Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Simple Fall Supper of Roasted Chicken and Carrots

I don't know about you, but sometimes I crave a simple meal that turns out comforting results with very little effort or hands-on time.  For me, that meal is roasted chicken and vegetables.  Simple, yet satisfying, these items hardly even require recipes.  I do think, though, that sometimes these simple foods can be overlooked or forgotten about as we try new and interesting recipes that we come across.  So, today, I am taking you back to the basics with a lemon roasted chicken and honey roasted carrots.  Perfect for a crisp fall day, these two "recipes" will not let you down.  

Let's begin with the chicken.  Now, I roast chicken in several ways, but the way that we enjoy most is a lemon roasted chicken that is served over crisp, homemade croutons and drizzled with some of the oniony pan drippings.  This is an often requested dish by my husband and one that is very easy to make.  It starts with a 4 pound chicken which is nestled atop a mound of sliced onions.  The bird is then bathed in lemon juice and slathered with butter.  Salt and pepper season it inside and out, and the lemon pieces are tucked inside to perfume the bird and add extra flavor as it cooks. 

chicken ready to be roasted on top of a mound of onion slices
The chicken is then roasted in the oven until it is cooked through and the skin has become nicely browned and crispy.  The onions, although you cannot tell in the pictures, are caramelized and soft and almost melt into the pan drippings.  The drippings in the bottom of the pan are slightly lemony and very delicious. 

In my hurry to eat this chicken, I forgot to take pictures of the croutons.  They are cubes of french bread that have been toasted in a large skillet until they are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.  They are mounded on a platter and the sliced chicken is nestled on top of them.  The onion is smashed into the pan drippings which are then skimmed of excess fat and drizzled over the top of everything.  The "sauce" created by the drippings is flavorful and slightly lemony and finished everything off nicely.

Roasted chicken-  I forgot to take a picture of the croutons before we ate.
I like to serve this with a simple vegetable.  On this occasion, I had some lovely tri-color carrot bunches from the market.  I decided to roast them on a separate baking pan.  I realize that this hardly qualifies as a recipe, but it is delicious none the less. 

purple, orange, and white carrots
You begin by cutting the peeled carrots into three inch pieces.  Then you quarter each piece lenghtwise.  These pieces are then tossed with a mixture of melted honey and butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. 

The bowl I mixed the butter and honey in was cold and the butter solidified which is why it lookes like this.  It melted again the oven and coated everything nicely.
They are roasted, covered, which I realize is a slightly strange thing to do since what you are looking for is the caramelization of the carrots.  Roasting them covered for a short time allows them to cook throughout and become soft and tender.  Then, they are uncovered to caramelize and get crisp around the edges. 

Finished carrots-  they look burnt but they're not.  The dark ones are the purple carrots.
What you end up with are roasted carrots that are perfectly creamy on the inside and nicely browned on the outside.  The honey brings out the sweetness of the carrots while still allowing their earthiness to shine through.  All in all, a nice, simple fall meal worth making when you just want something familiar and comforting.

Lemon Chicken with Croutons- adapted slightly from Barefoot in Paris
serves 4

1 four pound chicken
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for coating the onion slices
kosher salt
black pepper
2 lemons, quartered
2 tbsp butter, melted
4 cups french bread cubes (3/4 in)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse and dry the chicken.  Toss the onion in a little oil in the bottom of a roasting pan.  Sit the chicken, breast side up, on top of the onion slices.  Squeeze the lemon pieces over the chicken and then put the pieces into the cavity of the bird.  Brush the chicken with the melted butter and season the cavity and outside of the bird generously with salt and pepper.  Tuck the wings of the chicken behind its back.  Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.  Roast 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes until the juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to rest 15 minutes. 

In the meantime, smash the onion slices into the chicken drippings.  Using a spoon, skim the excess fat off of the drippings. Set the drippings aside.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until very hot.  Lower the heat to medium low and add the bread cubes.  Cook the cubes 8-10 minutes until lightly browned on the outside.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. 

To serve, place all bread cubes on a serving platter.  Slice the chicken and place it on top of the bread.  Drizzle the reserved pan drippings over everything.

