Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Grape Jam

I have very generous friends. The kind of friends that call or text me and ask me if I just want to take a huge bowl of fresh-picked grapes off her hands. Silly question- of course I do! I never turn down a freebie!  In this case it was my super sweet friend Sarah who has an ages-old grapevine at her house. She and I had gone to a grapevine workshop earlier in the spring so she could figure out how to tame The Beast (click HERE to read about it).

Once I had the grapes home, all cleaned and ready to work with (THAT was a horrifying experience with insects but I guess makes them truly organic!) I started to research different recipes. I searched everywhere I could look for something other than grape jelly or jam and had no success. Grape juice sure, but that's not I wanted. So......grape jam it is! I will be using the directions from the Bernardin canning website so it is NOT my recipe and has been tested and certified safe for those who stick to approved-only recipes.

I chose this recipe because it is a smaller batch, and I certainly didn't need any more jam but didn't want to waste the fruit, and also since you need to separate the skin from the flesh- it will take a while but not as long as a bigger batch. I have never worked with grapes at all, so we're learning this one together, guys! I have Concord grapes to play with, but this recipe works equally well with any grape that makes a good jam or jelly including some of the sweeter wine grapes- good to know since Iowa has over 100 wineries/vineyards!

We are going to need-

8 cups stemmed Concord grapes
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar

Place a metal spoon and plate in the freezer. Trust me, you'll need it later.

Wash and drain the grapes well. Make sure to remove alllll the multi-legged friends that come with things you've grown outdoors. Use your fingers to pinch each grape, forcing the pulp into one saucepan and the skin into another. 

Didn't think that pinch trick would work but it sure did!
Add the water to the grape pulp and bring to a boil. 

Looks like a pot of eyeballs- slimy and gross
Boil gently for 10 minutes stirring once in a while. Press the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds and set aside for now.

Looks like a big hassle but it went very quickly.
Next, chop the grape skins, I gave mine a quick buzz in the food processor. I don't want big hunks of skin in the finished jam. Return skins to their saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil until the water has evaporated. Thus usually takes about 10 minutes. Combine the skins and pulp.

Before I ran thru the food processor- turned out perfect after
Get your jars ready now- you should always wash them before you start. I like to hold the clean jars in the boiling water bath canner until it's time to fill them.

Place the grape mixture into a deep stainless steel pot. Add all of the sugar. Bring mixture to a boil slowly, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil vigorously until the mixture reaches the gelling point. This takes about 25 minutes, but don't plan your day on that 25 minutes. It took mine quite a bit longer.

How can you tell if it's reached the gel point? Well, remember that spoon we put in the freezer? Remove the pot from heat for a minute and grab that frozen spoon. Dip it into the jam mixture and quickly move away from pot. Mixture should coat the spoon, and if you put a couple drops onto a frozen plate, it will form a soft-set jam just like in the stores. 

Remove jars from hot water. Working quickly, ladle the jam into the hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim of jar and fix lids and rings. Process the jam for 10 minutes in the boiling water bath (start timing when the water is fully boiling). Let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes off the heat before removing to a towel or rack to cool. You will hear the distinctive POP as they cool and seal. Let them rest 24 hours before removing rings, checking for seal and storing. I got nine half-pints from this recipe.

Aren't jams easy? No straining, no hours waiting on a jelly bag to empty, no worries about cloudiness. Jams are great recipes for starting canners and most fruits are a lot less work than grapes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fair Season 2014- Guthrie County Fair

Once again it's time to load up the jars of home-canned goodies and head off to the Guthrie County Fair. I'm not here for the concerts, or the mud bog racing. The animal competitions and deep fried fair foods really aren't on my agenda. I am headed to the Open Class Competition, to show my jars of colorful foods and hope for a few ribbons. Last year was the first time I'd ever entered anything, and took home 10 ribbons out of 13 entries- I'd say that's pretty good for a newbie! 

