October 28, 2011

Awesomely Spiced Pear Butter

10-12 Bartlett pears, sliced
1 cup pear cider
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel (powdered)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
splash dark rum (optional)

Place all ingredients in a 4 quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 10-12 hours. Uncover and cook on low for an additional 10-12 hours or until is roughly your desired thickness and most of the liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool a bit. Fish out the ginger and cinnamon stick then pour into the food processor and puree. Cool completely and refrigerate up to 3 weeks or ladle into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace and process in a hot water canner for 10 minutes.

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here are some of my other favorite canning books and supplies.

My thoughts:
A couple of years ago I made pear butter and it was so good, I've still been thinking about it. While you can make it on the stove top, I like making it in the slow cooker because it needs no stirring and there is no chance of scorching. It does take a full day but it will be worth it, I promise. It is awesome on homemade bread (as pictured) or on anything else you'd put jam on.

October 26, 2011

Apple Butter Cheesecake

for the crust:
1 1/2 cups of gingersnap crumbs*
6 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled slightly

for the cheesecake:
4 eggs, at room temperature
32 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
16 oz labne, at room temperature
1 cup apple butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 250.

For the crust-
Mix the crumbs and the butter until damp. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake-
In a large bowl, slowly cream together the apple butter, sugar, cream cheese and vanilla. Add the eggs and labne, mix thoroughly. Pour into pan. Allow to sit 2 minutes, then tap the pan on the counter to encourage any air bubbles to come to the surface and burst. Bake 2 1/2 hours or until the surface is mostly set- the middle inch or so might still look even less set, almost jiggly. Remove to the counter and run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate 3-5 hours before serving. Refrigerate leftovers, promptly..

*I used this recipe and added 1/2 teaspoon of allspice and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

My thoughts:
I made this using apple butter we bought at the Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs, WV this year. At the festival they cook the apple butter in large pots over a wood fire. It is so smooth and has a slight smoky flavor. Of course, home canned or store bought would work just as well. Anyway! This apple flavor was strong in the cheesecake and it had just the right hint of spice. I will note it takes a while to set up, so resist the urge to cut into it too quickly!

October 24, 2011

Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples

12 "baby" apples

for the caramel:
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cane syrup
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
scrapings from 1 vanilla bean
pinch salt


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silipat. Set aside. In a small sauce pan bring the cream, butter, 1/4 cup water, vanilla, vanilla bean scrapings and salt to a boil. Set aside. In a medium sized, heavy pan, heat the sugar, the remaining water and cane syrup to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Boil until it turns a light golden color. Slowly, carefully, stir in the cream mixture. Stir until the caramel is 255 degrees (just beyond softball stage), about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully dip the apples in the caramel. Place the apples on the silipat and allow to cool before eating.

My thoughts:
I have to admit, half the reason I made these was to have an excuse to use my cute new Halloween picks I got from Wilton. The other half is that I found tiny apples at the grocery and they are my favorite to make caramel apples with. I think they have a better caramel to apple ratio than regular sized apples. I also used cane syrup instead of corn syrup which I think gives the caramel a purer taste.

October 21, 2011

Smoked Pepper-Cocoa Short Ribs

2 full pork spare ribs, membrane removed
white vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

dry rub:
1/4 cup hot paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground lemon peel

Wash the ribs with vinegar. Rub the mustard into both sides of the ribs. Whisk together the dry rub ingredients and rub into the meat. Place the ribs on both racks of your smoker. Place two chimmneys' worth of unlit coals in the coal ring. Add 3 chunks mesquite then add one chimney worth of lit coals on top. Place 3 additional chunks of mesquite on top of the lit coals. Reassemble the smoker. Fill the water bowl with warm water. Smoke for 5 hours keeping the temperature between 225-275. The meat should be falling off the bone when finished.

My thoughts:
This was the first thing we made in our new smoker. I was amazed at how easy was to smoke ribs! It was a cool day and the temperature stayed perfectly steady the entire time using this method. When the ribs were ready, just picking them up out of the smoker made the meat fall off. I swear, they were tastier than the ribs we've had at most barbecue joints. Moist and with a wonderful flavor from the dry rub. We are going be making this again and again.