Honey Roasted Carrots
serves 3-4

1 pound carrots, peeled
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey
kosher salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cut each peeled carrot into three inch pieces.  Cut each three inch piece in quarters lengthwise.  In a medium bowl, mix melted butter and honey together.  Add carrots and toss to coat.  Place carrots on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover the baking sheet with foil and roast carrots, covered, 15 minutes. Uncover the baking sheet.  Toss the carrots and drain any excess liquid from the pan.  It is important that you drain any liquid off so that the carrots can brown rather than steam for the remainder of the cooking time.  Continue to roast the carrots 30 more minutes until they are browned on the outside and completely tender on the inside.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole with Red Chile Sauce

Have you ever cut, peeled, seeded, and chopped up a whole pumpkin?  Well, if you have (and are anything like me), you vowed not to do it again for a really long time.  I mean, I don't mind cutting a pumpkin in half, scooping out and cleaning the seeds, and roasting the halves in the oven.  That's not too difficult or time consuming.  What takes forever is the peeling and breaking down of a pumpkin.  So, as you can imagine, when I came across a recipe last October in Fine Cooking for a Pumpkin Enchilada Casserole with Red Chile Sauce, I was intrigued, but not crazy.  I mean it called for a whole pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and chopped.  I realized the amount of work it would be to get that sucker cut into small pieces, and there was no enchilada casserole in the world (no matter how much I love enchiladas) that would make me work that hard!  Therefore, the magazine disappeared in the back of my bookcase for an entire year.  

A few weeks ago when I was digging through my old copies of fall magazines (yes, I save all fall magazines), I came across this recipe again, and instantly wanted to make it.  Still not convinced that it was worth the work, I thought about it for a while.  Finally, I decided to improvise a bit to make it less like bench pressing 200 pounds and more like a doable cooking project.  As I thought about how I wanted to change it, I considered other (easier to manage) winter squash, but my fear was that other types would be too grainy or soft in the casserole.  Being a southerner, my thoughts quickly gravitated toward sweet potato.  I remembered a great burrito I had eaten once with sweet potatoes and black beans, and decided this was the way to go.  The sweet potato would be even more flavorful than the original pumpkin called for, and the black beans would add meatiness to an otherwise meat-free dish (the original recipe did say that roasted turkey was optional).  

I set out to make my version of the casserole.  I made the sauce called for in the original recipe, but changed the ingredients of the filling.  I opted not to make the salsa outlined in the original recipe because I did not have fresh tomatillos, but I liked the idea of pepitas with the casserole so I sprinkled them on top.  What resulted was a casserole that was chunky and creamy on the inside, slightly crisp around the edges, and gooey from the melted cheese.  The chile sauce by itself was pretty spicy, but when added to the casserole, became more reserved with just the right amount of smokiness and heat. The pepitas, while optional, add crunch and texture. 

This is not a photogenic food (and is even less so with my poor photography skills), but it is tasty and would make a unique addition around the holidays.  While I did make it a little easier and faster, it is not necessarily a meal to make on a hectic weeknight.  The chile sauce takes about an hour (most of that being hand-off time).  I do think it would be great to make a large batch of the sauce ahead and freeze it which I plan to do in the near future.  That way, the casserole could be ready in a very short amount of time, making it an everyday sort of meal.  

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole with Red Chile Sauce
serves 6-8 (generously adapted from Fine Cooking October 2010)

10 large dried New Mexico chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp light brown sugar
kosher salt

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced small
4 large cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chili powder
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

olive oil or cooking spray
12  6-inch corn tortillas
12 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup roasted salted pepitas, optional
sour cream for serving

Place stemmed and seeded chiles in a medium saucepan with peeled garlic cloves, oregano, and 3 cups water.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let stand 30 minutes to cool slightly.  Process in a blender until smooth.  

Heat the olive oil in the same pot where the chiles were boiled.  Add the flour and whisk 2 minutes until it begins to color.  Slowly add the chile puree (it can spatter), whisking to eliminate lumps.  Add brown sugar and 2 teaspoons salt.  Bring to a boil to thicken slightly. 

