I have been blessed to know Elaine Lupovitch & Kirk O’Neal as colleagues for the last seven years, and have been thrilled to watch over the last year as their side business (how they make time for a side business I do NOT know), Garden Dreams Houston, has flourished.  Their jellies, jams, marmalades, sauces, and salsas are truly fantastic, and Shiv looks forward to picking up new treats–and trying samples–whenever we visit Kirk & Elaine at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market.  I also regularly pick up their goods to gift as gifts or take to out-of-town friends; it all gets rave reviews, always.

Today we’re lucky enough to have Elaine guest posting here, sharing a recipe AND generously offering a giveaway of four wonderful treats.  Enjoy! –Nishta 

 elaine & kirk

Garden Dreams Houston welcomes the holiday season with citrus, and spice, and everything nice! We’re brewing up some of our favorites with gifting in mind.  No matter the season, we remain committed to using locally sourced ingredients in our handmade small batched jams, jellies, and marmalades created with lots of love, care, and artistry. Our holiday menu includes: Cranopeno Jam, Carrot Cake Jam, Drunken Tomato Jam, Hoot N Holler Jalapeno Jelly, Habanero Gold Jelly, Triple Berry With Agave Fruit Spread, Texas Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Kumquat Marmalade, Mayhaw Jelly and Hibiscus Flower Jelly.

We are so grateful for the local growers, who provide us with such an amazing array of garden year round, and we are grateful, too, for the support our Houston customers have given us and to the local growers, who provide us with such an amazing array of fruits and vegetables throughout the seasons. Preserving foods is a great way to capture the goodness of season and enjoy it all year long. Our award winning jam, Peaches N Dream, is a great example of this delicious goodness; there’s nothing like a summer Texas peach, and our recipe tries to capture them in all of their glory.  We are honored to be a Good Food Award Finalist for this product!  We’ll be traveling to the award ceremony in San Francisco in January to see if Peaches N Dream is among the winners.

In the meantime, we’d like to offer a holiday gift basket giveaway for Blue Jean Gourmet readers to enjoy.  The basket features four of our best-selling products:

Cranopeno Jelly, which is wonderful layered over your favorite soft cheese, served with crackers, or use as a glaze for a pork loin or beef roast.  See the recipe below to make your own at home!

(ingredients: fresh cranberries, jalapeno peppers, organic sugar, lemon juice, unfiltered apple cider vinegar)

Down the Hatch Salsa, perfect with your favorite corn chips or tortillas

(ingredients: charred hatch, Serrano, and jalapeno peppers, roasted white onion and garlic, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, salt)

Drunken Tomato Jam, a versatile condiment—add to a grilled cheese sandwich, spoon over grilled fish, or use a tablespoon as a salad dressing starter!

(ingredients: sweet tomatoes, very little organic sugar, fresh ginger, jalapenos, and cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, Jack Daniels, and organic apple cider and red wine vinegars)

Satsuma Marmalade, a dreamy companion for buttered biscuits, scones, or toast, would also make wonderful thumbprint cookies for the holidays!

(ingredients: slow cooked Satsumas, organic sugar, and lemon juice)


To qualify for the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling us which jam or jelly flavor is your favorite!  Giveaway will close at noon CST on Friday, December13.  The winner will be contacted by email to provide a mailing address or arrange pickup (if local).  



Recipe courtesy Elaine Lupovitch & Kirk O’Neal


1 lb. fresh cranberries

1 cup jalapenos

5 ½ cups unrefined organic sugar

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 ½ cup organic unfilitered apple cider vinegar

2 packages Certo (liquid pectin)

Sterilize eight 8 oz jelly jars, lids and rings.

Prep the jalapenos by taking out the seeds. In a food processor, grind the peppers and berries. Then put them in a large pot with all ingredients except pectin. Bring the mixture to a boil, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add pectin and boil 1 more minute.

