Monday, October 24, 2011

Winter Preparation: Pears and Tomatoes

A Box of Pears

I went to the farmers market a couple weeks ago, with the goal of loading up on winter squashes, but I became so enamored with pears, as you can tell from my new banner, that I forgot about my squashes! And then I came home with a box of pears. They've been wonderful, but of course, they all started ripening at the same time. I've been putting a couple pears in the applesauce and pies to add that sweetness, but in addition I made and canned some Poached Pears. 

Poached Pears

I got this recipe from my Mom. Of course I messed with it a bit, but only to add less sugar, and to be fair, she messed with it a bit by making it a recipe to can!

Unfortunately, I can't find the exact recipe for these pears, but there are many on the web.  You might start with this very similar looking recipe from David Lebovitz.  To can them I just made much more syrup, to make sure I had enough to cover the pears and then I canned them in a water bath.  The time for that is going to depend on your elevation. 

Also, please note, I filled these jars to full.  That is always an issue with me, just a little more, there should be about a finger width of space at the top.  But they all sealed! I intend to use them with ice cream for desserts or with greek yogurt and granola as breakfast through the winter.

Our tomatoes were able to stay outside on the plant about a month longer this year and that meant some actually ripened on the vine and they are now ripening quickly inside.  I have been storing these by slow roasting them in the oven. 

I simply slice or quarter depending on the size and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and seasoning.  This time I chose salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.  I put them in the oven at about 280 for hours or until they look like the below pan.  I freeze these in small containers and use them to add flavor to sauce, pizzas, etc throughout the winter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Winter Preparation: Greens and Apples

As our growing season comes to an end, these are some of the projects that have been keeping me busy, since I have the goals of not wasting delicious local food and being able to enjoy it throughout the winter.  Here I start a series on the foods I've been freezing, canning, and otherwise processing for winter. 

Freezing Kale, Swiss Chard, and Parsley
As you know, we can grow greens here, and that is no joke!  So how do we keep those wonderful vitamins for our winter meals? 

For Kale and Swiss Chard, I wash the greens and bring a pot of water to a boil.  I blanch the greens in the water for 1-2 minutes.  Pull them out and run under cool water, than using a towel I squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the greens.  I then chop them to the size I want and put them in baggies.  Whenever I'm making a soup or stew I pull out a baggie of greens to add. 

The parsley was even easier.  I chopped the parsley and put it in ice cube trays, covered the parsley with water and then froze.  After they are frozen, I dumped my parsley ice cubes out of the trays into a quart size freezer bag.  whenever I need a burst of fresh flavor, I'll just pull out a cube and put it in the meal I'm making!

This was a successful apple year for us.  It has taken us 7 years to get apples without worms, or with very few worms.  Last year, I think we had enough for one pie.  This year, Joe picked a box.  They are really good baking and eating apples, if you are partial to tart apples, which I am.  The picture at the top shows our apples.  They are on the smaller side, but with great flavor.  So far with the apples I have made applesauce and pies, and I eat them on my cereal.


Sorry I don't have an official applesauce recipe, but here are the basics.  I like chunky applesauce.  This is important, because then I don't have to peel the apples.  I'm not sure I would do it if I had to peel all the fruit.
  1. I roughly core and chop as many apples as I will fit in my pot.  I also add 2-3 pears if I have them for extra sweetness.
  2. Sprinkle lemon juice on my layers of apples to keep them from browning. 
  3. Add about a cup of water, some cinnamon sticks, a couple cloves.  I love cinnamon in my applesauce, so I also sprinkle some ground cinnamon in addition to the sticks.
  4. Put the pot on the stove over medium/low heat until it takes on the consistency you like, stirring regularly.  This takes about an hour or more.  I then use my potato masher to break down any final pieces of apple.
Storage:  I use small plastic containers, like store bought hummus or feta cheese size and fill with apple sauce and freeze.  I like to freeze, versus can, but after defrosting, the applesauce will turn brown within a day.  So I've taken to freezing in small amounts for two.  That way I can take one out on a weekend morning and it's the perfect amount for over some waffles or along side a lunch sandwich.


I have two pie shells and enough apple/pear filling for two pies in the freezer.  There are many ways to freeze pies and many questions to ask.  Should you fully or partially bake pies before freezing?  Can you freeze a pie without partially baking it first?  I've frozen pies before that I have partially baked and sometimes they come out perfect, sometimes they get mushy.  So I thought I'd try a new method.

For the crust: Using your favorite pie recipe.  I use a recipe that is 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening.  I just rolled out the pie crusts and layered them in a metal pie pan with parchment paper.  I wrapped securely and froze. 

