Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summertime and Farmers Markets

It's been such a crummy summer for our garden. The cool wet spring gave way to tomato blight, slow growth, and lots of mildew problems. Weeks of rain and cloudy skies didn't give our plants the sunshine they needed. We had a pretty decent first couple crops of radishes but that quickly ended when we had a couple weeks of blistering heat. In typical Iowa fashion, that was followed by more cold, wet, rainy weather. I had planted a few heirloom tomatoes- all cherry type, most of which were started from seed. This was another year for growing super hot peppers to stock up the shelves again. the time July ended, the tomatoes were pretty much a lost cause and the hornworms turned the pepper plants into a salad bar. 

Homemade treats for sale in Stuart
It's a good thing we have wonderful farmer's markets all over Iowa! My garden might be a flop this year but plenty of other folks are having success in theirs and sharing their goods at the numerous small town farmers markets in the towns surrounding the lake. 

Springtime freshness in Panora
Dexter, the closest town, has two farmers markets every Tuesday. One is in the city park, and the other is an indoor market in the historic Roundhouse. Every week the local residents set up tables in the markets and offer fresh garden produce, homemade baked goods, homemade jams, and even hand-picked walnuts. Just up the road is Stuart, where we get to do it all over again every Wednesday. The Stuart market also features farm-raised beef, eggs, bakery goods and a wide variety of produce from Early Morning Harvest, an aquaponics farm. It's just a short drive to Panora where their market is held on Friday evenings and Guthrie Center on Saturday morning. Each market has something a little different, like handmade jewelry and craft items. Yard decorations, garden plants, quilts and even a food truck sometimes appear at the farmers markets. 

Freshly baked quick breads in Panora
Since I primarily garden in containers, some vegetables just don't grow as well- like winter squash and zucchini. I never try to grow them anymore and rely on the farmers markets for all my zucchini and cucumbers for making pickles. In Stuart I can get great deals on pickling cucumbers and always get plenty to last through the winter. 

Live music in Guthrie Center
Some years we grow green beans at the Little Lake House and other years we don't. We have a pretty cool deck with some latticework that is perfect for climbing plants like Kentucky Wonder pole beans, which is one of our favorites. Letting the plants grow up the deck looks really pretty too- the blossoms look so cute and we get lots of butterflies and bees buzzing around. Most years we don't actually, because so many local growers have them. Green beans and wax beans are probably my favorite summer vegetable to can so I buy lots of them. Sometimes I get extra lucky and get a decent score of peas too. Of course every farmers market offers at least one if not more vendors selling Iowa sweet corn. It wouldn't be summer without it. Peaches and cream corn is pretty readily available but the last couple summers I have seen some different varieties as well. A blogger friend of mine even found pink sweet corn- so I'm on the lookout!

Guthrie Center's market
Summer in Iowa is all about the tomatoes. At the markets you can find any kind of tomato you could possibly want- grape and cherry tomatoes, all kinds of heirlooms, great big giant Beefsteaks, and every size in between. Since I do a lot of home canning, I often buy tomatoes in bulk, either at the pick your own farm or from the farmers market vendors. I don't have to worry about planting dozens of plants and I can get great prices! I just have to load the box in the car and head home.

Each Stuart vendor has a great variety
It's not just vegetables at the farmers market, there are plenty of fruits available too. Vendors offer spring berries like strawberries and raspberries and one guy at the Stuart market even offers gooseberries. I hadn't seen fresh gooseberries since I was a kid. These are wild gooseberries he forages for in the woods surrounding the lake. I'll gladly pay him to go tromping through the woods! Later in the season we see apples, plums, peaches, cherries, pears and more. While I have always wanted fruit trees in my yard I know I can get plenty of fresh fruit right at the farmers market.

Early Morning Harvest sells aquaponics
and much more
Of course when I want a more big and bustling market experience I can head to Des Moines every Saturday morning for the Downtown Farmers Market. It's a HUGE deal, covering several city blocks, at least three different streets, dozens and dozens of vendors, live entertainment, sidewalk brunches and all kinds of food- fresh vegetables, Indian food, breakfast burritos, cocktails, Asian foods, pizza- anything you could possibly want. It's an experience everyone should check out at least once.

