Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Pepper Steak

Canning food at home is a HUGELY popular trend right now. People want to control what's in their food. They want to keep chemicals out and nutrition in. Growing our own food and knowing where it comes from when we buy it is very important. Of course, once we get it home we need away to preserve it, and canning is just one way to do so.

Along with this trendy new canning movement people want convenience. "Meal in a jar" foods, heat and eat soups and stews and ready-to-use pasta sauces are very popular and easy to prepare. People are really getting into this and I love it! I've been a home canner for many years and now I have all kinds of new canning friends to chat with, share pictures with, and discuss recipes and trends with. If you have been following City Girl you have seen quite a few home canned recipes on the blog- that's just a tiny peek into my annual canning.

Honestly, we buy very little from a grocery store. Seriously. We rely on vegetables and fruits we grow, buy from a local farm and the farmers markets, from friends who share their extra- you get the idea. Every year I put up hundreds of jars of tomatoes, salsa, pickles, jams, plain vegetables like green beans, corn and carrots, and lots of sauces, soups and things to build recipes with. We don't buy processed foods, we don't buy mixes or premade things, and we cook real food. Living like this does have it's drawbacks- like when you want something on the table right away, and we have no convenience food........ or snacks in boxes.........

But that's when the meal in a jar thing comes in handy. Need a quick lunch? Pop open a jar of vegetable beef soup. Busy day at the office? Grab a jar of spaghetti sauce, cook up some pasta and toss together. Sounds great right? Of course it does! 

Today we are going to make my friend Edie's home canned pepper steak. Pressure canning steak at home is a great way to make the most out of a less expensive, less tender cut like round steak, while giving you fork-tender results. You control the salt that goes in, and the seasoning, and for all the hard work up front the reward is well worth it. 

There are a few things to keep in mind when making ANY home canned foods- you want to follow approved directions, such as those found on Ball's website, for canning instructions. You need to use the freshest ingredients you can get, and prepare them as soon as possible. Canning food is not the time to use up those last few sad looking tomatoes and peppers. Know your recipe's source too. A lot of people are sharing recipes, and not all of them are suitable for home canning. Also make sure you use a pressure CANNER not a pressure COOKER when canning low acid foods. They are not interchangeable. When in doubt, check with your local university extension. Safety is always the first priority!

So, on to Edie's Pepper Steak...... you will need:

lean beef such as round steak or a small roast you can cut into strips
bell peppers
onion (if desired)
garlic powder
beef broth

Prepare your wide mouth pint canning jars for canning and keep hot. Prepare the pressure canner. Heat the beef broth to boiling and hold at a simmer.

Cut the beef into shall strips. Season with salt, pepper and garlic if desired.

Prep the peppers by trimming off the top and bottom; remove seeds and ribs. Cut peppers into small strips. You can use any color of bell pepper you like.

If using the onion, cut off the top and bottom and cut into wedges similar in size to the peppers.

In your hand, make a stack of beef strips, pepper strips and onion wedges. Use enough to fill the jars completely. 

Ease them into the jars as shown in the picture.

Ladle a little beef broth over the meat and peppers if you are using. Since you are raw packing the beef it will make it's own liquid- so you don't want to fill the jars if using broth, just add about half the jar full. DO NOT thicken the broth with cornstarch or any thickener!!

Wipe the rims well, fix lids and rims and seal jars.  Place in the canner and following directions for your canner, bring to pressure and process pints for 75 minutes at 10 lbs pressure (Make sure to adjust for your altitude).

When the processing is complete and canner has returned to zero pounds pressure, remove jars to a towel covered counter and allow them to cool undisturbed 12-24 hours. Test for seals and refrigerate any that did not seal. Use them within a couple days. Wash jars, label and store in a cool dark place.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one.

Now when you are ready to serve, heat up some rice or pasta, pop the lid on a jar and pour the liquid into a small saucepan- thicken if you like and then add the meat and peppers. Season with soy sauce, Asian seasonings, Italian seasonings, whichever you prefer, heat and enjoy! Home canned pepper steak will be VERY tender, including the peppers. My mom always made it like this (not canned, but very tender) so it reminds me of her.

A few last notes:  Edie uses wide mouth PINT jars for this recipe. Stick with that size. Quarts can become too dense for heat to penetrate sufficiently to the center. 

Edie cans hers without added broth. I added a small amount to mine because I like more sauce with the rice. You can decide if you want to add broth or not. 

For the best pepper steak try to have an equal amount of beef and peppers. I also like mushrooms in pepper steak, but I add them when I open the jars to heat up. Generally speaking, you shouldn't alter canning recipes unless you are very experienced in canning safety and know that you aren't altering the acidity of the food to make it unsafe. 

Again, ALL low acid food MUST be processed in a pressure canner. You cannot waterbath any low acid food for any amount of time to make it safe. It will never get hot enough.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Country Life: Springtime in Adair County

Another post from the tourism series I wrote in 2014.

It's been one of those looong painful winters. Snowy days, bad roads, just not the best time to be out and about. So when April rolls around many of us have a SERIOUS case of cabin fever and can't wait to get back out there.

Today we are visiting Adair County. The newly remodeled Warren Cultural Center right on the square in Greenfield is a beautiful old building, now fully restored to its original glory. Hosting musical performances, plays and other events the Cultural Center is a great weekend destination. Right next door is the beautiful Hotel Greenfield so you can make a weekend of your visit. And of course, you can't visit the old Opera House without stopping in Ed & Eva's on the main level.

Ed & Eva's is an amazing shop that showcases artwork from all different kinds of Iowa artisans. Everything from candle to dog biscuits to jewelry and crazy lawn decorations made from old golf clubs, it's a fun store with friendly staff and LOTS to look at, and lots to buy. 

I didn't get out of there without spending any money, either. Louie, my dog, got a great big cupcake-shaped dog biscuit, while I picked out a lovely scented candle and the cutest garden bugs to put in the garden- made from old metal pieces, old antique keys and big old fashioned Christmas light bulbs. Fun stuff.

The day of my visit the Cultural Center was hosting an art exhibit of drawings done by local school children, and I was also able to tour an available space that would be perfect for a restaurant. It's a fabulous building with so much potential- that alone is worth the drive.

Directly across the street from the Cultural Center is the Adair County Courthouse. The courthouse was built in 1981 in the "Romanesque" style and features beautiful woodwork fixtures, arched doorways and a spiral staircase connecting all floors.

I couldn't spend a day in Adair County without a stop in it's namesake town of Adair, which is right along Interstate 80. Adair is the home to the Smiley Face water tower. Adair is also known as "The Happiest Town on Earth" because of that great big smiling greeting.

The town is named after General John Adair, a general in the War of 1812, and was also the scene of the first train robbery in the west when the Jesse James gang derailed a Rock Island Express train, killing the engineer. The gang escaped with a mere $3,000.

Downtown Adair

Today when you visit Adair, you will be greeted by the brand new sign welcoming you, and announcing events around town.

Adair County is also home to many other attractions, such as The Freedom Rock and the Aviation Museum- we just can't seem to fit it all in one day!!  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Pear Blueberry and Lavender Preserves

Since my good friend Janet invited the Chef and I over to pick pears a while back, I have been mulling over what exactly to do with them. I could have done the usual, pear sauce, pear jam, sliced or halved pears in syrup. But that's no fun and not very creative.

So I've been browsing. A lot. Websites, blogs, Facebook pages, cookbooks, emailing with other canning nuts. Pretty sure chutney is going to be on the agenda but then today out of nowhere fellow foodie and blogger Bia Rich (Rich and Sweet on Facebook or Bia's Rich and Sweet Kitchen and she happened to be working on a pot of Pear, Raspberry and Rosemary Preserves. Hmmmmmmmm, brain cells kick on...... pears- check, raspberries- no, but I DO have blueberries in the freezer.....hmmmmm..... rosemary, yes plenty of dried and fresh but what about lavender? I have a jar of dried blossoms from my own garden (as organic as I ever plan to be) and rarely get to use it...... should I ? Could I ? Oh yes !!!!

So I loosely followed Bia's recipe and came up with this-

Pear, Blueberry and Lavender Preserves

10 cups chopped peeled, cored pears
4 cups blueberries (I used frozen I had on hand- actually ended up being about 4 1/2 cups)
1 lemon, halved lengthwise then sliced thinly and seeded
7 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 TB lavender blossoms (I used dried ones from my own garden)

In a large stockpot I combined all ingredients.

Bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours- 2 hours or until thickened.

At THIS point, I went down a different track, inspired by a recipe I found on Kats Canning Tidbits in which she lets the fruit mixture (in her case, just pears) sit in a cool place for 12-24 hours (for me it will be the fridge). I wanted to get the maximum lavender essence in my preserves.

The next day, I prepared my jars as usual, reheated the preserves, filled jars with 1/4 inch head space, etc etc and processed in boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

My recipe yielded 13 half pints- and looks (and tastes) soooo yummy. I'm not sure how I want to serve this when I finally open a jar- maybe to accent a chicken salad sandwich ??

Monday, March 16, 2015

It's March and I'm Obsessing Over Garden Season

Tomorrow it's going to be 80 degrees outside. I can hardly believe it. The snow around my house is gone, the geese are back in residence at the thawing lake honking up a storm every night. Signs of spring are all around from buds on the trees to a few green blades of grass peeking up. Good bye Old Man Winter, you were no friend of mine this past season!

You might remember, the majority of my gardening consists of containers on my deck. It's easier for me to manage that way. No real weeding to worry about. No animals digging and rooting around in the garden. Super easy to manage any potential pests. Easy to plant and clear up at the end of the season too. 

Indigo Blue Berries- photo from Territorial Seeds
I'm already planning my tomato choices. Starting from seed this year I am growing Indigo Blue Berry tomatoes- darling dark blue cherry tomatoes; Chocolate Cherries- an heirloom brown cherry tomato; and Gold Nugget cherries- a yellow round cherry tomato. I'm sure I'll pick up a few transplants from the greenhouse too. Every year I say I won't But I can't help myself!

Chocolate Cherry tomatoes- photo from Territorial Seeds
I will have to make a decision about peppers this year too. I didn't get any hot pepper seeds started in time, so I will have to buy transplants. That means I may have to stick to the common peppers like habanero or jalapeno, or the less fearsome poblanos or hot bananas. I love all kinds of peppers so it doesn't matter what I end up planting. I'll find a great way to utilize it.

Gold Nugget tomatoes- photo from Territorial Seeds
I have also started a few pots of herbs this year. Usually I wait until I can direct-sow them but this year I decided to get a head start on some of the herbs I always run out of over the winter, and use a lot more of during the summer. I love herbs in tossed salads so I always use loads of basil, parsley and chives. We make a lot of Italian dishes and use a lot of basil all year long, both dried and fresh, and that's one tender herb I can't direct sow until it's really warm out. I figure this year I'll try starting some inside and see if I can jump start my crop.

Brazilian Starfish from
I've been seriously thinking about trying them.
Every spring I have a fierce internal debate about flowers. I love flowers, and I have a few perennials in the garden- several beautiful Asian lilies and hosta, but as far as other flowers go I generally don't plant very many. I love flowers though, and love having butterflies and hummingbirds and bees visit my garden but...... like my dad always said... you can't eat flowers. Later in the season when its hot and dry and I have to water those containers every day I find myself not wanting to water the flowers, but I feel guilty for letting a living plant die......

My patio furniture has taken a beating over the winter. New cushions are in order for one thing, and the outdoor kitchen needs to be completed. The deck has a shabby red finish, but some of the wood has held fast to the finish and never adopted the shabby look, so...... the whole thing will need to be restained so it looks the same. That's ok. I just can't wait til I can sit out there in the warm breeze, listening to the geese across the street in the lake. Birds chirping. Cats winding around my feet, meowing. The smell of fresh cut grass........

Hurry up Spring!!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Getting baked with Dr. Pepper

Have I mentioned my insane collection of Bundt pans? No?

I am using this pan to bake my cake in.
Take my advice here. If you want to collect something interesting and useful but want it to be something that's easy to store and won't take up a bunch of cabinet space DO NOT, I repeat, do not collect Bundt pans. Not that I don't love them, because believe me I truly do. Those Nordicware pans are so awesome and well crafted you just cannot find a better quality cake pan out there. They make a pan for every holiday, many sizes, and a ton of non-holiday pans that are beautiful. 

Many cakes have been baked in the fleur-de-lis pan. Another favorite is the holiday wreath. 

The Perfect Pumpkin pan makes an adorable round pumpkin, the halves sandwiched together with a little icing. I have so many I don't even remember the names of them all! Sadly........ they do not fit in the cabinets.  Not even close. My Bundts have to live in rubbermaid tubs in the extra bedroom and now they don't get used very often. That's the drawback of collecting Bundts......

Then........ one day....... browsing the internet....... and hello! A cake recipe using just a mix and a can of soda recipe! It's time to break out a Bundt pan! Even better than just a Bundt recipe- I can make this a Dr. Pepper Cake. I love love love Dr. Pepper (yes I am an unhealthy soda drinker- no judging) so I was super curious about the idea of baking a cake using nothing but a cake mix and a can of soda.

Dr. Pepper Bundt Cake

1 box red velvet cake mix
1 12 oz can Dr. Pepper
nonstick cooking spray

Turn oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine cake mix and Dr. Pepper. 

Beat with a mixer or whisk by hand until smooth and thick. 

Pour into Bundt pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick tests clean,or whatever time the cake mix package states. 

Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool.
It was COLD in the house and the glaze thickened a  little
too quickly on me- it was hard to drizzle but was still
delicious. I sprinkled chopped chocolate over the glaze.
Combine a little powdered sugar and enough additional soda to make a pourable glaze, or heat a half a can of prepared frosting just enough to pour it. Drizzle over the cake.

This is definitely a fun and easy to make cake. Starting with cake mix makes it a snap, and yes, I know, it's a commercially produced product, but I find many scratch cake recipes just come out too dry and with a glazed cake (as opposed to a lot of frosting) moisture in the cake is important. It reminds me of church cookbook recipes. Yes, the Dr. Pepper is another nod to naughty foods, but hey, it's CAKE! It's ok to eat a little naughty stuff once in a while.

Bundt cakes are always a hit. They are easy to transport and in a pinch you can eat a slice with your hands. Pretty convenient! This easy recipe is inspiring my brain to think up lots of cake mix and soda combinations so don't be surprised if you see an orange or strawberry cake around here soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gramma Day in the City

Nothing in this world is better than being a gramma! Sure, having kids of your own is pretty awesome but I'm tellin' ya, there is NOTHING that makes you feel better than that little person who actually wants to spend time with you, and the first time they call you gramma.

I got to spend the weekend with my oldest grandkiddo Nathan this past week, and we had loads of fun. We started our weekend with The SpongeBob Movie. I had no idea it was about food trucks- so it was something we both got a kick out of.

Dinner out was crazy. Our first choice, Jethro's BBQ was so busy they had people waiting outside. Scratch that! Next we drove to Fireside Grill, where the hostess told us every single table in the place was reserved. Sigh. Up the road we tried another barbeque place- it was so busy there was nowhere to park! Even Applebee's had nowhere to park.

We settled on Pizza Ranch, and had fun talking about all sorts of things. School. Singing. Hockey.

Nathan is a hockey nut,and played on the Bruins this year. We went to his playoff game Sunday morning.

Nathan scored three goals and tells me that's called a hat trick. They won!!

After hockey we stopped at the grocery store on the way home and got all the goodies to make nachos. Nathan told me he loves to cook, even though he has never tried it before.

Nathan is a very good helper. He carefully cut up the tomatoes, and the avocado, and he helped me figure out their unusual can opener. 

We cooked the hamburger together, and added the nacho sauce, and then made our plates. Afterwards, we cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher.

We watched tv, Nathan played some music on Youtube and we sang along, and finally the day was winding down and bedtime was upon us. As we said our goodnights Nathan said "I really like hanging out with you, Gramma." I am truly blessed to have these amazing little people in my life.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Country Life: Off we go.....into the wild blue yonder.......

Here is another post from the 2014 tourism series. It's a nice look into my region of Iowa.

Lots of interesting things to see here.....

Aviation is fascinating to me. From the silly commercials on tv showing the earliest attempts at flight to modern military aircraft, I have always had a love for flying. Even as a little girl when we first moved to Des Moines from Minnesota, we lived near the airport and I loved watching the planes fly over our house. I don't get to fly very much but just getting to see planes in museums and airshows makes me happy. So I was so excited to discover that right here, in Adair County, we have the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame.

It was a baking hot day when I made my way around Adair County checking out the interesting places to visit. The aviation museum was one of the first stops early in the day, but an airplane hangar is not a cool place by any means, and bless his heart, the kind gentleman who gave the tour that day was a real trooper. I was ready to DIE and he was ready to talk all day !

The tour started off by me just standing in awe of the A7 Corsair mounted outside the building. Growing up in Des Moines the Air National Guard stations and the "Blue Lights" viewing area in a huge part of my childhood. So to get to see this wonderful piece of Iowa military history and actually lay my hands on it......well, it was quite an experience.

Entering the museum, where it was nice and cool, there were loads and loads of interesting items on display. Flight suits, news clippings, photographs, articles in frames. Military and civilian planes and stories and articles of all kinds. Even the newspaper articles about the plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly and several other musicians was there. 

After looking at many displays in the museum building I was taken on a tour of the hangar. Wow, just wow. So many amazing planes, gliders, engines, engine parts- I don't even think I can list everything I saw. You really need to experience this amazing place yourself to appreciate the pristine quality of the planes, all of which actually flew into the airport and drove into the hangar and very likely can still fly.

There is no way I can remember everything he had to say about each plane- there was just so much information. I just enjoyed story after story and admired the aircraft of days gone by. 

They have a full listing of all the aircraft in the hangar on their website,, some of which are the last or one of the last two in existence. 

We posed for pictures with different equipment. My friend Sarah took the seat at the controls of a DC10. 

We both decided to have a silly pic taken with a cartoon character. It was great fun.

On the north end of the hangar is the Hall of Fame. In this room you will find framed photos of the various flying pioneers with an Iowa connection, from the earliest years of flight to astronauts. 

The USAF SR71 Blackbird- my favorite of all military aircraft, and they were based
at the air force base we lived nearby in England years ago. I got to see them fly everyday.

Display cabinets line the walls with donated collections of memorabilia, and a wall of glass blocks is etched with the names of the many donors that helped make this unique attraction possible.

The Iowa Aviation Museum is really a true treasure to have here in our area. It's a quick drive from Des Moines, and the city of Greenfield offers lots of options for a lunch or dinner to go along with your road trip. This truly is a must-see destination.