Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Italian tomato and herb beer bread

I'm having a Monday. On Wednesday. Irritated. Crabby. Overall not happy. Why?  MORE SNOW in the forecast!! Enough is enough already! So to ease my frustration and get me through the winter weather advisory that starts NOW I am already thinking ahead to dinner. 

I know it's going to be leftovers. We had the best roast last night- so delicious. Nice big chunk of Angus beef seasoned with lots of awesome spices and herbs, lots of vegetables including Asian long beans, carrots, sun dried tomatoes and potatoes and a couple secret ingredients The Chef would kill me for revealing, it was delicious. And BIG. Lots of leftovers for tonight.

But since it's going to be another lovely Iowa below-zero, wind-howling, snow-drifting night it's time to heat up the oven and bake something. I might bake a cake just because I can, but for sure I am going to whip up a quick loaf of bread. 

Now I have a lot of experience with breadmaking. I love making yeast breads and kneading the dough, punching it down, watching it rise again. But it takes a long time, and not so easy to do on a weeknight. Beer breads are the perfect solution. You can mix them up and get them in the oven as fast as a cake mix or brownie mix. The best part about this recipe is you can FORGET the expensive, purchased beer bread mixes which are nothing more than flour and a leavening agent, flavors and a few assorted chemicals and make your own from your choice of flour, baking soda, sugar or honey, and beer. Plus you can season it however you want. I am going with sun dried tomatoes and Italian herbs, but you can flavor yours any way you want, to match your meal or just for fun. Lots of garlic and cheddar for a whole loaf of that awesome Red Lobster biscuit- imagine it! 

So let's get to making our loaf of bread. I hope I have a can of beer in the fridge!

Italian Tomato and Herb Beer Bread

3 c. flour (either all purpose or self-rising)
3 tsp. baking soda (omit this if you use self-rising flour)
1 tsp salt
1/4 c. sugar
12 oz can or bottle of beer
1/4 c. melted butter (NOT margarine)
palmful dried herbs of choice- I used a mixture of thyme, basil and marjoram
1/4 c. finely chopped/diced sun dried or dehydrated tomatoes
1/4 c. shredded cheese- parmesan, cheddar, whatever you like

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in bowl. Slowly pour in beer. Mix just enough to moisten, don't overmix. Spread batter into greased loaf pan. Pour melted butter over top. Bake approximately one hour. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Easy As Pie

Seems like I am on a roll today- a pie roll. With the winter weather outside I should be thinking about baking but the pies I am going to share are so super easy and require virtually no cooking- other than boiling water!

Orange chiffon pie with drained canned mandarin oranges
lining the crust under the filling
My family has loved this particular pie for many years. It's a snap to put together and uses ingredients you can keep in the pantry and freezer and pull out whenever you need a quick dessert. The only "fresh" ingredients you need are the garnishes. I've been making this for so many years I don't even remember where I first saw the recipe or learned to make it. Probably an old magazine, I'm sure. I didn't invent it and don't claim to- it's just an old family favorite.

Lemon Blueberry chiffon pie with blueberries on the bottom
To make this super easy chiffon pie you will need:

Pastry shell (graham cracker or baked and cooled pastry shell)
1 package (4 serving size) gelatin- whatever flavor you like
8 ounce tub frozen whipped topping, plus extra for garnish, thawed
2/3 cup water

Place gelatin in large bowl. Bring water to boil, pour over gelatin.  Stir to completely dissolve. Place bowl in refrigerator and check it often and when it's reached the consistency of egg white fold in the entire 8 ounce tub of whipped topping. Fold in completely. 

Pile mixture into pastry shell and smooth top. Chill at least 2-3 hours. Garnish as desired.

Fresh strawberry chiffon pie
You can also fold in chopped fruit, berries, whatever you'd like to add a special touch. With the many flavors of gelatin on the market these days you can make a simple lemon chiffon or a fun cocktail flavored pie. Be creative!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Over the Garden Fence - an interview with JMs Garden

One of the really nice things about living in a rural location is our nice big yard. Lots of gardening space. And we do love to grow things. As a canner, I love to grow things that can be canned and used the rest of the year and SAFE canning practices are very important to me. That being said, many of the new hybrid vegetables, tomatoes in particular, are not as acidic as their heirloom cousins.

