I consider myself an equal opportunity dessert lover. If it’s sweet, I’m pretty much guaranteed to like it. But there’s something special about a homemade caramel. It’s so easy to whip up and plays so beautifully with seasonal fruits that you can use it all year round in so many ways.
Caramel is sometimes used to flavor soups, giving them a deep amber color and a touch of sweetness. And it shines in desserts. Hardened caramel breaks like a brittle and crushed up it makes a great topping for everything from ice cream to brownies.
When autumn rolls around, I love to make caramelized pears. The ripe fruit takes on a deep, warm richness that’s perfect for chilly evenings. Head to the farmers market or your local grocer for your favorite pears. I love Bartlett and Anjou for cooking.
Peel three pears.
Cut the pears into quarters by cutting the pear in half and half again.
Cut out the core and slice each quarter in half one last time.
Put a dry nonstick pan over medium low heat. Many people make caramels with a little water in the pan but I always go for a dry pan.
Add in a cup of sugar and let it start to slowly dissolve. You’ll see the sugar start to turn brown and bubble along the edges.
Pick up your pan and give it a swish to move the sugar around in the pan. Never stir a caramel. It will cause the sugar to crystallize, which will make it a lumpy mess.
When the sugar is dissolved and the melted sugar has turned a deep amber color, add the pears.
Swish the pan to coat the pears with the caramel. You may see some hard pieces of toffee form as the warm sugar reacts with the temperature of the pears.
Options: If you’d like, add a ¼ cup of dark rum or brandy or OJ (each adds it’s own special flavor, so experiment) or toss in other sweet autumn fruits like dates for extra richness.
Simmer a few more minutes, swishing the pan once or twice more, before removing from the heat.
You can make a big batch of caramelized pears and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week. They’re gorgeous over ice cream or Greek yogurt or topped with fresh whipped cream and toasted nuts. Use on top of French toast for a special breakfast or drizzle a bit over pound cake for an extra touch of lusciousness.
It’s easy to overlook parsnips. Walking through the farmers market on an autumn day, you’re likely to notice the endless harvest of crisp red apples and sweet pears. Or maybe the speckled squashes and far-out mushrooms catch your eye. Look again. Parsnips resemble colorless carrots and their creamy sweetness will transform your autumn dishes.
Parsnips are in the same family as carrots, parsley root, celeriac and fennel and are a rich source of vitamin C, K and copper. This beige-colored root vegetable loves it when the weather turns cold. The first frost turns the parsnip’s starch to sugar, giving it its sweet and nutty flavor. While parsnips look like they may be tough, like carrots, they become buttery and soft when cooked.
What to look for
Choose small to medium sized parsnips that are pale beige in color and firm to the touch. Jumbo-sized parsnips are still good for cooking, but you’ll need to cut around the core, which becomes bitter and tough as the vegetable grows. Avoid any that are blemished, shriveled or limp.
Just be careful: parsnips look a lot like their cousin parsley root. But parsley will usually have long green leaves attached to the top while parsnips will not.
How to store
Treat parsnips like you would carrots. Store them unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge. They should stay crisp and tasty for up to 2 weeks.
How to use
Wash the parsnips and trim the ends. Depending on the recipe, peel them or simply give the outer skin a nice scrub. Peeling gives mashed parsnips a smoother texture, while roasted parsnips get a touch of crispiness with the skin left on.
Parsnips can be swapped in for carrots in any recipe. They’re gorgeous steamed, sautéed or roasted. If using in a soup or stew, add 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time to keep them from getting mushy. Try shaved and uncooked parsnips in salads or cut into sticks and serve with dips.
One of my favorite recipes is mashed parsnips, which are sweeter and creamier than mashed potatoes. It’s a snap to make:
Peel the parsnips and cook in simmering salted water, just like you would potatoes.
Once tender, drain and mash with warm milk and better and season to taste with salt and pepper.
It seems like everyone has a little trick to chopping an onion without crying. People have told me that they wear sunglasses, chop the onion under water or light a candle and place it next to the chopping board. The best I ever heard was putting a piece of bread in your mouth while you slice and dice.
Onions belong to a family of veggies that includes garlics, leeks and chives. One thing that makes this family unique is that they all absorb sulfur from the soil as they grow. Onions store that sulfur as an enzyme in the root (the hairy part at the end) and that’s the culprit for the waterworks. When you cut into the root, the released enzyme reacts with the vegetable’s flesh to create a gas that winds its way up toward your face. When the gas meets the water in your eyes, it turns into an acid, which irritates your eyeballs and makes you cry.
Don’t cry me a river
So, while I like the idea of cooking by candlelight, my method for tear-free chopping starts with two rules.
Leave the root end intact as much as possible. The fewer enzymes that are released, the better. What’s more, the root helps hold the onion together when chopping.
Always use a sharp knife. It not only allows you to work more quickly and efficiently (a bonus for prepping anything), but it also makes a clean slice. Dull knives bruise and crush the onion’s flesh, allowing more of that tearjerker gas into the air.
A proper chop
This simple technique is quick and easy and creates a painless dice every time.
With the skin still on, cut the onion directly in half through the root.
Place the flat surface down on the chopping board and slice off the pointy end. Leave the root end on and peel.
Slice vertically along the length of the onion, coming as close to the root as possible without cutting into it. Push the onion flesh back together.
Make a horizontal cut, half way down the onion, parallel to the chopping board.
With your fingers holding the root end, slice across your original cuts to create a dice.
Easier done than said, for sure. Check out this video to watch a step-by-step demonstration. And practice your newfound skills with these healthy Turkey Burgers with Red Pepper Relish and Yogurt Sauce.