Thursday, October 29, 2009

Potatoes Bravas

A few years ago, I saw an excellent writer talk about how he was incapable of sitting down to put words to paper. During the question period, someone in the audience asked what he did instead of write. He stopped to think about this. "Well," he said, "I check my email a few hundred times a day. And I have a series of snacks."

That sounds like a pretty apt description of my own life. "Snack" is definitely one of my favorite food categories. Sure, I'm happy to pull together a foursquare meal with vegetables and protein and whole grains and all that. But a tasty cocktail and a frightening amount of bread and cheese? Who is to say that's not a meal?

Last week, I ended up pulling together an impromptu dinner party on short notice. My love of Spanish food combined with my love of snacks made a tapas-inspired dinner a natural choice. One friend brought a baguette and cheese, and we dug up some rhubarb liqueur from the basement. I cracked open a jar of pickled asparagus and topped the scattered stalks with hard-boiled eggs, a trick I recently read in a book. I also sauteed up some mushrooms with garlic and sherry, to go with the baguette. But we still needed something else, and I didn't want to go to the store. Which led me to Potatoes Bravas.

Potatoes Bravas, also called Papas Bravas, is a common Spanish tapas, and basically a clever way to make you feel classy and continental while eating a version of fries and catsup. Fried (or, in this case, roasted) potatoes are topped with spicy brava sauce, and then a garlicky aioli. American that I am, I get somewhat squicked out by topping an oily item with mayonnaise, so I omitted the aioli. The brava sauce is condiment enough. The twice-cooked potatoes turn soft and buttery, and are then perked up by the spicy-sour-smoky brava sauce. The fact that I could make these without leaving the house only added to their charm.

Potatoes Bravas

adapted, heavily, from
The Barcelona Cookbook

serves 4 or so, depending on what else is being served

2 lbs waxy potatoes (red or yellow)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 Tbsp pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
pinch cayenne (if using sweet pimenton - omit if using spicy)
1/2 tsp cumin
~1 lb chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 450 degreees.

Prepare the potatoes: Put the potatoes in a pot, and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until they're tender (about 15 minutes). Remove, and allow to cool slightly. When they're cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters into fat wedges. Toss with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place on a baking pan. Roast in the oven, turning once, until crusty and slightly browned (about 10-15 minutes per side).

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the Brava sauce: Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Saute the onion until translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until tender, another 5 minutes. Stir in the pimenton, cumin, and cayenne (if using). Add the tomatoes, and simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors. Stir in the vinegar, then puree mixture in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, drizzle the sauce either under or over the cooked potato wedges, in whatever manner seems most aesthetically pleasing. Enjoy, ideally with a glass of wine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pasta with V8 Sauce

Bear with me here. I know that this title doesn't immediately conjure up images of a delicious dinner. But trust me. This is great. True, it's made of decidedly non-gourmet ingredients, and certainly doesn't fit anyone's definition of authentic Italian. But if you have a little faith, you'll discover what I consider to be the King of Pantry Meals.

Although few Italians begin cooking by cracking open a can of a Campbell's vegetable blend beverage, the flavors in this recipe aren't too far off tradition. Spaghetti Al Tonno is a typical Italian meatless dish, featuring pasta tossed with tomato sauce and oil-packed tuna. It's a simple meal, and comes in many variations. And this dish fits right in among them. Sure, you're measuring out a commercial drink rather than stewing your own tomatoes. But it's a drink featuring a strong tomato flavor, along with the celery and carrots found in some tomato sauces. Chile flakes add some heat, the capers and olives add a nice piquancy, and the oil-packed tuna gives the dish a meaty heft. I was skeptical of this recipe I first encountered it, but it quickly got the thumbs-up in our household. Now I try to make sure we're always stocked with the ingredients to throw this together on a busy weeknight.

Pasta with V8 Sauce

serves 4-6

adapted from the Spaghettini with Tuna and V8 Sauce in Nancy Silverton's A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags and Boxes

I've tinkered with the quantities in the original recipe, upping the sauce-to-pasta ratio, and increasing the overall yield to ensure leftovers. And although Italians would scoff at the combination of fish and cheese, I sometimes top my serving with a bit of grated Parmesan.

1 14-oz package spaghetti
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large pinch chile flakes
2 cups V8, or other tomato/vegetable juice
2 6-oz cans oil-packed tuna (don't drain the oil)
2 Tbsp capers
1/4 cup green olives, coarsely chopped

In a large pot, boil water and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.