Growing vegetables from seed just makes sense. It's by far more economical than buying plants and you can get exactly the variety of vegetable you want to grow if you start from seed. If you are concerned about chemicals and GMOs and all the different things mass producing companies do with vegetables and seeds, you can be assured heirlooms have not been subjected to all of that.

This winter I discovered a WONDERFUL seed supplier right here in Iowa- JMs Garden. Not only are the seeds heirloom AND organic, but they are hand raised and harvested.  JMs is also a small business, which is something very important to me- supporting our local small businesses. Add reasonable priced, hand-packaged seeds, dedication to customer service AND participating in charitable organizations, such as their recent Dollar Days Sale with proceeds donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and you cannot find a better supplier to buy your garden seeds from.

I had the opportunity to ask the owner, Jason, a few questions about the business, and I want to share his story with all of you. 

1. I just recently discovered your website- how long have you been in business?
We have been in business for almost a year. We started by selling our seeds and some other random things I was collecting like old coins on Ebay. Then, unfortunately around December, we had some major miscommunication with Ebay that really hurt us, so we decided to change routes. Our website was up and running in January.
2. I know you are a smaller business operating from Dubuque, Iowa. What have you found to be some of the obstacles in reaching a wider audience and gaining customers ?
Our biggest obstacle is just that – reaching a wide audience. Because we are a very small business, with absolutely zero loans or grants, we don't have too much extra money to put towards advertising as of now. It's all pretty much word of mouth from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube, articles we write, and wonderful interviews like this.
3. Do you find your location to be an issue or the abundance of online "big boys"?
Our location isn't an issue at all. With our greenhouse set up, we can literally grow anything, at any time. We just harvested some 10 pound papayas the other day, and there's 3 feet of snow on the ground. Our competition will always make more money then we do, companies like Burpee. The thing that separates us from them is truth. As I mentioned, we don't have a whole lot of funds for advertising, so we definitely don't have funds for any inorganic nonsense. The thing with the bigger companies, that most people don't realize, is that just because they may say something is organic, doesn't make it true. There is a legal loophole that I talked about in a blog post about dog food, and it holds true with seeds as well – companies like Burpee will not personally spray their seeds with “preservation” spray as I call it to make it last on the shelf longer. They have their companies that package and ship everything do it, so they don't have to mention a word about it. The toxins from these sprays grow into the fruits and vegetables we eat.
4. Many of the readers of this blog are cooks but probably just as many are not- but enjoy gardening. You have something for every level of gardener, correct? Flowers, herbs, vegetables, as well as books and other materials.
Yes. It is very important for us to be thinking of the garden and the kitchen at the same time. I've written millions of recipes over the last 12 years, and I like to share them or implement them with what we grow. We like to entice people with a recipe to grow the ingredients needed. We don't do a whole lot of flowers yet, but we will be soon.
5. I hear you have a series of eBooks coming soon. Can you tell me a little about those? 5a- I see you already offer an eBook- "Brew Your Own Beer" by Jason Meyer. Have you ever tried brewing? Thoughts?
The eBooks we are working on now is going to be a 3 part series called “From the Garden to the Kitchen”. It basically holds to my theory of including every aspect. Hundreds of tips for the garden and the kitchen, and of course some of my recipes. The “Brew Your Own Beer” eBook was really a great adventure. We brewed every single beer that you get in that recipe book. We failed, countless times, but every time we succeeded, we added the recipe. It's definitely a great option because there are so many people out there who can't find the exact beer or flavor they are looking for. With over 640 recipes in the book, you're bound to find something you like.
6. You have a lot of great information on your website. What are some highlights and must-see areas that you recommend NEW gardeners check out?
Our blog posts, for sure. Along with our articles and weekly newsletters, our blog posts show so much information. Tips, how to's, stories, or just rambling. It's where we can really just let out whatever is on our minds or whatever topic we are discussing at the office.
7. Let's say I am a new customer, and I have a new home with a wide open canvas for gardening. All I want this year is a well stocked herb garden. What are the must-haves that you would recommend?
Basil, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, and although I'm allergic to it, dill. What I do in my personal home garden is plant all of my herbs around the stem of a tomato plant. The tomato and the herbs add minerals and nutrients to the soil that benefit each other.
8. I'm sure you get asked this all the time. but how do you advise a novice gardener on starting a new garden? With so much information on the internet it's almost overload- can you think of 3 or 4 KEY things that a new gardener should do to prepare a brand new bed for gardening? and how about prepping for the second year?
We do get asked that a lot. The biggest thing to do with a new garden is to plan it. It's a good idea to draw out how you want it to look. You also need to decide exactly what you want to grow. I won't tell anyone to start off small, because I never do. You will want to test your soil; see what it's made of, how fast water drains out of it, and what the pH is. The other major part to planning a garden is placing things in the right location. I never like to grow at the bottom of a hill – that's just calling for a wash out. You also want to look at what plants you have that need full sunlight or partial shade. All very important.
9. Have you ever had a plant just totally fail on an epic scale to the point that you never wanted to try and grow it again?
We have had thousands of plants fail miserably, but we never give up. Each time we have one that fails, we take a look at what we did that could have caused it to die. We do some research, come up with a different watering or lighting schedule, different feeding of compost versus worm compost, and anything else we can come up with that will hopefully help us succeed. Right now we are actually having some issues with an old heirloom tobacco plant. We've done all the research we can, but we can't figure out why it won't grow.
10. Tell me about your culinary art background and how you bring some of that into this business-
I started cooking in a restaurant when I was 14 years old. My boss at the time was a graduate of a high priced culinary institute. He taught me quite a bit, convinced me to get a second job at a nicer restaurant, then convinced me to go to college. I worked with him all throughout high school, then in 2006 went to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a 2 year program, which some people look down on, but I say this – I learned in 2 years what some took 4 years to learn, and I spent a quarter of the money doing it! Throughout college and after, I've worked in dozens of restaurants all across the state. Now with the seed business, I went into it with a big thought. We are just after the seeds. I didn't want to have all of the waste just being used as compost, we have enough of that cooking as it is. All the empty peppers, tomatoes, lettuce leaves, etc. get donated now to shelters across the city. When we move our greenhouse, we will have a professional kitchen where we can expand into canning, jams and jellies, and stuff like that.
I know where I will be buying all my heirloom seems from now on! Besides the exceptional customer service and amazingly fast shipping, the guys are awesome to work with, chat with and talk gardens with. Even if you don't live in small town Iowa YOU can help support this business be successful. Visit their website by clicking HERE and go shopping!!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

