Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homestyle Pork Roast

Sometimes you just have to have good homestyle comfort food. For many of us, especially in the Midwest, that's a nice pork roast. Bacon has become a trendy item to cook with, but it also makes an excellent self-baster and tastes amazing in just about anything. Pork roast happens to be my personal favorite and apparently I live in the right state for it.

Roasts are not only delicious, but they are easy to prepare and many times leave you some delicious leftovers for another meal or two. Options for sides are endless, gravy or not, it's all up to you. This recipe is very flexible too. Change up the herbs to something you like or have on hand. Don't like or don't eat pork? No problem. Grab a beef roast and go with that. Some roasts are better braised or cooked low and slow in a crock pot, but this particular recipe you want to use a fairly shallow, open pan to allow the bacon to crisp up. To make Bacon Wrapped Pork Roast, you will need:

boneless pork loin roast (mine was about 3 lbs)
1/4 cup olive oil
herbs- I used thyme, rosemary, marjoram
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
4 TB grainy German mustard (or more for bolder flavor)
salt and pepper

Trim pork roast of any silverskin or excess fat. Place the roast in a heavy duty zip close bag- like a freezer bag. It's going to be a gallon or maybe 2 gallon bag depending on the size of your roast. To the bag add the herbs, oil, mustard, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Close the bag removing as much air as possible. Then massage the bag to combine the ingredients and completely and evenly coat the meat. Place in fridge and marinate overnight.

When ready to roast, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove roast from bag, it's not necessary to remove excess marinade. Using bacon slices, wrap the roast completely, using twine to hold the bacon in place. 

Yes, I was out of kitchen twine, so I used yarn- hey it worked!!
Put the roast on a rack in a roasting pan. As you can see, I had to improvise a little and make a "rack" from foil "sticks". Roast uncovered at 350 degrees at least an hour or until meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. If you find the bacon is browning too quickly, tent the roast with foil. Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.

I served the roast with mashed potatoes and green beans from our garden (thank you, pressure canner) and it was delicious. The roast was moist and tender and we skipped the gravy completely. This is a great meal for a lazy weekend day, Sunday dinner, or a cold dreary day when the heat of the oven would be welcome. As long as you have the oven on, why not throw in an apple pie? Let me know what time, and I'll be over for dinner!

Canning Cookbook- Spring is just dandy!!

The dreaded enemy of yard fanatics everywhere, the bouquet of love presented by a chubby child's hand, a weed to some, a flower to others, the beautiful and sunshiny spring dandelion is one of the first signs of warmer days ahead. I so loved the days when my kids were little and they would bring me little bouquets of "flowers". No they were not weeds- they were bouquets of love, and always made me smile.

These days dandelions are so much more. They are also a valuable food source. Yes! Your common yard dandelion is a delicious treat in disguise. Young leaves are a delicious addition to salad mixes, and the blossoms are used for all sorts of things. Today I'm going to be using them for jelly, but we have tried dandelion wine as well- it was too sweet for me, but it was a first try.... I noticed this year that even some seed catalogs offered dandelion seeds in the section of salad greens- imagine that! 

Harvesting dandelions for jelly is fun. The Chef and I, on a warm sunny day, took a box across the street to the park, sat down in the grass and picked. We filled an entire copy paper carton before we knew it and barely had to move from our spot. ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: Pick your dandelions from a location you are 100% positively sure has not been treated for weeds!!!! Once you have a nice big pile, it's time to head in the kitchen.

Wash the dandelion blossoms gently with cool water to help get rid of that bitter "milk" and any extra friends with many legs you might have gotten. I'm not a big fan of friends with THAT many legs- yuck.  Drain them well- a salad spinner works great for this, and spread out onto a towel-lined tray to start working on them. You will be separating the yellow petals from ALL the green parts. It's a little time consuming so pull up a chair at the kitchen table and put on a movie while you're working.

Go ahead and pick as many flowers apart as you can. You will be measuring PACKED petals for the jelly and it can take a lot more than you think. You can pick and pack as you go too- whatever works for you. So let's get busy making our Dandelion Jelly. You will need:

2 cups packed dandelion blossoms
4 cups water
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 box powdered pectin

Bring the water to boil, pour over dandelion petals in large pot or pitcher. Allow this mixture to steep for a couple hours or overnight. When it has steeped, strain into a clean pot using a jelly bag. DO NOT squeeze the bag- let it drip for a half hour or so on it's own. If you don't have a jelly bag you can line a small strainer with coffee filters and strain- slow process but it works in a pinch.

Next, measure out 3 cups of liquid and place in large pot. Combine with pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil while stirring the entire time. Add the entire measure of sugar at once, and return to boil, still stirring. Boil exactly one minute, then remove from heat. Ladle the hot jelly into prepared jars and fix lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove jars and allow to cool. 