2013 Guthrie County Fair winners
I've been busy! Canning is a year-round project for me. If it's not in season, I froze it when it was, and jams, jellies, mustards, relishes- you name it- can be made anytime. When the wind was howling and the snow was piling up, the canner was whistling away, warming the house and filing it with wonderful aromas.

On the list of entries for this year are-
  • salsa verde 
  • green beans
  • wax beans
  • carrots
  • hot pickles (dill pickles with a cayenne pepper added to each jar)
  • cowboy candy 
  • spiced pears
  • pear halves
  • applesauce
  • dill pickles- whole, spears and chips
  • corn 
  • tomatoes
  • pumpkin cranberry ale mustard 
  • pickled green tomatoes
  • apple butter
  • cherry jam
  • peach jam
  • Kinky Blue Goose Jam
  • Pineapple Blueberry Jam 
  • Summer zucchini relish 
  • Apple Cranberry Jam 
  • dehydrated hot peppers
  • "sun dried" tomatoes

I've also decided to enter things other than just canned foods this year and see how that goes, so you will notice I have some dehydrated things on my list too.

And now.......the waiting. Our fair is only 5 days long but it's a very very long five days waiting to see if I am lucky enough to snag a ribbon or two! As long as I'm here, I might as well enjoy some of the fun fair stuff. Of course, the ever-popular fair food and rides are all around. The campground is filled to the brim with campers, many have had the same spot for generations, and it's a reunion of sorts- old friends and new, sharing food, drink and stories. The livestock buildings have everything from bunnies to chickens, lambs to cows.

Thursday is free admittance day, and drop-off day for exhibits like mine. Livestock judging, the dog show, family meal and the Bill Riley Talent Search competition take place on this day. Don't forget, the carnival rides and fair food all open too!

Friday the fair has lots of fun things for all ages. 4-H and FFA kids show their horses in the morning, poultry in the afternoon followed by pets. You better brush up on your cribbage skills for the tournament. Little buckeroos can demonstrate their prowess at mutton bustin', and the evening is capped off with the IRCA sanctioned Grand River Rodeo in the grandstand.

Saturday the fun kicks off with the parade in the morning, followed by more livestock and animal shows, mud volleyball, antique tractor show and the MPA and MAPA Truck and Tractor Pull in the grandstand. 

Sunday begins with church service bright and early at 7:30 am. Bring your appetite and your wallet to the pie auction, and stay for the Baby Olympics. If you're feeling competitive, sign up for Arm Wrestling. Gunnar and the Grizzley Boys take the grandstand stage to wrap up the day, followed by fireworks.

After Sunday, the weekend may be over, but not the fair! Labor Day closes the fair for the year with livestock auctions, mud bogs, and a last chance to take a spin on a carnival ride or enjoy a funnel cake or hot dog. It will also be time to pick up my entries and see what the results are! Make sure to watch for an update!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dinner from the garden

What a terrible thing it is- to be able to step out in the yard, pick an armful of fresh veggies and make dinner happen. Just terrible. Especially right now, with all the tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, onions, garlic...... just awful.

Tonight we're having dinner from our garden! Fresh yellow summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions- the only thing we didn't grow was the hamburger and Parmesan cheese. This is a quick to put together dish, pop it in the oven and relax for 20 minutes or so, then get some pasta water going, toss in some pasta to go alongside and voila! Dinner is served.

Italian Stuffed Summer Squash
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash or zucchini
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • big pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2-3 tb minced fresh marjoram, basil, oregano or a combo
  • oil
  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or puree
Wash squash well and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard. Also scoop out some of the flesh leaving a half inch shell. Chop squash flesh.

In large oven-safe skillet heat a couple TB oil. Add onion, garlic and chopped squash. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Crumble ground beef into skillet. Cook and stir until beef is cooked. Add herbs and pepper. Add half the tomato sauce to skillet, then stuff the squash halves with mixture. Add all remaining sauce to skillet, stir, and nestle the squash in the mixture. Sprinkle with topping mixture (see below). Place in 425 degree oven about 20-30 minutes until squash is tender but not mushy.

