Friday, September 24, 2010

Peachy Nutmeg

Just to show I'm not the only one who has fun in the kitchen, the other night Eric made a Peachy Nutmeg:

Roasted beets and potato

I love roasted vegetables. I don't make them very often because it takes a while to chop them all up then another 45 minutes to roast them. I don't have time or energy for that after work.

Last winter, it occurred to me to chop in the morning or the night before, which would give the veggies a lot of time to soak up their seasonings. Now I do it more often, including yesterday for the first time this season. Here's my favorite way to make them.

Roasted Veggies
  • 1# root veggies, including garlic and onions
  • <1/4 cup oil (olive and/or canola)
  • 2Tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp dried or 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
Chop the veggies. I like to make then about 1/4" because they cook faster. Mix seasonings and oil together. Pour over veggies and mix. 425 degrees, greased sheet or Silpat, 40-60 minutes depending on amount and size of veg. Stir every 15 minutes.

I had fresh herbs and I used more than called for. For veggies, I used yellow (from the deck boxes) and red beets, purple potatoes, and garlic. I had 1/2# and it was just a little too much for me for dinner. Nutmeg and Eric aren't too keen on roasted mixed veggies.

Before I started using Balsamic vinegar, I liked the following:

Roasted Veggies II
  • 1# root veggies
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme
  • sea or kosher salt and pepper
Same directions as above.

I guess it's nearly the same recipe, isn't it?

Drying fruit

Have also dried peaches, pears, and plums these past couple weeks. (Happy Birthday, Mom! I always give her some dried peaches for her birthday.) Today I'm also trying some pear fruit leather. First, I made a double batch of Pear Pie fruit leather last night (apple pie recipe says pears can be used). If I do it again, skip most of the water. A bit too wet, which means more time in the dehydrator.

Then when I woke up early this morning and started thinking about it, I remembered I love plain old dried pears. So why not plain pear leather? Whipped up a batch of that this morning. Which means I chopped the pears finely and then pureed them with the immersion blender. I added 3 tsp of Fruit Fresh (ascorbic acid) to see if it helps stop browning.

4 cups or 4 pears fits on one dehydrator tray. I lightly greased the trays with canola oil. I've made leather before but never oiled the trays. Hoping it comes off easier and makes it so they don't stick to each other when boxed up.

Fruit Sauce

In the midst of search for pear jams, I found a post about small batch canning, that made a plum sauce and a peach sauce. I figured I could make a pear-plum sauce by combining the recipes. My plums were smaller than hers and my pears bigger than peaches, so I adjusted a bit. I'm so glad I found a sauce, as I'm getting quite a few jams back there and was starting to wonder how many years they'd last us. With Maggie now taking her lunch to school and asking for peanut butter and jelly 9 times out of 10, however, I don't think it will last us more than a year. We've never been much of a jam family before; a jar will last us a good 6 months or more. Until this month!

Pear-Plum Sauce
  • 7 plums
  • 3 pears
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Chop fruit, mix with sugar and cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens. This took about 10-20 minutes (I also made a double batch). Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/2" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water batch. (I think 1/4" would be fine.) Makes about 3.5 cups. Even doubled, it's small batch canning!

This is fabulous heated up on old brownies from work found in the freezer. I'm sure the same will be true on ice cream. And fresh homemade brownies.

I then found a USDA guide to canning that included directions for fruit purees, consisting of any fruit except figs, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other melons, papaya, ripe mango or coconut, 1 c water per quart of fruit (way too much for my fruit), and sugar if desired. So I made

Blueberry Pear Sauce
  • 3 c pears (~3 pears)
  • 2 c blueberries
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of allspice
Cook slowly until fruit is soft. Puree as desired (I simply mashed it some with the potato masher). Add sugar and spices to taste. Reheat to a boil or sugar dissolves. (I put the sugar in at the beginning.) Fill hot jars, 1/4" headspace, 1015 minutes boiling water canner. Makes about 3 cups, to my surprise.

This was so good I immediately made a second batch.

UPDATE: Today I noticed it's an older guide, so I looked for the most recent, which I found at The National Center for Home Preserving at the USDA (Guide #2). It recommends 15 instead of 10 minutes, and added to the list of non-preservable puree fruits (back in the 90s, no one preserved mango in the US I guess, which doesn't surprise me!). So I might have under done my sauce, although 10 is what other sites lists for other fruit sauces. They aren't quite as thick as applesauce, which is also listed as 15 minutes. I will, however, use the 15 minutes for the next batch.

Pear Jam

My books didn't have much in the way of pear jams, so looked all over the internet. Apparently, most people don't make pear jams. And I think I know why. They just aren't flavorful. But I didn't find two good recipes.

I started with Spiced Pear Jam. Despite needing a few ingredients from the store (fresh lemons) and some hassle in preparing (zesting and squeezing said lemons), I tried it before the easier recipe. Sadly, it wasn't well-liked. Rather bland. Kind of tasted like the Peach Cobbler Sauce, but not quite. It was another use for the liquid pectin, which I bought a few years ago when I was going to try making jam but never got farther than the strawberry and grape that didn't work out. Anyway, I won't make this again. I hope others like it, however! It just paled in comparison to our favorite.

Then I tried Spiced Caramel Pear Jam. This is a keeper!

Plums--Jam and Dried

Then I moved on to plum jams. I was afraid the peels would be too sour or tough, so I chopped my plums smaller than called for. Universally, I've found no taste issues, and everything gets very soft, so no need to cut them so finely! I do, however, really like pieces of fruit or peel showing up in my jam (I'm more of a preserves than a jam person probably).

Found the easiest recipe in Joy of Cooking. I bought their special All About Canning & Preserving a couple years ago (last year?). I think the recipes are identical to the Joy of Cooking. But they have lots of pretty pictures!

Plum Jam (bottom right on picture)
  • 2# plums, chopped to desired size (about 8ths for me)
  • 2.5 c sugar
  • 1/4 c bottled lemon juice
Mix in large pot (I used my stock pot again). Cook on medium-high; when the fruit starts to get soft, crush as desired (I used a potato masher). Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, to the jelling point. ~15 minutes start to finish. Remove from heat; skim off foam*, and ladle into hot jars. 1/4" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water canning. Makes 3.5-4 cups.

* I couldn't figure out how to skim off foam from any of my jams. I would have removed half the jam! Some recipes call for up to a teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming. I didn't think it worked until I tried one recipe with and one without (Peach-Plum on bottom left of picture, it's light colored because of the foam). The without didn't only have foam on the top, but all the way through the jam. I will put 1/2-1 tsp of unsalted butter in all my jams going forward. Except this one. It didn't get very foamy.

I made this three times because we loved it. I made each batch separately, as elsewhere, I've been cautioned to never double a jam recipe. The last time I made jam, I scorched it (grape jelly, which I still have because I can't stand to part with something that took so much work. But yet I don't want to eat it either. Silly me.) or didn't cook it long enough (strawberry ice cream topping instead of jam). But this time, I got it!

I also found out that our thermometer probe doesn't work. The first batch was boiling away merrily...but the thermometer registered only 212 degrees. It's supposed to get up to about 220 for the jelling stage. Thankfully, I decided after a while of that to test it and it was there. So I tested some boiling water. The temp registered around 202, off by 10 degrees! Time to get a new thermometer. I want an instant read one anyway; this one you have to wait a couple minutes to register, which is a pain on things like bread where you have to put them back in the oven. Might also be why my bread was always so hard; I over baked it!

I also dried some plums. The first time out of the dehydrator, I thought they were very sour--the peel was overpowering. Since they dry unevenly, I take them out, put them in a container for a day or two, them dry them again. The second time, I thought they were a lot better. Not quite like the prunes you get in the store these days (which they called dried plums now), but quite good. I should make some more, if my plums aren't too squishy.

Peach jams and sauces

top: Spice Pear Jam, Peach Butter.
Bottom: Peach-Plum Jam, Peach Cobbler Sauce, Pear Jam
The first peach recipe I tried was peach butter. I have made a lot of apple butter, and it always goes pretty quickly. I forgot that I start out with applesauce from steam juicing: most of the water is already gone. Not so when starting with fresh peaches.

So what I thought was going to be a one hour process took nearly five. I ended up complaining quite a bit near the end, as I'd brought the canning kettle to a boil at least three times already and the butter was still not ready. We were going to go out for an early lunch, and that time had passed. And so I stopped. I didn't quit--I came back after lunch to finish. But boy was I frustrated! Luckily, the butter came out delicious. Unfortunately, two of the five jars didn't seal. I gave one to my coworker, whose partner loved my apple butter. He  thought it was fantastic!

Spiced Peach Butter from Ball Blue Book

  • 18 medium peaches
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp each ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg
Chop peaches. Cook until soft, adding only enough water to prevent sticking (I used the recommended 1/2 cup, which was too much). Puree (blender, food mill, or sieve). Measure 2 quarts pulp. Combine with sugar in a large pot, preferably heavy bottomed (I used my stockpot). I had three quarts so I used 6 cups of sugar. Cook until thick enough to round up on a spoon. It doesn't happen forever, but when it does, you'll know it. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. This can take hours, so don't stand at the stove the whole time.

Ladle into hot jars, 1/4" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water bath. About 4-6 pints.

Original recipe says to blanch and peel the peaches. I never peel my fruit if I can help it.

Peach-Plum Jam
I made a couple batches of this before finding the best recipe (below). But at this point, I can't find the recipe back. I'm not sure if it's in one of my books or online. It's good. I think. I'm starting to forget with all the jams I've made. I do know the one we like the least, so I'm pretty sure this was a good one. Now to find the recipe back....

Then I found the best peach recipe: Peach Cobbler Jam. Mine didn't get very jammy, and might firm up as time goes by. But that's okay: It's the most fabulous peach cobbler sauce. We can't wait to eat it on ice cream or brownies this winter. I made two batches...and then ran out of peaches to our disappointment. Can't wait for next year! I might skip the pectin and intentionally make a sauce. As you'll see shortly, I can make any fruit sauce!

Been busy

I'm sorry I haven't written lately. At work, the new semester has begun, and I usually come home exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, in the last three weeks we bought two cases of peaches, one of pears, and half a one of plums. What a lot of fruit! We thought the peaches went bad about 10 days in; all three of us got peaches that were mealy near the core. So I started processed peaches. Oddly, I only found two more that were mealy. But also thankfully!

Last weekend, I started making jams and sauces with the pears and plums. Half a box of plums is a LOT of plums. The pears seemed to be doing fine, still looking beautiful back in the pantry. Until I discovered two days ago that despite their pretty exterior, they were going soft inside. So I had to find recipes NOW. So all weekend plus almost every evening, I've been at the stove.

Coming up, all the preserving I've been doing. Plus a few other things.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Made more pesto

For weeks, I'm been telling myself to make pesto again, but I keep putting it off. I finally did so on Sunday. Some of the basil had started to flower so I had to do it. The picture is a jar of pesto in the window box that used to be filled with pesto. A left a few leaves at the bottom of most plants as they may continue to grow now that the cooler weather returned again.

Eric made these boxes back in June(?) for the edge of the deck. They aren't window boxes, but I've never heard of deck railing boxes so call them window boxes since everyone knows what they are. It's one long box split in three. On this end was basil and carrots (only 8 grew; we ate two earlier and the other six Saturday). In the middle was greens (only the spinach grew, and it was spindly and tiny, plus one carrot and a Johnny Jump Up; definitely the weird box!). On the right are bunching onions (grew great and stayed small) and beets (need to pick and eat them soon).

I finally thought of using regular jar lids instead of wasting a canning lid in the freezer. In the paste, and I've been making and freezing pesto for at least 5 years, I always used a canning lid and ring. I was never sure if the lid would still be good for canning--I did use them again last summer, and two failed so I probably shouldn't--but for some reason I never thought of using a regular lid. (I don't have the highest common sense sometimes.)

Fig Newtons?

I really wanted to try fig newtons, so I made them on Sunday. Quite a while ago, I bought a jar of fig preserves with this intention. I'm trying to use up things in the pantry instead of buying more food. So this was the time!

I had seen a recipe for fig newtons at Chickens in the Road a year ago. I checked Joy of Cooking, but it didn't have anything similar, so I went with CitR. Her recipe makes a raisin filling, which is said to be delicious, but I used the fig preserves of course. You can also use any preserves, she says. But we found the filling overly sweet, especially since the cookie is so sugary. We will try again, however, as Nutmeg and I really like them. Eric didn't care for the sweetness of the filling and won't have more.

I made a half recipe, and ended up with 5 dozen cookies, made as Suzanne did as bars. As usual, I cut mine thinner than called for. With a bit of leftover dough, we tried the original recipe of making folded over squares. While Nutmeg got a kick out of using a fork to press the edges, they were far more work than the bars. We won't do that again. I think both kinds spread about double in the oven.

Mine weren't at all crumbly and made a great snack on a hike in Black Brook Preserve yesterday. We tried both kinds--both worked well. I was afraid the filling would ooze, but it didn't. Might be more of a problem with other preserves; the fig preserves were pretty thick.

And I don't think they taste anything like fig newtons. The cookie is harder and thinner (might have been my rolling and baking), and preserves aren't as thick (they spread more than I'd imagined so I don't think I could make them thicker), and none of it tasted the same. But that's okay because we really like them anyway! Should just called them fig bars.

Ginger ::Snap!:: Cookies

I love long weekends! Gives me time to do some baking (and some reading) that I usually don't get to without a lot of planning on regular weekends. On Saturday, I asked Maggie if she'd rather make ginger cookies or fig newtons, which she'd bring as dessert at school*. She's never had either one. She chose ginger cookies. (*Maggie delighted in bringing a homemade dessert on Thursday, telling me at least twice and Eric once how she told her lunch buddies about it. I now have a reputation to live up to!)

Years ago (okay, no more than 3 I guess), my sister-in-law Ann Marie gave us some fabulous ginger snap cookies that were thick, soft, and filled with candied ginger. It's the first time I ever liked candied ginger. We never found the recipe back, but I bought some ginger last winter with the intent of making some ginger cookies. So, about 8 months later, I finally did. I found a recipe for Ginger Spice Cookies at Epicurious. My changes are using butter instead of shortening, using a mix of dark molasses (its all I ever get) and honey (because only had a little molasses left and didn't realize I had some in the pantry), and finely chopping the ginger. I made them about 1" diameter, ending up with about 45 cookies. We also changed the name, as I had great fun getting Nutmeg to snap instead of saying the word. So they are Ginger ::snap!:: Cookies.

Nutmeg helped make these, including mixing the dough and rolling them in sugar. It's really nice to have a helped when cookies are rolled in sugar--my hands stayed in the dough and hers in the sugar.

We all enjoy them! Nutmeg says they are the bestest cookie she has ever eaten, hence the photo of her in the middle of saying so. I'm a little surprised as they are very gingery, and she doesn't usually like spicy things. I think I should take them along on the next rollercoaster or boat ride. They might help my motion sickness. (Ginger was the only thing Myth Busters found to actually setting motion sickness.)