Heat olive oil in skillet on medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes until transluscent and beginning to brown.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add cumin and chili powder and cook 30 seconds.  Add sweet potato, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and broth.  Stir to coat.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes or until the potato is tender when pierced with a knife but not falling apart.  Add the beans and stir gently to mix.  Season with more salt as needed. 

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with oil (or spray).  Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high.  One at a time, lightly brush each of 6 tortillas with olive oil.  Heat each tortillas in the skillet for approximately 1 minute per side until soft, pliable, and beginning to brown. 

Spread 3/4 cup sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.  Arrange the 6 tortillas in the baking dish (2 should fit the width and three should fit the length).  The tortillas will overlap a little in the middle. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over tortillas.  Spread the filling out over the tortillas in an even layer.  Sprinkle with half of the cheese.  Spoon 1/2 cup sauce over the cheese.  Heat the remaining tortillas in the skillet and layer on top of the casserole ingredients.  Spoon the rest of the sauce over the tortillas and top with the remaining cheese.  

Bake for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle on the pepitas (if using) and continue baking 10 more minutes until melted and bubbling. Serve cut in squares with sour cream.   


Saturday, October 22, 2011

A New Way with Sauerkraut (for me)

I will admit early in this post that my adventures with sauerkraut are relatively new.  I did not, like so many other people, grow up eating sauerkraut as a child.  I don't even think I tried sauerkraut until I was around the age of 18, and then it was tried on a hot dog with mustard and bacon at a neighborhood diner.  I liked it, but I didn't love it.  My husband's family, on the other hand, ate sauerkraut more frequently, and his mother grew up with her father making it in a huge stone crock on a regular basis.  She has told me many stories about its smell, taste, and how much she loved the core of the cabbage which would get nice and tender and sweet.  I love stories like that, and it made me want to make my own sauerkraut, even though I knew it would be an acquired taste for me.  It's kind of like coffee, the more I drink it, the more it grows on me. 

I have tried making sauerkraut a couple of time using directions from other food sites and the directions printed in one of the Ball books.  I used a large 3 gallon glass jar, and weighted the cabbage down with plates as it was submerged in the brine.  It worked, but was annoying to try to keep the cabbage submerged, and white scum formed a little on top which had to be scraped away.  The sauerkraut was good, but to me, not something I wanted to continue to invest that amount of time and energy in. 

That is, until I was standing in the grocery check out several weeks ago.  I picked up a copy of Martha Stewart Living and was flipping through it to pass the time when I came across the article about a woman in California who runs a small sauerkraut business.  In the article, it detailed how to make three pint jars of sauerkraut with no weighting down, no skimming off scum, and no fuss at all.  You simply put the cabbage into jars along with brine, top each off with a cabbage leaf, and allow them to sit for about a month.  Easy as that.  I had to try it!  I added the magazine to my shopping cart, and headed home to try my hand at more sauerkraut. 

As a sidebar, I recently read an article written by Food52 on Yahoo on which many readers completely dismissed the recipe being written about simply because it originated with Martha Stewart.  I don't really care who writes/publishes recipes as long as they work.  Therefore, if there are any adamant Martha Stewart haters out there reading my blog, you can either skip this sauerkraut, or suck it up and make it anyway, but you'll be missing out if you skip it. 

I began by shredding the cabbage, sprinking it with salt, and massaging it until it released some of its liquid. 

The cabbage was then packed tightly into three pint jars.  About three pounds of cabbage fit perfectly into three jars.  This is really what makes this different from other sauerkraut methods I have encountered, but it is great because once the sauerkraut is ready after several weeks, it can be stored in the refrigerator in these same jars. 

Brine was then added to cover the contents of each jar.

Each jar was topped off with a clean, folded cabbage leaf.  This leaf is one of the things that makes this method work better (at least for me).  It prevents yeast, the white scum that formed on my sauerkraut in the past, from forming.   Therefore, no skimming or scraping is required.  

The only thing left at this point was to place the lids and rings on each jar, and place the jars on a plate in a cool area.  The ideal temperature for fermentation is around 70 degrees.  It really shouldn't be any lower than about 65 and no higher than 75 degrees.  Too low and fermentation takes longer or may not occur, too high and the cabbage could mold.  