Ladle into jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch clearance. Water bath process 10 minutes.  (Refer to jar manufacturer hot water canning instructions.)



From  a very young age, I have always known two things very distinctly to be true: that, someday, I wanted to parent a child, and that, someday, I wanted to write a book.

When you’re twelve, these life goals seem a lot simpler and fresher and cleaner in your mind; you imagine yourself breezing through your early twenties and into just the very things you’ve imagined for yourself because you haven’t learned yet that there will be a great deal more to your life than what you are capable of imagining at twelve, or at any given age, for that matter.

Because, you know, my life got messy–and it got awesome.  And pretty much none of it has gone the way I thought it would.  I did not get into Brown, which I was convinced for years was the college of my dreams; I did, however, get into Rice, where I was incredibly happy for four years, and which gave me a very fine education, some even finer friends, and Jill.  Oh, and speaking of Jill; I didn’t see her coming at ALL.  I thought I would have to wait a long, long time to meet someone to love–not that I would meet her my freshman year of college.  Goes to show how much I know.

This summer, when Jill & I got the best email ever–the one that told us about Shiv–I was a few solid days of work away from completing my long-nursed manuscript of essays.  What I had thought: that I would write a book first, and then have a baby, has turned out to be the complete and delightful opposite of every plan I had ever made.

Before Shiv, this would have certainly frustrated and discouraged me to no end–I would have seen the fact that I had not yet accomplished one of my major life goals as a failure, and I would have used that interpretation to berate myself such that no further writing was done (vicious cycle).  But now, as I sit here typing this with the cutest little frog-legged being in my lap, I feel that there could be no better time for me to finish my book than now.  I have a whole new set of perspectives to bring to some unfinished work, and know that the joy of the accomplishment will only be amplified by the fact that I did baby first, then book: reverse order of what I had imagined.

I’m on maternity leave for the month of September, and plan to finish my manuscript by the end of the month!  The book is a collection of essays, some of which have already been published here, but most of which are new.  I plan to self-publish The Pomegranate King and hope to have it up for sale by Thanksgiving.

My thanks to all of you out there who have taken the time to read an essay of mine or drop me a note of support and encouragement.  I can’t wait to share this book with all of you, and hope it will be of value to those of you who choose to read it.


We had a plethora of figs from a neighbor’s tree earlier in the summer–more than we could just eat straight–so I decided to try and capture their flavor in these two ways.

I pickled the firmer figs according to the recipe below and have kept them in jars in the fridge–they are excellent on grilled pork or as an addition to a cheese/nut plate, and I think they would also be great flavor-add-ins to braises or tagines this fall.

With the softer figs, I decided to make a more syrupy balsamic, which is excellent on almost anything: in salad dressings, on ice cream, with pizza or pasta, as a glaze or part of a marinade, drizzled on fresh fruit, etc.  They sell pricey infused vinegars at specialty stores, but why bother with that when you can make your own?  Figs will enjoy a second season through the end of this month, so go for it!

adapted from Food & Wine


1 cup sugar
2 cups water
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 pound small firm-but-ripe Black Mission figs

optional: flavoring elements for the jars, such as bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, etc.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the figs and simmer over low heat, stirring a few times, until they are barely tender, about 10 minutes.

Pack the figs into clean canning jars, along with any other flavoring elements you like, then ladle the hot vinegar on top.   At this point, you can let the jars cool and then store in the fridge, or process the jars for shelf-stable pickles.


adapted from White on Rice Couple

I love the combination of figs and cherries, so I added the latter to the mix.  If you can’t find fresh, you could use dried cherries as well, or you could just leave them out.

If vanilla seems like a strange ingredient here, trust me–it adds a nice rounding note to the bite of the reduced vinegar.


1 cup fig pulp (from approximately 1 dozen ripe figs)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
handful of fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Simmer the fig pulp, cherries (if using), and balsamic vinegar until reduced by the desired amount, up to half.  Keep in mind, more you reduce mixture, the stronger it will be.  (I reduced mine by about a third).