Remove carefully to plates, cut in half if you like, and serve with pasta and extra sauce.

  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of herbs used in dish
Combine in small bowl. Sprinkle over squash. Drizzle with a tiny touch of oil. The topping bakes up crunchy from the panko and salty from the Parmesan cheese and makes the perfect textural element. 

You'll notice I did not precook my squash before stuffing. I prefer mine to still have some hint of crisp to it, but you can certainly precook yours if you like it softer. Put on a microwave safe plate,sprinkle with a few drops of water and cover tightly with plastic wrap- cook for a minute or two until barely tender.

All you need now is a hunk of crusty bread and a breezy spot on the patio to enjoy a perfect summertime dinner!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Chinatown Plum Sauce

Ohhhhhhh I have been waiting a year to be able to make this sauce! Ever since hitting the jackpot- finally, after 2 years of searching the Iowa countryside, I finally found wild plums last summer. So now that I know where all the trees are, I just needed to get through winter, spring and summer again and voila! Plums! I have been wanting to make an Asian plum sauce. Why a plum sauce? Iowa's native wild plums ripen to a gorgeous ruby red and become juicy and sweet like other plums but they are TINY- and that makes it hard to do much with them other than sauces and jams. I have a huge stockpile of jam already so, plum sauce it is!

Just the other day they were green!!
I love learning new techniques and new styles of cooking and Asian foods is definitely a weak spot. Maybe the perfect plum sauce will inspire me to explore Asian recipes and sharpen up my skills! Anyway, let's round up some plums and make this sauce. I am using Iowa wild plums but you can use any plum you like, you just need 10 cups pitted and chopped. Peel the plums if you like, I didn't- they break down well in cooking. You will need-
  • 10 cups chopped, pitted plums, peeled if desired
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tb finely minced/shredded gingerroot or 1 tb dried ground
  • 3 tb crushed red pepper
  • 1 tb salt
In crockpot, combine plums with all other ingredients. Cover and set to high. When boiling, turn heat to low and cook several hours until thickened. 

Since it's VERY early in the wild plum season, I had to
supplement with store bought plums, cut up.
To get the perfect smooth sauce, buzz in a blender or food processor for a few seconds. Reheat if necessary.

Red onion, freshly garlic and spicy ginger make the sauce pop!
Ladle hot sauce into half pint or pint jars leaving half inch headspace. Wipe rim, fix lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for ten minutes. Remove and cool, check for seals after about 12 hours.

This sauce makes an awesome dipping sauce for egg rolls or a great base for a stir fry sauce. You can tame the heat by using a little less crushed red pepper if you like. It's also great for tossing with chicken wings for a Asian take on wings. Depending on the plums you choose you will get a beautiful sauce anywhere from golden yellow to deep purple. 

Hurry up and ripen guys!! I have plans for you!
This recipe is safe for home canning- it's very similar to the recipe featured by Bernardin in Canada. The only differences are in seasonings, the acid is still in there. Safety should always be on the forefront of your mind as a home canner. The internet can be a scary place when it comes to canning recipes with a lot of people touting outdated and unsafe methods. Please check a reputable source before trying a recipe if you're not sure if it's safe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Stella Rosa Black

Wine drinking is very trendy these days. Not the stuffy and pretentious cork-sniffing boastful wine drinking of a generation ago. The old rules for wine- white with fish, red with pasta- are thrown out the window and people are exploring different tastes. In am a huge advocate of "drink what you like, when you like, how you like." You can have chianti with sea bass if that's what you love. Go ahead and drink Sauvignon Blanc with a steak- why not? Like all your wine cold and not cool room temp? Go for it! 

Several years ago I offered my services to clients as a personal wine tasting guide. They gathered a few friends for an evening and I would come over with a selection of wines and guide them through 5 or 6 different wines, talking about tasting notes, legs, food pairings, and winemaking. It was fun but I noticed a pattern- while most of the men favored the big bold super Tuscans, women tended to clutch the Moscato bottle and be afraid of reds. I'd recommend wines from all over- California, Europe and Iowa. In Iowa, the wine industry is flourishing with over 100 wineries in the state and many farmers growing acres or grapes as a permanent crop, and trend with locally grown grapes is.......sweet. 