A Taste of Summer in the Blizzard

Ahhh Mother Nature is being a brat again. While a blizzard rages outside, many of us are longing for warmer days. Warm summer breezes, cookouts with friends, carefree days. Like a vacation but at home.

One of the best summer desserts I've ever made is homemade key lime pie. It's so easy but a lot of people are put off by the idea of making a meringue. That's the easy part! I like to use a cookie or graham cracker crumb crust rather than pastry and it's a great time saver. 

Citrus is plentiful year round in most areas, so you can make this delicious pie anytime. Let's get started-

Key Lime Pie

6 eggs, separated  (save 3 of the egg whites)
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice
about 1 tablespoon lime zest
9 inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
3 egg whites
4 tb sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Mix egg yolks, milk, juice and zest in bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20. 

Meanwhile, make meringue. In large glass or metal bowl combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla. Whip at high speed gradually adding sugar until meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form. Test a bit of meringue by rubbing between finger an thumb- sugar should be completely dissolved.

Pile meringue onto pie, swirling and making sure meringue touches the pie crust all the way around to prevent shrinking. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 10 to 12 minutes until nicely browned. Allow to cool at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Apples and cranberries should be best friends!!

I just can't help it. I am a canning fool. It's just soooooo addicting! Besides stocking my own cupboards with delicious, healthy, chemical-free foods I always have something handy for an impromptu gift. 

