pears with heli

October 10, 2009

A few weeks ago Emily, Clint and I went to Clint’s pear tree (planted back in 1987 or so) south of town and harvested a bucket of then “slightly” unripe pears. We made some yummy pies, and the rest of the pears sat in my kitchen in the bucket, with me nibbling occasionally.


When I was talking with Heli about visiting her, I asked if she wanted me to bring the pears up for us to can. She did, so I tossed the whole collection in the back seat of the car (along with the chestnuts, and a whole bunch of last minute herbs from the garden). Today we collected the supplies for pear preserves with ginger and lemon, from The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves, by Linda Zeidrich.


The recipe includes a generous amount of lemon zest and minced ginger, and sits out on the counter for quite a few hours. The kitchen smells lovely! A delicate mixture of pears, ginger and lemon.


I can’t remember where I learned this, but it is a nifty trick for peeling ginger. When you are peeling fresh ginger, use the back side of a butter knife (I think that there might be a tool for this as well) to scrape the peel off. This is the easiest way to peel ginger without taking off too much of the root.


For mincing the ginger, Heli, trained in the Deli, had a little tip. Chop the ginger (or anything that you might be chopping) with your hand over the middle part of the knife finger tips up. This protects them as you chop quickly (as she is demonstrating!)

pearssugarspices2As we peeled the pears we layered them with the sugar, ginger, and lemon (as per recipe). We had fun here, with the pot in the kitchen between us, chopping and layering. Heli had a clear plan that we needed to layer 4 sliced pears and then add the sugar, etc. I accidently started adding the spices early and was clearly instructed that we hadn’t added enough pears yet…love to be back with the sister!!!



After sitting overnight, the sugar dissolved, and the pears were ready to slowly cook for several hours. We were in the kitchen, stirring the pears every so often, while we made Monte Bianco. As the pears cooked, they turned a beautiful burnt orange color. I am a little concerned though as we ended up with a lot of liquid, and not too many pears floating in it… I think that if I were to do it again I would maybe change the sugar to fruit ratio, which seemed high on the sugar side. The recipe did suggest using the pears over ice cream, which I think would be good! Or maybe with fresh cream!!


Finished pears, cooling on the window sill. Soon to be whisked off to a cool, dark cupboard for better storage.

Yesterday I made the 8 hr drive to Ann Arbor to visit the youngest Witherspoon. When we were in Italy a few years ago we learned how to make Monte Bianco, a chestnut dessert that was the favorite of one of our friends there. We have made Monte Bianco since then using our friends recipe, but this year we decided to try a new recipe from The Chestnut Cookbook by Annie Bhagwandin.Chestnutscolander

One of the best things that we have discovered about chestnuts this season is how to peel them really easily. A few weeks ago when I made chestnut ravioli Brenda and I boiled the nuts for about 20 minutes. They came out of the shells quite well, but sometimes the nuts stuck, and the inner peel was difficult to remove. chestnutscutcloseThis time we boiled them whole for 5 minutes, and then chopped them in half. It was much easier to cut them with the shells softened, but the nuts were still intact, and popped right out of the shells!!cehstnutsandpeels We kept the majority of the nuts in hot water as we worked, which makes them easier to remove.chestnutsinmilk

To make Monte Bianco, parboiled chestnuts are simmered with whole milk with a snip of vanilla bean and then pureed to form a stiffish paste. chestnutsinpot

We pureed the chestnuts with the milk using a stick blender. The puree was a little thinner than we would have liked, and we think that we could have simmered the nuts a little longer.


As the chestnuts were simmering, we made a vanilla sugar syrup (a variation on our recipe) and then added it to the pureed chestnuts. The puree needs to be stiff to make the little noodles, so we left it in the fridge over night to firm up, and by the morning it was ready to go!chestnutsinmill

We put the chestnut puree through Heli’s new food mill and came up with the little “worms” that make Monte Bianco! As an aside, this is the absolute best food mill I have ever encountered. The fold out legs have rubber on them and it grips to the top of the bowl so there is no slippage at all!! Really easy to assemble and use!