I know some of you are thinking that a smoker is a bit of an investment and it is but if you like smoked meats and/or are currently smoking them on your grill, it is worth it. Once it is prepped, you just ignore the food until it is ready to eat. So much easier than grilling when I'd be prepping side dishes in the kitchen and running out to check on the grill all the time.

October 19, 2011

Barbecue Sauce Glazed Turkey Meatloaf

2 lbs ground turkey thighs
3/4 cup pepper jelly barbecue sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 small onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, egg, bread crumbs, onion, garlic and 2 tablespoons sauce. Form into a loaf. Place in a loaf pan (or, preferably, a meatloaf pan). Brush the top with the remaining sauce. Bake for 30 minutes or until fully cooked. Wait a few minutes before slicing.

My thoughts:
I am not a fan of ground turkey breast but ground thighs are another story. They are as moist and juicy as ground turkey breast can be dry and tasteless. Normally I am a beef or beef/pork meatloaf girl but turkey thigh is just as good. My smoky-spicy barbecue sauce added lots of flavor and sealed in the juices. It made the best meatloaf sandwiches the next day too.

October 17, 2011

Pepper Jelly Barbecue Sauce

8 oz pepper jelly
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup thick Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/4 cup dark rum
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon mesquite liquid smoke
1 teaspoon ancho pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Pulse all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and simmer on the lowest setting until heated through and it reduces and thickens, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Keeps in the fridge about a week.
My thoughts:
When I posted my spicy hot pepper jelly recipe a few people emailed me wondering about what else they could use it for beyond sandwiches and the like. I came up with this smokey-hot-sweet sauce that was not only good on pork but made the perfect glaze for the meatloaf I made (recipe coming soon) and well, in pretty much any situation barbecue sauce is called for. I don't like most commercial barbecue sauces because they are either too sweet or ketchup-y so I end up making my own pretty much any time the sauce is needed. Luckily, it is easy to make. I blend mine together in my Vita-Mix but if you have a less robust blender, you might need to chop your onion finely before mixing; I normally just quarter it. You want a smooth sauce. And of course, if you didn't make your own pepper jelly, just sub in your favorite store or farm bought. I am sure it will be just fine.

October 15, 2011

Rachel's Homemade Tomolives

3 1/4 lb green (unripe) cherry tomatoes
6 cloves garlic (one for each jar)
6 cayenne peppers (one for each jar)
1/4 (loose) cup dill, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
1/3 cup pickling salt
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water

Evenly divide the tomatoes, garlic, peppers, dill and mustard seeds between 6 jars. Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil. Prep the lids/jars. Pour in the boiling vinegar mixture, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Poke down any tomatoes that have floated too close to the top. Close the jars and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Allow to sit at least one week before eating.

Yield: I ended up with 3 half pints, 1 12 oz jar and 2 16-oz elite jars.

Note: This is a fairly flexible recipe. The batch of brine is a bit more than strictly needed because, depending on the size of your tomatoes, you may need more or less of it. You may need more or less jars as well. Just pack the tomatoes in tightly and put a clove of garlic and a pepper in each one.

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here is a bunch of other canning books and equipment I find useful.

My thoughts:
We did not have a good tomato crop this year. Lots of blossom end rot at the beginning of the summer then nothing. Well, nothing until September when we suddenly starting getting tomatoes again, most of which did not ripen. Among them were dozens of green cherry tomatoes, cherry tomatoes from a plant we didn't plant but just sprung up. I think it must be from some supermarket cherry tomatoes we bought and composted last winter when desperate for tomato and even store-bought cherry tomatoes started to look good. Anyway, that plant* was far and away the most prolific of all of our plants. I had Tomolives for the first time in Minneapolis this summer and loved them. Basically tiny "specially" grown green tomatoes, pickled like olives. So when faced with so many tomatoes myself, I thought I'd make my own version. I had pickled some wedges before but the whole tomatoes were just so cute, I thought I'd revisit the idea. I used cayenne from the garden and some fresh dill. They came out really well, perfect little pickled olive-y spheres.

*And a huge, crazy pumpkin plant that also grew up from the compost. That thing took over half the yard.

October 12, 2011

Smoked Citrus Spiced Chicken

1 5-lb chicken, halved
olive oil

dry rub:
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground orange peel
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon roasted ground ginger

applewood chunks for smoking

Rub the skin of the chicken with olive oil. Set aside. Whisk together the ingredients of the dry rub in a small bowl. Rub the entire dry rub into the skin of the chicken.