Dry wines are just as delicious and and usually more complex compared to any sweet wine, and learning to appreciate them is an important part of growing as a wine drinker. As the ladies became bolder and wanted to step away from the Moscato and sweet wines, I knew I'd need a good second step wine to recommend. Stella Rosa fit the bill perfectly. It was sweet, just a tad effervescent and most importantly- red!

Stella Rosa wines come from the village of Santo Stefano Belbo. They are imported by the San Antonio Winery, owned by the Riboli family. They are really great wines for newbies. Since discovering Stella Rosa all those years ago the company has expanded the range to include reds, whites, fruit-kissed and sparkling wines. 

After getting some bad news, and in need of some cheer, my wonderful kids stopped by with flowers, a gift card for my Nook, and a bottle of wine (they know me so well!). That bottle was the limited edition Stella Rosa Black.

Let's just say this bottle didn't sit around too long. It went straight into the wine chiller for an evening of relaxation. I remember the original Stella being very fruity and grapey. This one is a little different, more depth, more berry and black cherry notes than grape jam and still has that ever so slight fizz that's so appealing. A quick swirl in my big red wine glass released so many beautiful floral and fruit aromas. The flavor was divine. I happened to have a little chocolate just laying around so I had a little nibble. It was heavenly. 

Stella Rosa wines also have a lower alcohol contact than some wines, which makes it a great choice for a warm summer afternoon sipper on a shady patio somewhere. This would be a great base wine for a sangria too, or a fresh and delicious wine cocktail. Mmmmmm- wine snow cones for the big kids??

If you are stuck in the Moscato rut because you don't like reds because you think they are too dry, give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.

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."

Pumpkin Butter- Yummy stuff!!

Let me start with a stern warning- I share a lot of canning recipes. This is NOT one of them. Pumpkin butter is NOT SAFE for canning at home, even with a pressure canner.  Ok, so we got that out of the way......

The Chef and I did an inventory of our canned foods still leftover from last fall- we have a LOT of pumpkin, butternut squash and Hubbard squash. So what should I do? Of course I plan on baking a few goodies but I thought why not a crockpot full of yummy pumpkin butter? It's the harbinger of fall, always makes the house smell AMAZING and is super easy to throw together in a crockpot. Since I have the extra jars, I decided to give it a shot.

I chose 6 quarts- 4 of pumpkin, one of butternut squash and one of Hubbard squash- all of which are perfect for pumpkin recipes. Drained and dumped in the crockpot, mashed with the potato masher, I added 3 cups of sugar (to start), a dash of nutmeg, ginger, allspice, orange peel and a big blast of cinnamon, and put it in the crockpot to simmer. Mmmmmm the smell is sooooo wonderful. Thanksgiving is in my crockpot!

Since I'm winging this one a little bit, let's jot down the recipe as we go- you will need-

  • 6 quarts canned cubed pumpkin*
  • 3 cups sugar (plus more)
  • 1 tsp each nutmeg, ground ginger, allspice, orange zest (I used Penzey's dried- it you use fresh, 1 tb)
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon

Place the cubed cooked squash in the crockpot, mash well with a potato masher. Add sugar and spices, stir well. Turn on high heat and cover. Once the pumpkin butter is bubbling, turn heat to low and cover with splatter shield or prop the lid open. You want the pumpkin butter to cook down into a rich, thick consistency.

Taste during the cooking process too. Add more sugar if you need it, more spices, etc. When it tastes delicious to you, you've hit the right combo!

When you've cooked the pumpkin butter to your desired thickness, it's time to jar it up. You can use plastic freezer containers if you like. I am going to use those cute little square Ball jars- I know they are freezer safe. Pack the butter into your containers and allow to cool slightly before popping into the freezer. 

