a pizza that has caramelized onions, figs, and oozing gorganzola, it was really the salad that stole the show for the meal. It's just that good.

Let's be honest. Recipes for salads are a little silly. Because if there's any question, I will always put way more cheese on any amount of lettuce than is called for in a recipe. This recipe is really more of a suggestion.

Fall Harvest Salad
serves 4
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (homemade are best, but store bought will work in a pinch)
8 slices thick-cut bacon
1 package Boursin cheese
2 cups whole dried figs (I've always been able to find them at Whole Foods)
Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
from Cooking Light
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallot

1.  Start with the dressing so that it has time to cool before serving. Mix the first 6 ingredients for the vinaigrette together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, stirring continuously. Stir in the shallots. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

2. Cook your bacon. I prefer to fry it up in a cast iron skillet until it's crisp, but then again, I'm a traditionalist and there are easier (and cleaner) ways to go about it. Allow the bacon to drain and cool on a couple paper towels, then chop into large pieces.

3. Quarter the dried figs, cut them in half if they're small.

4. Combine all the salad ingredients, toss with the vinaigrette, and enjoy!

prints, posters, and phones

Shameless self-promotion.
I have signed up to sell my work with Society6.

I've drooled over the amazing prints by artists they work with for ages. I've debated between at least 12 different phone cases without being able to decide on one. I've imagined the art wall I could have once I actually have a house with walls.

And now, I'm a part of it.

So head over to my page on Society6 and take a look. Hopefully you'll find something you like!

the first of fall

Today started out with pumpkin muffins and will be ending with

To say I'm excited about fall would be an understatement.

There's about to be pumpkins, apples, and an added sprinkle of cinnamon in everything.
Chunky sweaters, big scarves, and tall boots.
Cool mornings, the smell of soup in the kitchen, and a world
turned warm by the glow of the turning leaves.

I know what I'll be doing over the next couple of months...
     - making these amazing, melt-in-your-mouth apple and cheddar scones from Smitten Kitchen. 
     - somehow getting these boots in my closet.
     - slowly but surely making it through some more of this book list.
     - keeping Bon Iver on repeat. There's something about Skinny Love that epitomizes autumn to me.
     - I love anything from Food in Jars, but I can't wait to try her spiced apple butter.
     - reminiscing about scenic drives and donuts with the lovely All Things Beloved.
     - cuddling up under a blanket to make this herringbone stitch scarf from Purl Soho.
     - continuing my pumpkin obsession with soup, bruschetta, risotto, and cinnamon rolls.

Happy Autumn

I've also recently switched to Google+.
If you'd like to be kept up-to-date an all the Just a Red Letter Day happenings, please join my circle!

single serving pies in jars

 In my opinion, there's no better summer dessert than pie.
Except maybe pie in a jar.
With filling you made on your own.

The original recipe for this pie came from Fine Cooking a few years back, and it is amazing. The lemon cornmeal crust is perfect with the mixed berry filling. This same process can also be used with store-bought pie crust and filling to save on time.

This recipe makes 4 mini jars and uses one pint size jar of canned filling. If you're making the recipe fresh from the Fine Cooking site but want to make the pies in jars, you probably won't use all of the filling, or will need to double your crust recipe; you'll only need about 2 cups worth of filling. These little guys also freeze incredibly well, which makes for the perfect summer pick-me-up to enjoy all year round. Because really, who doesn't want pie all the time?

Blackberry and Blueberry Pie with Lemon-Cornmeal Crust
adapted from Fine Cooking

1 pint jar canned berry pie filling (or 2 cups pie filling of your choice)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt
12 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 10-15 pieces
4 tbsp vegetable shortening
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice combined with 1/4 cup ice-cold water
4 half pint jars (the short and fat ones, not tall and skinny)

1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, lemon zest and salt. Using either a pastry cutter or two butter knives, start to cut the butter into the flour mixture. While the butter in still in large pieces, add the vegetable shortening. Continue to cut it into the flour, until most of the pieces are about the size of peas. 

2. With a fork, slowly stir in the lemon water, a small amount at a time. The mixture will become just wet enough to hold together when pressed. Using well-floured hands, gently press the mixture into 4 equally sized balls. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 2-4 hours.

3. Once the dough is chilled, it's time to put together your pies, working with one ball of dough at a time. Cut the ball in half. Tear off small pieces of dough and press them into the bottom of your jar, working your way up the sides. You'll want the dough to be somewhere around 1/4" thick.

