Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Good Stuff

"The Good Stuff". It was good enough for Al Capone, and it's good enough for me!

Way out here in western Iowa is a piece of history that's pretty darn cool. Sure, we have Jesse James' train robbery, Bonnie and Clyde robbed a bank, John Wayne was born not too far away, but can you imagine a small town in rural Iowa turning "outlaw" and distilling whiskey? Ohhhh, but it's the truth. In 1920 Prohibition forbid the making and sale of alcoholic beverages. Templeton Rye was known to be the drink of choice of Al Capone, and if he didn't care about the law, well.......

What is rye whiskey? Well if you know anything about distilled spirits, they usually are made from grains. In Templeton Rye's case, the "mash" contains 90% rye grains, more than any other rye whiskey on the market and contributes to it's special flavors. The mash is a mixture of grain, malt and water, also contains a small amount of spent or used mash from a prior batch that contains some active yeasts. This mixture is fermented and distilled in a complicated process involved some pretty technical equipment these days. After distillation, Templeton is aged in charred oak barrels before bottling. A generation or so after Al Capone's era, the popularity of Templeton Rye waned, owners changed, and production began to slip. But eventually the Kerkhoff family became involved again and they were off to the races. Even today, the whiskey is made using the original recipe created by Merlyn Kerkhoff.

An entire case of The Good Stuff

Fun fact learned talking to Keith Kerkhoff from Templeton Rye: During barrel aging a small amount of volume is lost due to evaporation. This is called "the angels share."

Barrel lid, indicating which barrel and batch. Bottles are labeled
with barrel, batch and bottle number.

Ok, so back to Templeton. The distillery still remains in the Carroll County town. The distillery is open for tours twice daily, Monday through Friday. One Saturday a month, Keith conducts the tour himself. The tour includes the distillery, bottling room, the barrel area, and tasting area. Guests on the tour get to help label a few bottles and can sample Templeton Rye right there! Now that is my kind of tour!

A couple years ago in Iowa, Templeton Rye was extremely hard to find. Stores would be sold out before the bottles even hit the shelves. You literally had to know someone who worked in a liquor store to even stand a chance OR....... if you were lucky and lived out in the rural areas, like our Little Lake House, Templeton was easy to find. What's so special about rye whiskey? It's just..... different. If you are familiar with different types of whiskey you will notice the not-at-all subtle flavors in Templeton Rye. This is the whiskey you want to make a good classic whiskey cocktail like an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Modern mixologists are hard at work concocting new cocktails like The Gangster's Martini and the Shirley Templeton (see Templeton's website for recipes).

Next time you are visiting western Iowa, think about stopping at this unique piece of history.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Apple Cranberry Galette

Also known as How To Bake a Pie Like a Cheater But Look Like a Pastry Chef. Seriously the easiest pie you will EVER bake !!!

The ingredients are so ridiculously easy- in this case I'm using apples and cranberries, some flour, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and pastry.

Start prepping the fruit- cut up the apples (I used enough apples to get about 2 1/2 cups cut up apples). You can chop into chunks or small slices, whatever you prefer. I used about a cup of fresh cranberries, cut in half. A bit labor intensive but not too bad. Place fruit in a large bowl, toss with a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, a good dash of cinnamon or apple pie spice, about 1/3 cup flour and 3/4 cup sugar (use brown sugar for a caramel apple flavor). Set aside.

Prepare and roll out into a large circle a single crust pastry recipe. You can also cheat and use the store bought rolled up pastry if you want. Place pastry on greased rimmed baking sheet (sometimes a little juice leaks out and you don't want THAT mess in the oven). Pile the fruit in the middle, spreading out a little but leave a few inches of pastry open. 

Fold the edges up and pinch and ruffle as needed to get a nice rustic edge to the pie. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar if desired. Dot the fruit with butter (NO MARGARINE!!!) and bake at 375 degrees for about about 45 minutes. The crust will be deep golden brown and the fruit nice and tender.

Serve warm or cool.

You can use any kind of fruit to make this galette, but canned pie fillings don't work. Use fresh fruit. It's very versatile, quick and even easy to make up a bunch and freeze unbaked. Just pop a frozen one in the oven and bake about an hour.

