Friday, September 23, 2011

Pickled Pears

I picked 53 pounds of pears off our backyard tree last week! What now? A whole lot of canning. Pears are strange fruit - most varieties (other than Bartlett) cannot ripen on the tree. If you leave them on the tree until they feel soft on the outside, they will be rotten on the inside. The trick is to pick them green, then ripen them in a cool place, preferably about 55F and 90% humidity. Of course, it's not easy to find any place with that kind of temperature and humidity in New Mexico in September, so we just bought a wine fridge to try to achieve the right conditions. So we'll try to properly ripen some of the haul, and can the rest.

Lackluster or underripe pears are vastly improved by cooking. Mixed pickling spice is the key to the complex flavor of these pickled pears - you can find it in many grocery stores. The recipe is adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, the fabulous updated version of the classic Ball Blue Book which has been the bible of home canning for generations. You have to be extremely careful about adapting canning recipes so that you don't mess up the balance of acidity, which could make the recipe unsafe. All I did was skip the peeling of the pears and add a few tips. This recipe takes a bit of time to make, but the pears are shelf-stable for at least 6 months to a year, and they are delicious with a cheese plate!

6 pounds firm, just-ripe or slightly underripe pears
1 T. mixed pickling spice
1 T. whole cloves
1 T. coarsely chopped gingerroot
3 C. granulated sugar
2 1/2 C. water
1 1/2 C. white vinegar
1/2 lemon, cut into 1/4 inch slices

Halve and core the pears, putting them into a bowl with about a quart of water and the juice of half a lemon to keep them from browning. Add the spices, sugar, water and vinegar to a large nonreactive stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes to let the spices infuse.

Working in batches, put pear halves into the pan in a single layer and poach over medium-low heat until tender, about 7 minutes. If your pears are very underripe, go ahead and poach them all at once, stirring occasionally. When all the pears are done, put them all in the pot, cover, and let stand in a cool place for 12-18 hours.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water, put the jars in it to warm, and warm the lids gently in a skillet of water. Remove pears from pickling liquid and set aside. Bring the pickling liquid to a boil in the stockpot, keeping it covered until you are ready to use it.

Pack the pears into jars, leaving a generous 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into the jars to cover the pears, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Slide a clean knife down the side to remove any air bubbles, and add more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Center lid on jar, and screw bands down to fingertip-tight. Place jars in the boiling water, ensuring that they are covered by at least 1 inch of water.

Cover the pot, bring it to a boil and process 30 minutes (This is the correct time for Albuquerque at 5000 feet. In Santa Fe, at 7000 feet, it's 40 minutes. If you're at sea level, you only need to do 20 minutes.)  Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and wait 5 minutes before pulling the jars from the water. Set them on a dishtowel to cool for several hours before moving them. Makes 6 pints.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chevre Cheesecake with Grape and Rosemary Compote

I think this may be my favorite cheesecake of all time. I don't eat cheesecake much these days, but I remember when I was maybe 6 years old asking my mom to make her honey lemon cheesecake with cherries for my birthday.

I'm all about slightly savory desserts - this has a delicate but not overwhelming flavor of goat cheese. If you didn't know it was in there, you might not even guess. And now you can buy great logs of chevre (soft goat cheese) so inexpensively at Costco!  I love the unusual rosemary and red grape topping with or without walnuts. The flavor and texture of this cheesecake are exceptional - creamy, tangy and firm, not gloppy - and it's actually pretty easy to whip up.

The recipe comes from Cuisine at Home magazine - my mother-in-law gave me a subscription a few years ago, and we've gotten several great recipes from it.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup toasted walnuts (if you're allergic, just use all graham cracker crumbs instead)
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted

1 lb goat cheese, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grape and Rosemary Compote
3/4 cup dry red wine (or substitute 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup water)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 cups red grapes, halved
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (omit if using balsamic vinegar)

Freshly ground pepper

Take the goat cheese, cream cheese, and eggs out of the refrigerator to warm up while you prepare the crust. Preheat oven to 350F. Chop graham crackers and walnuts finely (a food processor comes in handy here, but you can also just put them in a ziploc and bang them gently with a hammer). Mix thoroughly with sugar and butter. Press onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes, and let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 250F.

