Thursday, October 29, 2015

When life gives you apples... make applesauce!

It's great having friends with neighbours with fruit trees! This past weekend, I inherited about a bushel of apples from my friends Fred and Michael.

Their neighbour behind them has a huge apple tree on the edge of their property and the branches overhang Fred and Michael's back yard a fair bit. This year has been a particularly good one for apples and since the tree was hanging heavy with fruit, Fred got busy and did some picking. He ended up with about 2 1/2 bushels and after canning 53 pints of applesauce, offered the remaining apples to me. Free produce is just the best!! And it's all natural, not sprayed. What more could you want?

So, on Sunday I tackled the first batch of about 6 pounds of apples and tried making some applesauce. The apples are really quite tart to eat raw and I'm not sure of the variety -- they have the taste and texture of Northern Spys -- but the finished applesauce is just perfect! The apples sweeten up as they cook down, but not enough to be cloying. Just a nice fresh apple taste. Perfect over yogurt for breakfast!

And with a food mill (I used my trusty tomato press and it worked wonderfully!), making applesauce is a snap. Prepare a water bath and enough canning jars. My 6 pounds of apples yielded about 4 pints. Simply wash the apples first, then pick them over and cut off any blemished bits. Then cut them into quarters. No need to peel or core! If you find any wormholes or bad cores either discard the apple or cut out the bad parts.

Like making tomato sauce, put a splash of water in the bottom of a large heavy pot and cover with a single layer of apple quarters. Bring to boil on medium-high heat and let the apples begin to soften, stirring often to prevent scorching. Press down on the apples with a potato masher or large spoon to crush them a bit and release some juice. Continue to add more quartered apples slowly, allowing the pot to return to a slow boil in between additions.

When all the apples are in and are softened, start feeding them through the mill and you will have lovely applesauce!

Process for 15 minutes for pints or 20 minutes for quarts and you're done!! This was a trial batch to see how my tomato press would work with apples and since it did such a great job, I will definitely be making more!  Besides, the 6 pounds I used here barely made a dent in the apples, so I have lots more to work with!  They keep nicely, so I'll make a batch here and there over the coming weeks as the spirit moves me.

As I mentioned, I ended up with about 4 pints of applesauce and I used whatever jars were handy in the kitchen at the time -- in this case it was two commercial pasta sauce jars (totalling 3 pints) and a pint jar.

So, the pint jar isn't exactly full right?  Well, I had to sample some (for quality control purposes of course!) and it's just SO good I found it hard to stop eating it with a spoon right out of the jar before I caught myself and realized that I still needed to photograph the jars.  Oh well!  Consider it testimony to how great (and easy!) homemade applesauce is.  You'll never go back to store-bought again!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Christmas cake. That's what he said.

Okay, yes I know.  We just nicely got past Thanksgiving, Halloween is still two weeks out and here I am mentioning Christmas! As if the shops and malls weren't bad enough. Some of them started with the Christmas decorations before the kids were back in school.  Enough already!

But, there's method in my madness -- the time to make a luscious dark fruit cake in time for Christmas is now so it has time to mature for the holiday season. My mother was born and raised in England and came to Canada in the 1940's after marrying my father. As such, a rich dark fruitcake was a staple in our home at Christmas time.

I never understood why Christmas cake receives such a bad rap here in North America until I spent a Christmas with my parents at their winter place in Florida.   What was referred to there as "Christmas Cake" was indeed truly awful.  A dry, crumbly thing with a few shrivelled raisins in it. No wonder why no one likes it and it's generally the brunt of jokes. Properly made (and most importantly, properly cured) fruitcake is moist, chewy, chock full of fruit and nuts, and redolent of rum, brandy and spices.  Something truly wonderful!

There are probably as many recipes for fruitcake, light and dark, as there are bakers to make it and my mother had several recipes that she had collected over the years and used interchangeably. Most make several large cakes and as there will only be a small number of us here this Christmas, I wanted to use a recipe I could scale down and make a single small-ish cake. The recipe I used this year is one of my mother's and can be found here.

It calls for a 10-inch tube pan, which I don't have and would still be too big, so I halved the recipe and used a 9 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 2 3/4" loaf pan instead.

On the suggestion of my friend, Colin, an English ex-pat who will be spending Christmas with me and who loves a good dark fruitcake, I am gilding the lily here by soaking the raisins and currants overnight in a quarter-cup of brandy and a quarter-cup of dark rum.

So, we mix the fruit and nuts together and sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. I like to pick up all the nuts and candied fruit from Bulk Barn since they have everything under one roof and I can buy only as much as I need.

Creaming the butter and brown sugar together and mixing the dry ingredients with the fruit and nuts.

Mix everything together, pour into a greased and parchment paper lined loaf pan and bake in a 300F oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours Allow the cake to cool for a hour or so before lifting it out of the pan and removing the paper. Allow to cool overnight on the kitchen counter on a wire rack, covered by a clean tea towel.

Now starts the magic!

Unfold a package of cheesecloth to single thickness and cut a length enough to double-wrap the cake.  Measure a quarter-cup of brandy and a quarter-cup of dark rum into the same measuring cup.

Place the cut piece of cheesecloth in the measuring cup and allow the rum/brandy mixture to thoroughly soak in.

Wring out the cheesecloth slightly.  It should still be very wet, but not dripping. Spread out one end of the length of cheesecloth on a plate or platter and place the fruitcake on top.

Wrap the cheesecloth around the cake making sure to tuck in and cover the ends.

Tear off a length of aluminum foil large enough to generously wrap the cake in and place the cake on it towards one end. Pour the remaining rum/brandy over the top of the cake, thoroughly soaking the cheesecloth.