Autumn in Iowa brings an abundance of fresh apples, and I have friends with apple trees that let me pick all I want for free. That's the giving spirit and generosity of small town folks. Autumn also brings fresh cranberries to all the grocery stores, and it's so easy to stock up when they're on sale and toss them in the freezer. Many months later when it's cold and snowy outside I can reach into my freezer and grab a bag of cranberries and a bag of frozen apple chunks and cook up some really delicious things. Cakes, pies, bread, muffins.....and jam.

Baking and canning are two things that I truly enjoy. Today we're going to talk about canning- jam. I love this fall combo of flavors. The sweet apples pair perfectly with tart cranberries. It's one of my favorite fall combinations. Goes wonderfully with nuts such as pecans and walnuts. This jam recipe is not overly sweet so it also makes a great topping for cheesecakes, cookie filling, whatever needs a little fall brightness.

To make this Apple Cranberry Sauce you will need:

6 cups fresh cranberries
6 cups cored, peeled, diced fresh apples
3 cups granulated sugar
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 cup apple cider (I'm using 1 cup sweet white wine)
1 tsp ground cinnamon

In a large stockpot combine the cranberries, apples, lemon juice, zest, cinnamon and apple cider. Mix well. Bring to a boil slowly and simmer over medium low heat until cranberries pop and apples are tender, using a wooden spoon to breakup and smash the fruit a little to break it up but keep some texture.  Continue boiling, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until mixture becomes thick and coats the spoon. It can take a while, as long as an hour. Another option is to cook overnight (or all afternoon) in the crockpot, but you would have to make sure to have the lid ajar at some point to help evaporate the excess liquid and thicken up the jam.

Prepare canning jars and ladle hot jam into hot, sterile jars. Adjust lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Like almost all jam recipes, if you prefer NOT to can this, you can ladle into jars or containers and freeze or store in the fridge. It won't be shelf stable but it will last a long time.

You'll notice there is no added pectin in this recipe. Cranberries and apples are naturally high in pectin, so it's not needed, and the longer cook time help aid in gelling. You can also make this recipe substituting pears for the apples. You can add nuts to make a conserve-like spread but I prefer to add nuts at the time of serving so they retain their crunchy texture. Like almost any recipe, you are only limited by your imagination!

One night while browsing online I found a similar recipe that looks even MORE delicious, so I thought I'd share that one with you too. It was posted by Judy A. Martin in the Country Farm Girl recipe group on Facebook and she called it Winter Jam.

In a saucepan combine one 12 oz bag of cranberries, 2 medium apples, cored and chopped (peel or not- up to you), 1/2 cup water. Bring to boil to begin breaking down the fruit. Add 1-2 cups of sugar (depends on how sweet your apples are),and an 8 oz can crushed pineapple UNDRAINED, 2 tbs lemon juice. Boil until sugar is dissolved and mixture is thick. Fill hot jars, fix lids and process in BWB for 10 minutes. Approx. 5-6 half pints.

I think Judy's recipe sounds fantastic and I'll be making that as well !! I'm so sure it's delicious I am going to make a DOUBLE batch !!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A family classic with an inside joke

With an ice and snow storm in the forecast for tomorrow I can't help but long for comfort foods. Anything that means I need to fire up the oven, I'm all for it. This recipe is one of my family's favorites. We like to make it for holiday meals, or just because we feel like it.

You might be wondering about the unusual name. Well.....some people call this Brunch Potatoes, Funeral Potatoes, or Potato Casserole. My daughters and I have a weird sense of humor. Just looking over the ingredients and I think you will catch on to the joke. Butter, cheese, sour cream, cream of naughty soup..... well we just can't use those normal names. We have to be smart alecs every chance we get.

This is DEFINITELY not health food, so we don't make it more than a handful of times a year. Too many servings of this get the idea!

Mom's Famous Fat Ass Potatoes

1 2 lb bag frozen hash browns
1 small bunch green onions, sliced or 1/4 chopped onion
salt and pepper
1-2 cloves minced garlic
couple tablespoons chives
1 stick butter, melted (use BUTTER not margarine, because margarine is mostly water and doesn't perform well in this dish)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 small bag shredded cheddar cheese

Melt butter, combine with sour cream, onions, seasonings and soup.