For the Filling:  I used the Classic Apple Pie filling found in "The New Best Recipe" cookbook from Cook's Illustrated.  I simply mixed the below and froze in size appropriate containers.  When I get ready to make the pies, I won't defrost the filling and crust fully, just enough for the filling to fit in the crust and I'll add a crumb topping.
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Enough apples to make 8 cups.  I chopped mine, versus slicing and I added a few pears.
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Ok, I admit, there would have been a revolt if I had just frozen pies.  I did also make a third, fully baked pie just for eating.  There is just no easier way to make the husband happy!  But, I forgot to take a picture.  Happy Freezing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

House Plants

The other day I was spending some "quality time" with my neglected house plants.  The don't get regular time, sometimes I'm racing around before we leave on vacation, just dumping water in all of them regardless of their needs.  But every 4 months or so, I wonder around and talk to them, clean the dust of their leaves, pull dead or yellow leaves and generally give love.  And, while I have more houseplants than one might need, I know I have at least one reader that considers herself plant challenged, so I thought I'd talk about house plants in this post.  You too can grow plants!

The thing is plants don't only benefit from what you do, such as giving them water and a little plant food now and then, but you benefit from what they do.  Many plants are great at helping to clean your air for you.  Through the process of photosynthesis plants help to remove toxins, gases and pollutants from your air.  That is so much less expensive than the little machines that sit in the corner of the room and use electricity.  Common plants that help to remove toxins from our air, include: Snake plants, Peace Lilies, Spider plants, and Philodendron.  I'll point these beneficial plants out in the pictures below.

Now yes, thank you Mom, I was raised with plants around so that helps.  But we aren't all perfect.  My Mom has beautiful violets.  I can't grow violets.  I think it has something to do with my chosen geographic location, but that could just be my excuse. 

I am lucky to have great windows in my house perfect for plants, but that hasn't always been the case where I live.  Plants aren't as picky as we think, just move them around until you find the window or room with the best light.  The plant will tell you within a couple weeks when it's happy.

Fair warning, I am horrible at remembering the names of my plants.  So I am not pointing out every plant below.

In the picture below you can find a Snake plant and a Jade plant.  I have two jade plants and they are both very different.  I now have three pots of the snake plant because it just keeps multiplying!  The snake plant is very good for air quality and it can adapt easily to low light.


In the below picture you can see my other jade plant, many spider plants in the windows, and a Philodendron in the bottom right corner, which although you can't tell reaches to the floor.  I have lots of Spider plants because they multiply easily and are great for air quality.

Be careful with the below plants.  They will grow outward easily as this one is trying to do.  The first picture in this posting, is a similar plant and it used to be the with of my office.  I cut the outer branches and it's not happily growing up.  I am trying to build up the conviction to give this one a trimming and cut off the outer branches.  I always feel so bad, but the plant doesn't seem to mind and just shoots of new branches.

No idea, what this plant is, but it produces the most delicate little pink flowers year around.  I just moved it and it seems very happy in it's new home.  How can I tell, deeper green leaves and lots of flowers!

Some plants are very expressive.  They are handy for people like me who sometimes need to be hit over the head with a "Hello, I'm thirsty" look.  The top plant in the left of this picture is a Peace Lily.  I just moved it up there and it's very happy.  It has three new flowers.  I point it out because it is one of these expressive plants.  The leaves will fall down flat and it will look pitiful.  But you just give it some water, and within an hour or so, it perks back up and says, "Thanks!".


So I've commented about my Snake and Spider plants multiplying.  Unfortunately, they do take a bit of effort, they don't just re pot themselves.  But I probably don't put that effort into my plants more than once a year.  I'll go buy some bigger pots, pull the plants that are outgrowing their pots, gather all the Spider plant babies, and buy some good potting soil and plan for a couple sunny hours on the deck, repotting.

Below is how you can restart Philodendron.  When trimming the ends of it, because let's admit these plants can grow, just stick those cut ends in water.  They do not need or really want direct sunlight at this point.  Give them a month or two and they'll grow nice roots that can be potted.  Below you can see mine I have starting right now.  Those have been in the water less than 2 weeks and little root nubs are already starting. 


Here are a few tips from me on nonfussy (a word?) plant growing:

  • When repotting plants:
    • A plant will fill a pot with roots, while it's nice to give it a bigger pot. I sometimes also make the conscious choice to leave it, knowing that more space for roots, just means it will keep growing. So, if it's as big as I want it. I'll trim back the top of the plant and leave it root bound in it's pot.
    • Spider babies are so easy to repot, just cut the babies from the mother plant and gently shove their roots in the ground. They'll take hold.
    • When breaking up plants like Snake plants by the roots, it seems cruel as you pull the roots apart. But it's always been ok, and they love having more space.
    • After repotting, always press the ground firmly around the roots and water thoroughly. Putting a little plant food in the water to help their transition doesn't hurt.
  • Some people have serious opinions about the type of soil and plant food you should use, but here are a few things I've learned.
    • Most plants are more patient than we think.
    • Sometimes I remember to put a drop of plant food in my water container every time I water, sometimes I go months without feeding them.
    • Organic soil is great, but you'll end up with more bugs in your house.
  • Yes, some plants like to be watered more often or less often than others, but they'll tell you through drooping or brown tips on the leaves if something is wrong, and the world doesn't end if your spider plant has some brown tipped leaves. It's still clearing toxins from your air and perking up your room.

