Sunday, September 30, 2012

Italian Prune Butter

Remember those prunes I got?
Yeah, I made prune butter as soon as the crock pot was clean and I was awake. 
Here's the source: Eating Small Potatoes.
Here's what I used:
1 1/4 lb prunes (18 prunes)
Just about 3 oz sugar (approx 1/3 c)
1/4 tsp vanilla (actually about 1/3, but that measure doesn't exist, so I stuck with 1/4)
Here's the broken down ratio:
About 1/4 c sugar to 1 lb fruit, and 1/4 tsp vanilla per lb.

First, wash your prunes, halve, and pit them. Cut them into a bowl on a scale because you want to know how many prunes you used. End up counting the pits anyway.

Prunes halved and mostly pitted. They come out of the mix pretty easily if you can't get them out of the fruit itself.
 Second, work out the ratio of sugar from the website you found this recipe on. Decide that you'll use your scale to add sugar and not worry about tricky conversions between ounces and cups and pounds.
Add however much sugar you need. If you're using this website, put in 1/4 c sugar for each pound of prunes.

Prunes and sugar, tarting it up.
Prunes and about 3 oz sugar.
 Dump the mixture into the crock pot. Admire, and worry that the sugar will burn. Stir obsessively.

Prunes and sugar about to start cooking
Prunes and sugar in the crock pot. I was very anal about taking lots of pictures.
 The prunes will start making their own juice pretty much as soon as they get warm.  Feel relief, but still stir way too often.

Sugar and prunes gettin' busy.
The sugar has started to draw the juices out of the prunes.
 Become slightly enraged by the site of the crock pot with its lid on. Feel a deep, pressing need to remove it and observe its contents.
Resist this urge by going for a walk and then doing your housemate's workout DVD.

Crockpot with lid on drives baker insane.
This is the most maddening sight in the world. All I want to do is take off the lid and stir.
 Dance around the pot whenever you're not doing something else.
This is about a third of the way done. The skins are starting to come off and disintegrate, and the flesh is getting all smooshy.
NB: the flash on my camera was being dumb and made everything look much redder in the pot than it should have been. The flesh was a light yellow for most of the time while the juices were a purply brown that was pretty hard to distinguish from the black crock pot.

Prunes looking delicious
They're starting to stew in their own juices and make my pictures look funny.
 This is about half done. The flesh has almost formed a smooshy mass with some skins floating around and some juices still around the edges. By the end, you want those skins to be all the way dissolved into the smooshy stuff and no juice around the edge.

Mostly-cooked prunes
The fruits are all the way smooshified, with just some skins floating around.
 This is where I realized that I should probably have started this last night or woken up earlier. I don't have enough prunes to make a nice, thermally-stable butter that can sit in the crock pot overnight and not burn. I was thinking I would just set it to warm and deal with it in my mid-morning "lunch" break, but then I realized that I liked the taste and texture already.

Almost completely cooked prunes
This is more what the prunes looked like the whole time; but don't be turned off by the brown color. They are delicious.
 I added vanilla here. It adds a nice complexity to the flavor. I wouldn't recommend cinnamon, but if you have a thing for plummy things with a certain spice, go for it.
Then I let it sit for a few minutes and jarred it.

Homemade deliciousness in a borrowed jar.
The finished plum butter, in the ubiquitous used jam jar.
The butter that I got is less buttery and more jammy, with some half-dissolved skins still in it. It's tart, sweet, and tangy, with enough body to be a delicious spread. The vanilla blends well, but would not be required. I'd say that I got about 1 1/2 cups of butter; it might have gone down to 1 or 1 1/4 by morning.

EDIT: As a side note, I've decided that I NEED a tiny crock pot when I get my own place. I want a little one about half the size of A's so I can make 1-person jams and applesauces and suchlike. 

Fall Bounty

There's a co-op of farms near my university that J and I went to with her mom.
They're selling gobs of apples and also italian prunes.

Prune size comparison
Prunes as compared to a granny smith apple belonging to a housemate.

Also, huge "Flemish Princess" pears.
Pears in a bag
I'm going to bake with these because there's no way I could eat one in one day.

I have some big plans for my prunes and pears - slow cookers and ovens.

Pear size comparison
The same granny smith apple was used in all photos.
 I made applesauce from my housemate's slowly-going-off gravenstein apples and some other apples I scrounged from around my kitchen, which I'm not posting here for three reasons.

Homemade applesauce
1. Applesauce recipes, aside from being ridiculously simple, are a dime a dozen on the internet and in cookbooks. I used a different housemate's crock pot, cut a bunch of apples into it, poured a little apple cider because it kept seeming too dry, sprinkled in a little cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (to taste, but start very small), and sweetened with honey as I went along.