Add cheese and frozen hash browns. Mix thoroughly.

Pile into 9x13 dish that's been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 400 degrees about an hour. If you have a roast in the oven at a different temperature, you can bake these at the same temp, just add more time as needed. I also make these in the crockpot a lot- on high for at least 4 hours or low at least 8 hours.

Some people like to top this with crushed potato chips, but I think they are naughty enough !! They get a nice brown top and browned crusty edges, I think the topping is just not necessary, but if you like to add that, by all means, do so.

WARNING: Fat Ass Potatoes are addicting. And the crusty brown heaven !!!

****NOTE !!!!  This recipe is also shared on our sister blog Rockin' the Kitchen.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Little Dish That Couldn't

I've been talking a lot lately about the recipe contest I entered and didn't even come close. Eh....such is life, right? You win some, you lose some. I thought I would share that recipe with you anyway. I originally posted this recipe back in 2012 I believe on my other blog, Rockin' the Kitchen, as part of a marathon day of cooking. Of the four ravioli/tortellini I made that day, this was my favorite one. I think it's a very versatile dish- you could easily serve it as a first course or appetizer, or add a couple sides and it's your main course. Just be sure to find a perfect Pinot Grigio to drink with it. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Seafood Tortellini

1/2 package small wonton wrappers (20)
1/2 cup flaked crab meat (canned is ok but NO FAKE CRAB)
1/2 cup finely chopped cooked shrimp
1/2 cup finely chopped langostino tails
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
big pinch chives
2-3 tb white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese FINELY shredded
couple teaspoons beaten egg (beat one egg and use a little for each filling)
salt and pepper

Combine seafood and set aside. In small skillet melt about a TB butter and one TB olive oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until softened but not brown. Add wine. Cook until wine is mostly evaporated. Mix into seafood along with chives and all cheeses. Stir in beaten egg. Salt and pepper.

To assemble, place one wonton skin on dry cutting board. Moisten all edges. Place a tsp filling in center, fold over to make a triangle. You can stop at this point and have cute triangular ravioli or.....

To make tortellini, moisten two corners and fold them together to look like an envelope. Set aside on waxed paper lined baking sheet (paper towels may stick so I don't recommend them). When ready to cook, add to boiling salted water and cook 3-4 minutes or until cooked thru, drain well. Drizzle with Brown Butter with Sage and serve. You can freeze uncooked ravioli/tortellini. Cook from frozen 4-5 minutes minimum but check them frequently so they don't overcook.

I like to serve this with Browned Butter and Sage, but if you like Alfredo, or red sauce- go with what you like. But if you'd like to stick with my recipe-

Browned Butter with Sage

1 stick unsalted BUTTER (you absolutely CANNOT substitute margarine !!!)
1 tsp crushed dried sage leaves or 3 tsp minced fresh
dash salt and pepper

Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Cook and stir until butter foams and begins to brown. Remove from heat and add sage, salt and pepper. Drizzle over tortellini to taste. You can refrigerate or freeze any leftover for other dishes- makes an excellent start for a chicken saute!

**** Note-  You likely will have a good amount of seafood filling leftover. I popped mine in the freezer and later thawed and used it for stuffed mushrooms- stuff the mushroom caps with rounded spoonful of filling, dip in melted butter (maybe that browned butter with sage?) and roll in panko- bake at 400 about 10 minutes until bubbly and run under the broiler for a quick browning if desired.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Big Dig

The 2014 gardening season is still a ways away for me here in the frozen wasteland known as Iowa, but my brain is hard at work planning. We have tilled up part of the yard and grew in-ground veggies not so successfully. We have had two summers of container gardening with mixed results. The extreme heat we sometimes get here makes it very difficult to keep adequate moisture in the pots. Watering two and three times a day is expensive with rural water.

