Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Canned Pears

Pears are in season here in Ontario so I spent some time canning them to enjoy later during the winter months.  Canning is not hard, but it does take some time.  It is time well spent, though, and you will thank yourself in February when you are feasting on the succulent fruits of the summer.  

INGREDIENTS
- 10-12 lbs pears = 4 1L (1 quart) jars
- sugar
- water
- lemon juice


First, get your jars sterilized (or sterilizing) in boiling water or the dishwasher.  Since you will need to process the pears in boiling water, it makes sense to sterilize them first in your canning pot.  

Then, you need to make some syrup for the pears.  Light or medium syrups are perfect for pears.  Combine the sugar and water, bring to bubbling, then keep warm over low heat while you prepare the pears (i.e. don't let it boil down).
LIGHT = 2.25 cups sugar + 5.25 cups water
MEDIUM = 3.25 cups sugar + 5 cups water
Peel the pears and remove stem and blossom ends.  
Halve pears and remove seeds with a small spoon.  Place pears in a solution of 4 cups water + 1/4 cup lemon juice to keep from browning.  Bring the syrup to near bubbling over medium heat.
When syrup is hot (bot not boiling), place one layer of pears into the pot.  Reduce heat to medium-lo.  The idea here is to warm to pears for about 5 mins, not boil them.  You want the syrup to replace the air in the pears while still maintaining the fruit's integrity.  You will notice that the pears will slowly bubble when they first go into the syrup, like they are being deep fried.  Generally, when the bubbles slow down/stop, you are ready to can them.
 I like to use a funnel like you see above to transfer the fruit into the jars.  Working in batches, fill your sterilized jars with fruit, removing each batch of pears from the syrup with a slotted spoon.  Make sure there are not any air bubbles trapped in the fruit's cavities.
When you have four jars filled (or however many you can fit in your canning pot), fill each jar with syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Top with lids and rings adjusted finger tight.
 Your jars must be submerged in the boiling water for processing.  Cover with a lid and boil for 25 minutes.  Then, remove from the heat and remove the lid.  Let the jars stand in the hot water for 5 mins, then remove and let cool.  Done!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Coconut Cream Topping

So, you may remember this post in which I made a vegan banana cream pie.  You may also remember that my attempt at a whipped cream-esque topping was an unqualified failure.  This was because the coconut milk did not separate/congeal in the fridge like it usually does.  I thought I would try again after being invited to a dinner party.  Once again, though, the cream did not set in the fridge (has Thai Kitchen changed their coconut milk?  What's the deal?).  To remedy the situation I took some readers' advice and put some agar into the coconut milk to firm it up.  It's a little more complicated than just putting a can into the fridge, but it's not really hard and is more stable at room temperature.  I used full fat coconut milk, but I don't see any reason why this would not work with low fat (but that theory has yet to be tested.  You might need more agar since there is less fat to firm up in the mixture when it gets cold).

INGREDIENTS
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 tbsp agar flakes
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla

METHOD
1.  Separate coconut cream from coconut milk and add the milk (i.e. the watery stuff) to a small saucepan.  Sprinkle afar flakes over and let sit for 5 mins.  Add sugar and bring to bubbling over med hi heat, whisking constantly.  Cook for 3-5 mins, or until all the agar has dissolved.
2.  Remove from heat and whisk in cream and vanilla.  Adjust sugar to taste then pour into a bowl, cover, and place into the fridge.  Allow to fully cool.
3.  When ready to use, whisk the cooled mixture and spread over your pie (or whatever).  Place pie (or what have you) back into the fridge until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vegan Party Time

On Friday I hosted a reception for the new grad students entering our department. I made the food, others provided the drinks, and everyone had a good time. Despite a few early bacon jokes, the menu went over smashingly with everyone (even bacon boy). I think if the food is good no one cares if it can be labelled vegan or not.  Above is the savoury table.

 In the back left are sliced baguettes (Peter Reinhart, of course).  In front of that, a plate of focaccia.
The idea was to use the bread a base for various toppings.  Pesto, for one.  The larger yellow bowl is garden fresh tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Simply, but really tasty.  There was also hummus, along with plenty of veggies.  The only thing not made by hand was the tortilla chips.  I went with the "scoop" variety of chips so they could easily hold the bean salsa (black eyed peas and black beans with chopped yellow and orange pepper, red onion, celery, and corn.  All this was tossed in olive oil, white wine vinegar, and lime juice then seasoned.  I would have added jalapeno and cilantro, but sometimes that does not go over well at parties).  
Rounding out the savoury table were samosas (curried potatoes and peas wrapped in phyllo and served with a mango chutney (oh, I bought that, too).
And here is the sweet table.  Ye olde classic fruit trays are at the end (berries and melons, mostly).  
The mini cupcakes were a hit--chocolate and vanilla with mocha buttercream.  Simple, but tasty.  
I also tried my hand at palmiers.  I will have to revisit these and post a recipe.  They did not stick together like I would have liked, but they tasted great and were not a lot of work.  
I also made a batch of mini turnovers (1 inch square pieces of dough) but found them too fiddly and did not make any more.  
All the food could be eaten without a fork, which is great when you are standing trying to negotiate food into your mouth whilst not spilling your drink.

I made and baked the baguettes, focaccia, turnovers, palmiers, samosas, and cupcakes ahead of time and froze them.  The thawed cupcakes were iced on the day of the party, and the samosas reheated.  Pesto and hummus were made the night before, and fruit and veggies were cut the day of the party.