Believe me, it will look like you fussed all day when it takes just minutes!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Perfect Roast Chicken

Once in a while The Chef and I will agree on a recipe. This time it happens to be roast chicken. Arguably one of the EASIEST things to prepare on the planet, as well as one of the most delicious, a perfectly roasted chicken will be moist and juicy with the crunchiest, crispy brown skin as an extra treat. 

I have found that the key to a really moist bird is to stuff it. Not with "stuffing" made of bread and herbs and something you're going to eat as a side dish. I like to pack the bird full of chunked apples, onions, garlic cloves. The apples and onions cook and steam and basically baste the bird from the inside. The garlic adds an aromatic touch that's subtle but delicious. We have tons of chunks of apples in the freezer and bags of cranberries too, so The Chef threw a handful of cranberries in there as well- why not? The skin needs to brown to be really good- no one wants flabby, pale, yucky chicken skin. I used to go through all the hassle of loosening the breast skin and packing butter in there- not anymore. The fruit stuffed inside eliminated that need for extra moisture. Instead, now I, well, WE actually, season the skin liberally with just about everything imaginable. A dribble of lemon juice to moisten the skin, then sprinkle on herbs and spices of your liking. The Chef used crumbled dried oregano, a tiny pinch of mint leaves, a pinch of crushed red pepper, then a few hits of some Penzey's favorites- jerk seasoning, pork chop seasoning, seasoned salt and celery seed, then finished it off with a couple grinds of black pepper. Put big chunks of butter on top and inside the bird, throw it in a 375 degree oven and roast until chicken is done (meat thermometer registers 165 degrees). I also like to baste my bird periodically to crisp up that skin and really kick up the flavor. Generally it takes about an hour and a half or so to roast.

When it comes out of the oven it's going to smell like heaven! If you let it rest just a few minutes the juices will stabilize and the meat will be tender and succulent. And don't forget that delicious skin. It should be browned and crispy all over and sooooo delicious- don't fight over it! Share!

Roast chicken is one of my favorite things to cook. You can pair it with almost any sides- potatoes (we had baked with butter and sour cream) or mashed- if you're up to it, the juices make amazing pan gravy. You can make stuffing. Any kind of veggie goes well too. If you're feeling festive and you have it around, break out the cranberry sauce! It goes deliciously with roast chicken. Have a mini Thanksgiving anytime you want to. I can't guarantee you will have many leftovers but if you DO they make great chicken salad or chicken and noodles, and don't forget to make chicken stock out of that tasty chicken carcass. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Meatloaf- childhood nightmare or happy comfort food memory?

I know when I was growing up I LOVED meatloaf. My mother was not an excellent cook but she made good, hearty homestyle food- nothing fancy, and meatloaf happened to be one of her better dishes. She always made a monstrous behemoth of a meatloaf too. We always had plenty leftover for hot meatloaf sandwiches the next night and maybe a cold meatloaf sandwich with ketchup for lunch or a snack. 

Some people just cannot stand the idea of meatloaf. I am NOT one of them, and since I like to play with my food, I am always playing around with different tastes and textures. Taco meatloaf. Classic meatloaf. Turkey meatloaf with stuffing instead of breadcrumbs. Stuffed  meatloaf. You can imagine. So as I was thinking today about some of the better alternatives to ground beef, which is really jumping up in price, ground chicken is becoming a more affordable option. But what should I do to it to make it special? It just won't be the same in a regular meatloaf like Mom's- chicken and ketchup? Yuck!

Chicken........chicken dishes........chicken with all these tomatoes I have canned in the cabinets........wait !!!! OMGosh- Chicken Parmigiana !!!! Surely there is a meatloaf waiting to happen there, right? I have a well-stocked Italian influenced kitchen (oh who am I kidding- I have ingredients, herbs and spices from ALL cuisines.....) so I went to work and this is the delicious result.

Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf

2 lb ground chicken
2 eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs *
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tsp each minced fresh basil, thyme, oregano
3-4 cloves garlic finely minced
1 small onion, very finely minced
1/4 cup celery, very finely minced
small palmful minced sun dried tomatoes **
salt and pepper
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese

Combine all ingredients except marinara sauce and mozzarella in a big mixing bowl. Use your hands to get in there and really mix it thoroughly.  Transfer mixture to a large baking pan like a 9x13 pan or roasting pan. Shape into a loaf. You can also choose to make two smaller loaves if desired. Bake in 350 degree oven until completely cooked (tests at 180 degrees).  Remove from oven and spread marinara sauce over. Sprinkle liberally with mozzarella and return to oven to melt cheese and let it brown slightly. Allow to rest about 5-10 minutes before cutting. Delicious served with a side of pasta and sauce, mashed potatoes or even just a salad. Some sauteed zucchini would be delicious as well. 

* Note- Breadcrumbs- I always use the leftover bread butts, the last hamburger bun, the last dinner roll, etc- throw them in the freezer and when my breadcrumb container is empty I take some out, buzz them in the food processor, dry in the oven and have "free" breadcrumbs. It's perfectly ok to use store bought, or if you don't have any, make fresh ones- tear bread into chunks and give a few pulses in the food processor, or tear into very small pieces by hand.

** Note- You can use sun dried tomatoes with or without oil, dehydrated tomatoes, or if you prefer, red bell pepper. They are mostly for interesting color and texture in what tends to be a pretty "pale" meatloaf and accentuates the green of the minced herbs.

You can also substitute ground turkey if you like. I prefer chicken for this dish though.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Day in the Danish Countryside

It was a fabulous spring day in Iowa! Of course any day that you get to spend some time in a winery is a good day. Iowa has become a very productive wine region in the US, with over 70 operating wineries and many more vineyards just growing grapes a farmers. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love visiting wineries. Rather than standing in the aisle at a mega grocery store liquor department looking at shelf after shelf of unfamiliar bottles with flavors and questionable quality you can taste the wine right there and know exactly what you're taking home!

In west central Iowa there are several wineries and yes, I have been to just about all of them. At each winery I purchase a glass with their logo on it and have acquired quite a collection. 

Today I visited the Danish Countryside Vines and Wines, outside of Exira, in Audubon County in western Iowa. The winery and tasting room are located in an updated barn built in 1913. The barn is BEAUTIFUL! The tasting room features a central bar made from wine barrels and gift shop loaded with wine-themed gifts. Step up to the bar and try some of nearly 30 different wines, all made from grapes grown on the farm. They are all outstanding. Shelves around the room display the many awards the wines have won at competitions. Well deserved awards I might add!

At the winery today I sampled several wines. Sugar and Spice, which is a dessert-style wine made with St. Pepin grapes, was sweet and delicious. Maid of the Harbor, named after the Hans Christian Andersen story of the mermaid, made with Edelweiss grapes- it's so much like a Riesling I just fell in love. Next up was Pretty Belle Peach wine, made from fresh peaches, it's a great companion to a cheese plate (as a dessert course, European style!) or just as a nice sipping wine to enjoy in the summer. Crimson and Clover came next, a red blend of several Iowa grapes and a touch of clover flower. This wine goes great with cheese and it equally good chilled or at room temperature. Mill House Cranberry was tart and sweet at the same time with an undeniable cranberry flavor- perfect for the holidays! My brain immediately thought "hmmm........I could make cranberry sauce or jam with this.....". Berryessa wrapped up the tasting for me with bright blackberry flavor and desserty sweetness. Loren, who was pouring in the tasting room, handed me a chocolate Kiss and joked that now I can tell everyone I got a kiss at the winery.

And speaking of Loren, not only is he the sales manager, he also pours in the tasting room, works with the vines, AND performs live every last Thursday of each month during the winery's season. Today he showed us the entire winemaking area- from the fermenting tanks to the bottling process. And to cap off the visit, he demonstrated how to prune the vines.

It was a great visit and I brought a couple bottles home to enjoy, and that, my friends, is exactly what I am doing!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Peas, please!!

People with the same hobbies tend to stick together. Clubs and groups are formed, friendships made, partnerships and agreements worked out. This practice is alive and well when it comes to home canners. We love sharing recipes, comparing techniques, helping a canning buddy figure out a failed recipe and we take loads of photos. Loads. 

It's not unusual for canning friends to share harvests. Some of us are extra lucky and have friends that don't can and happen to have fruit trees or many extra tomatoes and pass them along. We have friends who "retire" from canning and give away cases of jars they no longer need.