Wrap the aluminum foil around the cake and press tight to seal, then place in a sturdy, intact plastic food bag (such as a bread bag or produce bag).  Make sure there are no holes in the bag as you want it to be airtight to assist the rum/brandy in soaking into the cake.

Pop it into a dry, dark place like a kitchen cabinet and allow it to rest.  Every two weeks or so, open it and check the cheesecloth.  Dampen with more rum/brandy, but don't allow it to get soggy.

By mid-December, it should be lovely, dark and moist and ready for finishing.  Traditionally, a layer of almond paste or marzipan is spread on the top of the cake followed by a layer of royal icing.  As I happen to have some fondant left over from a previous project, I will be using that.  Look for a post on this sometime in December.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving.  A time to pause and be grateful for all we have, to celebrate the bounty of the season's harvest and enjoy the company of friends and family.

A wonderful way to express gratitude is to give back whatever you can, be it time, money, food, clothing or whatever you can spare.  Donate food to your local food bank and/or volunteer there as a sorter/packer.  Clean out your closets and donate clothes, toys, books to shelters.  Offer to help a neighbour with shopping, yardwork, etc.  And not just now, but all year long! You'll be amazed at what happens.

All the best to you and yours for a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pantry in Action: Sausage and Kale Soup

The "Pantry in Action" series shows creative ways of using all the wonderful food we've preserved during the year.   I will include recipes wherever appropriate with links back to the post(s) where a particular ingredient (or ingredients) was canned.

Here's one of my favourite soups!  It's a tweaked version of this recipe from and makes use of canned diced tomatoes, canned beef stock and canned chickpeas so it's a great way of using up some of your pantry inventory!

Find my tweaked recipe here!

I usually make a batch of this soup every couple of weeks and portion it out between six 2-cup freezer containers, then freeze it.  On a work morning, I'll grab a container from the freezer on the way out the door and throw it in my bag (sealed inside a freezer bag to protect from leaks if it starts to thaw on the way to work).  It'll sit in my desk until lunch time and it's usually half-thawed by then.  Five minutes in the microwave on high and a hot, tasty, nutritious lunch is served!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The End (finally!) of the Tomatoes

Well, here it is:  the absolute bitter end of my tomatoes for this year.

Sixteen pounds in total, some of which are starting to ripen as you can see but I'm calling them green anyway.  I used about four pounds for the Green Tomato Chutney we made on the weekend, so that leaves about 12 pounds.

What to do?  Well, I thought I would try something different with these and make (are you ready?) ...

Green Tomato Wine!  I know, I know, "ewwww!" right?  But, I came across this recipe and, wine making enthusiast that I am, I was immediately intrigued.  I haven't made wine in a number of years, haven't had the space set up for making it until very recently and I thought this would be an ideal way to start back into it while using up this glut of unripe tomatoes.  The recipe actually calls for 12 pounds of tomatoes, so how cool is that? Serendipity anyone?

But not quite yet as Thanksgiving is looming ahead and for the first time in many years, I am hosting! So among all the other preparations, I must do a HUGE housecleaning and remove the evidence of the canning escapades from the last 6 weeks or so.

All this to say that for now I will freeze the tomatoes in freezer bags to save them for a few weeks until I am ready to start the wine and that, my friends, will be featured in a future post.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The (real) Last of the Red Hot Tomatoes. Plus a few green ones, too!

Okay, so the tomato-fest continues!  Since indeterminate tomato varieties will just keep on producing until frost kills them, I made an executive decision to finally pull all the tomato plants from the garden.  Actually, my cousin Lynn helped make the decision for me by offering to help not only pull the plants and harvest the remaining tomatoes, but also help me can some of them!

So, today was the day.  I decided to use up the very last of the ripe tomatoes to make another batch of Marisa's fabulous honey-sweetened tomato jam from Food in Jars.  Tweaked it again by adding a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika, but didn't cook it down quite a much as the first batch, so it's a little more softly set.

And, we attacked some of the green tomatoes, making a batch of this Green Tomato Chutney, also from Food in Jars.

The aftermath!

Overall, an enjoyable, productive and tasty day!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Pantry in Action: Friday Night Pizza

The "Pantry in Action" series shows creative ways of using all the wonderful food we've preserved during the year.   I will include recipes wherever appropriate with links back to the post(s) where a particular ingredient (or ingredients) was canned.

This first post of the series describes what I've come to call "Friday Night Pizza".  It originated with my friend and former co-worker, Nancy, who once did a stint with WeightWatchers and found this in one of their recipe books.  Nancy and I used to get together on Friday nights fairly regularly to decompress (i.e. bitch about work), drink wine and often make these pizzas, not always strictly adhering to the WeightWatchers guidelines mind you.  We just lifted the basic idea from WeightWatchers.

Somehow, we got out of the habit over the years and "Friday Night Pizza" sort of fell by the wayside.  When I went looking for things to make with my bumper crop of tomatoes and came across this recipe for pizza sauce, I thought why not bring back "Friday Night Pizza"?   Decompressing with friends or no, these are quicker and way cheaper than delivery pizza, endlessly customizable and oh-so-easy.  Not to mention delicious!

If you keep a bag of pitas, some shredded cheese (or save even more money and shred it yourself!), a jar of your own homemade pizza sauce, and other toppings (sliced mushrooms, pepperoni, etc.) ready in the fridge, a "Friday Night Pizza" is just 20 minutes away!

Simple pepperoni pizzas for two.

Into a 400°F oven for 20 minutes and...

... voilà!

Add a nice glass of wine and your Friday night is complete!  Enjoy!