I will warn you, as the directions in the magazine do, that pressure will build inside the jars.  You will need to loosen the ring on the jar every couple of days to release some of the built up pressure.  The article said this should be done every five days, but I did it every two days because the pressure caused the flexible area of my canning lid to puff up which made me think it could explode if not loosened sooner.  I have no idea if that would have really happened, but why play around?  Better to loosen the lid every two days than clean sauerkraut off your ceiling!  Also, some of the liquid leaked out after a few weeks.  I simply mixed up a little more brine and topped each jar off to keep the cabbage submerged. 

The article said that the favorite length of fermentation was 21 days.  We tried the sauerkraut after 21 days and thought it was just not as strong as we liked.  We allowed it to ferment a week more, and it was perfect for our tastes.  You may want to try it after 20 days or so to see what you think.  The longer it ferments, the stronger it will get.

Now, once you have your sauerkraut, what will you do with it?  One way we like to eat it is to cook it with sausage and potatoes for a quick, one skillet meal.  First you brown slices of sausage.  We like how the sweetness of chicken and apple sausage balances out the tanginess of the sauerkraut, but other flavors or types of link sausage will work.

Then you add a little diced onion, a pint of sauerkraut that has been drained and rinsed, and a handful of small potatoes cut into 3/4 inch pieces.  On this night, I used fingerling potatoes that I had on hand.  I cut each fingerling in half to allow them to cook faster. 

The mixture cooks with some white wine for about 30 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender.  It can then be enjoyed as is or with a little mustard.  Alternately, you could roast the potatoes in the oven while cooking the sauerkraut and sausage on the stove.  The crispness of the potatoes would be great with the sauerkraut.  Cooking them along in the pan (as in this method) just makes them tender and flavorful with a texture more like a boiled potato.  Equally delicious either way, it just depends on what you are going for.  

I would love to know what you do with your sauerkraut.  If you have a great way of using sauerkraut, post a comment and share.  I need more ideas so that I can try it in different ways and hopefully grow to love it even more!
Sauerkraut (only slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living October 2011)
makes 3 pints

1 head of cabbage, about 3 pounds, shredded (reserve three outer leaves)
1 tbsp kosher salt (plus more as needed)
filtered water (if needed)

Combine the shredded cabbage and one tablespoon salt in a bowl and let stand 20-30 minutes.  Squeeze handfuls of the cabbage mixture for about 5 minutes.  As you squeeze, the cabbage will release some of its liquid forming a brine. 

Pack the cabbage mixture into three pint jars, pressing the mixture down to fit it all into the jars.  The cabbage will be packed tightly.  Add enough brine to each jar to cover the cabbage.  If you need more brine, mix one tablespoon kosher salt with one cup water and use it to cover the cabbage.  Leave at least 1 inch headspace between the top of the cabbage and the jar. Top each jar with a folded cabbage leaf.  Cover the jars with lids and rings and place the jars on a plate or baking dish to catch any seepage.  Place the plate and jars in a cool, dark location, preferably around 70 degrees. 

Check on the jars every two days to make sure that the cabbage is still submerged in the brine.  Pressure will build in the jars, so loosen the ring every two days or so to release the pressure.  If some of the liquid seeps out, mix 1 tablespoon salt with 1 cup water and use it to cover the sauerkraut.  Allow the sauerkraut to sit 20-30 days.  After 20 days, taste it to see if it is as strong as you would like.  If not, place it back for a week or so more to develop a stronger flavor. 

Once it tastes like you want, wipe the jars, and store them in the refrigerator.  The sauerkraut will keep in the refrigerator for about six months.  It could be processed in a water bath, but doing so would kill the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods, so it is better to store in the refrigerator.