REMEMBER- this is NOT a safe canning recipe, so please do not can it and store it on a shelf. Pumpkin puree is far too dense to safely can. It's easy enough to freeze, so don't put yourself at risk of potentially deadly botulism. Since it's not being processed it's a great way to reuse commercial jars too. I don't have to worry about a seal failure. You might hear the lids "ping" as the jars are cooling before popping in the freezer, but DO NOT assume that's a safe seal. It is NOT. Please freeze or refrigerate ALL the jars!!

*Let's talk for a minute about the pumpkin. I had home-canned pumpkin cubes so I used those. I used 6 quart jars with the liquid drained off. You can use commercially canned pumpkin or cook your own fresh pumpkin or butternut squash or a mix of pumpkin and winter squash. How many cans from the store? Just guess- you can see how full my crockpot is. Estimate- maybe 10-15 cups. How many pie pumpkins or squash to roast? Again, it's just an estimate. It's ok if you don't have as much pumpkin to start with, just lower the amount of sugar and spices you start with.

Now that you have this jar of autumn scented deliciousness, what do you do with it? It's fantastic on warm biscuits, buttery toast or waffles. Top a slice of cheesecake. Use your imagination!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Southwest Sunday

It's a dreary, cool but humid, nasty semi-rainy Sunday at the Little Lake House. I am done canning for a few days so it's time to clean up the kitchen and cook a real meal. A quick look through the pantry and a suggestion from The Chef and we're having pan roasted boneless pork country style ribs and Spanish rice.

The pork really doesn't have a recipe, per se. I started with a package of 6 boneless country style pork ribs, rubbed them liberally with a good barbeque meat rub and seared in a hot cast iron skillet. Once they were nicely seared, I popped them in the oven at 400 degrees to finish. It took about 15 minutes to reach that perfect, juicy 145 degrees for perfect pork.

Meanwhile, I got started on The Chef's Spanish Rice. You will need-
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup rice (not instant)
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomato, reserve juice
  • water
  • cooking oil

Start by heating a tablespoon or two of oil in a deep skillet or stockpot. Add onion, peppers and garlic and saute for a couple minutes until softened. Add rice, chili powder and cumin to taste- we like spicy so I used about 3 tb chili powder and several dashes of cumin and stirred well. 

Add tomatoes to pot- I used a quart a home-canned chopped tomatoes and saved the liquid, but you can use store-bought or fresh tomatoes. Add enough water to juice to make 2 1/2 cups and add that to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer 15-20 minutes until rice is done. Stir occasionally and add more water if needed to prevent sticking.

Serve the rice with the pork and enjoy! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Jam Collection

I've been on a real jam kick lately. And not just making it, talking about it, tasting it, sharing recipes, changing out fruits, tossing ideas around with other canning friends. I think it's because county fair time is coming up, and I've been trying to come up with new ideas to enter. What I ended up with is a list of several I plan on making, but because I have limited storage space, and only two mouths to feed, making 20 different jams is probably not a good idea. Instead, I have decided to compile a list of the recipes I plan to make as jars free up in the cabinet and my current supply dwindles, as fruits come into season and are available, and when I am bored later and have a freezer filled with frozen fruits.

There is almost a theme with these recipes- tropical and boozy. Kiwis and mangoes are usually readily available and definitely tropical. Dragonfruit are a rare treat for me to see in the store but the next time I see them I WILL be grabbing enough for a small batch of jam. Pineapples also go on sale throughout the year- when I can get a good deal, I'll grab them, cut them up and tuck away in the freezer. Berries are available pretty much year-round but I usually get them in season and tuck several pints away in the freezer to use later. As for the booze, well, that's always available. I can grab little airplane bottles for most recipes, eliminating the need for an expensive liquor collection. 

The process of making jam doesn't really vary much. You prepare the fruit. Cook it. Add the pectin, cook it some more. Add the sugar, bring to a boil. Ladle into jars and process in boiling water bath for ten minutes. Very rarely will a jam recipe vary from that basic formula. Before we get to the cooking part, let's run down some jam ingredients and give them a title.