Allow the mixture to cool, then process in the blender.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds, then stir in the vanilla extract and enjoy!



So excited to share this post with y’all–Greg is a dear friend, and I’m addicted to his homemade sriracha hot sauce.  We haven’t used the bottled stuff in weeks!  Even better–I watched him make the stuff in my own kitchen, so I can attest that it’s ridiculously, wonderfully simple–Nishta 

I’m not sure where to start this story. You might tell me I should start at the beginning, but there are a couple of different starts, on a couple of threads, that meet up far down the line…..

One of those threads starts many years ago with an article in a major NYC perdiodical (Times ?, Post ?, Magazine ?).  The title used the expression “Homemade Rooster”.  There were a few cross posts about the article, and I saved a link for future reference, knowing that someday I’d use that recipe.

Another thread starts just over a year ago and can be summarized with the word : “yarden.”  I come from a long line of men who hate to do yardwork. When the time came for me to grow up and buy a home, I sought out a condo (no yard, no lawnmower, no edging). It seemed like a good plan. What I didn’t plan on was falling in love with a woman with a green thumb, a woman who would see my distaste for regular lawnmowing and make the following proposal : “Let’s get rid of all the grass and replace it with beds.”  Thus, the entire yard became a garden.  Yard + garden = yarden.

The transformation started in March of 2011 and by April we were enjoying fresh tomatoes, mourning the squashes that were lost to pests, and watching pink eyed peas outgrow weeds.  We had a few crops that we struggled to make use of. What do you do with four small eggplant? What do you do with two jalapeños? Well…in my case, I could wait a few days and have a couple more jalapeños…and a few corno di toros…and some serranos…enough for me to pull out that old rooster sauce recipe and give it a try.

Now, if you have spent any real amount of time in your kitchen, you’ve had an experience where something turned out to be so much easier and so much better than you expected that you wondered why you’d not made it long before. This is one of those recipes. I was blown away by how fresh and flavorful that first batch was. I started finding new pairings and uses for it. All too soon, I was out and knew the yarden would not be able to keep up with demand. Also, I would need to refine the recipe from “whatever peppers are harvested from the yard” to something reliable and reproduceable.

We all know that there are a lot of spicy sauces out there. There are times when you want Tabasco, times where your prefer Texas Pete’s and other times when anything less than Cholula won’t do. The differences between the many sauces isn’t just in their heat, it is in the other characters and favors that they bring…the vinegariness of Tabasco, the earthiness of Cholula, and the depth of Huy Fong’s sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce). In the case of the recipe that follows, there is a fresh, fruity pop. I love the rooster, but I won’t be buying any off of the shelf for a very very long time.



½ pound fresh chilies, coarsely chopped

-Naturally, you can use any kind of chili you want. I like Fresnos. I recommend Fresnos. Bright, fruity, spicy but not too spicy. You could go with habaneros, but that would be madness.

4 garlic cloves

-Four, eight, whatever

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar


Throw everything into a saucepan, bring to a boil, return to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. The idea is just to get everything cooked and softened.  Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for about 5 minutes.

This mixture should yield about a pint of bright orange goodness–after two weeks in the refrigerator, there might be some separation, but it will stir back together (and you’ll have consumed it by then anyway).


Greg Lopp is a self described foodie, code poet, philosopher, and ultimate frisbee player.  He’s also the kind of guy who brings great beer to a party and stays late to help you clean up, without being asked.  I named some brownies after him once.  He and his wife Sharon, their three cats, and their yarden live here in Houston.



I’m about as biased as they come, but I think today’s guest blogger is pretty swell.  It’s my pleasure today to turn Blue Jean Gourmet over to Jill! –Nishta

I’ve eaten okra my whole life mainly because it has been a staple in my parents’ vegetable garden since, well, forever.  There it would stand – at least a full row of it, head high or more – in all its fibrous, stinging, yellow-blossomed glory.  The hotter the summer sun, the taller the okra and the more it needed picking.  It seemed to me, as a kid assigned the task of helping my mother gather garden vegetables everyday, that you could actually see the okra pods growing in their place on the stalk, they grew so fast.