Chicken and Apple Sausage with Sauerkraut and Potatoes
serves 4 (adapted from Eating Well magazine) 

5 links of chicken and apple sausage cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 pint sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 pound small potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (if peel is not tough, leave it)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat.  Add sliced sausage and cook 1-2 minutes on each side until nicely browned.  Remove the sausage to a plate.  Add the remaining olive oil and the onion to the skillet and cook until the onion is translucent.  Place the potatoes in the skillet with the onion and season with salt and pepper.  Add the chicken back to the skillet along with the rinsed sauerkraut, the bay leaf, and the wine.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are tender throughout and most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the potatoes are tender, remove the lid from the skillet and cook 1-2 minutes more to allow any remaining liquid to evaporate. Remove the bay leaf. Serve as is or with a bit of spicy mustard on the side. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spiced Apples and Mini Apple Pies

Apples, apples everywhere.  You may be thinking, as I am, that a lot of my posting has been about apples.  I started thinking that today as I prepared a quick dessert for dinner.  All I can say is that, in the fall, I become a bit apple obsessed.  It will pass.  Just bear with me and make lots of canned goods and desserts with apples in the meantime.  I think apples just exude fall, and biting into one of these easy mini apple pies will make you feel as if you are walking on a winding trail with gold and orange leaves dancing all around you.  Trust me!

I really can't claim too much credit for these little pies or the apples that make them so tasty.  The apples are a concoction originally posted at Mrs Wheelbarrow's Kitchen.  The apples are shredded and mixed with spices before being ladled into jars and processed in a boiling water bath.  When you use these apples in mini pies or turnovers, they soften and meld together while still retaining some of their texture.  They are super easy and wonderful to have on hand for making quick desserts. 

The inspriration for tonight's mini pies came partly from some hand pies on the same site as the apples and partly from some beautiful cookies recently posted on Smitten Kitchen.  I was actually originally going to make the cookies, but decided since I had the spiced apples in the pantry, I would use those instead and make larger versions with my favorite pie crust.  I will tell you that I ran out of parchment paper.  Ironically, it was just after a visit to the grocery store when I ran out.  Does that always happen to you?  It does to me!  Due to a lack of parchment, the apple pies browned a little more than they should have around the edges.  They are delicious none the less.  My husband and I each had one before dinner (you know you should always try things before to make sure they are good).  We then had another after dinner with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a slight drizzle of warm caramel sauce. 

Since the spiced apple recipe is not mine, I will let you get it from Mrs Wheelbarrow herself.  As for assembling the mini pies with the pie crust, the recipe and directions follow.  You will need about 1/2 a jar of spiced apples to make 10 mini pies.  I used a butter crust that I had made previously and frozen.  

Mini Apple Pies with Spiced Apples
makes approximately 10 mini pies (more if you reroll your crust, but I don't)

1/2 pint jar of spiced apples
1 recipe for All Butter Pie Crust (recipe follows)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water (plus more for edge of dough)
1 tbsp sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp cinnamon

All Butter Pie Crust (makes 2 pie crusts):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
approximately 4 tbsp ice cold water

To make the pie crust, combine flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to blend.  You can also mix the dough by hand.  Add the butter to the processor and pulse several times until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Alternately, cut in the butter using a pastry blender.  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten into disks, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill the dough for about an hour.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a circle approximately 1/4 inch thick.  Using a 3 inch biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds out of each disk of dough as you can.  My dough made 10 rounds from each circle of dough (20 circles total) without having to reroll the dough.

Once the rounds are cut, spoon a scant tablespoon of spiced apples into the center of half of the circles of dough that you cut.  Moisten the edges of the bottom dough circles with water.  Top each dough circle with one of the remaining circles that you cut.  Press the bottom and top circles of dough together to seal.  Crimp the edges with a fork.  Cut three small slits in the top of each mini pie.  

In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon of water.  Brush the egg wash on the top of each mini pie. Sprinkle each pie with some of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place the pies on a parchment lined baking sheet (I ran out of parchment so lightly sprayed a sheet pan instead).  Bake approximately 30 minutes.  Baking times will vary depending if you are using the all-butter crust or other pie crusts.  Remember, the apples are essentially cooked and ready.  You are just looking for the browning of the crust as an indication that they done.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Orecchiette with Kale and Bacon

Here is a dish that never fails to satisfy, is quick to prepare, and is somewhat healthy.  Well, maybe healthy wouldn't be the best description, but it does have a green vegetable in one of its starring roles, and that has to count for something.  Right? 

