Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Monday, August 24, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Wild Plum Jelly

A drive in the Iowa countryside in the early spring is a beautiful thing. Wild flowers are abundant in the roadside ditches and farm fields. Day lilies bloom in huge clusters all along gravel roads. Dandelions smile in the sunshine. Many country roads are bordered with row after row of bushes covered in pristine white blossoms. The blooms are teeny tiny and smell sweet. Before too much longer these same bushes will be covered in little red wild plums no bigger than an olive. 

These miniature fruits are a real treasure. They are sweet and juicy, just like their full-sized counterparts, and make amazing jams, jellies and sauces. When I was a little girl my dad used to load my sister and I in the car and we'd head out into the country to pick wild plums along the roadsides. Sometimes we'd bring home boxes full of them.

These plums are really very tiny. They truly are about olive size with a fairly large pit for their size. They aren't the easiest thing to eat fresh but they are very sweet and juicy. I found the  best way to use them is to cook them whole, and strain out the pits. The skin usually cooks down and pretty much dissolves, leaving a beautiful rosy color. They are a freestone fruit so the flesh of the plum doesn't cling to the stone.  

To make this recipe you need roughly a gallon of wild plums. You can cook with the pits in (you'll be straining anyway) or pit the plums beforehand- it's up to you. I don't pit them first- too much work! After sorting out the bad ones and cooking them, straining and discarding the pits you'll have anywhere from 6 to 10 cups of liquid, depending on the juiciness of the plums. To make the juice wash the plums well and remove any stems. Discard any that might be buggy. Place in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover the plums. Bring this mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes until the plums have broken down completely.

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth (or use a jelly bag) and place over a large bowl. Ladle the plum mixture into the colander. Allow the juice to drain off into the bowl overnight (in the fridge). Discard the plum pulp (add it to your compost pile if you have one) and your juice is ready to use. Let's make some wild plum jelly!

Wild Plum Jelly

5 1/2 cups wild plum juice
2 cups water
1 box powdered pectin
71/2 cups sugar

Prepare a boiling water bath canner, half pint jars and lids.

Measure 5 1/2 cups juice into stockpot. Add the pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Add the sugar all at once; return to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat.

Ladle into hot jars to 1/4 inch headspace. Process in canner for 10 minutes.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Jalapeno Hot Dog Relish

This summer at The Little Lake House we included several different hot pepper varieties in the garden. Not only do we love spicy foods but so do many of our friends and we love sharing our spicy goodies. Hot peppers have created some wonderful relishes, pickles and salsa around here, and a few experiments in mustard and hot sauce for chicken wings. 

Now while we do often grow many of the super hot peppers like ghost chilies and Trinidads, most of those are just too hot for the majority of our friends. Jalapenos and Serranos are very popular choices for spicy recipes that won't melt your face off quite as bad. Removing the seeds and webby membrane and you scale back the heat significantly, making jalapenos, especially, perfect for pickling, candying, adding to pickles and kicking up the impact of relish recipes.

While most peppers find their way into salsas I like to find creative ways to use them in recipes outside of the realm of spicy/hot/Mexican/salsa. Being a fairly new relish convert, just seemed natural to me that the peppers make their way into a relish recipe! This relish is really delicious and has loads of flavor- perfect for topping a grilled brat. Like most relishes, this recipe starts the night before, tossing the veggies with salt and chilling overnight to bring out the excess water. This step can be skipped if you are like me, and can't wait to get it in the jars.

Fresh from the garden cucumbers make the best relish

Spicy Pepper Pickle Relish

6 cups cucumber,  shredded or finely chopped
4 cups jalapeno, finely chopped*
4 red bell peppers, finely chopped
2 large red onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

* Remove seeds and membranes to keep the heat level down.

Toss the vegetables with the salt in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, rinse and drain thoroughly. Set aside.

In a large stockpot combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the rinsed and drained vegetables. Return to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Pack the relish into hot canning jars to 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and fix lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool overnight before checking seals.

If this recipe sounds familiar to you, it should! It's a very close variation of my all time favorite zucchini relish, with different vegetables. The cucumber stays a little cruncher than zucchini and if you chop it instead of shredding it, you retain even more texture. That crunchier texture is the perfect topping for burgers, dogs, brats, sandwiches of all kinds. The jalapeno gives it a nice heat without being too mouth-melting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's State Fair Time- All American Apple Pie Gets a State Fair Update

It's that time of year again. The Iowa State Fair kicks off in two days with the annual parade through downtown, and ten days of  rides, shows, food, competitions, concerts, food, tractor pulls, lemonade, food, baby animals, arts and crafts, food, free stuff, contests and of course- food! The Iowa State Fair is the once a year event for many of us to throw good eating habits out the window and have that fried-something-naughty-on-a-stick. You can't eat that everyday but once a year, you just have to!