While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil and onion over medium-high heat in a large pot. Saute until the onion is just translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add celery, garlic, and chile flakes, and cook for a few minutes until the garlic is softened and fragrant. Add the v8, tuna and its oil, capers and olives. Stir, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Allow to simmer while pasta continues to cook.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the sauce. Continue to simmer for a few minutes, to allow the pasta to absorb the flavorful sauce. Season to taste with pepper and salt if needed (although the capers and olives and V8 will probably be salty enough). Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


A few years ago I was taking evening classes at a local college. One of my classmates lived downtown, and would commute by bus. Mostly this worked out fine, but every now and then class let out a bit early or late, and he'd be facing a long wait for the next bus. I gave him a ride a few times, as did another student who lived nearby. His apartment wasn't too far out of the way, and he was a nice guy, so we were glad to help.

On the last day of class, he presented me (and his other wheelman) a plate of handmade cookies, to say thanks for the rides. When I brought them home to my boyfriend (the few I managed to not eat right away), he remarked approvingly, through a mouthful of cookie, "That's what you're supposed to do." And he's right. We're happy to give and receive favors for friends, even when these favors involve a bit of expense or inconvenience. But in our post-Miss Manners age, we often forgo recognizing these favors. Which is a shame. It's understandable -- despite the best intentions of our mothers, the official Thank You Note can feel a bit too formal in most contexts. But the Thank You Baked Good is almost always appropriate.

This past weekend, I joined friends in another bulk canning throwdown. We turned 80 pounds of Honeycrisp apples into sauce, which took up much of the day. And while our kitchen is great for most projects, extraordinary amounts of apples call for extraordinary amounts of stovetop space. Our neighbors graciously volunteered to host in their large kitchen. They let us run four burners for five hours, and cover every available surface with sauce. The household welcomed our sticky invasion with good humor, but it seemed that an additional thanks was in order. Which brought me to Kolaches.

I'd been lusting after this recipe for a few months, and it did not disappoint. Rich, buttery and eggy yeasted dough is filled with sweet cheese and jam fillings, and topped with a sandy sugar-crumb topping. It's one of those baked goods that looks ridiculously pretty, like it should have sprung, fully formed, from the head of the brunch gods. But it turns out to be not much more difficult than scooping out a batch of cookies. The recipe also allows for plenty of time to clean up mixing bowls and kitchen counters while the dough rises and bakes, which makes it a great choice if you're hosting a brunch. Or if you need a sweet way to say thanks. We nibbled these all morning as we chopped, simmered, milled and boiled, and five hours later we were all trembling from an overdose of sugar (at the expense of actual food). Perhaps next time I'll think of a savory Thank You as well.


adapted by Lottie + Doof from a "crazypants" recipe in Saveur, further adapted by me

makes 15-16 kolache

This recipe yields enough cheese filling for half the batch (especially if you cram it into deep wells, as I did). You can double the cheese filling to make an all-cheese batch, or fill the remainder with jam (I used apricot and strawberry, and both were delicious).

1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup milk

Cheese Filling:
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
3 Tbsp sugar
squeeze of lemon juice
1 egg yolk

Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp melted butter

Also: jam of your choice, and 1 Tbsp melted butter

Make the dough: Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar in a bowl, let sit 5 minutes until the yeast bubbles. While the yeast is proofing, beat the butter and remaining sugar in a bowl until well combined. Add the salt and egg yolk, beat until smooth. Add the yeast/water mixture, and then the flour and milk. Knead until it comes together in a smooth dough (it will be fairly soft and sticky). Give the dough a few turns on a floured countertop, adding additional flour if needed (try to add as little as needed), and form it into a ball. Return the dough to a bowl, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

In the meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the cottage cheese, cream cheese, sugar, lemon and egg yolk until smooth. Set aside.

Make the crumb topping: Mix together the sugar and flour, and drizzle in the melted butter. Rub together with your fingers until well distributed, yielding a sandy topping with occasional clumps.

Assemble the kolaches: Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape into slightly flattened balls, and place them 4x4 on a greased baking sheet about 1/2" apart (I had a particularly narrow baking dish, so I made 15 doughballs, and arranged them in rows 3x5). Brush the doughballs with the melted butter, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and let rise another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the kolache balls have risen 30 minutes, remove the plastic and have your crumb topping and jam and cheese fillings ready. Using your fingers or a spoon, make a deep indentation in the top of each dough ball, enough to accommodate a heaping tablespoon of filling. Place the filling of your choice in each hole, and then sprinkle the crumb topping over everything (don't worry as the sandy crumbs cover your pretty jam -- the heat of the jam will melt the covering crumbs as they bake). Place the kolaches in the oven, and bake until browned and set, about 30-40 minutes.