I stumbled upon the original of this recipe in the cookbook The Herbal Kitchen years ago.  I have cooked it many, many times since, changing it to meet my needs and ingredients.  Really, at this point, it is more a method than recipe and can be changed accordingly.  You can use other types of greens depending on what is available and pancetta rather than bacon, if you prefer.  I get great quality uncured bacon from Grateful Growers, a farm in my area.  If uncured bacon is available, I highly recommend it.  Not only is it healthier, it also lends a deeper pork flavor to the pasta. The kale is delicious as a side dish without the pasta as well.  Just cook it according to the directions below without adding the pasta, water, or cheese. 

Start by tearing your kale into pieces and allowing it to soak in a bowl of cool water.  The dirt from the kale will settle to the bottom of the bowl after several minutes, allowing you to scoop out nice, clean, grit-free kale.  

Next, fry up some bacon until crisp, and remove it to a towel lined plate to drain.  The kale will cook in some of the melted bacon fat along with some garlic and red pepper flakes until wilted and crisp-tender. Sometimes I add oregano (if I have it on hand), but I find it is equally good without it.  If you don't have it, no big deal.  It will still be yummy!

You will add the cooked pasta to the kale along with a little of the pasta cooking water and grated parmesan cheese to make a sauce that will coat the ingredients and take you straight to heaven.  

One thing to note...while you can use other pasta types, my husband swears by orecchiette.  There's something about the way some of the pieces of pasta huddle together and cradle the kale and bacon that makes it extra appealing.  

Orecchiette with Kale and Bacon
serves 4

1 large bunch of kale, torn into pieces and washed
12 oz orecchiette
5 slices bacon (uncured if possible), chopped in small pieces
3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (optional)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions.  Reserve the pasta cooking liquid.  

While the pasta is cooking, cook the bacon in the olive oil in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a towel lined plate.  Drain all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the pan.  Add the garlic to the skillet and cook 30 seconds.  Add the red pepper flakes and kale and cook until the kale is wilted and fairly tender. Season the kale with salt and pepper.   

Add the drained pasta to the kale along with 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.  Stir in the oregano, if using, and the parmesan cheese.  Stir gently until the cheese is melted and mixed throughout.  Season with salt and pepper, if needed.  Return the bacon to the pan and stir it into the pasta mixture.  Serve sprinkled with additional cheese, if desired.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Spiced Pickled Pears

Yes, you did read the title of this post correctly...we're talking pickled fruit here.  If you have never tried pickled fruit, you are missing out.  It is sweet like fruit in syrup would be but with a slight vinegary bite.  I think pickled fruit is more versatile than fruit in syrup because it goes where syrupy fruits dare not tread.  Still plenty sweet, pickled fruits are great as a snack or with dessert, but they are equally at home with meats and savory concoctions. 

This weekend I finally came upon pears at the market.  I have been wanting some pears since fall hit, but had yet to find any.  Pears are not an abundant crop in North Carolina (where I live), and most of the ones you find are from trees in backyards.  The tree in my parents' yard did not produce this year, and it seemed I would go the next year without pears in the pantry.  Then, walking among the vendors on Saturday, I spied some small pears, perfect for canning.  They were ugly, but don't you think ugly fruits and vegetables are often the best!?  I quickly snatched up four dozen and took them home to pickle.

I began by peeling and halving the pears. As I did so, I placed them in a bowl of cool water treated with Fruit Fresh to keep them from turning brown.  I then halved and cored each pear and cut away any bad spots. 

When my pears were almost ready, I put a mixture of water, sugar, vinegar and spices in a large pot and brought it to a boil.  Once boiling, the drained pears went in to cook 5 minutes or so until they were just beginning to soften a bit. 

The pears were then carefully packed into pint jars with the cut sides down.  Take care to pack them fairly tight while still leaving room for expansion in the jar.  This will reduce the tendency of the fruit to float as well as prevent any seepage from occuring.  I like to put a cinnamon stick and just a couple of cloves in each jar for looks as well as extra spice, but you don't have to do this if you prefer jars with just pears.   

There were several left that wouldn't fit in the jars, so we ate those as a snack last evening.  I can't wait to open a jar this week to eat alongside a pork tenderloin we are going to have.  They will also make a tasty and unique addition to the Thanksgiving table next month.