This year I am on a quest. A quest for peas. Incredibly, NO ONE ever has extra peas to share! Sure, I can plant some in my garden, but I've done that- I ended up with enough for a meal or two, not anywhere near what I was hoping for. A lady I met in a canning group last summer told me she has a deal worked out with a farmer friend- she buys the seed, he grows a few rows of peas and harvests them and she buys them back by the bushel as payment to her friend. I need a farmer friend !!!!!

Seriously! Shelling peas are one of the hardest vegetables to find! I don't have enough garden space to grow enough for a couple dozen jars. Finding them at farmers markets is TOUGH!! I spent most of last spring on the hunt and ended up empty handed. I have a ton of pea seeds- now I just need a farmer!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Family traditions in a bowl of soup

One day at work, while reading through the local small town newspapers, I came across an awesome story about a new local product and was immediately captivated. A little investigating and I found only one place to find this delightful homemade soup, the little market in a nearby small town, the Nodaway Valley Market. So off I set on a lovely Friday afternoon to acquire a couple jars.

Once I had my soup in hand I made my way home so I could check it out! But before we get to soup tasting, I'd like to share the family's story with you, and the history of the farming community they have lived in for generations.

The community of Avondale is a rural area in Southwest Adair County, Iowa. Over the years it was a crossroads of frontier commerce and of the last century a church, one room school, and a church cemetery. The Mormon Trail passed through this area with one significant landmark being a very small cemetery plot containing the graves of those that failed to make it through one winter's lodging on the banks of the Nodaway River. The school, Washington Number 6, once standing across the parking lot of the Church, was removed in the early 1960s.

The focal point of the Avondale Community was the Avondale United Methodist Church, which lives on into its second century of service to its parishioners. Still an active church,the Avondale Church conducts Sunday services as well as Sunday school classes. In years past the church was very active with youth fellowship gatherings, vacation Bible school, church bazaars, as well as many other church community socials. An annual bazaar remains the church's most significant annual event and fund raiser.

The community of Avondale, while anchored by the church, is populated by farming families that, through the years, provided grain and livestock to the markets in Iowa and Nebraska. The sense of community was fostered through community gatherings for the ladies, the Sunshine Club, and for the youth, the township 4H Club. Family gatherings to play ball, picnic, and have a weiner roast were common in the yards of the Avondale Church and school.

The Avondale Church still stands tall on a small rise above the road bed running just below it. The Avondale Cemetery rests at the top of the hill behind the church. Both stand as reverent symbols of the community and its people that they have served for nearly two centuries and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

Ruth's kids celebrate a great Avondale's Best Vegetable Soup Launch Day with 
Nodaway ValleyMarket store managers, Cindy and Al Baldago
 in Fontanelle, Iowa.

Ruth's daughter, Marilyn Ford, ladles up some delicious Avondale's
Best Vegetable Soup
 for a customer at Nodaway Valley Market.

For over 60 years Ruth Menefee worked in the kitchen of her home creating delightful meals and treats for her husband Bob, their five children, fourteen grandchildren, and a quickly expanding brood of great grandchildren. Her recipes for soups,pies,cakes,cookies and other goodies were a compilation of her mother, sisters in law, and the ladies of the Avondale Church community.

So what is the verdict ?? 

This is a very family friendly soup. Not spicy, so it's great for kids. The tomato broth was a little sweet for me but a splash of hot sauce and couple grinds of black pepper, bit of fresh herbs brings out the homemade flavor. This is NOTHING like canned soup. I was blown away by the freshness of the vegetables! They were not overcooked and mushy like canned soups. Out of the jar they tasted like I made this from homemade myself. Even the pasta was still pretty firm. I loved the texture of those veggies! That made the soup a winner for me. I'd definitely make it again, maybe add some cooked hamburger or leftover roast beef chunks and just kick up the heat a little since we don't have little palates to worry about here.

I'd like to thank the folks at Avondale's Best Soups. When I contacted them for permission to use pictures and information from their website they were VERY accommodating and helpful. Just what you'd expect from Iowa families' values. Without their generosity with pictures and information, this post would have been a whole lot less interesting.

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."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring oh spring, where art thou?