I made my way down the row protected by a long-sleeve shirt and garden gloves, armed with a paring knife.  I bent the stalks down, cut the pods at their stems and dropped them into a 5-gallon bucket.  On any given day, the bucket would be at least half-full by row’s end, and I would do it all again the next day.   Do the math; we had a lot of okra.

I swore once I became an adult I wouldn’t sweat out my substance plowing, tilling, weeding and hoeing gardens or picking vegetables in the bald open sun.  But, here I am, ensconced in middle-age, growing year-round vegetables in our Zone 9 backyard.  And this time of year, after the beans and tomatoes and squash and cucumbers have all burnt up, the okra are just hitting their stride.  I have only a few plants, and they are a dwarf variety that don’t grow over 5 feet tall.  But, there they are every day – the feathery yellow blossoms, the long pods ready for harvesting, and the little buds behind them waiting to grow into their place the next day or so.

I enjoy okra prepared several ways, but my favorites are fried and pickled.   Both of them mitigate – or negate ourtight – the slime factor that sours many people toward this unique vegetable. Fried okra is a southern staple and many people swear by their family’s version of it.  I am no different; I claim without reservation that my mother’s fried okra recipe and technique (used also by her sisters and sisters-in-law, and which is now mine) is the best fried okra possible in our earth’s time/space continuum.  The pickled okra is a recipe I got somewhere along the way years ago and have adapted to my own peppery tastes.

Between the two of them – hot fried okra served on paper towelled dinner platters and spicy pickled okra pods served ice cold as happy hour fare – you’ve got late summer covered.


ingredients & tools:

a “mess” of okra pods  (anywhere from 15 pods 3-4″ long each to a full 5-gallon bucket full)

salt & pepper (although any of the salt-free seasoning blends can work)

flour (a cup or more depending on how much okra you have)

buttermilk (a half cup or more – plain sour yogurt cut with water would work too)

frying oil (vegetable, canola or peanut – enough so that the okra floats slightly in the skillet)

a paper grocery sack (a plastic bag will do)

a large slotted spoon

After rinsing, cut the okra crossways into pieces no larger than the end of your thumb.   Discard the heads.  NOTE: if your knife doesn’t easily slice the okra, the okra is “old” or “hard” and not fit to eat.  Toss it in the compost or trash.

In a bowl, combine the sliced okra, salt & pepper to taste, and enough buttermilk to thinly coat all the okra.  Stir well.  No buttermilk should pool at the bottom of the bowl.  When done right at this stage, it will look like a slimy, sticky mess.

Add at least a cup of flour to a paper bag.  Drop in the okra (no more than a double handful if you’re frying a large batch – you’ll have to fry in stages, if so).  Fold the sack top closed and shake well, holding the bag from the top as well as supporting it on the bottom.  Make sure all the okra is covered evenly in flour.  Set the okra bag aside.

In a skillet or frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high to almost high heat.  Test for frying readiness with a single piece of okra.  When the oil is ready, use your fingers to slightly drop clumps and pieces of the okra into the oil.  Just ease them in, moving them with the slotted spoon only minimally to make room.   Here is the key:  Don’t mess with it at all!  Let it sit frying in the oil – don’t move it around or stir it.  Just let it sit.

When the okra starts to brown underneath, gently – GENTLY – use a slotted spoon (and maybe a second spoon) to turn it over in the oil.  Do this as quickly as possible, but in a way that disturbs the okra the least.  When the okra is fully browned (only another minute or so usually), turn off the heat and begin taking it out onto a platter double lined with paper towels.   Don’t pat it – just let it sit for a minute or two to cool and to lose oil.