Tropical Kiwi Jam
12 kiwi fruit, chopped
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup coconut
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups sugar
3-4 tb  melon liqueur such as Midori

Mango Rum Jam
4 cups diced mango
1/2 cup water
2 tb lemon juice
1 packet powdered pectin
7 cups sugar
3-4 tb  mango rum- Parrot Bay or Malibu are good

Southern Peach Bourbon Jam
4 cups peeled, pitted, diced peaches
1/2 cup water
2 tb lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
7 cups sugar
1/2 cup bourbon

Dragonfruit Jam
2 lbs dragonfruit (discard peels and dice)
3 cups finely diced pineapple
3/4 water
1 package powdered pectin
1 tb lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup dragonfruit rum- Bacardi makes a great one

Kiwi Daiquiri Jam
8 kiwi fruit (2 cups pulp)
2/3 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup coconut rum such as Malibu

Chambord Berry Jam
7 cups mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, chopped strawberries, blackberries)
1/2 cup water
2 tb lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup Chambord

**Note: Always use bottled lemon juice in canning, and I prefer to use canned unsweetened pineapple juice- it just gives better, more consistent results.

Prepare your fruit.  Most of the fruit will need to be peeled and chopped, obviously not berries. Chop or mash, that's up to you and the consistency you like your jam to be.

Get your jars ready. Wash jars thoroughly, and hold in boiling water until time to fill. Place lids in simmering water to warm but DO NOT BOIL.

Make your jam. Cook your fruit, with added water if required, lemon or fruit juice, until softened. Gradually stir in the pectin and fully incorporate into the fruit. You shouldn't have any lumps. If the recipe you are using calls for coconut, add that now as well. Bring this mixture to a full rolling boil.  Add the full measure of sugar all at once. Stir and bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam. Stir in the booze and ladle into hot jars that have been removed from water and drained. Make sure to leave 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars. Fix lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Typically, I use 8 oz jelly jars, but you can use the 4 oz. jars or pint jars- the processing time is the same. 

The yield will vary from recipe to recipe. Jams make great last minute gifts and are fun to enter in county fairs. They are easy to make, practically foolproof and even if they don't set, you get a tasty fruity syrup for pancakes and french toast. I'm especially excited about the dragonfruit jam. 

You might wonder what's up with all the boozy jams. Well, I like them because they are different, less breakfasty and definitely more "artisan" than a jar of strawberry preserves. You can always leave the alcohol out if you prefer not to use it, it's just a flavor enhancer and fun way to switch it up and make it "mine." 

{Please note- I have exchanged recipes with so many people from all over, I cannot be sure of the origin of some of the recipes, I can only provide you the ingredients and methods used by me.}

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."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fun times in farm land

Have you ever got to pick your own sweet corn? The Chef and I did just that this afternoon. It was a first for us, and after a local farmer invited us to come and pick what we wanted, we weren't about to say no!

Field corn on the left,sweet corn on the right-
what a HUGE difference in size!
Our friend's sweet corn patch was planted right by his huge fields of regular field corn, and the first thing I noticed was the incredible difference in size. The sweet corn was still taller than I am, but the field corn was several feet taller still! The ears were HUGE compared to the sweet corn ears.

It was a hot and humid afternoon and once you got in the middle of the rows, the air just wasn't moving at all. Talk about hot! I was sure I'd die in the middle of the rows and never be found. Just bones among the dead cornstalks. Just kidding of course, the Chef was with so he would have missed me.

Time to get in there and get picking
By the time we were done we'd filled 8 grocery bags. Well......I filled two, the Chef filled the rest. I admit it. There still is enough City Girl left in me that I was miserable and not holding up to hard farm labor very well. I'll be doing my corn canning in air conditioned comfort, that's for sure.

How many of you guys have ever got to experience farm work, or even a pick your own farm? I'd love to hear your stories.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Home Cooking- Sunday Dinner

Sunday dinner is a big tradition for lots of families. For our little family of two, and the Chef's varied schedule, we don't always have a Sunday evening together, so for us dinner together is a real treat, and most of the time, it's my turn to break out the cookware, don the apron and create.