The weekend has arrived! Finally! Seems like one of the longest weeks of the year. We have had a few days of tease- beautiful 60 and 70 degrees, lots of sunshine and breeze, windows-open kind of days. And............crash back to reality and snow on Sunday.  It's still early in the season, and it WON'T last very long.

Our first ever ghost chili.
I'm looking forward to getting into the dirt this year. My goal is to embrace the Little Lake House and do some major sprucing up in the yard and establish some new gardens that hopefully will be the absolute last re-do I have to go through in this house. I have plans......... but I won't rehash that. I've already told you guys.

Tiger lilies wait for the mail man
I spent quite a while last evening sorting and inventorying seeds. Holy Rubbermaid do I have seeds. It looks like I was planning ahead in the event green beans and shelling peas were to become extinct. I'd have the seeds to save the world !! I'm still looking for a farmer to help me out with the pea project but the beans I plan on planting myself. Sometimes it's not until you really sit down and LOOK at what you have that you realize just how MUCH you actually do have. 

No Italian chef has a garden without banana peppers!
I am a little lacking in the herb seed department. I have plenty of basil and parsley and probably enough regular sage to get a good supply started. It's the fun things I am missing. No red ruffles basil. No flavored thyme- just a couple packets of plain English thyme. Not a single chive seed in the bunch either. How the heck did THAT happen? I seem to have way more cilantro seed than a person should have on hand. I don't really even like the stuff- I'm TRYING to force myself to accept it and move on. 

Purple ruffles basil- so pretty in salads.
I have two, yes, count 'em, two varieties of tomato and that is it my friends. Seems kind of silly but I feel compelled to pick up more varieties!! But over the years I found I have had just as much success with transplants and I don't need to worry about nursing all these baby plants. I will start a couple for us for fresh eating but we like to go to the pick your own farm and LOAD UP on tomatoes for canning day. And peppers- that's another one...... I have so many pepper seeds- hot and sweet and everything in between! That is another plant I don't have great success with seedlings, especially the super hots. I need a greenhouse to be truly successful and that's just not in the budget.

We love cherry tomatoes!
Flower seeds? Who needs those? Except for a few, I rarely grow flowers. Sure there are some perennial lilies and a flowering shrub in my yard but in most cases, if it's not edible, I don't grow it. And certainly later in the season when it gets really hot, and doesn't rain, watering the edibles is much more important and the flowers are the first to go. Now, I do like to plant a few flowers in and among the vegetables, they help deter nibblers and look pretty and they aren't hurting anybody taking up a little space in a corner of the bed. Marigolds fit the bill perfectly. Or sunflowers- now THAT is a flower I can get behind! Literally. I'm 5'2". Some of them are 7 feet tall. Tasty seeds for the humans and the birds are a big bonus when growing sunflowers.

Zinnias add some color to the deck.
I have planned some new things for the garden this year and I think I might sneak a grapevine in there. I have the perfect crappy spot. Yes, I said crappy. Grapes thrive in crappy soil and growing conditions because they are forced to root deeply in search of water and nutrients. Some of the world's best wine grapes grow in the absolute worst conditions. I will be happy with a humble Concord or other such grape- maybe make a little jelly or jam or juice. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Walking in the woods with Kimberli

Don't you just love how blogging can connect you to people you might not otherwise have met? I know I sure am. I have met some amazingly talented writers and cooks, farmers and parents, foodies and funnies. That is where I became friends with Kimberli Maloy. Part musician, part farmer, part forager, all funny and compassionate- we always have something interesting to talk about. We both live in Iowa, not close by, but close enough to visit !! I hope this spring we can get together and forage- maybe mushrooms, ramps, she is very knowledgeable about foraged foods.

Kimberli is very active in music and performing. She also raises herbs on a large scale. So she is a woman of many talents and someone with a story to tell. Since I have been doing these mini-interviews, I asked her if she would be willing to play along and of course, she said yes. So everyone, get to know Kimberli- you'll be glad you did!

1. Tell me about Destiny's Garden Herbs. What was your inspiration for launching this business?

I have always loved being outdoors and worked in restaurants since I was 14 (we won’t say how many years that is!), so it was a natural thing for me to be interested in what flavored my food. But I met someone who was a licensed herbologist and got very interested in a healthy lifestyle, including herbal medicine and gourmet foods, about 15 years ago. Initially I was making herb infused vinegars and herb jellies (still make the jellies) but when I started apprenticing with the herbologist I was hooked – both culinary and medicinal herbs.