For me though, nothing beats our small town farmers markets.

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, July 24, 2015

An Old Favorite Gets a New Look- Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna

It's a million degrees in Iowa today. Normally on such a hot day I'm not big on making something like lasagna, a dish that needs to spend an hour in the oven. I'm hot, crabby, just went through road rage on the commute back to the peaceful lake, and now I'm going to fire up the oven? I must be nuts.

Actually I am a little sad that it's blazing hot out there. This weekend downtown Des Moines is home to the annual Italian American Heritage Festival and as much as I'd love to go I just can't deal with the heat and humidity. Growing up on the south side of Des Moines this annual festival was one of my favorite things. Back in the early days the festival was held in Columbus Park. Carnival rides arrived, food stands were built, bocce ball courts set up, and crowds of hungry folks eating pasta and enjoying music and activities filled the park the entire weekend. As a junior high girl, this was THE spot to see and be seen, the place to meet guys, the reason for spending 2 hours in front of the mirror with a curling iron, only to have the humidity turn those curls into nothing. In those days my best friend Liz and I hung out at the festival- all three days- and rode The Scrambler, ate cavatelli usually catered by Guido's or maybe a group of Italian ladies from one of the Catholic churches, played carnival games (I never won anything) and tried to catch the eye of the guys from the other junior high school. Risque times, for sure.

These days the festival is held downtown in Western Gateway Park. The event had grown tremendously and has moved several times. The rides are no longer around but plenty of activities keep festival goers entertained. Old guys still play bocce and lots of live music still entertains the crowd. The food has improved, with lots more food options and some very upscale vendors are really bringing the goods.

Learn more about the Italian American Heritage Festival by clicking HERE

In the spirit of that great Italian classic, lasagna, we are also having a little bit of pasta at the Little Lake House tonight but we are switching things up and bringing a whole new look to an old friend. Instead of the usual meat and red sauce and ricotta cheese lasagna we're having an All-American version- straight from Philadelphia. Yep, you got it- Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna. It's super easy to put together- savory ground beef with grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms layered with melty cheese, tender noodles and Alfredo sauce. Use your favorite brand of sauce in this dish- we're cheating a little with bottled sauce and you'll never know! Definitely not your Nona's lasagna, but it's gooooood.

Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna

1 package no boil lasagna noodles
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 large onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 medium green bell peppers
salt, pepper or favorite meat seasoning
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon beef soup base
2 jars Alfredo sauce
1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
cooking oil

Prepare the vegetables: I use a very large onion. Cut the onion into small julienne strips. Remove the seeds from the peppers, cut into similar sized pieces. 

Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to brown. Don't let them get too soft. Season the veggies with the meat seasoning. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.

Crumble the ground beef into the same skillet; break up with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with the Worcestershire sauce, some of the meat seasoning and add the beef base, mixing it into the meat drippings. Cook meat until browned and cooked through. Add to vegetables in the bowl and mix.

Using a large baking pan spoon about 1/2 cup of the Alfredo sauce in the bottom and spread it around. Arrange 4 noodles on top, breaking them to fit. Spoon half of the meat mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Pour the remaining Alfredo sauce in the first jar over evenly. Top with another four noodles. Spread the remaining meat mixture over, including any juices in the bowl, another 1/3 of the cheese. Layer another 4 noodles on top and pour the second jar of sauce over all.