So this year I am going to give straw bale gardening a try, as well as raised beds using- get this- kiddie pools! One of my neighbors has successfully raised a garden using kiddie pools for several years so.....sign me up! This project will of course mean LOTS of dirt, sweat and guaranteed- tears. Mine will not be on a rooftop and will have drainage holes (large holes) drilled in the bottom to allow for deeper root growth.

Picture courtesy of Inhabitat
This is also the time of year gardeners talk a lot about seeds and plants. I know a lot of seed savers. lots of people trade and form trade groups. The seed and garden catalogs start appearing in our mailboxes. It's more fun than Christmas if you ask me. Something that is very important to me, as a rural resident, is supporting local small businesses. There are a few greenhouses near my home that I like to visit, and one of them sells bulk seed the old fashioned way- scoop em out and weigh them.

As the deluge of catalogs rains down on me I'm almost overwhelmed at the choices. Flipping through one catalog I am trying to decide between 45 different hybrids of sweetcorn. 45!! That's a lot of comparison shopping. Tomato seeds- holy moly, there are thousands of heirlooms and hybrids, determinate, indeterminate, so many decisions. The colorful pictures suck me in and make it oh so difficult for a seed hoarder, err, I mean gardener to decide.

I recently discovered a wonderful source for heirloom, organic, non-GMO seeds. JM's Garden is a small locally-owned business in Iowa that offers a somewhat small, but always changing and growing selection of seeds as well as educational materials for gardeners. I recently ordered from them and received my order within just a couple days. I was so happy with everything. Safely packaged, clearly labeled perfect seeds- just waiting for Mother Nature to cooperate a little bit. I HIGHLY recommend giving them a visit. They often have great deals too- buy one get one, and things like that.

I also often browse the catalog from the Seed Savers' Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. They have heirloom vegetables you can't find anywhere else. Their catalog is vast and contains a lot of beautiful flowers as well.

Territorial Seed Company is another on the the biggies. They DID have the elusive Mexican Gherkins that I have been looking for and had good prices on larger quantities of seed- like peas. I want LOTS of peas !!

If you're looking for fruits Stark Brothers is the catalog to check out. They have a great selection and reasonable prices. Berries, apples, grapes, and even a few beautiful flowers make up their offerings and seemed to be geared to my gardening zone.

Of course, I also have a Burpee catalog, but I use that mostly as a checkoff list. I can find Burpee seeds at many stores, so I'm not likely to order online, an again, that goes against my preference to support a smaller, local business.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The never ending quest for jars

Every home canner gets it. Jars. You can never have too many jars. You can never have too many lids. A clearance sale is better than Christmas morning. I think I have too many rings but that's ok. My big project this coming canning season is to buy fewer brand new jars and hunt and scour sales and find used jars.

Just one cabinet in my kitchen. Loads of homemade deliciousness!
When I say I use a lot of jars every year, I'm truly not kidding. We buy very little commercially processed food. We literally live off what we grow, buy from farmers and can ourselves. It's not uncommon for me to put up 300 pounds of tomatoes alone! One fall I went a little overboard with the winter squash. Did you know how much a Hubbard squash weighs and how many jars it takes to can chunks? I sure didn't at the time but I do now, and have dozens of jars still on the shelf.

Finding jars is never an issue. I can always find jars for sale year round at our small town hardware store. The drawback is they never go on sale. The more brand new jars I buy, the more rings I accumulate. So in an effort to eliminate that ever-growing pile of rings, I have starting hunting the trade groups, Craigslist, etc, for canning jars. They're out there but are getting harder and harder to find. Thank you, Pinterest, for turning crafty moms into jar hoarders. It makes me sad to see them painted with fake flowers and candles inside.

So I'm starting early this year- putting the word out there. Starting my jar safari as early as possible. Hopefully I will hit the big score!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Apple Pie Jam

Here is an oldie but goodie- a remnant from the pre pre pre Facebook days of the Gardenweb. Back in those days I'd spend hours and hours chatting with gardeners from al over the world, talking plants, harvesting, recipes, herbs. Lots of the other gardeners were also big into preserving their garden gems, and a lot of my canning knowledge and "training" if you will came from sharing with these folks. 