These are best eaten the day they're made (in case you needed an excuse).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spicy Vegetable Matzoh Ball Soup

There are many reasons to embark on cooking projects. But last week, as unseasonable wintery winds were whipping through the cracks in our house, I had one main motivation: to cook meals that kept the stove and oven on as long as possible. Time for slow roasting, and batches of cookies. And soup.

Matzoh ball soup has a heavy rotation in our household, especially during the winter months. The traditional version is fairly simple: dumplings in a clear dill-scented broth, with just a few carrots and parsnips and a handful of noodles. It's delicious, and especially welcomed when you've got a sore throat or some sniffles. But sometimes you want something a bit more interesting. This matzoh ball soup is chock full of vegetables and spicy with chile flakes. It's like your favorite vegetable soup, with the added bonus of some delicious dumplings.

This batch makes a huge amount (I usually split it between two pots). Feel free to halve it, if you're not feeding an army, or make the full amount and freeze some.

Spicy Vegetable Matzoh Ball Soup

adapted from a recipe developed by Gillian Rosicky, via her sister

yields two large pots

There is an ongoing debate in the matzoh ball soup community about floaters vs. sinkers: whether your dumpling is tender or toothsome. These fall on the latter side of the spectrum. I think that a more substantial matzoh ball makes a nice complement to the vegetables in this soup, but if you favor a lighter dumpling, just reduce the amount of matzoh meal by a few tablespoons.

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 shallots, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 carrots, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut in a 1/2" dice
1/4 tsp cloves
a few hefty pinches chile flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
12 cups vegetable or chicken broth (more, if needed)
3 small zucchini, sliced into thick half-moons
8 shiitke mushrooms
2-3 cups broccoli florets
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Matzoh Balls:
3 Tbsp butter or oil
5 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp broth
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup matzoh meal

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Saute the onions, shallots, garlic, carrots and sweet potato until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the cloves and chile flakes. Pour in the broth and tomatoes, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

When you add the broth to the soup, prepare the matzoh balls: warm the butter or oil in a skillet over a medium heat, and cook the scallions until softened (this will just take a minute or two). Let cool somewhat. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and broth with the spices, baking powder, and matzoh meal. Add the onions and their butter/oil, and chill in the refrigerator.

Return to the soup: after the onions and such have been simmering in the broth and tomatoes for 15 minutes, add the zucchini, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Add more broth if needed. Simmer another 15 minutes. Take the matzoh ball dough out of the refrigerator (it will have been chilling about half an hour), and shape into small 1" balls, using either a small scoop, two spoons, or your hands (use some oil to keep it from sticking if you go this route). Plop these in the simmering soup as you shape them. Simmer another 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. You want the matzoh balls to be light and puffy and cooked through, and the vegetables to be very tender. When the soup is done, season to taste, and top with the fresh basil.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Magic in the Middles (Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies)

I can be a hard person to surprise. I tend to want to know what's going on, and my dogged efforts to establish plans can make it hard for someone to spring something on me. Which is a shame, because I love surprises. Like these cookies.

If ever a cookie lived up to a six syllable name, it's this retro gem. Biting into the sugar-dusted chocolate cookie is like opening the door to a darkened room, only to find that your friends have been huddled inside in party hats, waiting for you to arrive. Hello, peanut butter filling! How lovely! I had no idea!

As my previous foray into dumplings illustrated, a Thing Wrapped in Dough is always something of a project. Instead of just making a Thing, you have to also make the Thing to Wrap it In, and then spend time Wrapping the Things Together. Again, a free afternoon or an army of helper kitchen monkeys is advised. But, I must stress, these are worth the trouble. You can make a full recipe and freeze some, or halve it if you're not up for the hours of cooking.

Magic in the Middles

makes ~2 dozen cookies

adapted from King Arthur Flour

As mentioned, there's a bit of fussing involved in assembling these cookies. You want a dough that is just moist enough to work with (it should just crack a teensy bit at the edges as you shape the cookies), but not so moist that the cookies spread disappointingly in the oven. Also the cooking time seems ridiculously short. But trust me, it works. Don't overbake -- you want a soft outer cookie, to meld with the moist filling.

Chocolate Cookie:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar (plus extra for dredging)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Peanut Butter Filling:
3/4 smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 spoonful or two of milk, if needed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line two cookie sheets.