Add about 1/2 cup of water to the jar, cover, shake, and add water to the pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cheese, bake another 15-25 minutes until hot and bubbly, noddles are tender, and cheese is starting to brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Yes, I did use some pre-made sauce in this recipe because, let's be honest, who wants to make homemade Alfredo sauce just to turn around and make lasagna? Not me! Probably not a lot of busy families either, when kids are hungry, laundry needs to be done, the dog needs a walk and you just want to get something on the table with a minimum of fuss. Toss together some crispy salad greens and pop some garlic bread in the oven, or breadsticks, and you have a whole new take on lasagna.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Small Town Life- A New Perspective on Cooking Contests

It's county fair season in Iowa again. This year I took a break from entering my own home canned foods and will get to try something completely different- judging. I won't be examining canned foods though. This year I have been invited to judge the Adair County Extension Office's 4H Pride of Iowa Cooking Contest. I'm so excited! I am assigned to the high school age group, and last year these kids made some pretty impressive dishes. Because part of the judging is food safety and the recipe, the kids have to make a poster that features their recipe and directions, and we will be paying close attention to all the steps and cleanliness practices.

The winners! My age group is the top row- L to R- Bailee,
Shelly and Shawna, and Alexis
I've got some pretty great dishes to sample- Meat, Potato and Egg Bake, Deep Dish Tacos, Italian Ribeye Linguine, Cornbread Casserole, South of The Border Casserole, Breakfast Lasagna, Breakfast Roll-ups and Healthy Spaghetti. What a menu! The recipes must include at least one Iowa produced product. The poster each cook makes must demonstrate that they've done their homework about the Iowa product(s) they are using, such as nutritional content. They have an allotted time to prepare their recipe and must demonstrate proper techniques, especially food safety rules. Once their dish is completed (some of the dishes go into the oven after the prep on stage and get tasted after cooking) they are judged on appearance, correct doneness and taste. 

The youngest cook in the competition, Brandon is a 4th
grader who prepared Guinea Grinder Boats. He was
awarded a blue ribbon for his recipe
Besides the award ribbons the contestants can win, they also are eligible for prizes and premiums provided by different producers and businesses, such as the Adair County Pork Producers, A.C. Beef Producers, Midwest Dairy Association, and 3 Bee Honey Farm, among others. 

Contest day arrives and I am excited!!! It's a million degrees outside but I know the 4H building has air conditioning. After a brief orientation fellow judge Karen and I make our way to the staging area and get set up at the judges' table. We have evaluation sheets for scoring the contestants and plenty of tableware for sampling. Karen  will be scoring the junior high and younger kids, grade 4 through 8, and I am judging the high school kids, grades 9 through 12.  A quick glace at the schedule and I can tell we are in for some amazing sampling.

Karen Schultheis also judging the contest. She lives in
Greenfield and is a school teacher
So how are the cooks judged? The judging is two-fold. First we watch the cook as they prepare the recipe they chose. We consider the recipe they chose. What is the level of difficulty? Is it appropriate for the age and skill level of the contestant? What are the Iowa ingredients used? Food preparation skills are watched closely too- did the cook use proper measuring techniques? Did they use appliances correctly and safely? How about food safety- was the cook mindful of cross-contamination and safety issues?

Then we judge the food itself. Does the dish look appetizing? Is it cooked properly and completely? How about the taste? Finally, we judge the cook's poster they made to accompany the recipe, and their knowledge of the ingredients and nutrition aspects. As judges, we get to ask questions and find out how the cook chose the recipe, what changes they made if they adapted it from another source, their cooking experience and practice, and quiz them on their Iowa ingredients.

Hank B. made this poster for his recipe demonstration.

Alexis' Italian Ribeye Linguine is explained in detail
In my group, my winners were Alexis S., a freshman, for her Italian Ribeye Linguine, third place, featuring Iowa dairy products, eggs, and beef ; a duo of Shelly B., sophomore, and Shawna A., junior, for their Healthy Spaghetti which featured spices from Tones, pasta from Barilla, Iowa-grown vegetables, Iowa ground beef and turkey, and corn oil; and the first prize winner was Bailee H., a senior, who created an amazing take on lasagna- Breakfast Lasagna, with Iowa pork (ham), turkey(turkey sausage), eggs, and dairy. 