The first ever Iowa State Fair was held in 1854, a mere eight years after being granted statehood.  It was quite an event for the time, admission was 25 cents. Women on horseback was the entertainment highlight of that first fair. Ten women participated, all competing for a gold watch as the prize. The fair moved around Iowa several times before finally landing at it permanent home in Des Moines in 1879. In 1886 the current location of the fairgrounds was purchased, and the rest is history.

Our great state fair is well known for many things, from crashing locomotives for entertainment, to the famous Butter Cow, and most notably, for being the inspiration for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Tony Award-nominated musical State Fair, the story of the Frake family and their Iowa State Fair experiences in 1946.

Now, without a doubt, when we talk about the state fair, we usually don't talk about the historical stuff (other than the musical, because most Iowans think that is pretty cool actually), we talk about the FOOD. Starting in the early days with humble lemonade and popcorn, to today's fair with more vendors than I can count, selling everything from corn dogs, to hot beef sundaes (yes, it's a thing) to deep fried butter on a stick (yes....that is also a thing). Deep fried, on a stick and hugely oversized- think smoked turkey legs- is the Special of The Day at the fair. Every year several new signature items are added to the food lineup. This year they include the Bacon Brisket Bomb, Corn in a Cup, and fried Apple Pie on a Stick. 

I used regular bamboo skewers you can find in any kitchen
store, but I cut them in half.
Of course, our office loves to have food days. We have one for loads of occasions and certainly State Fair Food sounds like an amazing chance to whip up something utterly naughty, maybe fried, maybe on a stick even..... and share it. So the committee that plans events sent out an email last week announcing a State Fair Food Day with prizes in several categories. My brain immediately started planning......and after much internal debate settled on Apple Pie on a Stick. I have heard that the fair's apple pie on a stick is simply apple wedges, threaded on a skewer, then dipped in funnel cake batter and fried. Well......I can do better than that!! Let's make MY version!

Apple Pie on a Stick With Bourbon Cinnamon Glaze
(makes about 36)

2-3 Granny Smith apples
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 batches double crust pastry (3 packages store-bought)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
bamboo skewers

Prepare your pastry. If using the store bought rolled up kind (and hey I did!!) let it rest at room temp while getting the apples ready.

Peel, core and chop the apples into small cubes. The "pies" are small so you need tiny pieces of apple. Place apples in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice and ginger over. Toss well to evenly coat the apples with the mixture. Set aside.

I love the flavor of cinnamon and allspice with apples, so I
went pretty heavy handed with spices. You can adjust to suit
your taste, same with the sugar.
Roll out (or unroll) the pastry and cut into circles using a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter or, as I did, the ring from a canning jar- that is the perfect size. Working with one pie at a time, use your fingers to moisten one side of a pastry circle. Press a skewer lightly into the pastry.

A canning jar ring made the perfect cutter. I moistened the
pastry circle with water and lightly pressed the skewer into
the dough so it would be pretty secure.
Spoon on about a tablespoon of the apple filling into the middle. 

Top with a second pastry circle and press the edges to seal. Crimp however you like, as fancy as you like, and cut a couple slits in the top to allow stem to escape. 

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

If you like, you can brush them with milk and sprinkle with
sugar before baking. I did not, since I was adding a glaze.
I made a batch at a time, working on the next dozen while one was in the oven.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

Aren't they pretty?
In a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, bourbon, vanilla, spices and enough milk to make the glaze a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over the pies (on a rack over the cookie sheet is good) and allow the glaze to dry before storing loosely covered.

I was a little disappointed that the food day ended up being cancelled because not many people were able to participate. That's not unusual this time of year- it's back to school, fair time, families are busy with kids, sports, school supplies, vacations and so on. Sadly that meant no prizes and no voting, but I did get a quality coupon that's redeemable for paid time off as a thank you for participating, so I was happy. All my team members said I would have won Best Food on a Stick so I went home with very few leftovers and feeling pretty good!!