Prepare the chocolate cookie dough: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugars and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg, stirring to combine. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Add additional flour if needed to get a firm consistency (see note above). Set aside.

Prepare the peanut butter filling: In a mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter and powdered sugar together. Add additional powdered sugar or milk, if needed, to yield a mixture that is smooth, yet moldable.

Assemble the cookies: Place some sugar in a shallow dish. Using a cookie scoop or two spoons or your hands, roll the peanut butter filling into 1" balls (you should get about 2 dozen). Scoop out a heaping Tbsp of chocolate dough, and press it flat between your palms. Place a ball of peanut butter filling in the center, and bring up the chocolate dough around it, sealing it with your fingers and rolling it in your palms to smooth it. Set aside. Repeat to shape remaining cookies.

When cookies have all been shaped, roll them in sugar to coat, and place them 2" apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Press them with the underside of a glass, to flatten them to a thickness of 1/2". Bake the cookies for 7-9 minutes, until they're just barely set and are smelling delicious. Remove them to a rack to cool

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts

I've already admitted that sometimes appearance is a bigger motivator than I'd like it to be in my food choices. Another example: a few weeks ago, I saw this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi with Brussels sprouts. Was I inspired by this combination of bitter crucifers with sweet potatoes? Did I thrill to the autumnal resurgence of toasted nuts and root vegetables? Was I excited to finally see a recipe involving my beloved Brussels sprouts, a vegetable that is so rarely invited to the table? Not really. Mostly I thought Oh look! The Brussels sprouts are the same size as the gnocchi! Adorable!

This dish is indeed adorable. But it's also tasty. And easy. While the original recipe involved homemade gnocchi, I went the easy way out and picked up a vacuum-sealed pre-made package. Making gnocchi is indeed worth the effort (more on that sometime later), but mostly because you end up with a dumpling that is much more delicate than its commercial counterpart. In a combination like this, delicacy doesn't matter that much -- you want toothsome gnocchi that will hold their own against Brussels sprouts. And instead of going for simple pan-cooked sprouts as originally called for, I gave them my favorite treatment of oven roasting. The sprouts soften and gain a bit of caramelized sweetness, while maintaining a slight bitter edge. This is rounded out by the depth of the toasted walnuts, and tied together with a sprinkling of grated cheese. With shelf-stable gnocchi, and long-storing nuts, cheese and Brussels sprouts, this very nearly qualifies as a pantry meal. It's one of the easiest and tastiest in that genre that I've had in a long time. Definitely going into the regular rotation.

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts

inspired by
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts on Seven Spoons

~4 servings

2 lbs brussels sprouts (or less, if you're not as sprout-happy as I am)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb pre-made gnocchi
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
salt and pepper
Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the Brussels sprouts, and trim off the bottom if needed. Slice in half, and toss with the olive oil until well coated. Spread out in a single layer (roughly) in a casserole dish, and roast at 450, turning occasionally, until they are tender and deep brown in spots, ~30 minutes. Set aside.

When the sprouts are almost done, cook the gnocchi in boiling water according to the manufacturer's directions. Drain. Heat the butter or olive oil in a large skillet or pot over a medium-high flame, and add the gnocchi. Cook until just beginning to brown, and then add the roasted Brussels sprouts. Cook to heat through. Add the walnuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grated cheese.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tomato Chutney

My first experience with chutney happened in high school, and had little to do with India. I ordered curry from a small cafe, which came garnished with yogurt and Major Grey's Mango Chutney. Sweet with high fructose corn syrup, dark with caramel coloring, and mildly spiced to accommodate Anglo palates, it probably bore little resemblance to anything eaten in India (well, eaten by those other than the British imperials). But it had something that intrigued me, even though I'm normally a bit squicked out by the pairing of sweet and savory (I know). I looked around for recipes, landing on the equally Anglo Moosewood Cookbook. I followed the directions, cooking up a syrupy mass of fruit, honey, vinegar, ginger and garlic. For a while, I thought that that was all that chutney could be.

And then I discovered the true world of chutney. Pungent purees of fresh cilantro, hot with green chiles and rich with ground coconut. Sweet and sour tamarind sauces, savory stewed cloves of whole garlic, powdery peanut pastes. But one of my favorites is tomato chutney.

Tomato chutney has a warm richness from the sweet tomatoes and long cooking, and a fusty edge from the mustard seeds and curry leaves. And, of course, heat from the chiles and cayenne (which, admittedly, I tend to adjust down because I'm something of a chile wuss). I use this to fancy up my Indian meals (either homemade or *gulp* from a pouch), but it can also be substituted for catsup to put a whole new spin on burgers. I'm curious to see what other combinations it can inspire.