Why did these three stand out for me? Alexis' dish was delicious and beautiful on the plate. Her steak was cooked perfectly and her sauce was homemade with Romano, Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheeses and thickened with egg yolk. She demonstrated a skill in tempering that egg that a lot of adults can't master. She had really good knife skills, chiffonading baby spinach and using kitchen shears to snip sun dried tomatoes. She plated the dish and drizzled a balsamic glaze over the top and presented a dish worthy of a restaurant. I was truly impressed. 

Shelly and Shawna worked through power outtages
to make their dish. They stayed focused and didn't
let the disruptions get to them.
The duo of Shelly and Shawna had some challenges from the get go. The power went out while they were cooking. This was their first contest but they handled it like pros, never missing a beat and just stayed focused and worked through it. How was the spaghetti? Delicious! They used herbs to bring a lot of flavor to the sauce and added lots of fresh vegetables to add nutrients and flavor, and they did something I really appreciate- they did not overcook the vegetables, leaving a slight hint of crunch and texture. In spite of the power problems the pasta was cooked wonderfully, a perfect al dente. They chose to serve farfalle instead of spaghetti and I liked that- it was easier to eat at the judging table.

Lasagna and breakfast are two words I never thought would go together but Bailee had the creativity to give it a shot and she made it work. Ham, turkey sausage, tender scrambled eggs, creamy Alfredo sauce, veggies, cheese and pasta sounds like a very unlikely combo but it really works! When I asked Bailee about how she came up with this idea she had a great story about working out the details and testing ideas with her mom. I never cooked with my mom and her story made me happy. This dish was truly impressive- the layers held up during serving, the noodles were perfectly cooked and my mind immediately thought this would be perfect for Christmas morning or a brunch celebration. She's got a real hit with this recipe, and that made it, for me, a point or two above the rest.

Brandon concentrates on his recipe
The fair printed a cookbook with all the recipes we judged and I'm going to share them with you! I plan on cooking all the dishes I sampled because they really were very delicious, easy to prepare and all used real food ingredients and not a lot of convenience products. The first recipe is one prepared by Cody M., a freshman. Cody was fun to chat with. He enjoys cooking and like to grow his own food. He told me he fashioned a container herb garden by recycling 2 litre soda bottles and even grew vegetables in these containers. Cody found this recipe online and made a change- the original used bacon, he switched to breakfast sausage links and it works! This reminds me of pigs in a blanket and is a fun take on French toast.

Breakfast Rollups

6 slices fresh white bread
1 package fully cooked sausage links
1 teaspoon butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons whole milk
pinch of salt
3 Bee Honey
maple syrup

Cut the crusts off the bread, then flatten with a rolling pin. It will become a bit sticky. Combine egg, milk and salt in a dish and whisk to combine. Heat the sausage in the microwave until heated. Place one sausage in the middle of each piece of bread and roll up. Press the seam to seal.

Melt the butter in a skillet. Dip the rollups in the egg mixture to coat. Shake off the excess. Place in hot pan and cook, turning every few minutes until all sides are golden brown. Top with a drizzle of honey and maple syrup.

I really enjoyed this experience. I was a little nervous at the mic announcing my winners at the end of the contest but I did ok. I was so happy to be part of this great competition and hope to come back again. The Adair County Fair is in west central Iowa, in the town of Greenfield. There is no better representation of life in rural Iowa than to visit a county fair. I hope you get to experience this in your lifetime.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Granny's Four Bean Salad

One thing I have learned since moving to the country is that food trends rarely make their way out here. You will never see a food truck in a small Iowa town, and probably not find butter poached anything in a small town diner. What you will find are the kinds of foods I have always called Church Cookbook Foods. That vinegar coleslaw. Broccoli salad with bacon and raisins. Seven layer salad. Chicken and noodles. Salisbury steak. Rhubarb everything.

Some of my favorite cookbooks are those "church cookbook" type books. They aren't all churches anymore. Lots of organizations put together a cookbook to celebrate a milestone year, or celebrate their history. I love collecting these gems. Reading over them years down the road is a trip down memory lane. My late mother in law made foods like those. She made seven layer salad all the time. She baked every rhubarb dessert you can imagine. She made lots of things with jello.

