Monthly Archives: September 2011

Solo culinary adventures, part deux: Apple Butter


One of the things I’ve been trying to do while we’re still here is to preserve all this free fruit coming out our ears. The blackberries have been producing madly for months (and still going, in some spots), and the apple trees in the yard started dropping their fruit a few weeks ago. I made blackberry applesauce a couple of times and even turned it into fruit leather, but I knew I wanted to make some apple butter: I’ve got the time and the ingredients, so why not?

Apple butter is more of a process than a recipe, and I first attempted it after reading a few different recipes online. I figured I could just pull the best of everyone else’s methods together to make my own delicious apple-y spread. Basically, you make applesauce and then add some spices and then cook it for a long time until it’s thick and rich-tasting. Not too difficult, right?

Well, my first go-round sat in the pot for hours and hours, and I stirred and stirred, and it got to the point where it was hardly moveable and I was afraid it would burn on the bottom. But it never got to where it looked or tasted like the apple butter my mom used to make. It tasted good, sure, but just wasn’t right. I asked my mom to send me the recipe she always used and I immediately saw why mine hadn’t come out the same: I didn’t add any sugar; I didn’t add nearly as many spices; and I didn’t add any lemon juice or zest. Time to try it again, only this time I followed the 1970s-era recipe exactly as written.

Step 1: Process the apples

Bowlful of appley goodness

For most people, this would be the easiest part of the recipe. With store-bought apples, all you need to do is cut them into quarters and toss them in a pot, cores, peels, and all. But these are the apples that come from a tree that doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides.

Cores were completely out of the question (a drawback, also, to trying to make one’s own pectin, another semi-failed experiment) as nearly every apple from the trees in the yard has, um, creatures living inside the core. I also had to cut out the bad spots, bruises, and other nasties from either apples having fallen and been on the ground or just from being on a tree that’s organic. I’m not entirely sure what kinds of apples these are – mostly, I think, golden delicious, but one of the trees has about four different varieties grafted on and I have no idea what some of them are.

Pot full o' apples

I ended up with 14 cups of de-bugged, de-bruised, and de-bad spotted apple pieces and a huge pile of crud.

YUM.

The recipe calls for four pounds of apples, but I didn’t have a kitchen scale. I knew I wanted to make as much as I had apples, and so I just threw everything I had in the pot. I added 2 cups of real apple juice (ingredient: apple juice) and let it cook until the apples were mushy.

Ready to be milled

Now comes the part I remember best about processing apples: the food mill. This food mill, borrowed from my mom, dates back to sometime in the 1940s. It has a bakelite handle. It was used to make my baby food, and probably used to make my mom’s baby food. It has seen many an apple over the years, and still works exactly the way it’s supposed to.

Sunrise, sunset

A cup or so at a time, I ran the apple mush through the food mill to get all the applesauce separated from the skins. When it was all finished, I measured the amount of applesauce I had (6.5 cups. From two cups of juice and 14 cups of apple pieces. YES.) and followed the recipe to add half a cup of brown sugar for every cup of applesauce. (I rounded down and only added 3 cups, since that’s all we had!). The recipe also said to add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, a teaspoon of cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of allspice. We were out of ground cloves so I did cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a full teaspoon of allspice. I then added the zest and juice of our last lemon from the yard. After this stuff was all stirred into the applesauce, I moved the pot to the small burner and set the heat to the lowest flame, stirring occasionally.

That is a LOT of sugar.


It sounded like kind of obscene.

The recipe said to cook the apple butter down until “very thick” (which it was) and was ready when a teaspoon of it on a plate stuck to the plate when turned upside down.

nom nom

Defying gravity

Check.

Apple butter is super delicious but probably not best to be preserved in large quantities; mostly because it would be difficult to eat it all from a large jar before it went bad. I’d bought some 8 ounce jelly jars at the hardware store because they were having a sale (and because now that Dan is working and getting paid actual money I don’t have to be QUITE so frugal) and sterilized them, so that they were hot and ready to go when the apple butter was done.

Finished product

My friend Carissa had suggested to me on twitter that I try a salted caramel version of the apple butter by adding salt to an already caramel-like apple butter (brown sugar instead of white sugar) and so I did a few taste tests and added some to about two jars’ worth. The recipe itself made 7 full jars and one nearly-full one that is now half-empty in the fridge, having been spread liberally and gleefully over some sourdough toast over the weekend by my husband who loves apple butter on sourdough toast.

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Cage death match: Shoes!