This recipe is slightly adapted from So Easy to Preserve.  I increased the quantities of ingredients to fit the amount of pears I had on hand.  I also added ground ginger rather than fresh since that was what was available.  In addition, I put the spices directly in the pot with the pears rather than placing them in a spice bag.  When scooping out the pickling liquid, I took care not to get too many spices in the jars.  I then added a cinnamon stick to each.

Spiced Pickled Pears
makes 6 pint jars

6 pounds slightly ripe pears, peeled, halved, cored (about 4 doz small pears)
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 plus 2 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 tbsp whole cloves
10 small cinnamon sticks

Prepare the pears and place them in a bowl of cool water treated with Fruit Fresh or lemon juice.  Combine the sugar, vinegar, water and spices in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar.  Drain the water from the pears.  Place the pears in the pot and boil gently approximately 5 minutes until the pears are beginning to soften a bit. 

Pack the pears, cut side down, into hot sterilized pint jars.  Add a cinnamon stick to each jar, if desired.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into each jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles from the jars.  Adjust headspace, wipe the rims of the jars, and place sterlized lids and rings on each jar.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Turn the stove off.  Leave jars in canning pot 5 minutes after processing time.  Remove jars to a towel to rest 24 hours.  Check seals and store after 24 hours.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Roasted Turnips with Sorghum Syrup

Every year when the weather starts cooling off and fall crops begin showing up at the market, my husband begins examining my market basket hoping that he will not find an overload of turnips.  Don't get me wrong, he likes turnips, but he doesn't like them as much as I do.  It is a running joke at our house that I can put turnips in almost anything, and that is probably true.  Now, I know some of you are thinking the same as my husband that turnips are not really your favorite, but I believe they are a greatly underappreciated root and one that should be savored as often as possible.  This recipe, simple and delicious, is just the way to make that happen, and even my husband, who complains about turnips all fall, can't stop eating these when I make them.  They will make a turnip lover out of just about anyone. 

They begin with small or medium turnips which are cut in small pieces.  If the peel is not too tough, you can leave it on.  It is important that the turnips not be too large as they will be stronger and more bitter than smaller turnips.  The ones I use tend to be about the size of a child's fist (as long as your child is not a giant). 

They get tossed with a little olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and are roasted until tender and caramelized.  Now, I am sure you do other root vegetables in a similar method, but if you have never tried turnips roasted like this, you must.  They become caramelized on the outside, creamy on the inside, and almost candy-sweet.  At this point, they are ready for the syrup glaze. 

Let's talk about sorghum for a minute.  Southern Living magazine recently published a turnip recipe using sorghum.  In their recipe, the turnips were cooked in liquid rather than being roasted, but it got me thinking that the sorghum I had in the cabinet would be a great replacement for the honey I usually use when roasting turnips.  Sorghum is a popular syrup used in the southern US.  It is similar to molasses but lighter in color and not as strong.  It is derived in a similar way as sugar cane syrup but from a different type of cane grass.  It is sometimes difficult to find outside of the South.  You can purchase it online or use honey or maple syrup instead (like I have always done in the past).  You may even consider using molasses, but be careful as molasses is a little stronger and could easily overpower the turnips.  The sorghum gives the glaze a unique flavor while also sweetening the turnips a little, and I am happy to now have a use for sorghum beyond biscuits, cornbread, and desserts.  

Roasted Turnips with Sorghum Syrup
serves 3-4  

2 pounds medium sized purple top turnip roots
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons sorghum
1 tablespoon water
    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
    If your turnips are large, peel them. If not, leave the peel intact. Cut turnips in 1/2 inch pieces. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle olive oil over to coat. Toss the turnip pieces in the oil on the baking sheet and spread them so they are in a single layer.  Remove most of the leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle them over the turnips along with the salt and pepper.  Roast turnips for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and toss the turnips. Return to the oven for 15 minutes more, or until a knife can be easily inserted.
    Mix sorghum and water together in a small bowl. Remove turnips from the oven and spoon sorghum mixture over turnips. Toss and place pan back in oven for an additional 5 minutes until sorghum syrup coats the turnips. Serve warm.