Yesterday out of sheer boredom I went on a mini road trip to the city, with the big supermarket as my destination. Our small town grocery store is fine for every day but once in a while I just NEED the variety you can only get at a bigger store. The produce selections are almost endless and provide me with loads of options for making dinner a little more special.

I already know what my dinner is going to be. I have the Parisian market carrots that came from the garden waiting in the fridge and I need to get them cooked, so something roasted- root veggies for sure, and a roasted meat of some sort. What sort of root veggies.......well I have been saying forever that I need to learn to like beets, so I choose some nice organic beets and in the basket they go. I was hoping for some fingerling potatoes but none were to be found, and I chose strawberry baby potatoes- something I had never seen before. A package of perfect mushrooms completes my roasted vegetable combination and I'm off to check out the meat.

Strawberry reds are firm, waxy red-skinned potatoes,
perfect for roasting.
Beef was out- beef prices right now are sky high and the smallest roasts just weren't in my price range today, and I honestly just wasn't in the mood for a beef roast. Chicken? Maybe, but I have other dishes I'm planning with chicken and I just get bored with the same thing all the time. Browsing the pork selections proved to be more what I was looking for- plus I thought pork would be awesome with this selection of vegetables. A boneless pork loin center rib roast was the perfect size for my planned dinner, so in the basket with the roast!

The best part about Sunday dinner is the actual cooking. For me anyway, it's very satisfying to pull a stool up to the counter and peel, chop and prep. A roast is the perfect thing to make in my Le Creuset dutch oven so I get that heating and ready to sear my roast. Just a touch of olive oil in there and get that beautiful piece of pork sizzling until it's seared nicely and has a caramelized crust. 

Some of the beets were pretty good sized, so I quartered them.
I pile in my firmer root vegetables first- the beets and carrots, and season them well. Then the mushrooms and potatoes go in, sprinkled with thyme and a little mushroom stock, pop the lid on and in the oven it goes at 400 degrees.

Potatoes and mushrooms, thyme and mushroom stock and it's
ready for the oven!
About an hour and a half later I had a dutch oven full of delicious. The potatoes were perfectly fork tender, the carrots sweet and flavorful and the beets- I can't say enough about how surprised I am at the beets. I have never cooked beets before- shocking as that may be, my beet memories consist of my mom heating up cans of tiny beet cubes with no flavor at all. However, roasting with the pork and mushroom stock changed the beets into something earthy and lush and amazing.

The roast was fantastic. Sliced about half an inch thick, it was like pork prime rib. Soooo good. The mushroom stock, thyme, the pre-roasting sear and essences from the roasted vegetables created the juiciest pork roast ever. I chose not to make a gravy as the beets left their signature on the pan juices and it wouldn't have been very attractive at all. A little glaze of pan juices and butter gave the veggies the perfect finishing touch. And we have leftovers for lunch! Can't beat that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Update #1 on the German Adventure

I knew I was stepping outside my comfort zone when I got the bright idea to make sauerkraut. Never having fermented anything before, everything about this project was new and different. I relied heavily on the advice and expertise of a great group of canning pros who have made kraut many times to get me started.

So, just about a week in and things are going......... well they are going. I had some gunk to scoop off the top and discard. Checked around the bag of brine that is weighing everything down and it seems to be doing ok. No gross smells or anything like that. It pretty much still looks like little more than a bucket of cabbage covered in liquid. I had some concerns about a few little moldy spots, but my expert friends tell me I have nothing to worry about as long as the cabbage is not moldy. I'll be watching it closely.

I do have some questions though. Like should I transfer it to a round bucket and skip the bag of brine as a weight and use a plate? Is it too late to move it to a new container? If you remember, I had to use a sort of oval-shaped bucket to start it in, but have since found a round bucket that would have been better.

For now, I'll let it continue doing it's thing for another week and see what happens.  Stay tuned for the next update!