We needed some cream to top our noodles, so we whipped some up in a mason jar. We thought it would take for ever, but it only took about 2 minutes of vigorous shaking!


Freshly whipped cream in the sunlight.


The finished product. Chestnut vermicelli dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder and whipped cream. A mountian with snow on the top!!helichestnuts

pimento pickles

October 4, 2009


Fresh pimento peppers, with a few hot peppers as well. These peppers are at the end of the season, and nicely ripe and red!


The peppers need to be roasted to remove the skins. I broil them in the oven, placing the peppers on the top rack right next to the heat coils. I like to have the skins all the way black (the above peppers  are only partially blackened) before I put them in a bowl covered with a plate to sit for a few minutes until I can peel the skins off without burning myself. ( I usually burn my thumbs anyway.)peeledpepper

Once they are peeled and seeded they are ready to be placed in jars. It is helpful to rinse them and dry them gently with a clean tea towel (colored so that any stains are camouflaged).


They are nicely flat, and look lovely when stacked in the jar, topped with pickling liquid (vinegar, sugar, etc.). I got this recipe from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. It is very simple, and can be used for sweet peppers and hot peppers!

chestnuts part three

October 4, 2009

Brenda had me over this afternoon to learn how to make sweet chestnut ravioli. This is a recipe that she came up with, and I was really excited to try it!  It was a bit of work, but a wonderful way to spend the afternoon! I always love to cook with other cooks, it is the best way to learn new tricks and tips in the kitchen!!

Below I have written up an approximate recipe for what we did.


Boil chestnuts for 20 minutes, or until tender. It  might be easier to peel them if they are slit with a knife or chestnut splitter first. (We just boiled them whole)brendaandflour

While chestnuts are boiling, mix up dough for pasta. On a clean counter, make a mound of flour. We used a mixture of white flour and semolina flour, with a dash of salt. The Semolina flour is harder and the individual grains are larger. The white flour has more gluten and is what holds the dough together. Together they make a nice combination for this dish.


In the center of the flour mixture add eggs, one at a time. As the eggs are mixed in place the resulting dough to the side. We needed three eggs to use up our flour. Place dough in a bowl and cover. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.


While the dough is resting, peel the chestnuts, being careful to remove both the inner and outer shell. It is easier to remove the shell when the nuts are hot, so keep the majority of the chestnuts in the pot in hot water, removing a few at a time to peel. These chestnuts were so easy to peel! Many of them popped right out of their skins.


Place peeled chestnuts in a food processor. Pulse to chop until somewhat fine. Add a sprinkle of chocolate chips and some powdered sugar.


Pulse until chestnuts and chocolate chips are approximately the same size, and the mixture comes together when you mix it with your fingers.


Return to the dough. It should have come together after resting, and you can knead it a little, but not too much.


Break off a piece and run it through a pasta maker. Start with the #1, the largest setting, and roll through each setting until desired thickness. (We finished at setting #5 for our ravioli.)


Place dough on a well floured counter and put filling on pasta. Cut out pieces, trying to keep them about the same size (so that they cook evenly).


Seal the ravioli with water or egg white, and press firmly with a fork.

We placed our finished ravioli on a well floured cookie sheet to freeze. When they were frozen, we put them into ziplock bags. Brenda deep fries them. I might try deep frying, or also just boiling them. I am going to wait until Miles, Nozomi, and Heli are around (hopefully all at the same time!) to eat them.

how to defend chestnuts

October 3, 2009



This is how I like to protect my chestnuts. Cage the trees.


Protecting the nuts, a little more challenging.

Top layer, drying rack, supplemented by broom handle.

Second layer, additional chestnuts drying on a cookie sheet.

Ground floor, mousetraps, baited with peanut butter.



October 3, 2009

Here is my first attempt to make ketchup. It takes a long time to finish! Roast tomatoes, puree them, cook them down with spices, puree them again, cook them down again, and then jar them and boil the jars! But I think that the result will be worth it for brunch on roasted potatoes.


fresh tomatoes, about 8 lbs


spice mixture


spice mixture simmering with tomato puree


Finished jars of tomato ketchup!