2. I gather you follow the same "business model" as a CSA offering shares to customers during the growing season. Who is your typical customer? Restaurants or individual?

Well, I offered shares a couple times so that model was part of what I do, but this year I am only offering a very few shares to close friends and family. I *do* grow herbs for Cultivate Hope CSA so what I grow is part of those shares, but I’m not in charge of anything but contributing – and that’s fine with me. The few shares I do offer consist of herbs, wild foods (morels, berries, nuts, greens, other mushrooms) and heirloom vegetables that are part of what we grow for ourselves. As far as Destiny’s Garden goes, our primary customers are area restaurants. I think last year we sold 60-80 pounds of sweet basil, our biggest seller.

3. What is your FAVORITE of all herbs? 

That’s so hard to say! I love basils and grow 10-12 different varieties each year, but I think my personal favorites are a close tie between cilantro (coriander leaf) and rosemary. It’s a tie.

4. What is one herb you just cannot stand? 

Curled Parsley. I have never had curled parsley that wasn’t bitter and I find it too common. I prefer the flat-leaf Italian parsley, for growing, appearance and flavor.

5. Tell me about your acting and music- how did you get your start? 

My father was a Broadway actor and my mother an actor and dancer. They met doing a show and brought all the magic of music and theatre to our home when they settled here in Iowa; I guess that’s where it all started for me. Since high school and after a short stint in college, I have worked dozens of professional shows (musicals and plays), done TV commercials, performed as an acoustic solo act with guitar, performed and toured with bands in different genres, and done training videos and studio voice work over the years, but my first love will always be musical theatre. Currently I am working as a middle school drama director and playing with an all-female band that plays diverse styles of music – blues, rock, acoustic, covers and originals. I love it all!

6. Let’s talk about your Rubbermaid tub of seeds- do you find it hard to part with seeds sometimes? How many varieties of seeds do you think you have? 

Haha – I do find it hard to part with seed! Although last year I posted to Freecycle and helped 8-10 others start or maintain gardens of their own by sharing some of my excess seed. I probably have at least 12 varieties of basil, 20 of lettuce, six of corn, a few summer squash… oh lord, I need to do an inventory! I have a couple pounds of basil seed actually; I have been giving away my ornamental seed. But I still can’t get the lid onto that Rubbermaid container… Right now I am funding a “Pay It Forward Neighborhood Garden” that I will plant and maintain in the front lot of our property. All the food will be free to anyone who wishes to help themselves, and some of the seed in my big Rubbermaid tub is being distributed to donors helping fund the project.

7. How important is it to you to remain organic?  

I can’t even begin to tell you how important that is. I think the bottom line is, I would stop gardening altogether if the choices were adding chemicals or not gardening at all. I don’t put anything on my plants that I couldn’t put in my mouth (with the exception of the rotten egg and pepper spray I use to keep rabbits out –soap, rotten eggs, oil and the hottest peppers I have…tasty!).

8. What do you think about the changing thoughts on GMOs and the bans taking place? 

First, I feel the need to clarify something – there is a huge difference between hybrid and GMO crops. GMO (genetically modified organisms) can be anything from altering the DNA of the original plant to crossing it with that of another species – including animals. Hybrids are simply crosses between two parent plants. I am all for banning GMOs completely. It isn’t real food, it is a science experiment aimed at making more money and more crops to make more money (endless cycle of poisoning the planet) and it is very easy for organic farmers such as myself to have our crops contaminated by pollen from the GMO fields by wind or bees, which the GMO crops are killing off. I could rant for hours about the evils of GMOs and pray that the United States follows the lead of other countries who have banned their use entirely.

9. Do you have a favorite heirloom vegetable or herb? 

Hmmmm… I love Cherokee Purple and Brandywine tomatoes, but there are so many to choose from! My favorite heirloom herb is the Purple Ruffles Opal Basil – its lovely to look at, has an amazing aroma, makes a pretty garnet colored jelly and it tastes GREAT. How is a girl to choose??

