Friday, January 27, 2012

Follow Up Friday - Cinamon Pears

I canned these pears at the end of the season in 2010. While I do not recommend keeping canned foods forever, I have just recently gotten to opening up the last of these jars. I decided to get one of the cinnamon stick jars out and open it up. I was quite surprised at the result. Let's just say they are definitely cinnamon pears. I used Penzeys Spices cinnamon sticks in the jars. One of the things that I love about their spices is their freshness. The spices are always packed with oils and flavor. In this case, however, that was not a great thing. I added one cinnamon stick per pint as recommended in my canning book. This ended up with pears that looked as though they had gone bad, but in reality they were just that filled with cinnamon.

As you can see from this after picture, the pears are almost the same color as the cinnamon stick. They had a hotness to them, kind of like red hot candies. If that is your thing, by all means please use a full stick of this wonderful cinnamon in your canning. I felt that it over powered the pear flavors and ended up tasting like I was eating the cinnamon stick. In the future, I think I will only use half of a stick in the jars or use powdered cinnamon. I love how the full stick looks in the jars, and perhaps a single stick in a quart would be perfect, but for now I will try to use a half stick in my pints. That does not mean that I am not enjoying these pears for their spicy hotness. I am, but I would like more of the pear to come through. Live and learn, and make notes for next time.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chocolate, Orange, and Cranberry Tart

With people starting to make Valentine's plans already, I thought I would post this dessert recipe. I came up with this recipe for our date night. It is relatively easy, and it takes just a few minutes to whip together. As impressive as it looks, it is just as simple to make. The hardest part is the wait times. This dessert does need to be chilled so it takes time to make, but it could be made the day before the event and held in the refrigerator until needed.

Special Equipment:
~ 2 mini tart pans (4 inch diameter)
~ fine mesh strainer

  ~ 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  ~ 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  ~ 1 tbsp powdered sugar
  ~ 1/4 cup butter
  ~ a pinch of salt if you are using unsalted butter
  ~ 1 tsp vanilla extract

  ~ egg
  ~ 1/2 cup sour cream
  ~ 3 tbsp sugar
  ~ 1 tbsp flour
  ~ 1 tbsp milk
  ~ 1/2 tsp vanilla

  ~ 1/2 cup cranberries
  ~ 1/3 cup sugar
  ~ 1/4 tsp finely shredded orange peel
  ~ 1/4 cup orange juice
  ~ 1 medium orange peeled and segmented

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Using some extra butter, grease your two tart pans, making sure to get into all the tight corners. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and salt into a mixing bowl. Place the butter in a pan and heat gently until just melted, cool slightly. Add the vanilla extract to the cooled butter. Stir butter into the sifted dry ingredients and mix with a fork until it all comes together. Evenly divide mix between the two pans and press into the bottom and up the sides of the pans. Place in the refrigerator to cool for 20 minutes.

After the shells cool, make the filling by slightly beating the egg with a fork. Stir in the sour cream, sugar, flour, milk, and vanilla. Pour an equal amount of the filling between the two shells. Place the tarts on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the centers are set, and an knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool them on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover and chill 4-24 hours.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, in a small saucepan combine the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Boil until just slightly thickened, around 5 minutes. Transfer sauce to a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Push the sauce through the strainer gently to separate out the skin and seeds of the cranberries from the sauce. Add the shredded orange peel to the strained sauce. Cover and chill sauce 4-24 hours until well chilled. If the sauce is too thick to spread easily, gently warm the sauce a bit again and add a little water until it reaches a good spreading consistency.

To serve, pop the tarts out of their pans. Add a generous layer of the sauce over the top of the tart and arrange the segmented orange slices on top. Enjoy!

***  If you want to make one large tart for a dinner party of more than two, double the recipe in each section and use a 10 inch tart pan. ***

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Start, New Year, New Growth

While the new year holiday has long passed, I am still reveling in the idea of it being a new year. For me, a new year always represents a chance for new growth and a renewed excitement for personal development as well as improvement on the way things have been done from the previous years. This Christmas season was rather successful, with all but my Dad's gifts being sent on time. (And yes, I am going to start working on his gift finally tomorrow!) Once the holiday glow seemed to be finally ready to head back into its storage boxes for the year, I looked around the house to realize it was absolutely filthy. I guess with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays my cleaning, as usual, went by the wayside. So, I decided to make good on a promise that I made to myself around this time last year. We were moving from the old apartment to this new one, and upon finishing a 13 hour cleaning day at the old place, I promised myself to never let a place get that way again. Since one of my goals for the year is to follow through on things as well as finish up old projects, I decided to do a top to bottom cleaning of the house.

When I say top to bottom I don't just mean the whole house, I mean every nook and cranny of the whole house. Furniture was moved to ensure vacuuming could be done under every surface and not just around it as usual. This meant taking up the mattresses on the bed and going all under there, moving couches to make sure that was all cleaned. Shower stalls were scrubbed and then scrubbed again. Entire shelves were emptied, items sorted, dusted, and then either shelved again or placed in the donation pile. Floors were vacuumed, dust mopped, and then wet mopped. Papers were organized and either filed or shredded. Cabinets in the kitchen were scrubbed down thoroughly, and the top venting of the microwave was completely degreased. It has been a down right marathon of cleaning that I have not ever performed in a place that I was still going to live in, and I am so happy that I have done this. There was nothing more demoralizing to me than cleaning an old place top to bottom after moving out and realizing that I would not get to enjoy the squeaky clean that I had just created. I am currently enjoying the clean and organized house way more than I ever thought I would. I hope to keep up with the cleaning more in the new year.

Other goals I have for this year are also personal improvement aspirations. I hope to do more fancy cooking and to serve that cooking on the wedding china. So far, I have done it once this past weekend with an in home date night. It was fun, and I am looking forward to another one of them soon. Another food goal is to cook some ingredient that I have never worked with every other week. I worked on cooking a squash type that is new to me, and I still have quite a bit of that to work through. I also want to add some more things to my cooking schedule to remove more store bought items off the list. Yogurt is one of them, and I think that I may have it down to the point where i can share with you all. I also want to nail down that winning English Muffin recipe... it is getting close. I can feel that one being knocked out soon. The hardest thing for me on the goals list is the harp. I really want to be able to play that thing, and I want to commit to it more this year. I have gone through spurts and false starts with it since my husband finished it for me. I hope this year to move past lesson one on the DVD lessons I have. The last, but not least of the goals for the year is to keep in contact with friends better, including the writing of actual letters that you send in the mail. Unsolicited cards and mail from friends showing up out of the blue always makes my day. I hope to do the same for friends and family this year as I try to write more handwritten letters to people. This includes Thank You notes... yes I am bringing them back into my realm of being. I hope you all have not abandoned your goals for the year yet, and if you have perhaps now is the time to recommit to them. The year has just started after all. Forgive your lapses and try to move forward and commit to changing things you would like to see improved in your life.