A lot of people wonder what it tastes like- well, it tastes amazingly like honey! It kind of looks like honey too. It's great on toast or biscuits and I've also melted some and used to make pan sauces and glazes for different meats by adding herbs and spices. It's very versatile and looks so pretty in the jar- it makes a great gift. I have experimented with other flower petal jellies as well, so maybe this spring we will do some more- just make SURE the flowers are non-toxic and pesticide-free. Have fun playing!!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Vineyard Workshop

Apparently someone around here (namely, ME) forgot that she likes to sleep in on Saturdays! I signed up for a grapevine pruning workshop early on a Saturday morning- in Iowa- in early April! I must be NUTS! We had SNOW two days ago, but it turned out to be a very wise decision and a very wonderful learning experience.

All bundled up against the breeze, learning to prune a 2 year old vine.
As a lifelong gardener I am always looking for something new to add to my garden. I have this little nook in the yard that has kind of crummy, rocky soil. Now, my education in oenology tells me that grapevines thrive in crummy soil, crummy conditions and don't require as much water as many garden plants do. They send very long roots deep into the ground and find a water source. They are very very resilient, as long as you are growing a variety suited to your zone. Anyway.....I decided that a grapevine would look really awesome in this particular spot.

Rows of beautiful Concord grapevines
And then along comes this workshop. Hosted by Dean Rogers of the John 15 Vineyard near Scranton, Iowa, and I had to sign up! A little about John 15- it's not your typical Iowa vineyard. There is no winery here. Instead Nancy and Dean raise grapes and use them for jellies, baked goods, candies and more. You can also purchase grapes by the pound for your own creations. They have a marvelous lodge on the property with guest rooms for overnight stays, meeting space, a huge kitchen (and I wish I had some canning girlfriends nearby- we could rent it and can up a storm overnight!), a treehouse for camping (yes, a TREEHOUSE), playground and they are building a golf course on the property as well. It's located in a secluded part of Greene County surrounded by trees and wildlife, and is the perfect place for a meeting or event. You will never meet nicer folks than Nancy and Dean. They are so welcoming and helpful and love to visit.

Sarah trims up a 2 year old Concord vine
So, my friend Sarah, her brother Brian and myself arrive bright and early on this brisk and breezy spring morning, pruning shears and sweatshirts, ready to get out there and learn! Sarah has a very old and seriously overgrown grapevine in her yard, so she wants to learn how to get it back into shape. Brian is a young man seriously interested in horticulture and gardening and has started his 2014 garden from seed already, and me, well, you know- I have the perfect spot for a  grapevine!

The Vine That Started it All
Dean leads us out into the property and introduces us to the "vine that started it all"- the original concord grapevine that was there when they purchased their home. This, he tells us, is what a pruned vine should look like- to me it looks like someone cut the life out of it! But a tiny snip reveals living green wood inside the brown bark and little buds waiting for the warmth of the sun to pop them open. 

It looks forlorn but it's healthy green wood waiting to burst
open new buds, leaves and bunches of Concord grapes
We move into the vineyard itself and Dean explains the different varieties they grow. Since he has just begun the pruning process many of the vines are still heavily overgrown and look like a tangled mess. I'm beginning to wonder if I've bit off more than I can chew! But he starts to work on a vine and in a matter of minutes it's trimmed and under control. I'm amazed, but still not sure I want to go hacking up someone else's vines! 

A couple of the varieties grown at John 15 Vineyard

Dean is not worried, and one by one he walks us through pruning first an older vine, then a young vine and each got a chance at pruning a couple vines. It really wasn't that scary at all! We learned to identify different diseases, live wood from dead wood, buds, old growth, and training vines to grow in the direction we want. 

Someone desperately needs a trim!
The Rogers' grow several different types of grapes in the vineyard and we learned a little about each one. You think a vine is a vine is a vine but Dean taught us otherwise- every variety is different and has different growing habits. We learned about weather affecting the vines, wildlife thinking it's a salad bar, and he shared many stories of successes and failures. He pointed out one vine- a wild grape- that he transplanted just for fun and quickly learned that was not the best idea.

Brian got right in there, identifying old and new  wood,
diseased parts and new buds
As we wrapped up our workshop we got to visit with Nancy and Dean about vines and gardens and different plants. Sharing stories about gooseberries, blueberries, even huckleberries-what an enjoyable morning. Nancy gave us all a sample of jelly made with Niagara grapes- it looks nothing like grape jelly! Niagara are sweet white grapes often used in winemaking but they make amazing jelly! Your eyes are telling you "apple jelly" and your mouth is telling you "holy heck that is GRAPE jelly."

I trimmed this little Concord vine all by myself!
After leaving the vineyard we stopped to take Brian home and he showed us all his garden plants he is working on, and the area he plans to till and raise vegetables in. I really admire that in a young man. He has a serious interest in horticulture and that makes me so happy !! So in spite of grumbling when the alarm went off, it was a wonderful Saturday morning. One of the things we learned is how to make starts from cuttings and Sarah is going to attack her monstrous vine and pass along a few cuttings, so I will have plenty of fun this summer!

If you are ever in this part of Iowa, plan to stop by John 15 Vineyard. Check out their website and Facebook page and even if you stop in for the jelly, it's worth the drive! You can find the link to their website on the right side of this blog, so check it out!