10. Give me ten random facts about Kimberli.

  • I love trout fishing - alone.
  • My favorite color is brown, chocolate brown.
  • My favorite smell is freshly tilled soil
  • I only have one food I cannot stand – oatmeal
  • I have six grandchildren with one more on the way
  • I spent three years as a summer camp director
  • I have written 6 full length musicals, dozens of original songs, a stack of bad poetry, a United Way campaign song, a couple of political campaign pieces (with orchestration) and one children’s book.
  • I like to work when nobody else is around because I get easily distracted – LOOK!!! SQUIRREL!!!!
  • I am passionate about foraging wild foods, especially mushrooms, and am certified in the state of Iowa as a Morel Mushroom Identification Specialist. Cool title, huh?
  • I once ate a chocolate covered grasshopper and a half a rattlesnake.

Don't you just want to hang out with this woman ??? I know I do !! Now that our Iowa winter is gradually making it's exit I'm hoping we can make plans to get together- hunt mushrooms, watch wildlife, or just sit with a couple glasses of wine and chat about life. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Just peachy !!

The most understated fruit in the entire world is the Iowa peach. Fresh from the tree, picked at the peak of ripeness, there is nothing else like it. The fuzzy skin, the juicy soft flesh that pulls away from the pit so easily, the fragrance......... ahhhh pure summer bliss !!

But they don't stick around long. And you have to fight the birds and deer off because they too are fruit fans. But if you're lucky enough to have a peach tree, or a friend with a peach tree, you've got a wonderful resource !!

The home canning fanatic in me immediately thought peach jam was the best way to preserve this summer gem.

Homemade Peach Jam from the Ball Blue Book

4 cups chopped or mashed peaches
1/4 cup lemon juice (bottled, never fresh)
7 1/2 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin.

Before starting the jam, wash jars, lids and rings. Hold the jars in large pot of boiling water. Hold lids in small saucepan of hot but not boiling water. Set rings aside. Fill and bring to boil the water bath canner.

When the water bath canner is nearly boiling, begin cooking the jam.

Combine the peaches, sugar and lemon juice in large pot. Bring to boil stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add pouch of liquid pectin, return to boil and boil hard one minute. Skim foam if desired.

Remove jars from hot water and fill with hot jam, fix lids on top and seal with rings only to finger tight. Place on rack in water bath canner, lower into boiling water. Start timing when water returns to boil. Process 10 minutes. Lift rack from water and let jars rest 5 minutes, remove with jar lifter and set on towel-lined surface and allow to cool undisturbed. Do not retighten rings or push down on lids. You will hear the "ping" as the jars seal. When cool, remove rings and check for good seal. If not seals, you can reprocess or keep in fridge and use within 3-4 weeks.

40 jars counter was completely covered, but the smile on my face and happiness in getting them all done were worth all the hard work !!

Canning Cookbook- The tomato paste debate

With an Italian chef in the house, tomato paste is simply a must have ingredient. We use a lot of it. We also can and grow our own tomatoes, and buy hundreds of pounds of canning tomatoes each year from a pick your own farm nearby. I'm sure you can see where this is leading to- why can't we make our own tomato paste?

Well, we CAN, with a few considerations. Depending on your comfort level when it comes to canning practices, you may not be as much of a rule-breaker as I am. There are a lot of people who think if it's not in the Blue Book, it's not ok to can, and that's perfectly fine if they want to live by that doctrine. But many experienced canners bend the rules a little when it comes to canning. We might tweak a recipe a bit or use a recipe from an "unapproved" source, like Gramma. Tomato paste is a great example. It once WAS in the Ball Blue Book but for whatever reason it was removed- perhaps a density issue, maybe because no two home cooks are ever going to get EXACTLY the same consistency. I'm not sure, but I do know that I've done a lot of research on this and have found that the Canadian canning authority, Bernardin, still has the recipe and directions in their canning book, and in the U.S. the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension shares the identical recipe and processing time. 

So with that in mind, I am going to get busy making tomato paste! Obviously this is where the type of tomato you want is very important. Romas or other paste tomatoes would be the best choice but other tomatoes will work also- the result will be a longer cook down time to reach that thick "paste" consistency and maybe, a slightly smaller yield. But we work with what we have, right?

This recipe is the exact same version as the Bernardin and University of Georgia Extension's and is not owned by me, nor created by me. It's a boiling water bath recipe and easy to follow instructions. It takes patience and small jars but is so worth the effort rather than commercially canned tomato paste.

