Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brrrrrrr more snow is on the way

Looks like we're in for another round of bizarre Iowa weather- snow is on the way. Of course, I don't really trust the weathermen- if they say "just a dusting" we end up with a blizzard. They say a foot of snow is coming and we get nothing. I guess I'll just plan ahead and make sure I have enough cooking supplies in the house to work on some recipes to share with all of you!

I have a freezer full of frozen cranberries waiting to be cooked and canned. I'm sure I have some odds and ends fruit- a small batch of jam could happen. Bread recipes to bake. All sorts of delicious dishes! And of course, a cold snowy day just begs for a slow roasted dinner, or an all-day braise of some sort. Might as well heat up that oven and get a little "free" heat for the house.

Cooking is a sort of therapy for me. Like some people like to express themselves on canvas I like to express myself with food. There is a lot of satisfaction in pushing myself with a new skill or a new ingredient and having a successful result. Even better if I can share with friends! 

And finally, in spite of the winter weather's impending doom, I did receive a few garden catalogs so even if the weather outside is not so friendly, I can flip through the pages and dream of springtime......

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Canning Cookbook- In a bit of a jam!!

Last summer my very very good friend Andi turned me into an addict. Yes, a helpless, wandering back alleys, looking for my fix addict. Drugs ??? Naaaa nothing that simple. Tomato jam !!!!! Yes, darn tomato jam. So bad that I'd get caught standing in front of the open fridge, jar in hand, spoon in mouth. I thought I might end up in rehab at the Betty Crocker Clinic.

But thankfully no, she shared the recipe, and now that tomato season is finally here, I can fire up my JAM PRODUCTION ZONE and get my fix. 

Anyway, I am just completely NUTS over this jam. Originally the recipe came from Serious Eats but I had to tweak a few ingredients based on what I had and my accessibility in a rural area but the end result is equally delicious and now I don't have to ration my ONE jar. I have over ten !!!! Also, I doubled their recipe and made two double batches. It takes ALOT longer than 2 1/2 hours to cook down so make sure you have plenty of time, and stir often as it thickens up. It also thickens once it's cooled

6 pounds tomatoes, cored and chopped (12 cups)
4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger
2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin

Combine all ingredients in large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer until the mixture reaches a thick, jam-like consistency, which can take several hours. Stir OFTEN to prevent scorching as it thickens up.

Once you have the desired consistency, prepare jars for water bath canning, fill and process for 15 minutes, or pour jam into clean, hot jars and store in fridge.

I PROMISE once you try it, you will be just as hooked as me, and it makes an AWESOME BLT in the middle of winter when no decent tomatoes are to be found.

Canning Cookbook- One of many canning experiments

One of the best parts of spring in Iowa is the abundance of fresh rhubarb. Seems like every yard has it. Seems like no one likes it. Except me !! I love it !! I am lucky enough to have lots of friends who don't pick theirs, so they let me. 

I have loads of rhubarb recipes (hope YOU like it too !!) but one of my very favorites is one of my older recipes that I've been making for a long long time and combines two of my favorite fruits- rhubarb, of course, and blueberries. Sooooo love blueberries. I wish I could grow them, but I would need a forest of blueberry bushes to keep me happy.

Canning your own food used to be a "lost food art". No one did it anymore except people who were stockpiling for the end of civilization. Oh sure, a lot of people remembered their grandmother or mother canning, but not a lot of modern women were still doing it. Maybe because so many of us worked full time jobs, or were busy hauling kids around to various activities. Having a deeply rooted interest in food and cooking got me interested in canning. Today canning is making a huge comeback- spurred on by people being more aware of what's IN your food, GMOs, how things are processed, factory cleanliness, protecting our heirloom plants. But for me, it was a step back in time, and away from the modern world of processed foods, convenience eating and rush rush rush.

When I was first learning about canning, I started with tomatoes. Everyone should start with tomatoes, I think, and once you are comfortable with tomatoes, jams are a great next step, with some of the easiest recipes, with very little failure. There isn't much complicated about making a really good jam, especially if you use pectin. If you can read directions, you got this! 

Over the course of a season and many batches of jam later, I will most certainly end up with leftover bits of this and that. A cup of cherries, a freezer bag full of peaches. Something I used in a recipe and just had too much of. I love making combinations with these odds and ends, and some of my best jams have come from a few bags of scraps and leftovers, like this one- when blueberries go on sale I go all out. I buy LOADS. They are easy to wash, spread out on a sheet pan and freeze, then bag up. Throw a handful in pancake batter, cake mix- whatever you want. So when I had a little bit of rhubarb, and a little bag of blueberries....... the brain got going........

Blueberry Rhubarb Jam

3 1/2 cups rhubarb, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 cups blueberries, coarsely chopped
1 TB lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin
5 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare jars for canning.

In a large stockpot combine rhubarb and water, bring to boil. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add blueberries, lemon juice and pectin, stir to mix well. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat while stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once, return to boil stirring constantly. Boil hard for exactly one minute. Remove from heat.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, fix lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes (start time after water returns to full boil). Remove from water, and allow to cool away from drafts and enjoy the ping ping ping.

Wasn't that EASY ?? Let me just say before you go rushing off coming up with combinations- there is a SCIENCE to canning, and the matter of safety. In general, when you're making a 50/50 combo like this one, the best way to ensure a good and safe product is to consult the instructions that come with the pectin. Find both fruits, halve the ingredients and use those measurements. Yes, it can be a little fussy but you want a jam that gels well and the pH isn't all wacky (pretty rare but it can happen). Once you are more familiar with canning, or if you're already at the top of your game- THEN experiment, and most importantly- HAVE FUN!