I can't tell you how many of these recipes ended up on the table at picnics, reunions, barbeques over the years. Pastel colored Tupperware from the 60s was the serving bowl of choice for moms and grandmothers back in my childhood. My dad worked for a small company and their office picnic was always a potluck. The boss bought the chicken or the burgers and dog, and everyone brought a side dish.  Big plastic bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, plates of brownies and cake squares, baked beans- you name it- always lined the wooden picnic tables. 

My dad was a Baked Beans Connoisseur. I've talked about his interest in cooking, calling him the 70s version of a foodie. He bought a Rival Crockpot as soon as they hit the market and I remember him tinkering with baked beans recipes to get just that perfect sweet and spicy, gooey slow cooked bean. My grandmother was the Bean Salad Queen. I remember her great big house in Minnesota, and sitting down to dinner at the table loaded with- you guessed it- church cookbook foods, including Perfection Salad with a dollop of Spin Blend salad dressing, pea salad, always something with Cool Whip and fruit and Four Bean Salad.

Four Bean Salad is one of those great recipes that lends itself well to home canning- the dressing has plenty of vinegar to make canning the vegetables safe, much like a pickled product. The green and wax beans are cooked briefly before being tossed with the kidney and garbanzo beans, chopped onions, bell pepper and crunchy celery. The sweet and sour dressing is just like Gramma's, and just like those old church cookbooks.

Sadly, on Recipe Making Day I was unable to get garbanzo beans at my little grocery store. Darn it, I should have planned ahead. So we're actually making Three Bean Salad with double the kidney beans (4 15oz cans, drained and rinsed), but it will still be delicious.

Granny's Four Bean Salad
adapted from Ball's recipe

5 cups sliced green beans (cut into 1 inch pieces)
5 cups sliced wax beans (cut into 1 inch pieces)
2 cups cooked kidney beans (canned is fine, rinse and drain)
2 cups garbanzo beans (canned is fine, rinse and drain)
2-3 ribs celery, sliced on the bias
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare a hot water bath canner and jars.

In a large saucepan combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep hot.

So colorful- even before the green and wax beans are added
In a large stockpot place the green and wax beans and celery. Cover with water and bring to boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then drain and toss with remaining vegetables. Pack the vegetables into hot canning jars. 

Ladle the hot pickling liquid over. Remove air bubbles, fix lids and rims and place in water bath canner. Process pints for 15 minutes.

This is a handy salad to have on the shelf. Chill, pop open a jar and serve. Easy peasy. I love having foods like this around so when I need a last minute dish, say a last minute office potluck, or friends drop in when we're getting ready to throw some dogs on the grill, one more dish added to the meal can really stretch things, and I don't have to worry about having nothing to share or serve.

This recipe has been tested for safety by Ball. 

One further word about home canned foods- if you do decide to bring any home canned food to a potluck, you should let people know it was made with home canned foods, as some people are very worried about food safety and don't eat foods canned by others. Don't be offended- they are just being proactive. I'm never offended.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Relish Roundup

Summer garden season is in full swing in Iowa and we have the garden bounty to prove it. Tomatoes, corn, greens of all kinds, zucchini and peppers, glorious peppers. Hot, sweet and super hot- if you're like me you have an abundance of peppers and need some creative ways to preserve them. As much as we love salsa, seriously, you can only make so much before you start thinking you've lost your mind so I often make up a few relishes every year. It's a great way to use up some odd peppers I have sitting around and relish recipes are super easy to adapt to what you have on hand. They are a pickled food, so there is a little more room for varying the ingredients without worrying about having a product that shouldn't be canned. The vinegar provides the acidity you need.

This first relish recipe is a great way to use up peppers. I often reach the end of the season and have a pile of different peppers of several varieties. In this recipe you need 3 quarts of chopped peppers- the type is up to you. Bell peppers have no heat so start with them and add hot peppers to the heat level you like. A mix of colors in your peppers makes a very pretty relish in the jar too.

Go easy on the super hots!! 
NOTE: These recipes have not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use them.