My little sister is getting married in a month! (Holy cow. I can’t believe my little sister is getting married in a month.) We’re all wearing the same dress, and have been given free reign to wear whatever shoes we like. I have the bridesmaid dress, but I can’t afford to buy new shoes to go with it. I have the perfect pair of shoes to wear…but sadly, one of them has broken. I’ve already had it fixed once, and I don’t think it’s fixable again. So I’m forced to choose between five pairs that maybe could sort of work, and once again, I need your help, internet.

First of all, here’s the dress. (Internet, it is breaking my heart. I ordered my dress months ago when my sister first picked it, and I paid MORE THAN TWICE AS MUCH as what it’s selling for now. Sob.) Also, I had to order a size up in order to fit my boobs. So the rest of the dress is kind of too big on me, which results in me looking GIGANTIC.

Here are my shoe options. The wedding is outdoors, and part of it will be on a grassy area.

Not pleased with my appearance.

Option 1: White/green wedge sandals that I wore to my own wedding. I’ve worn them a whole bunch of times since.

FEET

Pros: Comfortable, no chance of sinking into soggy ground
Cons: Old, kind of dirty, not especially pretty anymore

Black shoes closeup

Option 2: Black sandals with a chunky heel. I’ve had these for almost 10 years.

The great white whale...

Pros: Relatively comfortable
Cons: There’s almost no black in the dress, so I feel like these would maybe stand out a lot?

Princess Robin is helping.

Option 3: Pink patent peep-toe heels with ankle strap

FEETY FEETY FEETS

Pros: Fabulous
Cons: Probably too fabulous for this dress. Not very comfortable. Plus, that heel will sink right into the ground. Also, would pink go at all with the fall colors in the print?

I solemnly swear that I do not weigh a billion pounds, it just looks like it.

Option 4: Blue peep-toe t-strap chunky platform heels

How many feet photos can I make you look at?

Pros: Relatively comfortable. I wore these to our rehearsal dinner.
Cons: I’m a little concerned with the elastic on one of the straps (had the other replaced already). Also, not sure how well the blue goes with the other colors in the dress, though I think it would be better than the pink.

I tried 6 times to change these images to portrait and I give up.

Option 5: Silver fabric t-strap sandals
Pros: Probably the most comfortable and the most dressy out of the bunch.
Cons: Heel is very slim and will likely aerate the lawn. Plus, the silver is so light it’s almost white, while the gray in the dress is much darker.

This is the last shot of my glamorous feet, promise.

There you have it, internet: my shoe options. If you were me, which would you wear?

SHOES!

Solo culinary experiment #1: Vegetable lasagna

Dan’s got a temp job in the city for this week and maybe part of next, so I’ve been by my lonesome since Monday night. I’m actually enjoying the solitude this time, and have been working on a variety of projects that I’ve been intending to get around to doing, and being by myself is a good excuse. I’d eaten leftovers from the tomato and corn pie Dan made this weekend for dinner the last couple of meals, and decided I needed to finally make that vegetable lasagna I’ve been thinking about with the zucchini friends have given us in place of noodles. Also, I really needed to eat something with greens in it.

So here’s my (very, very rough) recipe for vegetable lasagna. It’s a good way to use up one of those great big zucchinis you find in your yard that hid from you while they were still of manageable size. And for those of you who don’t feel like hassling with lasagna noodles, or for those who are watching gluten etc., it’s an easy substitute. Enjoy!

MLE’s Vegetable Lasagna (serves four)

Ingredients:
One large or two medium zucchinis, sliced thinly, outer slices (peel-only) discarded
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 yellow bell pepper, chopped
5 or 6 button or cremini mushrooms, halved and sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
large handful of baby spinach, chopped
1 spicy precooked chicken sausage, sliced thinly (optional) (I used a chicken andouille sausage from Trader Joe’s)
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
Seasonings to taste (I used lemon pepper and garlic powder)

1 cup cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 dollop (about a teaspoon) caesar salad dressing (can substitute some vinegar and spices)
salt and pepper

about 1/2-1 cup shredded italian cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, etc.)

Method:
Preheat oven to 400F
Layer slices of zucchini in the bottom of an 8×8 dish.
Sautee onion, bell peppers, and mushrooms with some olive oil in a skillet until softened. Add tomatoes, spinach, and sausage if using. Add seasonings. Sautee until it all looks and smells cooked.
Meanwhile, combine cottage cheese or ricotta, casear dressing, egg, and seasonings. If using cottage cheese, blend with an immersion blender for a minute or so to break up curds.
When vegetable sauce is done, add a layer over the sliced zucchini. Top with a layer of cottage cheese or ricotta mixture. Top with more slices of zucchini. Top with more sauce, more cheese mixture, and one more layer of zucchini. Finally, top the entire thing in the shredded cheese and bake about 30 minutes until bubbly and cheese top is browned. Remove from oven, let sit about 5 minutes before cutting into four servings. Bon appetit!