Lots of great pickle recipes came from this group, and jams, oh the jams. So many variations on the common, unspecial single fruit jams. Whether it was a combination of fruits or the simple addition of an unexpected herb or spice (like the jars of Apple Sage Jelly I use to glaze pork with), I discovered so many wonderful flavors. It was kind of like an online canning class !

One of the earliest recipes I learned was Linda Lou's Apple Pie Jam. While I don't recall ever seeing a jar of her jam I set out to make my own. I learned a few mistakes- #1- not dicing the apple into small enough bits. I ended up with big chunks of apple floating at the top of the appley yummy jelly. Easy to fix by stirring it all back down when you open it but less than desirable when you look at the jars in the cabinet. #2- Don't rush. It's always better to have a canning project take all day than cram multiple projects into one day- especially jam and jelly making. #3- use quality ingredients and follow the directions EXACTLY. Especially important if you're using a recipe calling for pectin. Powder and liquid are used in very different ways and at different times in the cooking process. #4 Prep all your ingredients before you turn on the heat. Chop everything. Measure everything. Have it all within arms reach. When you're making jam you will be doing a lot of stirring. You cannot risk taking the time to measure out sugar while your fruit mixture is scorching in the pot.

As I mentioned above, I probably should have chopped the apple up MUCH smaller. Maybe I assumed it would break down more. It did not. I followed the directions exactly, same proportions, but I seemed to have alot less apple than liquid.  It tastes good, maybe it will settle and improve as it cools and settles in the jars... we'll see. (and again, it did not- the fruit stayed at the top) But if not it will be a lovely pancake or waffle syrup by warming it up a little to melt.


So let's get started with a pretty easy and definitely delicious jam. Just remember- chop that apple FINE !!


4 cups tart apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tb lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
4 cups sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 box pectin
1/2 tsp butter

Add water to chopped apples to measure 4 cups. Place in large heavy saucepan, stir in lemon juice, spices and pectin. Add butter. Bring to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. 


Quickly stir in both sugars, bring to full rolling boil, boil one minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.


****** I have taste-tested one jar that didn't seal and it's really very delicious ! I stirred the apple pieces back down into the jelled liquid and it's just fine. It even stayed well mixed afterwards. Next time I make this (and I will !!) I will very very finely dice the apple or possibly shred it using a large shredding disk on the food processor and really pack it into the measure to get more apple into the jam.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Canning Cookbook- The Salsa Verde Project

Salsa verde. One thing I have often seen in stores but never have had the nerve to try. Is it HOT or mild? Green anything, including tomatillos, are something I just have zero experience with. Green tomatoes, the hallmark of southern cooking, were always something I just did not have a taste for. Last year I pickled green tomatoes, hoping to try something different. But...... I still don't LIKE the taste, and the texture leaves something to be desired.

But in a salsa..... that I could get behind. The texture would be like any regular salsa with chunks of tomato, onions, flecks of herbs....definitely something I could try. I've said year after year I was going to make it and always had the tomatoes ripen before I had a chance to work with them green. But on my agenda for this year was a batch of salsa verde and darnit, I am NOT going to miss out this year!

I already have several recipes to work out using salsa verde, so I HAD TO get with the program and get busy. Vegetables purchased, jars ready, I'm prepared to get going on this project!

Salsa verde was a new cooking experience for me. I've never made it before. I pored over cookbooks and recipes and asked friends and came up with recipe I used today. Not having any experience with green tomatoes or tomatillos, I took my time cooking this salsa- the green tomatoes were very crunchy and did not break down like ripe tomatoes do. I also had that weird phenomenon happen when you have vinegar and garlic together- blue garlic. I wish I had taken a picture- it was a beautiful vibrant turquoise. So weird. Once the garlic was cooked though, it was back to normal.

Salsa Verde, Rockin' the Kitchen Style

10-11 cups chopped green tomatoes (I left the skin on, you CAN peel if desired)
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped pepper (I used a mix of green bell pepper and only 6 jalapenos but you can go as hot as you dare)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
10 garlic cloves, cut up
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup  finely chopped cilantro

Combine everything except cilantro in large pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until peppers are just tender. Remove from heat, CAREFULLY transfer small amounts to blender or food processor and blend til fairly smooth. I made my salsa and refrigerated it before the blending, I just ran out of time!! If you are lucky and have an immersion blender that would be great too. I do not have one, sadly....... Since I left the skin on the tomatoes, I thought I'd mention- once it's been cooking and pureed, the skin is undetectable, so it's worth skipping that step.