It's a Birthday Bash !!!

We are CELEBRATING big time this week !!  Becca over at It's Yummy is celebrating a milestone birthday (who knew 29 was such a big milestone ??) and lots of bloggers, including myself, are participating by sharing a delicious recipe with all of you! Fun, right ??

A lot of people think Birthday = Cake. I'm a Thanksgiving time baby so for me birthdays usually include PIE. So what better thing to bring to the party than pie ?? I like making things that are as no fuss as possible and a crostata, or galette as they are sometimes called, is the perfect fuss-free pie that's super easy, super delicious and just a snap to put together.

So let's start with out ingredients. Birthday begins with B and so does BLUEBERRY !! Blueberries are very good for you too- they are loaded with cancer-fighting compounds and all sorts of vitamins and healthy fiber. We don't load our rustic pie with ten tons of sugar either- just a touch. Blueberries are naturally sweet and don't need a lot of messing with. So let's get started with our........

Birthday Blueberry Crostata

You will need:

pastry for one pie crust 
2-3 cups fresh blueberries (see note)
1/4 sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon or lime
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup melted butter

*Note- I used blueberries that I had bought earlier in season, washed, dried and spread out on cookie sheets and frozen, then bagged up. They are super convenient, easy to measure because they are "loose" and not a frozen blob, and great to have on hand. No need to thaw them before using either !! You can choose lemon or lime, whichever you prefer. I like lime, it really accents the blueberries deliciously.

On lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a 9 or 10 inch circle. It doesn't have to be a PERFECT circle- this is a rustic looking pie so an uneven edge adds to that. You can cheat if you want to and use a store bought ready-crust- it's already a circle! You can go a little larger but keep in mind that you will need this to fit on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer pastry to a large piece of buttered foil- I like to use the foil, but you can put it directly on the rimmed baking sheet if you like. Sometimes the juices run out a bit and if I use foil, cleanup is a snap. Place the pastry in the middle of the baking sheet and set aside.

In a bowl toss together the blueberries, zest, juice, sugar and flour. Some people like to add a pinch of cinnamon- I am not a fan, I like the clean berry taste and the citrus accents that nicely. Toss together until the berries are well coated with the mixture. I give a 2-3 cup variation because some people roll the pastry out into a larger circle- play with amounts and see what works best for you. If you've rolled out your pastry and 2 cups is not enough, go for 3.

Pile about half of the berry mixture on the pastry, leaving at least 2 inches uncovered all around. You can pile this pretty high in the middle. Start bringing the pastry edges up and pleat/fold and pinch as necessary to get the pastry to hold. Pile the rest of the berries on top, tucking some under the pastry if you need to. You should be able to fit all the berries on there. They will cook down as it bakes. Drizzle the melted butter all over the berries and pop in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour. The pastry should be deep golden brown and the berries bubbling and fragrant. Remove from over and cool. Delicious served warm with a scoop of that birthday ice cream!

Super simple and so delicious. Try it and let me know what you think!

****Sorry but the giveaway portion is over. Stay tuned though- we will have more giveaways coming!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Waiting for the big thaw

Will spring ever get here? I'm silly even asking that in January in Iowa, but it's been a particularly harsh winter for us this year. MANY sub-zero days, howling winds, not a lot of snow but cutting cold and then, just when you think you've frozen into a statue, the weather turns into a balmy 50 degree day, just to drop you back into the freezer later that night. Crazy.

The worst part about living here with these INSANE weather changes is owning a house without a basement. We have a crawlspace. and that means all of our water pipes are exposed. Sure, we have heat tapes but apparently they are just not effective when the wind chill dips to fifty degrees below zero. 

I haven't had running water in five days. We can't cook, bathe, do laundry, wash dishes. Luckily we have stored gallons of water so we can do the basics- drink, give the pets water and use in the bathroom, but our life is severely inconvenienced by the lack of running water. Even more so by the lack of response on the part of the plumber. Very frustrating.

One of my canning friends has been busy making marmalade and other goodies that are easy to make all year long. Unlike fresh summer tomatoes, oranges and other citrus is pretty much available year round, and while I'm dying to make my own marmalade, without water in the house- I have no way to fill the canner or clean up after. It's going to be a very boring weekend if I have nothing to work on !! I guess I can just keep writing stories to all of you- share some pictures and fun things, and just enjoy the country life!!

Here we go again

One can never have too many blogs. Or outlets. Sometimes a person just needs a place to vent, to write, to share, to dream. So that's what this is- my little place to dream. To share my goofy stories about my goofy life transitioning from City Mouse to Country Mouse.

It all started with a Facebook page- the simplest way to blog I had. I used that simple little page to share my stories about my changing life-  from career woman to unemployed. Sure about my future to thrown into a whirlwind of change.

Added for fun- cooking, gardening, lake life, the small town experience. Learning about who I am, who I thought I was. Who I am going to be. 

Three years have passed since moving to the country. Life is more settled. I am back to work. I am back to gardening. My cooking has flourished. I've rediscovered canning.

So anyway........while I do have a food blog that I work very hard on, I thought it was time to give City Girl her own place to shine. Here I can share more than recipes- stories about life, pictures, recipes, whatever my heart wants to share !!