Canning Cookbook- Gooseberry Jelly

Ever since finding them at the farmers market in town I have been obsessed with gooseberries. Not as common as they once were, these tart little jewels remind me of childhood when gooseberry pie seemed to be as common as cherry pie. We don't need a lot of whole pies at our house, so I'm always looking for new ways to use gooseberries that fits in our tiny family food needs. Jams and jellies are perfect. 

Making jelly is very easy. Once you've got the fruit juiced it's a piece of cake after. Of course you can do it old school and cook until you have reached the gel point, and not use pectin, but I find using pectin offers more flexibility. Inside the box of pectin there is a little flyer with directions and using these directions makes it easy to use different berries or fruits, and even combinations to make your own custom flavors.

I love this gooseberry jelly. It's the perfect balance of tart and sweet, and can be any color from pale golden to a rosy pink, depending on the type of berries you have. Let's get busy making jelly, shall we?

Gooseberry Jelly

4-5 lbs gooseberries
1 cup water
1 box powdered pectin
7 cups sugar

Crush or grind the gooseberries. Place in large saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Pour the berries into a juice bag over a large bowl. Allow the berries to drain naturally until the bag stops dripping. Gently squeeze bag to remove all juice. Measure 5 1/2 cups juice (you can add apple juice if you don't have quite 5 1/2 cups).

Prepare a boiling water bath canner, half pint jars and lids.

Put juice in large pot, stir in the pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Add the entire amount of sugar at once. Return to full rolling boil while stirring; boil one minute.

Ladle jelly into hot jars to 1/4 inch head space. Process for 10 minutes.

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Eat The World- Shannon's Take on Spicy Asian Chicken

If you're a home food preserver like I am you are well aware that canning is not cooking, and generally speaking, you can foods that are ingredients, not composed dishes, right? There are a few exceptions, like soups and some stews, but for the most part I find myself canning a lot of vegetables, pickled foods, relish type foods, and the like. The reality is I prefer this way over a cupboard full of soups and ready to eat meals- they are not as versatile as a cupboard filled with ingredients!

With so many relish and pepper things canned many people wonder what in the world to do with these foods later. Pepper jellies are often poured over a block of cream cheese and served as a spread for crackers, or melted and uses as a baste or glaze for roasting meats. Relishes are added to sandwiches, dips and cheese plates. Hot pepper sauces and salsa add fire to all kinds of foods. Cowboy Candy, or candied jalapenos, is one of those foods so many people ask "Well, what am I supposed to do with this?"

Get the recipe for Cowboy Candy by clicking HERE.

Don't let "candy" fool you- there is a sweet note but these little jewels still pack a punch, especially the leftover juice when you've fished out all the pepper slices. This leftover liquid is an unexpected bonus- you get a slightly sticky, slightly sweet and nicely hot liquid to perk up all kinds of dishes. 

Picture from Paul Quick
So where do you get the leftover syrup? Well, a couple of ways. Often when you make a recipe like this for home canning you find you have excess brine (I always have leftover- especially when making pickles). You can pour the extra liquid from Cowboy Candy into extra canning jars and process along with the other jars for shelf stability or just pop in the fridge. Because the peppers get simmered in the brine for a few minutes before packing into jars it does have some of the heat infused already. You also will have leftover, and usually hotter, liquid left after you have fished out the sliced peppers and ate them. Save this as well! The flavor is incredible.

It's so useful. You can cook it to reduce it and get a syrupy sweet and hot drizzle or dipping sauce, a great way to jazz up purchased salad dressings. It makes a great marinade, an add-in to barbeque sauce, a great way to perk up fridge pickles or store bought pickles, and turns Asian style foods into something extra wonderful.

This is where Shannon comes in. Shannon Goudy lives in Florida and enjoys home food preserving as much as I do. She is a regular contributor in a Facebook canning group we both belong to and often posts recipes, loads of pictures and great hints- including her take on a sweet hot Asian chicken dish that you are going to LOVE. Shannon came up with this recipe and called it Triple "S" Threat Chicken- sticky, spicy and sweet- and I agree!! 

Shannon's Triple "S" Threat Chicken

1 1/2 cups Cowboy Candy Syrup
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large chicken breasts
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 large eggs
Oil for frying (Shannon prefers peanut oil)

To make the sauce, combine the Cowboy Candy syrup, ginger and soy sauce in a medium saucepan. Mix the cold water and cornstarch together until the cornstarch is fully dissolved then add to the syrup mixture. Whisk together and cook over medium heat until thickened. Set aside.

