Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pear Honey

At today's monthly Garden Club meeting, I mentioned the pears we'd picked at the start of September and one of the members asked if I ever make Pear Honey as it was her sister's favorite type of preserves. Yes, we love it, too!

I use the recipe from Helen Witty's "Fancy Pantry" (sadly OOP but one of my favorite cookbooks) and make it every year I pick pears. The syrupy preserve is what Witty describes as "spoon sweets." We like it spread on toast or a hot biscuit and it tastes wonderful warmed and poured over waffles. Pancakes would work, too, but there's something about the thick sweetness that cries out for a crisp waffle. YMMV And a few spoonfuls over ice cream, vanilla pudding or a slice of pound cake make a company-worthy dessert out of something plain.

It doesn't take a lot of effort once you've pared, quartered and cored the pears so give it a try if you have a few pounds of fragrant, ripe but not soft, pears on hand. Sometimes I vary Witty's recipe by adding a can of crushed pineapple along with the pears. It gives the honey an additional tang but does dot it with "pineapple lumps" instead of it being smooth in appearance.

Pear Honey

4 pounds pears
water, as needed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon, grated
6 cups sugar

Peel and quarter pears, removing core. Dip them into a bowl of cold water to hold till all are ready.

Combine 6 cups water with the lemon juice in a large pan. Shred or grate pear sections; add the shreds to the lemon water. May use food processor to shred pears, if desired.

Combine the grated lemon zest with about a quart of water in another saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, drain zest and add to pear mixture.

Bring pears to a boil over medium-high heat. Gradually stir in sugar; return the mixture to a boil. Adjust the heat and simmer the mixture, uncovered, stirring it from time to time, until the shreds of fruit are clear and the syrup has thickened, about 1 hour.

Watch carefully towards the end of cooking and stir often to prevent burning. (I use a flame tamer on my gas stove.) The pear honey is thick enough when a small spoonful placed on a chilled saucer thickens to the consistency of a soft preserve, not a stiff jam, when it is refrigerated for a few minutes. To prevent overcooking, set the pan off the heat while testing.

Ladle hot pear honey into pint or half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal and process in boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes (either size jar).

If you've never canned before check out the latest Ball Blue Book of Preserving or the USDA-funded website, National Center for Home Food Preserving, for detailed directions.

For cooking tips, check out Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More produce to process

The pears we picked at the beginning of September are ripening. I spread them out in a single layer on some sheets of cardboard in an outbuilding at my mom's and everytime I go to her house I check their status. Have been bringing a few pounds home each trip and the dehydrator's been running every day as I dry cored, quartered but unpeeled pears. I really like doing pears this way as the worst part for me is dealing with the peeling on a pear. The dried pears make a sweet snack in winter right out of the jar. We pack a lunch for the homeschool co-op we participate in and dried pears, nectarines or peaches are perfect to throw in the lunch bag for the three of us.

For helping a friend stack hay for an hour or two on Friday DH received a bushel of freestone peaches. Those I'm dipping in boiling water to skin, halving and pitting them and stacking zip bags in the freezer. They make great additions to yogurt fruit smoothies -- one of our favorite quick breakfast fixes. If I have too many for the freezer, I think I'll make peach preserves. Last winter we ran out of the jars I put up a couple of years ago. Will make a nice change from the rhubarb-strawberry preserves put up this spring.

DH and I picked three bushels of apples on Friday afternoon and turned about half a bushel into fresh applesauce that evening. We gave a bucketful of apples to my mom for fried apples and the rest will keep for a while so I'll work on making more applesauce over the next couple of weeks. The apples came from a friend who has eight overgrown trees in her side yard. I was glad to get them as our old apple tree came down in a windstorm this spring and tho we planted several new ones this spring they won't start producing for a few years. We took a big bowl of applesauce to an annual homeschool picnic Saturday and I overheard one of the mother's telling her little boy that was "real applesauce." I'm not sure what that means they normally eat...