Eat with your fingers like popcorn.  Add more salt if needed.  Try not to go face down in it.  Share with others instead.


ingredients & tools:

a quart jar with ring and lid

enough okra pods to fill the quart jar tightly packed

2-3 garlic cloves

2 sprigs of fresh dill (or a tablespoon of dried ground dillweed)

2-3 hot peppers (fresh or dried)

1 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/8 cup salt

Rinse the okra and peel the garlic cloves.  Scrub the jar, ring and lid and rinse in very hot water from the tap. When the jar cools enough to touch, pack the jar with whole okra pods stood upright.  Pack in the dill, garlic cloves and peppers as well.  If using dried ground dillweeed, just spoon it over the top once everything is packed in.  Make sure nothing in the jar protrudes up beyond the lower edge of the lip of the jar.

In a boiler pot, add the water, vinegar and salt to make the brine.  Bring to a boil.

Pour the boiling brine into the packed jars.  Make sure nothing in the jar is left uncovered.  Seal the jars tightly.  Wait a week to open.  Best served cold after refrigeration.

Cauliflower, squash, cucumbers, banana peppers, long beans and carrots can also be pickled this way.

Dr. Jill Carroll is a public intellectual who speaks internationally on topics of world religion, religious tolerance, & religion and public life.  She grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana.  In addition to writing her own blog for the Houston Chronicle, she is Nishta’s spouse and the food stylist for Blue Jean Gourmet.



One week left in the school year; please forgive my inability to say much of anything of substance.

But—blessed, blessed Memorial Day weekend lies ahead!  Three day weekends, I love you so.  I plan to putter around my kitchen, sleep, attend a graduation party (homemade Chinese food, anyone?), go to the theatre, and host dinner + movie night with pasta, two of my best friends, and “An Education.”

On Monday, the festivities continue, as we will be performing our patriotic duty by grilling meat outdoors, drinking beer, and enjoying the company of loved ones.  I will certainly be making these carrot sticks, to which I have recently become addicted.  They are fast and easy to make, and really bring out the flavor of the beautiful Farmers Market carrots we’ve been getting lately—like the purple beauties you see above.

If you need some ideas for Memorial Day eats, I’ve listed a couple of favorites below.  Wishing ya’ll a very restful long weekend!

Potato Salad

Orzo Pasta Salad

Lamb Burgers

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

Ice Cream Pie


When you buy beautiful carrots with greens still attached, be sure to cut off the tops as soon as the carrots arrive home.  Otherwise, they will sap moisture & nutrients from the carrots themselves.

This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea—once you have the concept, you can swap out the spices and flavorings based on whatever you have on hand or on the brain.


1 bunch carrots
1 cup water
½ cup vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 garlic clove
pinch of cumin and/or coriander seeds

Combine the water, vinegar, & sugar in a saucepan.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring to ensure the sugar dissolves.  Toss in the seasonings and let the mixture “steep” for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, trim and peel the carrots, cutting them into manageable sticks.  Lay them at the bottom of a shallow dish and pour the vinegar mixture on top.  Let the carrots sit in the vinegar mixture for at least a half-hour before enjoying.  At this point, you can include fresh herbs: dill or cilantro are both good choices.

Carrots will keep in a covered container in the fridge for several weeks.  Personally, I like to remove the carrots from the vinegar after the initial “soak” because I prefer my carrots still have some snap.  If you feel differently, you can leave the carrots in their bath indefinitely.


I don’t really speak Hindi.  It is the only way, and I mean this truly, apart from melodrama it may connote, it is the only way in which I feel at all like a failure in life.  I can understand a great deal of Hindi when spoken to, I know my colors and numbers and (of course) food items, but I can’t really form sentences on my own in order to respond back.  The alphabet I recognize, and I can sound out words phonetically but my vocabulary isn’t so great and my writing ability is limited to signing my own name.

