Category Archives: Condiments

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

I met a family once who planned their annual reunion around apple butter.

I spent the weekend with this clan – about 40 strong- who peeled hundreds of apples on Friday, and then Saturday slowly cooked the apples down over a huge, antique copper pot. They took turns stirring the apples with a wooden spoon that looked like a paddle.

It was a crisp fall day and I sat at watched steam rise from the pot and the aroma of a campfire, apples, cinnamon and cloves fill the air (I was writing a story about their unique tradition).  When the apples had melted into a thick butter-like consistency, they canned the mixture into the night. When that was done, they made a mega batch of biscuits and used the warm biscuits to scrape up the last of the apple butter that still glazed the inside of the pot.

I can’t eat an apple butter stuffed biscuit without thinking of them. I had to stop this photo shoot to gobble up a biscuit.

apple butter biscuit

I love apple season and autumn means the apples are ripe from the orchards to the farmers markets and the grocery stores.  Now, as much as I enjoy apple butter, I don’t have time to make it from scratch so I whip up a slow cooker version.

You have to peel about 10-12 apples, but if you have an apple peeler, then it’s quick.  I use a mix of Granny Smith and red apples for this.

You can make a variation on this recipe by adding ½ teaspoon or ¼ teaspoon of extract once the mixture has been cooked. For example, split the batch in half or thirds and add vanilla extract, or maple or rum (those are my favorites). It’s just a slight twist on the same recipe. I always start with ¼ teaspoon and then double it if I don’t think it’s changed the flavor enough.

apple butter close

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

Makes about 1 1/2 pints

7 cups of peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples

1 ½ cups peeled and sliced red apples (about 2 red apples)

¾ cup brown sugar

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (use less or omit if you don’t like cloves because you can taste it)

1/3 cup apple juice

Place apple juice in the bottom of a slow cooker.

Core, peel and slice all the apples and place on top of apple juice. Stir together your sugar and spices until well combined and sprinkle over the apples. Cover and cook for 10 hours, undisturbed. When done, allow to rest at the warm temperature setting for 1-2 hours. Then turn off and remove the lid and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to cool.

Place in a food processor and blend until smooth (don’t use all the liquid in the slow cooker or it may be too thin). Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 10 days.

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Preserving and using your herbs – and a great pesto recipe

The end of summer means the end of an herb garden is near.

Depending on the weather, you may have several weeks to harvest fresh herbs, but I like to start cutting my plants back now and preserving as many as possible for winter.

If you have a sunny spot in the house, you can bring in oregano, rosemary, and lavender which will usually survive for several months inside. I’ve had mixed luck with basil but it’s worth a try.

Some herbs like rosemary and thyme are easy to dry, while others like cilantro and basil, do not dry well. This week, I have a lot of suggestions on which herbs to dry, freeze or use now (and a great pesto recipe to use up that basil).

First, let’s talk about basil, which is the most commonly grown herb. There’s nothing like fresh basil, but that flavor is hard to capture.  The best way to preserve basil is to make pesto and freeze it.

I recommend buying mini plastic storage containers to freeze basil in smaller portions (about ½ to 1 cup at a time). My husband is a teacher and one of his co-workers, Janice Queen, makes amazing pesto. I asked her to share her recipe. Something I really like about this recipe is it calls for almonds, as well as pine nuts (pine nuts are very expensive, so this is a more economical recipe).  The recipe also calls for a good dose of parsley, which is nice if you’re growing that, too.

Pesto is versatile: use it as a salad dressing, toss it with pasta and fresh tomatoes, or pour it over a block of cream cheese for a quick dip (serve with crackers and French bread).

Herb butters are another wonderful way to use up herbs, particularly rosemary and basil.  All you have to do is soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped basil or 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary. Then spread it on a slice of French bread.  It’s marvelous and an easy and inexpensive addition to a party. You can also add 1 tablespoon finely minced sundried tomatoes to the butter.

If I am serving it at a party, I serve it at room temperature, but if you want herb butter for your family, mold the butter back into a log, place it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for several days (rosemary butter will last longer than basil).

If you have leftover herb butter, use it in pasta, on vegetables, or spread a pat on a steak.

Another idea to use either fresh or dried herbs is to sprinkle herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary or a combination are my favorites) on a mix of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a quick bread dip. You can use that recipe to marinate vegetables that you’re going to grill, too. Be sure to add salt to both dishes though.

Ok, now we’ve used fresh herbs, let’s talk about drying herbs.

Before you dry any herb, you want to rinse it gently and pat it dry with a paper towel. Only dry herbs that are in perfect condition, and discard any that are wilted or changing colors.

Certain herbs, like thyme and rosemary, dry beautifully. To dry these herbs all you have to do is cut off the stems, lay them on a piece of parchment paper on a pan and let it rest for about 7 days. After that, pull the leaves off and place in a spice jar away from sunlight or heat.

dried rosemary

I dry my rosemary and buy pretty glass jars and give it away at Christmas. Also, you can use dried rosemary to make an herb butter which is excellent on rolls or whipped into mashed potatoes and makes a good hostess gift.

Mint and oregano have a slightly higher moisture content and are better dried after you pick the leaves off the plant. Don’t let the leaves touch each other as this may increase the chance of the herbs molding before they have a chance to dry. Place the leaves on a paper towel on a baking sheet and cover with another paper towel.  Place them in an oven for 24-48 hours (turn on the light in the oven, not the heat). Leaves are ready when they crumble in your hand.

My favorite thing to do with cilantro is let it go to seed and then collect those seeds which are coriander seeds (and those are expensive in the store). Coriander seeds have great flavor. Another option though is to chop cilantro, place nearly 1 tablespoon in an ice cube tray and fill it with water. Freeze. This retains some of the original cilantro flavor, but will still not be the same.

Hopefully this will help you enjoy the last weeks of your herb garden and stretch that flavor into winter.

Easy Pesto

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or a combination (I usually use almonds)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 cups fresh basil, no stems

3/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Salt to taste

In a food processor, combine the oil, garlic, almonds and Parmesan cheese. Then, feed in the herbs and blend until combined.   It is so easy and freezes very well.

Recipe was originally adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.

Green Tomato Relish

I love relishes but so many take a long time to cook and/or are canned at the end.

My Green Tomato Relish takes less than 20 minutes and is great on pork, chicken, turkey or even brats (instead of sweet relish). It’s a sweet relish accented with coriander seed and is stored in the refrigerator for a week. If you like chutneys and relishes, give it a try.

tomato relish close

Green Tomato Relish

2/3 cup chopped red onion

2 cup green tomatoes that have been put through the food processor but are still in chunks

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon coriander seed

3 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon celery seed

½ a small garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy bottom medium saucepan, heat red onion, tomatoes, sugar, coriander seed, water, celery seed and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes until most of the liquid has been evaporated. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow to cool before serving.

Serve over pork chop, turkey, chicken or brats or other sausages.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.