4. Using a half-cup measure, scoop the filling into the crust, being careful to leave enough space for the top of your pie (about 1/2").

5. Roll out the second half of your ball of dough onto a well-floured surface, until it is somewhere around 1/4" thick. Use the band of your jar to cut out a circle from the dough. Carefully place the top of your pie into the jar, pressing it down and in at the edges. Use a sharp knife to cut an X in the middle to allow steam to vent while baking. 

6. If you're planning to freeze your pies, put the lid and the band on them and stick them in the freezer for a cloudy day. 

To bake your pies:
The great thing about pies in jars is that they can be baked and served in the same jar...no need to transfer it to anything else. Some people are cautious about putting glass jars into the oven-if this is you, put your pie in the oven before pre-heating while still cold and bring it up to temperature (keep an eye on your pie so that it doesn't burn near the end of the baking time.) However, I have never had a problem sticking these pies straight from the freezer and into a hot oven.

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place your pie in a jar on a baking sheet so that it isn't directly on the oven rack. If you're cooking these right after you make them, bake for 45 minutes. If you're baking these from frozen, you'll want to increase the time to about 60 minutes. Your crust will be golden-brown when done. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and serve, preferably with ice cream.

canned berry pie filling

Ok, I'll admit it.
I might have a berry problem.

In the past couple of weeks, I have made raspberry sorbet, tayberry-peach jam, blackberry ice cream,  mixed berry pie filling, and lots and lots of oatmeal with blueberries. There's a chance it's getting a little excessive.

But the canned pie filling made all of the stained cutting boards and sticky spoons that seem to be covering my kitchen lately totally worth it. It's SO good. And the fact that I can now have pie made with fresh berries all-year-round?! Best. News. Ever.

While most canning can be done with ingredients you can pick up at your local store, canned pie filling requires a little more planning. The key to making your filling last is an ingredient called Clear Jel. It's a modified cornstarch that doesn't break down in the heat required to process your cans. Unfortunately, it's not available in most stores. Rumor has it you can find Clear Jel in some Amish communities, but I've yet to find one in the greater Seattle area...so in the meantime, there's always Amazon. I found mine here and it's actually pretty affordable considering the amount you use for each recipe. Be careful though! There's an instant version of Clear Jel as well, but make sure to use the regular type The instant one will not work for the filling.

Once you start cooking, this recipe comes together FAST (and therefore a severe lack of in-the-process pictures). I recommend having all of your ingredients measured out and your jars ready to go before you start. If you need a refresher on boiling water bath processing, check out the Food in Jars website...I've learned everything I know about canning from her book.

Blueberry-Blackberry Pie Filling
[adapted from Canning USA]

This recipe will make either 2 quart jars or 4 pint jars. I chose pint jars because I plan on making mini pies (recipe to come!), but a quart size jar should fill 1 regular pie crust.

7 cups blackberries
3 cups blueberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 tbsp. lemon juice (required for canning)
1/2 cup Clear Jel
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

1. Place the canning lids in a small pot and bring to a slight simmer to heat them up as you cook.

2. Rinse your blackberries and blueberries. Set aside with the rest of your ingredients.

3. In a large, heavy pan, combine the water, sugar, and Clear Jel. Slowly bring it to a boil, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken. When Clear Jel thickens, it actually turns into a heavy, clear gelatin (surprise!). It comes as somewhat of a shock as it starts to thicken...you don't expect to see something like that in your pot! Don't worry, you're doing it right.

4. Add lemon juice, cinnamon, and fold in the berries. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes until the fruit is soft. Can the fruit right away.

5. Leave 1" of headspace in your jars. Use a skewer or chopstick to remove any air bubbles. This recipe can get pretty sticky, so make sure to wipe down the rims of your jars well with a wet paper towel before putting on the lids.

6. Remove the lids from the simmering water, dry off, and close up your jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. If you live over 1,000 ft above sea level, check out this website to help adjust for altitude changes.

7. After processing, remove the jars from the boiling water bath and let them rest, undisturbed, on a towel for at least 12 hours. Check your seals-if your lid didn't suction, make some pie! Refrigerate your filling right away. If your seals are good, label your jars and keep them in a cool, dark place for up to a year...but with the mini pie recipe I've got headed your way, I doubt it'll last that long!