I can hear my mother: “I know, I know, we screwed up big time!”  My one big wish, that they had taught me when I was a baby.  They didn’t because they thought it would be best. Raising a child period seems scary enough to me, let alone raising one in a completely foreign country.  My parents feared that difference would haunt me, that I would be teased, encumbered by an accent.  For them, their voices were the main channels through which they encountered resistance, were flagged as “other.”

And so English was my first language.  It fact, it was the only language they spoke to me, around me, for a long time.  By the time I was old enough to wish for bilinguality, to request that my parents start speaking in Hindi around the house, they were rusty, throwing in English words where their vocabularies had gone soft.  I believe I was in college by the time I figured out that my father was actually trilingual (Punjabi), my mother an impressive quad (Punjabi, Urdu).  No need to worry about this daughter assimilating: I’m an all-American, English-only speaker.

I took one semester of Hindi in college, and struggled through the whole thing.  Perhaps it was the case of a naturally gifted student bucking up against something, for once, not coming naturally.  Perhaps I thought, of all things, this should.  I’ve also always been so totally intimidated by other Indian kids, to tell the truth.  Like they are part of some club I just don’t belong to.  They watch the movies, they have spent multiple summers in India, they hang out almost exclusively with other Indians.  They knew much more of the language than I did.  Me?  I took a geeky, dead language (Latin) in high school and have a terrible ear for accents and intricacies.  Thank goodness I took that class pass/fail.  Needless to say, I did not go back for Hindi 102.

A few years later, I put in a good effort with a set of those ubiquitous Rosetta Stone CD-ROMs before my parents and I traveled to India, doing well enough to make my three weeks there a fertile time for my brain to absorb everything I heard. I found myself laughing at jokes, having mostly understood them, and even dreaming in Hindi for weeks after we got back.  Dreaming in another language is one of the most sublime things I have ever experienced, as if the gods had favored you: my child, you are authentic now.

But it didn’t last.  My father died, and somehow the desire to work on my Hindi died with him.  Losing him only highlighted how much I wish I spoke this language, how inadequate I feel not knowing it, how utterly defeated I am by the whole thing.  I find that I am ashamed, worried I seem like a fraud, such a white girl parading around in brown skin.  At some point, I’m just going to have to accept that I may never speak Hindi the way I want to—which might free me up to actually make a concerted effort to learn it instead of wishing I could just magically go back in time and learn how.

What I can do is cook the food.  And, for now, that is a kind of language in and of itself.


This is, I’m afraid, one of those Indian recipes which calls for ingredients you probably don’t have on hand.  They can, however, be easily acquired at any Indian grocery store or good spice purveyor.

Though this recipe is for a pickle, there’s no reason you can’t eat it like a sabji (vegetable dish), especially if you are a fan of spice.  Otherwise, serve it alongside other Indian dishes as a condiment or with storebought papadum or other flatbread/cracker as an excellent appetizer.


1 ½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 ½ tsp. whole coriander
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. anise seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

Toast the spices in a small saucepan or toaster oven (set on low) for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant.  Cool the mixture a bit before grinding to a powder.


4 large carrots, peeled & cut into ¼ -inch slices
1 cup cauliflower florets
3 jalapeño peppers, sliced ½-inch thick

Place the vegetables into a heat-safe colander.  Pour 4 cups boiling water over them to soften/sterilize.

to make the achar:

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. garlic powder
asafetida (optional)

Heat the oil over medium in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the turmeric and a few sprinkles of asafetida, if using.  Heat the spices and oil for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and toss in the vegetables.  Pour in the masala (spice) mixture, adding the garlic powder and a small palm-full of salt.

Toss everything to coat, adding in the lemon juice and a splash of hot water if you need more liquid.  In cold weather, you can jar the achar and leave it outside to sit overnight.  In warm weather, refrigerate immediately.

Achar will keep well-sealed, for 4-6 weeks.  Shake the jar before serving.