You're looking for a semi chunky, not quite smooth consistency-  just enough to break up the chunks and make sure no big garlic hunks are hiding in there. 

Return to boil. Add finely chopped cilantro. Pour into prepared jars and:

If you are a canner, fix lids and rings and process in boiling water bath 35 minutes for pints or half pints.

If you are not a canner, you can pour into freezer containers and freeze.

Now.........what to do with salsa verde ?  White chili, pork dishes- some slow roasted pork, pulled, mixed with salsa and made into all kinds of tasty things, chicken dishes such as enchiladas.  I have lots of experimenting to do!!

What have I learned from my first salsa verde? Next batch is definitely going to include some lime. Lime juice, some fresh lime zest. I know when I open these jars to use them I'll be sure and add some lime to punch it up.

Canning Cookbook- Giddyup lil peppers !!

Canners everywhere have some recipes they are especially attached to. And they have recipes they love to share. Last summer a canning buddy shared a recipe with me and I LOVE it.

Canners always talk about Cowboy Candy. As a fan of hot peppers and hot pepper jellies, this recipe intrigued me and I knew I had to make it. I wish I could have gotten a mix of red and green jalapenos but I didn't this time around. I've used Cowboy Candy to add a sweet hot element to other dishes- stir fries, sauces (the syrup in delicious), as a snack with cream cheese like pepper jellies, and as an accompaniment to chili even. It's delicious on sandwiches and pizza as well. I hope you will give it a shot. It's unlike any commercially canned peppers I have ever tried.

Cowboy Candy
  • 3 lb firm, fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 3 tsp granulated garlic (I had to sub 2 cloves super minced fresh)
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Wearing gloves, remove stem end from peppers and slice into uniform 1/4 inch thick slices. Set aside.

In a large pot bring remaining ingredients to boil. Reduce heat, simmer five minutes, then add pepper slices and simmer 4 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, pack peppers into hot sterile canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Bring heat back up under the pot and boil the syrup at a full rolling boil for 6 minutes.

Ladle syrup over peppers. Remove air bubbles, fix lids and rims and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool, age peppers for at least two weeks.

*Note- if you want to skip the canning step, just divide the peppers and syrup among jars or freezer containers and store in the fridge. They are a pickled product so they will last a while.

Canning Cookbook- Life is a bowl of cherries......and blueberries

It's always a great idea to keep frozen fruit on hand- you never know when you have a free afternoon, some empty jars, and need something to do. I love making combinations of fruits for jams- you get a nice variety of flavors and textures! And if you're daring enough you can add half a cup or so of fruity schnapps,or wine, and make a luscious boozy jams (which is ok for kids too, since you cook almost all the alcohol off).

So far, I just finished up a batch of Cherry Blueberry Jam and it's gorgeous !! I used the cute little jars I found the other day and some small jelly jars to get 8 jars out of the batch, and here is the easy recipe !!

Cherry Blueberry Jam

1 1/2 cup sour cherries
2 cups blueberries
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups sugar

Finely chop cherries and blueberries.

Combine in pot with pectin.

I let mine sit just a little bit because the BWB wasn't quite boiling yet. Over medium high heat bring the mixture to a full boil, stirring constantly. Add full measure of sugar, stir well. Bring to full rolling boil. Boil 1 minute.

Pour jam into hot, sterilized jars, wipe rim and fix lids. Attach rings until finger tight. Process in BWB for 10 minutes, remove to clean towel and allow to cool.

I had about half a small jar leftover so I put it in a custard cup and tucked it in the fridge- on a piece of toast as a taste test- it's a winner !!

FYI- I stocked up on blueberries and cherries when they were on sale and froze them loose-pack so I can measure out as much as I need for each recipe.