Spicy Pepper Relish

3 quarts finely chopped peppers*
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

*Start with bell peppers and add hot peppers to taste. I usually use about 2 1/2 quarts bell peppers and then add the hot peppers. We grow so many super hots a recipe can get out of control hot very easily if I'm not careful.

A colorful mix of peppers makes a beautiful relish
Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peppers and onions; return to boil and cook about 5 minutes.

Spoon the relish into half pint jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims; fix lids and rims, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Allow to cool overnight before testing seals and removing rings.

I wasn't always a relish lover, in fact I have spent most of my adult life convinced I hated it. Maybe it was the bizarre neon green sweet pickle relish you see at concession stands. Something turned me off, that's for sure. It wasn't until a few years ago that I bravely made radish relish and became a convert. Likewise, I started wanting relish all the time. I started coming up with reasons to make hot dogs and brats- just so I could have relish. This relish recipe was shared with me by my friend Shelly, who says this is a copycat of the famous Coney Island hot dog stand recipe.

Coney Island Relish

5 cups finely minced cucumber
3 cups finely minced onion
2 bell peppers, finely minced
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, finely minced
1 cup finely minced celery
4 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons mustard seed
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the vinegar, sugar, seeds and pepper to boiling. Add the vegetables and simmer 20 minutes.

You can reduce the heat by removing the seeds and membranes
Pack the relish into half pint jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims; fix lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. Allow to cool overnight before checking seals and removing rings.

Everyone knows I love cookbooks. I have.......many. Church cookbooks especially. Many of the canning recipes in those old books are questionable by today's standards but a lot of pickle and relish recipes are great, including this Piccalilli- peppers and green tomatoes, the ultimate end-of-the-garden relish and I think you're going to love it.

Mom's Old Fashioned Piccalilli

5 cups finely chopped peppers (sweet and hot)
3 medium green tomatoes, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons mustard seed
pinch of cayenne pepper

In a large stockpot combine the vinegar, sugar and spices. Bring to a boil, then add the chopped vegetables and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Spoon the relish into half pint jars. Wipe rims; fix lids and rings and process in boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. Allow to cool overnight before checking seals and removing rings.

Now that ought to keep you well stocked with relish until next summer, and have a few jars to give away as gifts too. Give these a try and let me know what you think!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Salad For Lunch

Every Wednesday is Summer Lunch Day in our office. What a great idea- each week a couple different people sign up to bring a lunch dish to share with the team. Doesn't have to be fancy. Most weeks we have a couple salads or a salad and a dessert of some kind. It's a great way to socialize with the team, enjoy some home cooking, and try new dishes. 

Personally I really enjoy potluck meals like that. So many of the dishes remind me of foods my mom and grandmother used to make. Casseroles, for example, might be a Midwestern thing but they make a potluck meal really special. Our office has a cubicle we all call The Food Cube. It's set up for potluck meals- power strips for crockpots, containers of plastic forks and spoons, stacks of paper plates and bowls. Packets of condiments, all ready to go at a moment's notice. We even have a team crockpot that stays in The Food Cube in case someone brings food that needs to be heated- no need to lug your own heavy crockpot around.

Pasta salads are always a hit at our lunches. Fresh veggies, fun pasta shapes, sometimes a little shredded or cubed cheese make a filling dish that just about every loves. When it was my turn to bring a dish pasta salad was a natural choice, especially in this house where pasts reigns supreme. With this salad I decided to go with a Greek twist, using the veggies commonly used in a Greek salad, like tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, olives and herbs. Tossed with pasta in a vinaigrette dressing, with Mediterranean herbs and cheese it was a refreshing change from the mayo type dressing.

I prefer orzo in this dish but this time I as unable to get it- our little grocery store didn't have any! I was stuck using pasta rings. Also, feta or goat cheese are lovely crumbled into the salad if you like.