 Happy growing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Asian Inspired Meal

I was going to label this as a Chinese meal, but the truth be told, I mixed together a few different Asian cultures here.  We wanted to have a meal to thank the couple who helped us out on our recent backpacking adventure.  They hiked about 4 miles at the beginning with us; picked up our vehicle and drove it back to Green River, so we didn't have to do that at the end; and met us half-way so we didn't have to carry all 9 days of food.  Aren't we lucky to have such great friends? We finally found a Friday night that worked for all and Lorna and I made a meal plan.  We both worked on the meal, which is always fun! 

The meal started with an appetizer of spiced nuts and fresh shrimp spring rolls with a peanut sauce.  I love fresh spring rolls because they are loaded with vegetables; their color is bright; and the sauce makes them fun.    But alas, I didn't take a picture of these beautiful rolls.  You'll have to settle for detail on the main meal.

The main meal, came together as follows:

Chinese Short Ribs
Roasted Carrots with Sesame Ponzu Vinaigrette
Baked Shrimp Spring Rolls
Pork Potstickers
Szechuan Marinated Vegetables

Lorna and I started cooking Chinese meals together a couple years ago.  There is so much chopping and last minute cooking, it lends itself to cooking with a friend.  In addition, Lorna had this well worn, great cookbook called Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.  I now also have that cookbook and my copy is becoming well worn!

One, Two, Three Four Five (Mandarin)

These ribs are meant to be baked and made with Spare Ribs.  I made them with Beef Short Ribs and did them in the crock pot. Below is the recipe with my alterations.  The original recipe is found in, Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.

1 lb pork spareribs, cut in half (or ribs of choice)
6-8 green onions, 4-5 inches long
1 T. rice wine or dry sherry
2 T. rice vinegar or white vinegar
3 T. sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 T. water

Mix the rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and water together.  Heat a pan over medium high heat with oil as needed and brown the sides of the ribs, putting them into a crock pot, layering the green onions in-between the ribs.  Pour the sauce on top, close tightly and cook 6-8 hours on high.

With a half hour left until dinner, pour the sauce into a saucepan and simmer to condense the flavors.  Pour the sauce over the ribs when serving.

 Roasted Carrots with Sesame Ponzu Vinaigrette (found on the Steamy Kitchen blog, check it out for great recipes!)

I've never had Ponzu sauce, but everyone really enjoyed these carrots.  It's kind of like a soy sauce with some citrus.   Check out the pictures below.  See all those cute little carrots?  Those are from my little garden.  It gets so little light that at the end of 4 months, that is how much they grew!  The whole two rows are in that dish!

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4" thick diagonal pieces
2 teaspoons cooking oil or olive oil
1 Tablespoon ponzu suace
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

Toss carrots with a bit of oil and roast the carrots until just tend but slightly crunchy at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Toss with the cooked carrots.

Baked Spring Rolls
I used this great recipe from as a base.  The only change I made was to use chopped cooked shrimp in place of the pork.  It was harder to find a baked spring roll recipe, versus fried, but these were crispy and great all baked up.

This meal was especially fun for me because I did a lot of wrapping. While I've made fresh spring rolls before, I had never made the Baked Spring rolls and potstickers from scratch.

 Gyoza Recipe (Japanese Pan Fried Dumplings)
Again, I used a Steamy Kitchen recipe for this and they give the absolute best directions for folding the dumplings, check it out!  These were a huge hit. They were so fun with the proper 6 pleats, three on each side.  Don't be afraid of some of these wrapped items.  They really add fun to an Asian meal and while they may be time consuming, they aren't hard.

Szechuan Pickled Vegetables
This recipe is found in, Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.  Lorna and I both enjoy these pickled vegetables and love to keep them in the fridge.

8 cups boiled water
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
5 slices fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
5 fresh hot red peppers, halved
1/2 lb. fresh carrots, peeled
1/2 lb. turnips, peeled
1/2 lb. fresh pickling cucumbers, unpeeled
1/2 lb. cabbage

Pour boiling water into a large wide-mouth canning jar or crock.  Combine salt and peppercorns in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat 4 minutes.  Let coll and add to water in the jar.  Add sugar through red peppers; mix well.  Let stand 1 to 2 hours until water has cooled to room temperature.  Cut vegetables into 1 1/2" and 3/4" pieces. Dry with a paper towel and add to mixture in the jar.  Tear cabbage leaves into 4"x2" pieces.  Pat dry and add to mixture in jar, pushing pieces under liquid.  Cover with a tight fitting lid.  Refrigerate 3 days before serving.  Serve cold.  Store in refrigerator. 

You can use a variety of vegetables in this, whatever you have in your garden or crisper.  For example, we love cauliflower, kohlrabi, and rutabaga.

I must say dessert was yummy, but no pictures of that either.  We had Coconut Ice Cream with Almond Cookies.  I believe this meal was fully enjoyed by all.  Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try new foods as you cook and welcome your friends into the kitchen.  It's wonderful to cook and laugh with friends; there can't be a better way to spend an evening.

Thanks for your help Phillip and Kathy!