Tomato Chutney

I adapted this from a faded recipe I copied down years ago, and despite repeated googling I haven't been able to find the source. Any attribution appreciated. Even if you don't have the full rundown of the spices called for, you can try it with what you have, and still produce a stellar condiment.

1/4 cup high-heat oil, such as peanut, grapeseed or canola
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
4 dried red chiles
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sambar powder (substitute ground coriander if you don't have this)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
pinch asafetida
scant 2 lbs tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
up to 2 Tbsp sugar (depending on sweetness of tomatoes)
~1 Tbsp salt

Heat the oil in a heavy pan, over a medium-high heat. Add the whole spices (curry leaves, chiles, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek). Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds have stopped popping (just a minute or two). Add the remaining ground spices (cayenne, paprika, turmeric, and asafetida), and cook for just a half a minute to toast them. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring, and the salt and sugar to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the tomatoes break down, and the oil separates out. The time this takes will vary, depending on the liquid content of the tomatoes -- generally about 20-40 minutes.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Canned Pears

The harvest continues! Although the nip of fall is definitely in the air, ripe fruit continues to spill over Portland sidewalks. Last week a friend and I harvested a wheelbarrow full of pears from a neighbor's overflowing tree. After beginning a canning venture at the ill-advised start time of 8pm, we picked through piles of delicious-but-imperfect backyard fruit, cutting out the brown spots and bug bites (and, in one terrifying moment, fighting an earwig that spilled out onto the floor). We peeled, chopped, and simmered, getting sugary syrup over everything in sight. But in the end we filled the countertops with jar after jar of quartered poached pears (and several more jars of pearsauce, made from the fruit that was either too ripe or too ugly). And we finished before midnight. Barely.

The details on canning pears vary a bit, depending upon the details of your pears. Very ripe pears, like fleshy plums, can be raw-packed. The soft fruit is peeled, seeded, cut into quarters if desired, then shoved in a clean jar and topped with a sugar syrup. But if your fruit is firmer, you want to go the hot-pack route. Instead of just covering raw fruit with a hot syrup, you first simmer the fruit segments directly in the syrup for five minutes. The pears are then ladled out into your clean jars, and topped with the syrup. I'm partial to the hot-pack method, probably because I'm too impatient to wait for pears to ripen (and I find the under-ripe fruit somewhat easier to work with). Both methods result in lovely canned pears. Just make sure you don't hot-pack ripe pears, which are too soft to withstand the simmer, and will begin to break apart. A good rule of thumb is that if the pear is soft enough to eat raw, it's too soft to hot-pack.

Canned Pears (a rough template)

As many pears as you can handle
A bowl of water with a splash of lemon juice
As much syrup as you need
As many jars as it takes
Any flavorings you fancy to add excitement to the fruit (I went with slices of ginger and cardamom pods, but you can try vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, thyme sprigs, etc.)
A splash of booze (optional - brandy makes for a traditional pairing)

Sterilize your jars, either in boiling water or a dishwasher. Distribute any desired spices among the jars.

Peel your pears, and cut them in half to remove the seeds (a melon baller works wonderfully, but a knife also does the job) and any remaining stem or blossom bits on the ends. Some pears also have a tough string of membrane running from the seeds to the stem -- remove this if you see it. Leave the pears as halves, or cut into quarters if you desire. Drop the segments into the lemony water to prevent discoloration.

Prepare your syrup: I favor a medium syrup, of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar. Make as much as you'll need to fill your jars. Add a splash of booze to taste, if desired. Bring to a boil.

Fish your pear segments out of the lemony water. If you have firm pears, simmer them in the syrup for five minutes. Remove the segments with a slotted spoon, and place in your jars, shaking them down a bit to fit in as many as possible. Pour syrup in the jars up to the bottom thread. Free any trapped air pockets with a sterilized spoon or knife, and add more syrup if needed. If you have softer pears, skip the simmering and add them directly to the jars. Unlike the pre-simmered pears, they will do a bit more shrinking, so pack them in tightly. Top with the boiling syrup, and remove any air pockets.

Top jars with sterilized lids, screw the rings on finger-tight, and then process in a boiling water bath (20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts). Remove and cool, then check that the lids have sealed. The syrup will infuse the pears (and vice versa) as they sit. By winter, they'll be amazing.