DH picked the last of our corn this morning and we had most of it for lunch today. Matter of fact, except for the fresh applesauce, that's ALL we had for lunch. Yum! Hate to see the last of it. What was left, I cut from the cob and will have tomorrow. Maybe reheated with a little butter and some lemon pepper or DS is requesting corn fritters. I have errands lined up all morning tomorrow so it depends on how fast I can get back home as to how it will show up on the menu.

Bugs found our second planting of green beans but aren't doing too much damage. Not enough beans to can but I snapped the bowlful and cooked them with a few new potatoes. DS can eat green beans every day and I love them like this with chopped sweet onion sprinkled over top. DH doesn't care for the potatoes when cooked with green beans but I go light on them so he can spoon up just beans if he wants.

There weren't enough tomatoes to bother canning either so I dipped them in boiling water after I finished with the peaches and pulled off the skin, cored and chopped them. Along with a few garlic cloves, a chopped onion and carrot, they made a fresh-cooked tomato sauce for a pan of baked ziti. DH lobbied for fresh salsa but was happy with the ziti. Our cilantro loves the cooler days and, if past years are a measure, we'll have fresh cilantro till January so I promised he won't miss out on more fresh salsa.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Searching for leftovers ideas?

It's an endless quest, I think.

As soon as I figure out what to do with rhubarb, how to use up a lot of zucchini, or a bunch of eggs, the cucumbers or peppers or something else explodes in the garden. And on top of the produce, which in most cases could always be "put up" in some way for later use, there are all those true leftovers like the last few ounces of a baked ham, three stalks of steamed broccoli left from lunch, a half cup of plain yogurt, a half dozen small new potatoes boiled in their jackets and more. All just sitting in the fridge or on the counter. Sometimes when we're really swamped, the garden produce piles up on the kitchen floor in enamel dishpans and big plastic buckets.

There is hope, tho. Many cookbooks, especially older ones, have a section on using leftovers. Cookbooks that don't have a specific section on the subject can still offer help in the form of their index. Just look up the ingredient you're trying to use up and, if you're lucky, there will be recipes indexed under that heading.

This list of my cookbooks tagged as "use-it-up" on LibraryThing don't all mention leftovers in their titles, but they're books I've found helpful for that purpose. If I could only have a couple I'd probably choose Lois Carlson Willand's "The Use-It-Up Cookbook: A guide for minimizing food waste" and Jane M. Dieckmann's "Use It All: The leftovers cookbook." Both give actual recipes for many dishes but they also suggest general ways to use up leftovers such as using the juice drained from canned fruit to make gelatin or as the liquid in a fruit smoothie. Yes, some of the suggestions are plain common sense, not necessarily a new idea never before revealed to mankind, but then sometimes that's what I need. Menu planning can be boring and I can get stuck in a rut no matter how much I may enjoy the creativity of cooking overall.

There are also websites that let you enter one or more ingredients which you have on hand and will suggest recipes that use those items. (Start with one of these: bigoven.com, cookingbynumbers.com or recipematcher.com ) I don't think they were all set up with leftovers in mind but they can be useful for that purpose, too.

Also, when I come across recipes that call for pre-cooked ingredients or some other ingredient that I'm likely to have on hand as a leftover, I try to bookmark or save to a file where I can search for it by a keyword when the need arises to use up leftovers. (Sometimes that's daily!) And, since I like list-making, I have a few pages in a household journal labeled "recipes that call for ______" with foods like cooked poultry, eggs, day old bread, etc. filling in the blank. As I look thru my cookbooks (yeah, I like to read them even when not searching for a recipe) I note the cookbook title, recipe name and page number under the appropriate use-it-up heading.