Applesauce2. I did not use a recipe, and I didn't write down what I was doing.

3. I didn't take any pictures of the process.

 If you want a recipe, just type "crock pot applesauce" into your search engine of choice and pick one that has ingredients you have.

I suppose I have big plans for my apples, but I just got itty bitty ones so I can eat them raw the way I like. It's not as difficult as it sounds, but suffice to say that I have a complicated-to-explain-but-easy-to-do method for eating fresh apples that doesn't work well on normal American-sized apples. I have to buy the bags of tiny apples at the store for it to work. And I eat all my apples that way if I don't bake them, so it doesn't really as a big plan.

Apple size comparison
The red apple is one that I picked; the green one is the same one from earlier. I like tiny apples, okay?

Right now, I'm thinking about a carrot soup, prune butter (in the crock pot, no peeling required), pear bread, and olive oil bread (I just need a recipe for these last two).

Also, I'd like to elaborate on the prune/plum thing. I always thought prunes were just dried plums, which maybe they sometimes are. However, the prune fruit is similar but ultimately distinct from the plum fruit. Plums are big fat round juicy affairs, while prunes are skinny and comparatively dry. While I've never baked with plums, I can say that prunes are amazing in the oven. They're okay raw, but MAN are they good baked. I made a tart and it was pretty much a religious experience. They don't spread out via juices hardly at all, but that basically means that they keep all their goodness concentrated. I didn't even need to put in sugar or spices. In fact, had I done so, I'm sure they wouldn't have been as delicious.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tomato Tart

I've been on a tart-making kick lately. I think it's because school has started and I'm out of money, but I do have a lot of free produce around. I get bored with salads pretty quickly, and I never have enough fruit (or time to prepare it) for a pie, so I quickly turned to rustic tarts. They're all the rage in the blogs I follow.
Tomato tart
My housemate, S, brought yellow tomatoes from home.

The idea is that you make a small pie crust, set it on your baking sheet, add your filling to the middle (leaving an inch or two around the edge), and fold the edge over so the filling stays put. It can be as pretty or as goopy as you have the patience for. You can use any fruit or any pie crust you want, including puff pastry if you have it on hand. My current favorite crust makes a big enough circle for about one whole large fruit (tomato, in this case) or one and a half smaller fruit (medium sized pears).

The crust recipe I've been using, slightly modified, can be found at Eating Well. I didn't add the sugar or the oil for my pear tart, but I did add extra butter until the crumbles stuck together a little better. I added olive oil for the tomato tart (still no sugar; this is lunch, not dessert).
The olive oil makes the dough much crumblier, but it rolls out very nicely and hardly sticks to the wax paper.

I didn't use a recipe for the filling of the tomato tart, but I will attempt to provide one anyway. I also didn't take pictures along the way; sorry!

Rustic Tomato Tart

  • 2-serving tart crust
  • 2 small tomatoes (or 1 medium)
  • 1 oz mild cheese, like mozzarella
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 leaves basil, minced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Roll the tart crust into a rough circle until it's pretty thin, but not so thin that it breaks all the time. Set it on a baking sheet.
Quarter the tomatoes, the cut each quarter into 4 slices. Do this as you lay the slices on the tart crust, since you might have too much tomato.
Set the tomatoes in a visually pleasing pattern on the crust, leaving about 1.5 inches around the edge.
Crumble the cheese over the tomatoes. I just got fresh-ish goat cheddar curds at a famers' market, but you might not be so lucky. Mozzarella or soft goat cheese would work great as well.
Sprinkle the basil over the tomatoes and cheese. Use as much or as little as you like, and add other herbs as you please. I didn't have any other herbs. Also, don't be like me and forget about the garlic you have in your pantry. Chop up a small clove (or big if that's what you like) and toss it on.
Gently fold the crust over the tomatoes. Don't worry about tearing it, just pat it down after you finish. If it's stuck to the pan, use a spatula to pry it up. It's supposed to be open-faced, so the crust shouldn't cover all the tomatoes.
Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes and crust.
Sprinkle very lightly with salt.
Bake 20-30 minutes, or until crust is a light brown.
Let cool for about 5 minutes.

I'll be honest, I haven't made a tart since I wrote this ages ago until today. But I was inspired by my italian prunes (NOT plums, believe you me, these are prunes). Prunes bake up really lovely, especially in single-layer tarts, where they turn all jammy with chewy skins. I didn't even use sugar at all, or any spices, and it was DELICIOUS.

So yeah, tarts!