caramelized gooey local syrup with windfall fruit

IMG_9581Do you remember that odd bag of pancakes in my freezer?  Well, I lived the freezer packrat dream for one glorious moment when I used them to test a new recipe.  Yet another from the oeuvre of Linda Ziedrich, whose work I rely on time and time again to inspire great Oregon canning recipes, the inspiration was sirop de Liège.  It’s a long-cooked, caramelized, thick, dark sludge made traditionally mostly of pears, with a little apple thrown in for good measure and pectin, traditionally eaten with cheese like membrillo.

Eugeniuses may find the Belgian city of Liège familiar, as it’s home not only to my syrup but also the waffles made locally famous by Off the Waffle.

What I love about the syrup is that it uses great quantities of fruit, perfect for those of us with pome trees or neighbors who want to get rid of pears, Asian pears, and apples.  You can make the syrup two ways: deliciously burnt-sugar dark sludge, or light peach-colored pourable butterscotch.  Since we don’t have our own source of maple syrup in Eugene, I thought it might be a good addition to those seeking local pancake enhancers.

Pear and Apple Syrup, Two Ways

Use a 6:1 ratio for weight of pears and/or Asian pears to apples.   Cut the fruit into quarters, leaving the peels and cores on, and cook it down on medium low until it liquifies.

Once the fruit releases lots of juice, carefully remove the fruit and strain the liquid into a large bowl. (You’re after the juice, not the fruit, so save your fruit to make applesauce with a food mill.) Press the fruit in the sieve to get as much liquid out of it as you can, then add the liquid to a clean pot.

Cook down the liquid on low heat for a few hours. After an hour or so, it should be the consistency of maple syrup with a slippery mouthfeel and a slightly caramelized color and buttery taste. Perfect for pancakes.  Stop here if you want to be able to pour it.

If you want a darker, richer, slightly bitter caramelized flavor (and more traditional version), cook for longer, being sure to watch as it gets thicker and more liable to burn.

The yield will be minimal for the fruit: warning.  Using 6 lbs. of Asian pears and 1 lb. of apples will yield about a pint if thin and as little as a 1/2 pint if thick.  As I said, it’s great if you have tons of fruit.  Not so great if you are buying at premium prices.

Variation: I recently came into a bunch of Asian pears, and thought I’d give it a whirl with a few apples and a handful of cranberries to make the color pretty (above).  The cranberries release some ruby redness and better yet, stay intact in the light syrup, so they become candied and really wonderful.


in which she yearns for an egg biscuit and ends up with pickles

I saw a photo yesterday on PartyCart’s Facebook page and was struck by longing at 7 a.m.  WHY aren’t they open for breakfast, whined I, why?

Luckily, they were very much open when I swung back around at 3, and I was able to buy the egg biscuit with Southern braised greens, housemade pancetta, and tomato jam that I had been craving.  And I even got to take my own photo, if slightly less luscious looking.  If you haven’t been to PartyCart, go.  It’s in the Healthy Pet parking lot at 28th and Friendly, across the street from J-Tea (whom, I see, has a new blog).  Friendly neighborhood representing, yo!

As I was musing on eggs and happenstance, a gentleman (background of photo above) offered me a taste of his friend’s bread and butter pickle chips.  Although I’ve learned the interesting way not to accept sweets from strange men, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.  (It also helped that the gentleman was the boyfriend of one of the cart parties, and I’m all for supporting local picklers.)

Wow.  Spicy, sweet, classic bread and butter cucumber pickles, made locally and deliciously by a man seeking to diversify from his contracting work.  You can support his endeavors by ordering some at Kurzhal Family Pickles, 541.517.7302, or inquire at the cart to show your interest.  The jalapeño provides a healthy bite, be warned, but I haven’t tasted better bread and butters.

breakfast of champions

I’m not really a breakfast person.  I’m not sure why I find breakfasts so awful.  I associate them with a particular kind of American restaurant frequented in my childhood — a place that smells like breakfast grease and is filled with fat families eating big plates of scrambled eggs.  It’s being with so many people that early in the morning, eating so much food.  Weighing yourself down, literally and figuratively.

Plus, the thought of eating a large, greasy, egg-heavy meal first thing in the morning makes me feel slightly queasy, and sugar seems particularly repellent.  I can only eat sweet things if I have a large cup of coffee to wash that sugary slime off my teeth.  Cereal makes me have a bloodsugar crash about 2 hours after I eat it (seriously: with the shakes and lightheadedness and everything).  And slimy, cold yogurt with bits of oats in it to masticate like a horse?  I don’t think so.

Jeez, I’m sounding like a sugarfree, fat-phobic vegan here, sorry.

I’m actually very happy with things that most people find gross: oatmeal, a plain bagel, and my absolute favorite, a full Japanese breakfast with rice, miso, fish, seaweed, and pickles.  (I know, this is as disgusting to you as regular breakfasts are to me.)  A little cheese is good.  A slice of cured ham.  Even very sparingly applied homemade jam on farmer’s cheese works.