Place one chimney's worth of unlit coals in the coal ring. Add 2 chunks applewood then add one chimney's worth of lit coals on top. Place 2 additional chunks of applewood on top of the lit coals. Reassemble the smoker. Fill the water bowl with cold water (if the weather temperature is under 70, use some or all warm water). Smoke for 2 hours keeping the temperature between 225-275.

My thoughts:

We've only had it a short period of time but we love our new smoker. You could do this particular recipe on the regular grill and add a packet of the wood chips to the coals as we've done for years but it is so much easier in the smoker. Virtually no hands on time and so far, everything has cooked perfectly. The chicken has an awesome smoked flavor and the spices really sink in. Best of all, we can smoke two whole chickens at a time, one for dinner now and one for later.

October 10, 2011

Eggplant Fingers with Hummus-Labne Dipping Sauce

3 Italian eggplants, cut into planks
1-2 cup(s) matzo meal
1/2-1 tablespoon hot Mexican chile powder
2 eggs, beaten
freshly ground black pepper

dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons hummus, at room temperature*
3 tablespoons labne, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Pour the egg into a shallow bowl. Then mix together the matzo meal and the spices in a second shallow bowl. Coat both sides of each eggplant slice in egg, then dip both sides in the matzo meal. Heat about a 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet.

Fry each plank in the hot oil, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden. If frying in batches, keep the cooked eggplant in the oven at 200 until ready to eat.

Stir together the dip ingredients. Serve the dip at room temperature and the eggplant very hot.

*I actually just used some Mediterranean style hummus by Tribe and not homemade. Just make sure you use really smooth hummus or the sauce is a little less dippable.

My thoughts:
For some reason, I had the biggest urge to make fried eggplant. I know a lot of people say that eggplant absorbs the oil but it really doesn't if your oil is hot enough. I always test by sticking the point of a chopstick into the oil. When small bubbles run up the sides of the chopstick, the oil is ready. Then, unless you lower the temperature, your eggplant will fry but not be greasy at all. In fact, it will be crisp on the outside and velvety smooth on the inside.

October 07, 2011

Scotch Bonnet Pepper Jelly

3/4 lb Scotch Bonnet peppers, stems and most seeds removed
2 cups apple cider vinegar, divided use
6 cups sugar
6 oz. liquid pectin (both pouches in the box)

In a blender, puree peppers and half of the vinegar. Prep jars/lids. In a heavy bottomed pot bring the puree, remaining vinegar and sugar to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Add the pectin. Return to rolling boil. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: approx. 6 8-oz jars, 1 4-oz jar

Quick tip: I used my Vita-mix and it pretty much pulverized all of the seeds in the peppers. The few that remained, floated to the top of the jelly. I don't mind this but it you want an entirely seed-free jelly, run the pulp through a sieve before the boiling step.

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here is a bunch of other canning books and equipment I find useful.
My thoughts:
I don't know about you but my peppers really don't seem to ripen until pretty late in the season in any real numbers. This is a great recipe to use up a bounty.

Pepper jelly has that unique quality of being both instantly shockingly hot and sweet at the same time. Luckily, scotch bonnets have a bit of a fruity note to them so this jam isn't all flames. It is rich and complex tasting as well. I recommend a thin spread of it on a sandwich or as a glaze on meat. Anywhere really, you need sweet heat.

October 03, 2011

Tuna Pasta Salad

10 oz canned solid white albacore, drained
8 oz cooked rotini
3/4 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 stalks celery, diced
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon
1/2 teaspoon juice from the caper jar

In a large bowl, toss together the tuna, pasta, capers, onion, celery and zest. Break up any large chunks of tuna. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, lemon juice, caper juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and stir to evenly distribute all ingredients.

My thoughts:
I know tuna pasta salad is hardly a revelation. But when I was finishing up my big project, for some reason tuna pasta salad was all I could think about. What they don't tell you when you start to develop recipes (for other people) for a living is that when you are typing up recipes and whatnot all day, you run out of time to actually cook dinner. Or make lunch. So we've been eating a lot of take out and having a lot of leftover take out for lunch lately. It has been tasty take out but for some reason, it has driven me to literally have a dream about tuna pasta salad. So, here you go. Tuna pasta salad. It is good. May you dream of it as well.