I even set up a category in the recipe database I use, MasterCook, called "use-it-up." MasterCook lets me search by ingredient so it's not absolutely necessary to use the tag in order to find a recipe that calls for yogurt, say, but since the ingredients' names can vary (whole milk yogurt, fatfree yogurt, etc.) I like to be able to scan the category, too. Every little bit helps when I'm stumped for ideas. I know we save grocery money when we don't waste food and that's the whole point of the exercise. Well, that and I believe we should be good stewards of the earth's resources. I feel a twinge of guilt if I let something good go to waste just because I was too lazy to be bothered to figure out how to use it.

So, what leftovers do you always seem to need help using up? Maybe someone has a great idea and is just waiting for you to ask the question. For my part, I'm always looking for good ideas for bread -- we can only eat so many bread puddings, stratas, croutons, dressings and melba toasts. They're all good but I admit the chickens often get bread scraps around here.

And just to let you know what prompted this leftover essay, I found two partial pints of sweet cherries in the fridge when I cleaned it out this week. The fruit went into the following recipe, one of my favorite use-it-up recipes taken from WWII-era The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, and the juice was added to a pitcher of lemonade to make cherry-lemonade. Both went over well with the family.

Fruit Cottage Pudding
6 servings

2 to 3 cups sweetened fruit, canned, frozen or stewed*
1 cup flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup vegetable oil or softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bottom of a greased or oiled 1 1/2-quart baking dish, place sweetened fruit.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add oil, egg, milk and vanilla. Stir till smooth. May use mixer but a wooden spoon or spatula will do the job easily.

Bake 60 minutes or until the cake batter tests done. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Note: Try rhubarb sauce, applesauce, berries, pineapple chunks, cherries, cooked prunes, plums, etc. Combine fruits such as cooked rhubarb and frozen strawberries or raspberries, stewed prunes with apricots, pineapple with cherries, whatever you have on hand. If using fresh fruit, cook on top of the stove or in the microwave with a little water to soften first. Sweeten with sugar or honey as desired.

Check out Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes for more good ideas.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pickled pepperoncini peppers or hot banana peppers

Pickled peppers are a pantry staple here. DH always plants several types of peppers and every year I put up quarts of hot banana peppers (aka Hungarian Wax?), and sometimes jalapeno or serrano peppers. Years ago I used to put up the sweet banana peppers, too, but DH has gone completely to the hot side in recent years and doesn't plant them anymore.

This year after several years of me asking "why not plant pepperoncini, too?" he finally decided to take the plunge. (Which is a real good thing as I've not found pepperoncini to be readily available at our local farmer's market in previous years.) We've had a good crop so far and I'm on the third canning session for pepperoncini. The crockpot will get a workout this winter as we all like Italian beef sandwiches on hearty homemade wholegrain rolls. And, tho I've tried preparing the roast with hot banana peppers, I prefer the milder (to my taste anyway) pepperoncini peppers. (BTW, why is it every time I go to type that word I misspell it as pepperocini? Anyone else with that problem?)

I use the same recipe for pickling any of the hot peppers. It's very basic and easy to do. It's okay to combine different pepper varieties in the same jar, too. For heat distribution while processing, it might be best to stick with similar sizes of peppers, tho. These can also be sliced into rings before jarring but I find the texture is better if they're left whole then sliced before serving, if desired. If you've never canned before check out the latest Ball Blue Book of Preserving or the USDA-funded website, National Center for Home Food Preserving, for detailed directions.

Pickled Peppers

4 quarts peppers
1-1/2 cups salt (non-iodized or pickling salt recommended)
1 gallon plus 2 cups water, divided
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, optional
10 cups vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup sugar

Wash peppers. Leave up to an inch of stem on each pepper. Cut two small slits in each pepper. (Wear plastic gloves to prevent burning hands.)

Dissolve salt in gallon of water. Put peppers in a large non-reactive container that will hold the peppers and the gallon of water. Pour salt water over peppers and put a dinner plate on top to hold peppers below level of water. May need to weight plate with a glass jar filled with water and capped. Let stand at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours.

Drain and rinse peppers, then drain thoroughly. Combine 2 cups water and remaining ingredients in large saucepan; simmer for 15 minutes. Remove garlic.