Our ingredients are:

8 quarts peeled, cored chopped tomatoes (about 4 dozen large)  
1 1⁄2 cups chopped sweet red peppers (about 3)
2 bay leaves 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 clove garlic (optional)

The directions are:

Prepare 8-9 half pint or 4 oz jars only, lids, and rings. Sterilize the jars and keep them in the hot water till its time for processing. Make sure to fill your water bath canner and get the water to a simmer.  Prepare tomatoes by removing seeds and skins. 

In a large stainless steel pot, roaster, or crock pot (I prefer the roaster) combine first four ingredients and cook slowly 1 hour. Press through a fine sieve. Add garlic clove, if desired. Continue cooking slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon, at least  2 1⁄2 hours. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove garlic clove and bay leaves. 

On a dishtowel place your hot jars and using your funnel, ladle to fill to 1/4" headspace.  Remove air bubbles and refill to the proper headspace with the mixture if necessary. Taking a clean paper towel wet it with warm water and wipe the rims of the jars removing any food particles that would interfere with a good seal. Fix the lids and rings to the tops of each of the jars and turn to seal just "finger tight". 

Make sure your rack is on the bottom of the canner and place the jars in the water bath making sure that the water covers each of the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add hot water to the canner if it doesn't measure up. Cover the pot and turn up the heat under the canner and wait for the water to start boiling. Once the water has come to a boil start your timer for 45 minutes. When complete turn off the heat and remove the cover and let the jars sit for another few minutes. Remove the jars and place them back on the dishtowel in a place that they will sit overnight to cool. Do not touch or move them till the next morning.

Some time in the next hour your jars will be making a "pinging" or "popping" noise. That is the glass cooling and the reaction of the lids being sucked into the jar for proper sealing. Some recipes may take overnight to seal. Check your lids and reprocess or freeze any jars that did not seal.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thinking ahead to the county fair

The snow is still piled up outside. A good inch thick layer of ice covers most of the walkway to my house, oblivious to the amount of salt and chipping and shoveling I have been throwing at it. Winter is being a real stubborn brat this year at the Little Lake House. It makes me frustrated! I have garden plans to get going on!

Besides wondering what I am going to plant in the garden, I'm also already planning in my head- what am I going to enter in the County Fair this year?  It's not easy to decide! Obviously, the goal is winning a ribbon, so......... do I go for the usual and hope to stand out among the usual dill pickles and grape jelly........ or do I go big and submit unusual chutneys, preserves, salsas made with super hot peppers and hope that originality will grab the judges' attention? Ugh! A girl can go nuts at this stage of the game.

I am an adventurous canner. No plain jane jams and jellies for me! Don't get me wrong, I make plenty of things like apple butter and applesauce and canned fruit that are simple and basic. I like to make combinations that are interesting and flavorful. Jams with a little kick of boozy goodness too- those are fun, and relax! You cook the alcohol off so it's perfectly fine to eat and feed to kids. Besides the amount added to any batch is so small anyway- it's more like an extract for flavor. I have discovered how easy it is to make your own gourmet mustards too- so those are always added to the items taken to the fair. Last year I added a jar of wax beans just to make it an even ten submissions- and they won a blue ribbon! 

I won!I won! I won!
Last year was my first ever year for entering in a fair. I entered 10 jars and won 7 ribbons. My blue ribbon winners were: wax beans; old fashioned vinegar cole slaw; bread and butter pickles; radish relish; mixed sweet and hot peppers; sliced mushrooms; and cherry, peach,pear conserve. My second place ribbons went to Newcastle Brown Ale mustard; pear, blueberry and lavender preserves and boozy strawberry peach schnapps jam. I also entered cranberry ghost chili jelly; spicy tomato jam and apple ghost pepper jelly and they didn't win. I'm planning a NEW batch of tomato jam and some other interesting entries for this year too!

2013 was a GREAT year for this first timer!
This year I have been busy with lots of new recipes, new ideas, setting aside some of my favorites as I went along canning, playing with flavors and combinations and my goal this year is 15 jars entered and 10 winners- so I'm crossing my fingers!

Just a few that I plan to enter in 2014.