Greek Style Pasta Salad

1 pound small pasta such as orzo
1 small cucumber
2-3 Roma tomatoes
6 scallions
1 cup ripe olives
1 small bell pepper
3 cloves garlic
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
couple handfuls fresh baby spinach

Heat the olive oil til warm but not sizzling. Lightly crush the garlic cloves and place in the oil. Set aside and allow to steep at least an hour. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Cook to al dente- do not overcook! Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

Chop the cucumber into small pieces and add to the bowl with the pasta. Cut up the tomatoes and chop into similar sized pieces, removing the seeds if you like. Add to the bowl. Chop the bell pepper and scallions (including the green tops) and into the bowl they go. Slice the olives and add those too. Add the herbs, salt and pepper.

Fish out and discard the garlic cloves. Combine the olive oil and vinegar in a jar. Cap the jar and shake to combine. Pour over the pasta and vegetables, toss well. Add the Parmesan and spinach, squeeze a little bit of lemon juice over and toss again. Cover and chill until serving time.

This salad makes a great lunch entree and as always, you can add grilled chopped chicken, shrimp or any other meat or seafood you like. You might want to keep a little extra vinegar and oil handy in case you need a little extra for serving. I like to be able to taste the punch of the vinegar in my Greek salads. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

You-Pick Farms and Me- A Love Story With a Bonus- Chocolate Raspberry Sauce (Canning Cookbook)

My favorite pick-your-own farm opens this coming Friday! I'm so excited! It's still too early for the tomatoes we always pick there but it's time for all kinds of other vegetables- cucumbers, peppers, and early sweet corn, plus a few surprises when you get there. 

Even though it's too early for tomatoes, I still had that burning desire to get in the kitchen and can something so off I went in search of a different pick-your-own farm, one that offers fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and cherries. It was a bit of a drive from the lake but that's exactly what I found just outside of Altoona, Iowa, at Upstream Gardens and Orchard

Upstream is a very new pick-your-own farm that is expanding like crazy, and even though this is just their second year offering to the public they have quite a nice variety of items available. Of course, it varies by the season but they have just about every kind of berry that grows in Iowa, an awesome selection of vegetables and a growing orchard with apples, peaches, pears and plums. I visited today and got golden raspberries and mulberries, got to meet Chris, the owner, and play with the farm kitties- momma and babies. I paid a little extra for pre-picked so I wouldn't have to worry about being too short to reach the tree branches when picking mulberries.

So I now have this wonderful fruit, and my next dilemma is what in the heck to make with it. Jam as single fruits or make a combo? Use the raspberries for the chocolate raspberry sauce all my canning friends have been making and raving about? Cobbler? Pie? Ugh, too many decisions sometimes. After much agonizing and debating inside my head I finally settled on making the chocolate raspberry sauce. I have plenty of jam already and more raspberries will be coming in the fall. This recipe is originally from the Ball canning book. The mulberries got stashed away in the freezer for now. I'll make something delicious with them later.

Chocolate Raspberry Sauce

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 package regular powdered pectin
4 1/2 cups crushed raspberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 3/4 cups sugar

Combine the pectin and cocoa in a small bowl, using a whisk to ensure it's evenly mixed. Set aside.

In a large stockpot combine the raspberries and lemon juice. Gradually mix in the cocoa mixture until completely combined. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently.

Add the sugar all at once and mix in. Return the mixture to a full rolling boil, then remove from heat. Skim off any foam. Ladle the hot mixture into prepared 8 ounce or 4 ounce jars. I like the 4 ounce jars since we are a family of two. 

Fix lids and rings and place in boiling water bath canner, Process for 20 minutes. Remove jars to a towel on the counter and allow to cool overnight before checking seals and removing rings.

This sauce is awesome warmed up and poured over ice cream, and makes a great sauce for unfrosted cake. It's so decadent and delicious you'll be glad you tried it. Also- if you like to make homemade gifts for holiday gifts, this is a great one- if raspberries are not in season and you don't have any tucked away in the freezer, frozen purchased raspberries work just as well. Just pour the frozen berries into a  bowl and crush them while still partially frozen, measure, and carry on!

NOTE: This recipe is tested and approved by Ball.