Pack peppers into hot sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Pour boiling hot pickling liquid over peppers, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust lids.

Process half pints and pints for 10 minutes, quarts for 15 minutes in boiling water water.Oh, and the Pepperoncini Beef is a simple crockpot recipe. Put a beef chuck roast in the slow cooker. Pour liquid and pepperoncini from pint canning jar over roast and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours. That's it. If peppers were canned in a quart-size jar, just put half the peppers and half the liquid over beef or use a larger roast and the whole quart. Original recipe based on a 2-1/2 to 3-pound roast. Venison works great, too. If you want to get fancy add garlic, onions or an Italian dressing seasoning packet along with the peppers and their pickling juice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Yamazetti, Yummazetti, Ya-Ma-Zetta or Y________ ?

Anyway you spell it, the dish always seems to come back empty after serving.

I'd never heard of the casserole till about 30 years ago when it showed up on a friend's family supper table. Then I began to spot it at potlucks, church dinners and the like. Finally I found a couple of recipes in a local Amish cookbook, "Dutch Cookbook - Stuarts Draft 1979." So I thought of it as some sort of Pennsylvania Dutch word meaning "darn good hot dish."

When I mentioned it in a recent post, I started hearing from others who either made the dish regularly, were looking for a recipe or had heard of it but wanted to know more such as where it came from originally. The truth is, I'm not sure anyone knows that; kind of like the correct spelling of the name. Or even, what is the correct name?

A 1993 Reiman Pubs cookbook, "Country Ground Beef," gives a recipe that's very similar to others I've come across but it's titled "Marzetti." Other cookbooks refer to a dish called "Johnnie Marzetti" and Wikipedia even has an entry for a similar (the same?) dish giving the origin as an Ohio restaurant.

So what's the recipe? Well, that depends on who you ask. Constants appear to be ground beef, cheese, tomatoes and noodles. Other ingredients come and go depending on your recipe source.

It's a very forgiving recipe. If you have Swiss cheese but not the more commonly listed Cheddar, that's fine. A can of diced tomatoes instead of condensed tomato soup or sauce? That's okay, too. Want to sneak in a few vegetables? Layer in some chopped zucchini or a can of green beans, drained, or a cup or so of corn if you want to make it stretch to another serving, perhaps. If you have some leftover veg from yesterday's dinner consider layering them between the noodles and sauce. Be adventurous but not crazy. I wouldn't recommend sweet and sour cabbage, say, but leftover plain or buttered steamed cabbage or peas and mushrooms wouldn't be amiss.

Below is the recipe I start with. It's the one I was given over 30 years ago when I first came across the dish. Remember there are lots of variations. On occasion I've subbed a couple cups of chopped cold roast beef for the ground beef. Just cook the onion and celery in a bit of butter, oil or broth then mix with the cold beef. According to Wikipedia, the Panama Canal Zone's version of this dish always includes celery and olives. So the sky's the limit.


8 ounces dry noodles, cooked
1 to 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 (10-3/4 ounces)can condensed cream of _____ soup*
1 (10-3/4 ounces) can condensed tomato soup
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 cups grated cheese

Brown ground beef in skillet, adding onion and celery as beef cooks. Spoon cooked noodles into 9x12-inches baking dish. Combine soups and sour cream or yogurt.

When beef is done, drain if necessary. Spoon beef over noodles. (Add 1 or 2 cups of any desired vegetable as discussed in post above.) Spread soup mixture over top. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake at 350F. for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bubbly and cheese melted.

Casserole reheats well for packed lunches and also freezes well. Make one to serve and one to freeze for another day.

*Note: Almost any condensed cream soup will work. The lady who gave me the recipe always used cream of chicken but I use whatever's on hand so cream of mushroom and cream of celery are often subbed. Recently I came across cream of squash blossom soup and it works great, too. If you like the cream soup, it will probably sub with no problem in this recipe.

For cooking tips, check out Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes.