Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Triple Cherry Jam

The other night the Little Lake House, and a whole lot of others in Iowa, were rocked by storm after storm after storm. All day long, starting in the early morning, the rain and thunder and lightning just kept coming. Tornado sirens sounded in the nearby town of Dexter and like it always does, the satellite tv signal was knocked out by the storm. Even at nearly 3 a.m. the storm raged on. In the morning much of Iowa awoke to flooded roads, rivers bursting out of their banks, basements turned into indoor pools, and storm debris all over.

photo courtesy of Chris Winget
One casualty of the storm was a cherry tree at the aquaponics farm a few miles away. Checking my email this morning I was surprised to see Cherries!! in the subject line. I had no idea they even had fruit trees! The tree's misfortune was my good luck, because I scored a big bag of fresh sour cherries for a mere $3.00. While chatting with the farm owner, he hinted that this is the perfect amount of cherries for a pie. Good idea, although I already had plans for these guys.

It's getting to be canning season around here again. The pile of empty jars in the storage room is growing and the cupboards are starting to look a little bit like Old Mother Hubbard's cupboards. The tomatoes and tomato jam are long gone. So is the salsa, and many of the jams. A few odd pickles remain, a few pints of salsa verde, several jars of green beans, and a decent stash of apple butter. The cherry jam I made before has been gone for months and I've been waiting patiently for cherry season so I can replenish my stash. As you can imagine, I wasn't too heartbroken to hear about the rush sale on cherries at the farm (although losing the tree means there will be a lot fewer cherries next year) because I got a great head start on pitting cherries tonight. Those have been safely stashed in the fridge, and tomorrow I'll grab some sweet juicy Bing cherries, and my very favorite, Rainier cherries, to add to the pot. They will add a new dimension of cherry deliciousness to my jam and beautiful color too.

photo courtesy of Chris Winget
Triple Cherry Jam

2 cups chopped pitted sour cherries
1 cup pitted chopped Bing cherries
1 cup pitted chopped Rainier cherries
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin
5 cups sugar

Pit and chop the cherries. I like to use a food processor to chop the cherries. Just add the pitted cherries to the workbowl and pulse several times to desired size. I like to keep some larger chunks of fruit in the jam so I only pulse two or three times. Measure 4 cups fruit. Place in large heavy stockpot with the lemon juice and pectin.

Sour cherries, pitted and ready to go.
Bing cherries and Rainier cherries
Measure the sugar and set aside.

Place the stockpot over medium high heat and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar all at once. Return to boil, stirring the entire time, and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and skim foam.

Ladle the hot jam into prepared canning jars to 1/4 inch headspace. Fix lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Let jars cool undisturbed overnight before removing the rings and checking seals.

I had enough cherries to make a double batch BUT you should never double a batch of jam or jelly. You might end up with a jam that doesn't set properly. Make two batches instead. You don't even have to wash the stockpot between batches, just add the fruit and cook the next batch. Each batch makes about 8 8-oz jelly jars.

Next up on the agenda? Popping an English muffin in the toaster, slathering that bad boy with real butter and adding a nice big spoonful of this luscious cherry jam. It's also really good served with a creamy cheese as part of a cheese plate, spooned onto a slice of cheesecake or even as part of the PB&J.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one. Having said that, cherry jam is a basic recipe and this one differs from tested recipes only in the fact that there is more than one type of cherry in the mixture. Acidity is not affected.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Product Review: When It's Too Hot To Cook (Much)

It's been a few months now since I have been making that daily commute back to the city for work. It's been great getting back into the swing of things, and I am really enjoying being part of a big company again. I don't miss the teeny tiny three person office environment one bit. I'm very lucky to be working where I do. The company is very focused on maintaining a happy environment for the employees and we have loads of social activities like barbecues, contests, community volunteering opportunities and so much more. The company brings food trucks onto the campus every week so we don't have to go far for lunch and have a rotating lineup of options. 

Just this past week the company announced they would be hosting a weekly farmers market on the campus. I was so excited to hear this! That has been the one thing I did miss about my previous job- having access to our small ton farmers market, and even participating as a vendor. Now I don't have to worry about missing out on garden fresh vegetables that I can't or don't grow at home. I can stroll over to the market before getting in my car and heading home.

In my office we do a weekly lunch sign-up for fun. Every Wednesday one or two people volunteer to bring lunch for our team. There are twelve of us, so it's not a HUGE endeavor or a full scale catering event by any means, but just a fun way to be social and try some new foods. During the most recent Wednesday lunch one of my coworkers brought in a salad- Asian flavors with crunchy veggies and crispy wonton strips. Really really good. Reminded me of an old church cookbook recipe I used to make using bagged coleslaw mix and uncooked crushed ramen noodles, but it wasn't exactly the same. She shared her secret "recipe"- it IS a bagged salad, a complete salad kit she picked up at the grocery store, and it was so delicious I thought it would be great to use as a starting point for summer meal in one salads on these hot hot hot no-cooking days!

The Dole Chopped Salad Kit is such a great idea. I chose the Asian Sesame variety, the same as the one my coworker brought to lunch. Everything you need is in this one bag- the salad greens including kale, shredded carrots, sliced almonds, those crunchy wonton strips and Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette.

I am dressing mine up with some fresh additions. Chopped scallions, because I happen to have them on hand, and some julienned baby bok choy are going in the bowl. 

Baby bok choy is has a crisp crunch and great flavor
Because I am serving this salad for dinner I thought it would be nice to get a source of protein in there as well, so I am pan-grilling some shrimp, which have been seasoned with Feiny's Chesapeake Bay Rub, and quickly seared in a wok. They literally cook in a minute or two so I am in and out of the kitchen super fast and they are delicious and perfect with the Asian flavors in the salad. 

The shrimp were juicy and delicious with just a hint
of caramelization from the hot skillet or wok
Dinner prep went super fast. I bought shrimp with the peels intact so I had to take a few minutes to peel them and pull off the tails before tossing with the Chesapeake Bay Rub and that was the most difficult part of "cooking." I wish I had grabbed a cucumber because that would have been a great addition to this salad, so would water chestnuts! It took just seconds to toss the veggies in a large bowl with the dressing and extras, plate up a serving and top with some of the shrimp. Done!

Yes, that IS an autograph on the package- because I am a
dork like that. Actually, Adam hand-packages his rubs and
sends them out as ordered so you always get a freshly
mixed batch. 
You can find this salad kit at just about any large grocery store. Of course I picked it up shopping in the city after work, it's not available out here in our teeny grocery store. You definitely want to get yourself some Chesapeake Bay Rub too- get that by clicking HERE.

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."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Country Life- A Day in Audubon County

Here is another entry from the former tourism blog that I wrote for a previous employer, this time featuring Audubon County, Iowa. Since summer festival season is just getting underway this seemed like a good time to focus on the home of Operation T-Bone.

A Day in Audubon County

A very HOT day, in fact.

When we, Midwest Partnership, first started talking about ideas to help promote tourism in the region, we knew several things. We needed to see what's out there. We needed to experience what's out there. And we needed to get the hottest time of the year (actually, not sure why it worked out that way but it did).

So our first Tourism Day we chose Audubon County, and August 3, the first day of the weekend known as Operation T-Bone, which is the town of Audubon's big summer celebration. Every small town has a festival. Some they celebrate their heritage, some their local history, some their industry. Audubon is famous for Albert the Bull, and t-bones and thus Operation T-Bone.

The town of Audubon is a beautiful town named after John James Audubon and many buildings and parks and other landmarks in the town pay homage to him. The park in the middle of the town has the Bird Walk, a walkway paved with mosaic tiles depicting different species of birds. Statues and murals dot the town.

But let's back up just a little bit. There is one thing that really stands out when you arrive in the town of Audubon, if you're coming from the south you are definitely going to meet Albert the Bull right away. Albert is a fantastic work of art and in life-like detail. There is a kiosk in the park with many photos taken during construction and after.

Push the button and Albert himself will tell you his story. Albert lives in a very nice park with lots of playground equipment for little ones while mom and dad learn about the famous bull.

After leaving Albert we headed to downtown Audubon to find the Bird Walk. The town's "main street" is lined with quaint little shops and businesses and at the top of the hill is the park with a big statue of John J. Audubon, surrounded by beautiful plantings and of course, the Bird Walk. The tiles lining the walk are true works of art themselves. I can't imagine the painstaking care that went into the creation of these mosaic glass tiles- the detail and color is just beautiful. Each tile is sponsored by a person, family, organization, etc to help fund the walk.

Just one of many many tiles that line the walk, each depicting a different bird.

Also in the park is a group of old limestone footings arranged to create a small theater, along with a small building.

Again here you can read, and push the button, to hear the story of the limestone footings and how they came to be there.

They are arranged to allow small groups to listen to a speaker or perhaps tour guide describe the different areas of the park, which is right across the street from the austere Audubon County Courthouse.

John James Audubon

Heading back down the main street you just can't miss the giant stained glass window memorializing John J. Audubon. It's a beautiful tribute.

As we headed out to check out some other sights in Audubon county we made Kimballton the first stop. The beautiful fountain and statue of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" graces the park.

Like many small rural towns, Kimballton has the "main street" lined with small businesses, taverns, the post office.

Not far from Kimballton, and while technically NOT in Audubon county, we couldn't come this far without a visit to Elk Horn, to see the historic Danish Windmill and eat at their famous Danish Inn. The windmill is quite a sight to see.

It was literally purchased in Denmark, disassembled with each piece being labelled and numbered and delivered to Elk Horn, to be reassembled where it stands today. Instead of paper blueprints, the construction people who disassembled the mill built a scale model with every matching piece numbered so that once delivered to Iowa, the mill could be reassembled correctly.

Visitors to the mill begin their tour with a short video that tells the entire of story of how the mill came to be where it is today.

 It's an amazing story and quite a testament to what a small community can do when they join together and want something bad enough. After the video you are free to wander inside the mill as your leisure, which we did, taking pictures as we went, everything from the scale model to descriptive plaques on the wall, to the giant grindstones.

Going to up the second level is a simple fight of stairs, climbing to the third level, it's more like a ladder and higher still- well, we didn't venture that far !

Looking up into the mechanism of the mill. We could have climbed
higher but chose not to !!

After lunch at the famous Danish Inn we headed to Exira but before we even got there we had to stop at the Danish Countryside Winery.

This might have been the highlight to the day ! As it was a weekday we were the only visitors to the tasting room and so the owners, Al and Carol Petersen, were thrilled to give us a tour of the restored barn and tasting room. The farm has been in the family over 100 years and what once was a pretty ratty looking sheep barn was transformed by the owners into a beautifully restored and wonderfully decorated winery, tasting room and huge party room on the upper level. They have a photo album that shows the progress from junky old barn to the beautiful building it is today.

Back in the tasting room we tried several varieties and both Sarah and I found something to take home. The owners were so friendly and accommodating. They answered questions, talked about the different grapes and were the perfect hosts. The long drive from the highway to the winery building in lined with acres of beautiful Iowa grapevines in many varieties. We had to tear ourselves away from this charming couple and their beautiful winery.

Exira was next on the list as well as the Plow in the Tree in a park nearby there.

According to the local legend, a young man was working his farm when he was called off to war, leaning the hand plow against a then spindly little oak tree. He never returned and the plow was never moved. Today the oak is a GIANT grown tree and has grown around and "swallowed" the plow. Very little is still visible.

Our last stop  of the day was the Nathaniel Hamlin Park and Museum- just south of Audubon.

The museum is run by a friendly older man who had loads of fun stories and a 3 wheel golf cart he drove us around on (it was a fairly SCARY ride !!!) They had a HUGE barn like building lined with murals that were saved from an old sale barn that was being torn down and brought here.

Antique equipment of all kinds, preserved animals, farm equipment, even the Flintstones' car are all on display here.

He drove us up to the main house which is where the Hamlin family lived long ago. Each room is decorated in a different theme, from cooking to school to military, it was filled with memorabilia of Iowans generations ago. Also on the ground are live animals, rabbits, chickens, a tame raccoon and a herd of elk.

By the end of our huge loop around Audubon County we were pretty beaten up by the heat and ready to head home. There is so much more to explore in Audubon County we just ran out of time- and we will be back !!.............Monica,  August 3, 2012