“Nothing that’s been given to us should ever be allowed to go to waste.” This has been a strong emphasis in the sisterhood from its earliest days. “No apple drop that has any edible part should be tossed. It should be turned into applesauce or butter.”
One convent sister in particular has a strong passion for turning all of our imperfect fruits into creative preserves. All summer long we have enjoyed a variety of jams and spreads on our breakfast toast, and occasional desserts. Plums, nectarines, peaches, apples have each in their season made their appearance in different forms.
But perhaps the choicest of all was the rich creation that appeared this week and disappeared within days. Made with the last of our pears and laced with rich bourbon this superb pear chutney elevated an already elegant pork loin roast into a spectacular sensation. Yesterday’s lunch cook served it alongside of ham and swiss pinwheels—always a favorite just as they are on their own…over the top with this enhancement!
It suddenly occurs to me that little jars of this would make choice Christmas gifts. Give it a try and see what you think.
- Combine all ingredients in a heavy pot. A Dutch oven or a cast iron pot works well.
- Bring ingredients to a boil, stirring often.
- Reduce heat and let simmer for about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
- Serve as a condiment on the side, warm on pork or chicken, or dress up a deli ham sandwich. Enjoy!
Many years ago, we had a cookbook from Maine that had the most extraordinary apple pie recipe. It had a layer of crushed graham crackers and caramel sauce underneath the apples. We lost that cookbook in the move to our new kitchen, but every fall when the apples are being harvested I think back to this recipe. This year, I decided to re-create it in an apple crisp. It sure took less time than making a pie, but the flavor combination was there.
For gluten-free cooking, try substituting gluten-free cookies for the graham crackers and brown rice flour for the flour. I think you might be pleased.
Graham Cracker Apple Crisp with Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
- Lightly grease 8x8” square baking dish
- Filling: Toss apples together with brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and the melted butter.
- Topping: Melt butter in a medium bowl and add all other topping ingredients. Mix until crumbly and evenly mixed.
- Sprinkle over apples and pat down lightly. Bake at 350º for about 30-40 minutes, until apples are soft and the filling bubbles and the crisp is golden.
- Meanwhile make Salted Caramel Sauce: Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a medium saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. It's okay if the sugar begins to form clumps- keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
- Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, it will be around 350 degrees F. Watch this step very carefully!
- Remove the caramel from the heat and add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
- Slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will bubble up ferociously.
- Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel or kosher salt and whisk to incorporate.
- Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into jars. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
- Serve crisp warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
Over the last week, we’ve been enjoying plucking the nectarines and peaches off of our trees and enjoying them in a variety of ways. One of our Sisters used to own a peach orchard and enjoys turning the bruised and moldy drops into the most delicious jam. As the peachy smell wafts through the Convent, I pop down to the kitchen to dip my spoon into the bubbly pot. “Sister, this is SO delicious!” I purr, wishing I could bottle up this moment for eternity. Summer is wonderful, because the simple beauty and naturalness of fruit and vegetables can stand alone without being covered up in heavy sauces just to be palatable.
Over this past weekend, I had fun grilling nectarines to accompany an herb rubbed grilled pork tenderloin for our Dinner Theater. Follow these simple steps and add a little nectar to your next savory dish — it’s a beautiful thing!
Grilled Honey Nectarines (or Peaches)
- Heat grill to 400 degrees F.
- Brush nectarines with olive oil on both sides
- Place nectarines face side down on grill
- Wait about 4-5 min, or until the nectarines "release" on their own from the grill and carefully turn over with tongs or long handled spatula
- Grill on the opposite side
- Remove from the grill and drizzle with honey and sprinkle with kosher salt
- Serve as a side to chicken, pork, turkey or with a spoonful of greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream for dessert
“When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the Angels eat.” —Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered how to pick that perfect watermelon? Well, I have! Faced with a bin of green striped beauties, I never quite know where to start. Let me share some tips with you that I recently discovered, and then go andmake this delicious and refreshing Watermelon, Mint, Blueberry and Feta Salad — a great side dish for a hot summer day.
1. When viewing watermelons, the first thing that sticks out are those weird white spots. However, these spots, called field spots, are quite natural. The field spot is the area where the watermelon rested on the ground. While every watermelon has a field spot, the best watermelons have creamy-yellow or even orange-yellow spots. Go for the gold.
2. The webbing of a watermelon indicates the amount of times that bees touched the flower. The more pollination, the sweeter the watermelon is.
3. Watermelons have genders. The “girl” watermelons are more round and stout — theseare the sweeter ones. The male are oblong and tend to be more watery.
4. The best watermelons are average-sized. Don’t go for too small or too big, but just right.
5. The tail of a watermelon indicates its ripeness. Go for the watermelons that have dried tails for the best taste.
6. Tap the underbelly of the watermelon. A ripe one will have a deep hollow sound. Under-ripe or over-ripe melons will sound dull.
Blueberry, Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and diced red onion.
- Add the diced watermelon, blueberries, mint and feta cheese to bowl. Gently toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Above the sounds of car doors opening and closing, luggage being loaded, and 30 women exchanging “goodbyes and well wishes,” comments regarding their retreat could be overheard. They were all very positive, especially those regarding their meals. Many of these women love to cook, and are very attentive to—and appreciative of—what they are served.
From what I overheard, their final dessert was the ultimate perfection, and had made quite an impact, sending them off on a high, happy note. As I thought on all of this someone quietly appeared offering me a luscious looking lime creation garnished with a fresh mint leaf and whipped cream on a crystal clear glass dessert plate. Suddenly I was reminded of a favorite verse of scripture in the Old Testament where God in referring to prayer says: “Before they call, I will answer.”
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
- Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. Transfer to a medium bowl and add coconut flakes and melted butter. Toss to combine completely. Pour the crumbs into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until browned. Set aside to cool completely.
- In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Stir until thick and well incorporated. Set aside.
- Place the gelatin in a small bowl and cover with water. Let stand two minutes to bloom. Microwave in 10-second bursts until gelatin is dissolved. Cool the gelatin to near room temperature, but do not let it set—very important.
- Add the whipping cream to the bowl of a stand mixer. (If you don't have a stand mixer use a large mixing bowl and a handheld mixer.) Whip the cream for one minute on a medium speed. Slowly add the sugar to the cream. Turn off the mixer and check to see that the gelatin has cooled, but not set. Add the gelatin and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Separately reserve about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of whipped topping for garnish.
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of whipped cream into the key lime filling and lightly stir to combine. Add the rest of the whipped cream and fold completely into the mixture, careful not to deflate the cream too much.
- Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and smooth over with a spatula.
- Garnish with whipped cream and thinly sliced lime as desired. Refrigerate for at least two hours for a cloud like dessert. For a frozen tart, freeze at least two hours.
- To serve, remove the tart from the freezer and let it sit out on the counter for 10-15 minutes to soften a little before slicing it.