Beat the cheeses, sugar and sour cream together with an electric mixer on low speed, scraping the sides down often, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides after each. Beat in the cream and vanilla. Pour into crust and bake at 250F for 60-75 minutes. The center should still be slightly wobbly. Let stand at room temperature until completely cooled, then cover the pan without letting wrap touch the top, and chill overnight.

Whisk together wine (or balsamic vinegar), sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour syrup over remaining ingredients and toss to coat.

Remove ring from springform and cut slices with a long knife, rinsing the knife with hot water and wiping dry after each cut. Top each piece with compote and a small sprig of rosemary.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roasted Corn Salsa

For just a few weeks every summer, the Schwebach Farm trailer shows up at farmers' markets with a huge load of sweet corn! I eat as much fresh corn as I can while it lasts, then look forward to next year. Roasting the corn caramelizes its sugars for a wonderful toasty flavor. Super-sweet and mild Red Tropea onions from Nolina's Heavenly Organics are really worth seeking out - they also sell them at La Montanita Co-Op. With deeply flavorful poblano chiles or sweet peppers, and perfectly ripe tomatoes, this salsa celebrates the peak of the harvest season. It can be served warm or cold, with chips, as a taco filling, or as an accompaniment to grilled meats.

2 ears of corn
2 large poblano chiles or sweet peppers
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion
1 pound tomatoes
1 jalapeno (optional)
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/8 t. salt

Cut corn kernels off the cobs, and coarsely chop the peppers. Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Fry the corn and peppers until the corn is a warm golden brown. If you like you, can fry the onions too, but if you use sweet onions there's no need. Coarsely chop tomatoes. Finely chop jalapeno. Toss everything together with vinegar and salt in a large bowl. Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tomato Toast

Our standard summer breakfast - tomatoes with salt and pepper on buttered toast.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer Squash Salad

This is a simple and beautiful way to enjoy summer squash at the height of its season. Thin ribbons of yellow and green summer squash are salted but not cooked, for a great texture. It's even better with a few crushed Sungold tomatoes and crumbled feta.

2 medium zucchini or other green summer squash (1/2 pound)
2 medium yellow summer squashes (1/2 pound)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small red or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 t. chopped fresh basil
Handful of Sungold or other cherry tomatoes (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
2 T. crumbled feta (optional)

Holding a vegetable peeler in one hand and squash in the other, shave long, wide strips lengthwise. When this becomes difficult, place the squash cut side down on a cutting board to continue peeling. Toss with coarse salt in a colander, and let it drain about 10 minutes. Whisk together vinegar and olive oil in a large bowl. Add squash ribbons, onion, basil and tomatoes; toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with feta, and serve immediately.

Roasted Eggplant with Za'atar

Beyond ratatouille and baba ghanoush, it can be tough to think of exciting ways to cook eggplant.  Roasting it brings out its sweet, toasty flavors and silky texture, but if you're not careful, it can absorb too much oil and be soggy.  Za'atar is a fantastically delicious Middle Eastern spice mix made from thyme, sesame seeds, and ground sumac (a sour-tasting red berry).  I picked some up a few weeks ago at my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, San Pedro Mart, and I've been using it on everything... you can mix it with olive oil and spread it on bread, rub it on meats for grilling, and it is absolutely addictive on eggplant!

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 t. coarse salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
2 t. za'atar
1 T. toasted sesame oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

Heat broiler. Slice eggplant into 3/4-inch-thick rounds, and cut each into 3/4-inch-wide strips. Toss with coarse salt and ground pepper. Spread in a single layer on lightly oiled baking sheet. Whisk remaining ingredients together, and drizzle over eggplant. Toss to coat and spread evenly again. Broil until eggplant is browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 2.