Friday, August 24, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Pears, oh my! – August 24, 2012

Each Fall, John and I make the pilgrimage to Reed Valley Orchard near Paris, Kentucky to buy apples.  We don’t do the picturesque thing of picking our own apples because I’ve found you get a better deal by buying a bag of grade out apples for around $9.  Each apple is imperfect in some way, but that is fine for my plans of putting them up for the winter.  This year, John talked me into purchasing a second bag of Asian pears, so we really had to work all weekend to figure out how to use them.

First, I pick through the pile and save the best apples for eating.  I put these in an airtight bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge and they last several months.  I was frightened to learn at the orchard that most of the apples you purchase in the grocery are actually over a year old, so if kept cold apples last quite a while.  The pears do not last as long because they keep maturing after they have been picked, so I pick a few of those for eating and put out for everyone to see.  My favorite thing to do with apples and pears is make a salad.  I love Waldorf salad with raisins, sharp cheese and walnuts and I love pears in a lettuce salad with goat cheese and walnuts.  But, my new favorite is this recipe I found in a magazine last year.  It is quite easy but takes a bit of slicing time.

Green Apple Slaw

2 T. cider vinegar                                  
1 T. olive oil
1 ½ tsp. sugar                                       
¼ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. pepper                                       
1 large thinly sliced fennel, parsnip or rutabaga
¼ c. fresh chopped parsley                   
¼ c. slivered sweet onion
2 c. thinly sliced Granny Smith or other tart apple (like Gala or Sweet 16)

Combine vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and stir until sugar dissolves.  Add fennel, apple, parsley and onion.  Toss to coat.

Once I’ve exhausted salads, it’s time to start canning.  With the pears, we made jam and aigre-doux.  We made the apples into sauce.  We simply used the pear jam recipe that comes with the Ball pectin.  Following the advice of the orchard staff, we made two batches of the regular jam and two of the low sugar and mixed them together.  The only complaint is that it made a pint less than they said on the packet.  The first double batch I made by chopping the pears into very small cubes.  The second batch I decided to grate the pears which I think did a better job of distributing the pears since they weren’t too ripe.  See the jar in the middle.

Then, we got fancy and made Pear Vanilla Aigre-Doux.  If nothing else, this sweet sour fruit is stunning in the jars.  The recipe comes from the best canning book I’ve ever seen, A Preservation Kitchen.  If you are at all interested in preserving foods, run, don’t walk to get this book.

Pear Vanilla Aigre-Doux

1 ¾ c. white wine
1 ¾ c. champagne vinegar
¾ c. + 1 T. honey
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 vanilla beans, split with the seeds scraped out
5-7 pears, peeled, cored and cut in pieces
2 tsp. peppercorns

Boil wine, vinegar, honey, salt and vanilla beans with seeds.  Then keep at a simmer.  Prep jars.  Add ½ tsp. peppercorns each to four pint jars.  Pack each with pears.  Add a vanilla bean pod to each jar.  Pour liquid over leaving ½ inch head room.  Screw on lids and process in boiling water for 15 minutes.

For the applesauce, we made four batches of this easy recipe:


8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
½ c. sugar or honey (I used Splenda brown sugar)
1 cinnamon stick

Cook all over medium-low heat in heavy pan about 45 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick.  Chill and serve or seal in jars and cover in boiling water for 10 minutes to seal.

Believe it or not, we gave away fruit and still had more than we knew what to do with, so I decided to freeze the last in plastic bags in order to make pies in the Fall and Winter.

Freezing Apples and Pears

Apples or pears, peeled, cored and sliced

Blanch apple slices in boiling water for about 3 minutes.  Remove from hot water and measure into plastic bags in amounts for your favorite recipes.  Freeze.

With pears, it is a little more complicated.  Blanch the pears in sugar water that is 2 parts sugar for 3 parts water, then follow as above, freezing the pears in a little of the sugar water.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Watermelon Rind Pickles – August 16, 2012

We did not grow watermelon this year, but we have bought a couple at the Farmer’s Market and I saved the seeds from a very nice small and sweet one to grow next year.  I just washed the seeds and let soak a little while in a glass and then spread on a plate to dry.  I store all my seeds in envelopes in the fridge.

If the watermelon is sweet, I like to eat it as it is or with a little salt.  This year we even took some cut in quartered slices with popsicle sticks in the rinds to a party.  I have seen this in at least three magazines this year, so I thought we should give it a try.  Our two year old friend Eva thought they were wonderful.

Believe it or not, you can also freeze watermelon.  I think this works best if you plan to use it blended in drinks.  To do so, only use firm-fleshed, well-colored, ripe melons that are free from blemishes.  Cut in half, remove seeds and rind. Cut melons into slices, cubes or balls as desired.  Spread melon pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them until firm.  Once firm, transfer to containers or plastic freezer bags and freeze eight to 12 months.  Melon can also be frozen in a juice pack.  Pack fruit in suitable containers as above and pour pineapple juice, orange juice or ginger ale to cover fruit before freezing.

If we have guests, I love to make watermelon salad.  It is always good, but doesn’t do well as a left over, hence the need for sharing.  Here is my favorite recipe, but you can riff on this in lots of ways adding your favorite dressing, tossing in capers and olives or changing up the cheese:

Watermelon Salad

1 7-8 lb. seedless watermelon, chilled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 limes, juiced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup fresh chopped mint leaves
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese

Cut watermelon flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Mix oil, limes, salt, pepper and mint to make dressing.  Mix together all ingredients about an hour before serving and chill.  Serve cold.

And, if you really don’t want to waste any of your watermelon, I recommend making watermelon rind pickles.  These are the most beautiful pickles on our shelf.  They are a sweet pickle especially good with bar-b-que or pork.

Watermelon Rind Pickles

2 quarts watermelon rind (equal to one medium-sized melon)
3/4 cup salt
3 quarts water
5 cups sugar
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
1 T whole cloves
6 cinnamon sticks
1 T Allspice
1 lemon, thinly sliced, no seeds

You will need a sharp knife to trim the pink flesh and the green outer skin from the rind.  Leave a little touch of the pink flesh because it makes pretty pickles with the pink stripe. Cut into small strips, about 1/2'” x 4" (you can also cut in cubes, but I like the look of the long pickles in the jars.  Cover with brine made by combining 3 quarts water and 3/4 cup salt. Refrigerate for an hour.  Some people leave these overnight, but I think it makes them too salty.  You could rinse and let sit in water overnight.

Drain and rinse watermelon. Cover water and bring to a boil; about another 10 minutes. (Overcooking will cause the rinds to become rubbery.) Drain.

Combine sugar, vinegar, water and spices. Boil 5 minutes and then pour over watermelon.  Add lemon slices and refrigerate until cool or overnight.

Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling; reduce heat to medium-high and for 5 more minutes.  Pack the hot watermelon pickles lengthwise into clean, hot pint jars.  Cover with boiling syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  I also like to put a star anise in each jar for a really nice look. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal lids.  Seal for at least 15 minutes in boiling water.  Check seals.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pick a Peck of Peppers – August 11, 2012

We have had a great pepper year with the early summer and hot days.  We are growing both bell and Italian Sweet Peppers (they are a lot like banana peppers but have a thicker skin and are a bit more stubby).  We didn’t think to get hot pepper seeds this year, so we have had to buy them for recipes including canning. 

There are tons of meaty stuffed pepper recipes that to me feel very much like a perfect winter meal filled with ground meat, but when harvesting peppers in the summer, my favorite recipe is the one below.  You can make this same recipe and wrap the peppers in bacon before cooking, but I like it as a vegetarian side dish.  The strength of this recipe is that it uses all the things you or your local farmer is harvesting right now including peppers, tomatoes, onions and corn.  We made them on Saturday and took to book club!

Stuffed Meatless Peppers
This recipe is great with thinner peppers like banana or Italian peppers, but also works with ripe bell peppers.

2-3 tomatoes (skinned and chopped)               
1 chopped shallot or ¼ chopped onion
1 chopped red bell pepper                               
1 c. grated cheese (Asiago, cheddar or other)
1 chopped Jalapeno pepper                             
1 T. of your favorite seasoning
2 T. sweet tomato or pepper relish                   
corn removed from 1 ear of corn
approximately 6-8 peppers (seeded)                
6-8 pieces bacon (optional)

Sauté shallot, tomatoes and red pepper in olive oil.  Mix with cheese, jalapeno, seasoning, relish and corn.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.  Put stuffing in peppers and bake in baking pan in oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  You can bake these wrapped in bacon if you wish.

With so many peppers, I needed another way to use them up.  Peppers are actually easy to freeze.  You just cut out the seeds and stem and chop them up and place in the freezer in bags.  They will no longer have the crunch of the fresh pepper when defrosted, but they are great for sauces and stews. 

But, I decided to make hot pepper jelly.  I love this reminder of the Deep South where I was born.  In the winter, you just dump the jelly on cream cheese and eat with crackers.  This is another recipe that you don’t have to worry about because it’s included in the box of pectin you buy at the grocery.

Hot Pepper Jelly

1 ½ cups red peppers, seeded and finely chopped 2
1 ½ cups green peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
1 pkg.  SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
½ tsp.  butter

5 cups sugar


Place peppers in saucepan and add vinegar. Stir in pectin. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to rolling boil on high, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Screw lids on tightly. Boil jars in water for 10 minutes to seal. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oh, The Bounty of Tomatoes – August 4, 2012

I enjoy every part of gardening, but there is no doubt in my mind that the reason to have a garden is to have tomatoes.  This year we have four tomato plants and two grape tomato plants at our community garden and another six tomato plants at home.  We planted them extremely early this year because of the crazy weather and already have a bounty, but last Saturday, I also decided I couldn’t pass up a box of canning tomatoes for a mere $15.  So, in addition to John’s family heirlooms (Vinson Watts), Oxhearts and Best Boys, we had a box of really beefy and beautiful tomatoes to work with.  I also have lots of beautiful peppers from green to orange as well as a couple of eggplant that came in our farmer box.

Canning ensued!  I was able to put up eight cans of tomatoes, three of salsa and four of spaghetti sauce.  I also peeled all the tomatoes over my newly purchased but greatly used veggi/fruit mill (aka: potato ricer) which was placed over a large bowl.  As it filled, I turned the handle and created tomato juice with the seeds and skins staying on top.  You can put this juice up in cans or see this month’s Southern Living magazine for a great way to can it as Bloody Mary Mix, but I just put it in an air tight container in the fridge and have been enjoying it all week for breakfast.

Because I also had eggplants and we were headed to the house of our friends Mary and Adam, I also decided to try two appetizer spreads.  The first is an old and easy stand by of eggplant caviar named for the way it looks with the eggplant seeds floating in the spread.  The second was a recipe I got from Mark Williams’ cooking class at Yew Dell gardens last year, Romesco Sauce.  They were both lovely and delicious.  I also discovered by accident that if you add too many juicy tomatoes to the Romesco Sauce, it makes a fabulous gazpacho.

Eggplant Caviar

4 pounds eggplant, halved
olive oil, 2 T plus enough for brushing eggplant
2 minced shallots
4 minced cloves garlic
1 pound tomatoes peeled and chopped
2 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Pita wedges, as an accompaniment

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush eggplant with olive oil and roast in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until soft.  Saute the garlic and shallots in 2 T olive oil over low heat until they are translucent and aromatic.

After the eggplant has cooled, remove the pulp from the skins, and process in a food processor until smooth.  Place mixture in a bowl and add remaining ingredients along with garlic and shallots. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve with pita wedges Now, for my secret ingredient.  I am a huge fan of Oliva Bella.  You can get their olive oil and balsamico at Blue Dog and Lotsa Pasta, but you can get their sweet tomatoe relish and other items at the Beargrass Creek Farmer’s Market.  Just a tablespoon or two of this really adds another dimension to the eggplant caviar.

Romanesco Sauce

1 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 minced cloves garlic
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and seeded
4 Roma tomatoes
2 T. red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 T. honey
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast almonds evenly over a cookie sheet at 350 degrees in the oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Chop almonds in food processor.  Add toasted bread crumbs and garlic.  Pulse to incorporate.  Add peppers, tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, honey, cayenne pepper and paprika.  Blend into a grainy paste.  Add salt and pepper.  Pulse to incorporate.  Serve with bread, toast or crackers.