This is not to say sometimes, if I wait until lunch time or dinner, I can’t eat breakfast foods.  I quite like it when my husband makes me his special eggs on a bagel with bacon and hot sauce.  Every 3-4 years, I eat some frozen diner hash browns, that quintessential American breakfast greasy spoon staple.  And I made a frittata last week.

In fact, I’ve been eating breakfast for dinner lately, mainly in the form of very unhealthy (but high quality!) imported frozen crêpes with my brandied apricots and sour cherries poured over them like an it’s-5 o’clock-somewhere syrup.  With just a touch of cream on top that curdles in the brandy.  O yeah…

And every once in a great while, I’ll go out for brunch (as late in the day as possible, please, so I can eat breakfast first) and order eggs benedict, throwing caution completely to the wind.  There’s something nigh on revolting with that runny eggyolk flowing like lava down the egg muffin and Canadian bacon mountain into a pool of congealing Hollandaise sauce.

But so tasty!

It takes a very special mood to get me to eat unadulterated eggs, and when I do, I want them runny and with as little white as possible.  Hence, eggs benedict, with its poached egg garnish and distracting pile o’ heart attack fodder, is the perfect splurge.

So why, why, why, Café Zenon, did you serve my eggs benedict with poached eggs completely hard in the middle…not once, but twice?  I don’t return plates to the kitchen unless there is something inedible on them, and I was willing to overlook the lukewarm food once.  Even overlook it twice, because I told you I didn’t want to waste food, so just give me another, properly poached egg on top of the existing benedict.  But when one of the two poached eggs you sent out again was hard, I kind of lost it.  Never in my long, picky life have I sent back a dish twice, but this was it.  Ugh.

And while I’m complaining, Zenon, baguette french toast?  Really?  Run out of shoe soles?

Peh.  In their defense, Retrogrouch and another friend — both breakfast lovers — had good meals, and I was comped the eggs benedict by a gracious and polite server.  But it’s going to be a while before I have breakfast food again.

hazelnut millet granola, with variations

In my pre-Thanksgiving pantry investigation, I discovered I had two big containers of oats.  In an ongoing effort to break my morning bagel habit, it seemed I had no choice but to make granola.  We did a double batch of Nigella Lawson’s ridiculously simple nut granola recipe that several bloggers have adapted for their own, including Orangette and David Lebovitz.  I was interested in the recipe because it uses non-sweetened applesauce to moisten and flavor the oats, and I am particularly loath to eat anything sweet most mornings.  Plus, I just so happen to have a few low-sugar homemade applesauces stashed away in my canning cupboard.

The three cookie sheets full of baking granola took almost twice the time to dry and roast as the recipe states (I should have used four sheets, but I didn’t have oven space for four!).  The double batch I made ate up most of this year’s hazelnut crop, too.  Must go to OSU Extension office to buy more.  I used agave syrup instead of rice syrup, and only hazelnuts, adding a handful of millet for a bit of contrast instead of the sunflower seeds.

When the granola came out of the oven, I tossed one tray with currants, the second with crystallized ginger, and the third with home-dried sour cherries and cocoa nibs.  All three are delicious.  The applesauce makes the granola crispy and full of flavor, and the proportions are just right.

The granola is delicious mixed into yogurt or with milk.  I may try it with a flaked grain cereal if I can find one, as David Lebovitz suggests.  My favorite commercial granola, a German brand with a bewilderingly wondeful range of flavors, uses an oat that seems to be processed a bit differently than our rolled oats — almost as if the roller smashed the oat down even more.  It makes the oats less chewy and more pleasant when raw (or basically raw).  Anyone have a source for these cereals?

Try making it for gifts in a jar this holiday season.  Your family and friends will thank you!

Hazelnut Millet Granola with Fruit

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast and Orangette’s variation (see link above)

5 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 cups coarsely chopped new crop Oregon hazelnuts (or almonds), roasted*
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup millet
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. kosher salt (less if using regular salt)

3/4 cup low sugar apple sauce
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup full-flavored honey (meadowfoam is particularly good)
2 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.  In a small bowl, combine the applesauce, agave syrup, honey, and oil.   In a very large bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

Spread the mixture evenly on two large rimmed baking sheets as thinly as possible.

Bake sheets on top and bottom racks of oven for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden brown (watch for burning around the edges).  Every 15 minutes, carefully stir and re-spread out granola on the sheets, switching positions in the oven so the granola will bake as evenly as possible.

When it turns golden brown, remove the pans from the oven and stir once more.  Orangette says “this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet” and “The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.”

Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding the dried fruit of your choice.  Dried currants, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, sour cherries are all good choices; stickier fruit, such as mangos or apricot pieces, are not because of storage issues.  You may also add crystalized ginger pieces (tiny), cocoa nibs for a chocolatey taste and/or toasted coconut shreds.  The amount of fruit is up to you — I found about a half-cup of sour cherries was good for one tray, and two teaspoons of ginger or cocoa nibs was just right for one tray.

Store in the refrigerator for no longer than three months, if it lasts that long, in a sealed container or ziploc bag.

Yield: about 10 cups.

* To roast hazelnuts, place on rimmed baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  When the nuts smell fragrant and the flesh turns creamy from white, they are finished.  It isn’t an exact science, so it’s better to undercook them than overcook them.