For the chicken, start by beating the eggs in a large bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cornstarch, ginger, garlic and salt. Set aside.

Cut the chicken into bite sized cubes. Working on small batches, dip the chicken in the egg to coat, then in the flour mixture. Fry in the hot oil until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm until all chicken has been fried.

Toss the chicken with some of the sauce- just enough to coat, and serve over jasmine, basmati or long grain rice, and sprinkle with some Cowboy Candy. Serves 4 to 6.

Doesn't this sound KILLER? I am definitely making this as soon as I restock my Cowboy Candy stash. A side of stir fried veggies and this is better than any takeout I can imagine. 

Shannon gets her cooking chops from her hobbies- like me, she is a cookbook reader. Yep, cover to cover just like me. She, also just like me, watches cooking shows like some people watch sports, with Food Network personalities Robert Irvine, from Restaurant Impossible, Dinner Impossible, and more,  and Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, among her favorites. She gets some professional kitchen experience working for her uncle- she prepares lunch every day for the entire staff of her uncle's business, about twenty people, including all the planning, shopping and budgeting.

The country lifestyle in northwest Florida is something Shannon really thrives in- stopping at farm stands for produce and local dairy products, and I'm sure all that beautiful produce is featured i many dishes from her kitchen. She really loves all things Asian- Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and those veggies are vital to amazing Asian foods. 

Besides cooking, Shannon is a big animal lover, and loves spending time wherever there is water, be it the beach, river, spring or pool!

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."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Party Snacks- Fiesta Taco Dip

I had my first taco dip at an office food day, so it seems fitting that for food day at work today I would bring taco dip. Why not- it's easy, many ingredients I already have on hand, and almost everyone loves it. It's definitely not fancy but it's good home cooking and sometimes that really hits the spot.

So my first taco dip- for a number of years I worked for an abstract company in Des Moines. I didn't work in the main office though, instead I was in an office deep in the courthouse basement. Not by myself though, I shared the office with five other women. Pam, who worked for the same company as I did, Chris and Sheila who worked for one of the other two abstract companies, and Janet and Shari, who worked for the third company. We were like a little world of our own down there. Even though our employers were competitors the six of us were more like co-workers. We helped each other out if we had trouble figuring out some verbiage in a court file or if we couldn't find something on microfilm. We worked together and had a lot of fun doing it.

Likewise, the people who actually worked for the county and the Clerk of Court also regarded us as an extension of their staff. They included us in every activity from the Christmas Name Draw to office food days. It was one of these food days that Janet brought her famous taco dip, and life as I knew it would never be the same.

I used my own heirloom tomatoes so there are pops of color
like crazy just from the tomatoes- purple, red, yellow,
orange- just gorgeous!! Plus three colors of bell pepper.
You may recognize the name Janet from some other posts. She is my good friend and canning/gardening buddy/enabler and we spend loads of time chatting online or visiting in person, talking canning, cookbooks, travel, politics, gardening, cats and of course, the good old days in the courthouse basement. She visited the Smithsonian recently and shared pictures of Julia Child's kitchen with us. As Janet is a master at gardening she always has the most amazing variety of fresh vegetables every summer. Her garden is HUGE and she generously shares with friends and neighbors every season. I'm always bringing something home- we trade canning jars, jars of food, zucchini, tomatoes, you name it. Anyway, Janet's taco dip is legendary. Taco dip itself is a pretty common recipe- beans, sour cream, seasoning of some sort, and toppings. Janet's garden always yielded the best tomatoes, the most beautiful peppers, fabulous onions and fresh cilantro, and those made her taco dip THE absolute best of all. 

This recipe is not Janet's famous recipe, but my family's favorite version of taco dip. It's a regular all during football season and at family get-togethers like holidays and picnics. Even the youngest members of our family munch up the fresh vegetables like crazy. The best part is, it's easily changed to meet your family's likes and dislikes, or food allergies. Add what you love, and leave off what you don't. Use fat free refried beans and fat free sour cream or yogurt if you are watching fat and calories, or go with dairy-free versions if you need to avoid dairy. For me the veggies are the best part, so I really load up on peppers, tomatoes, sometimes lettuce, and don't forget the salsa!

Fiesta Taco Dip

1 can refried beans
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 package taco seasoning mix
8 oz bag shredded cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
small bunch scallions, sliced
handful cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sliced ripe olives
1/4 cup chopped bell peppers
additional toppings as desired

In a medium bowl combine the sour cream and taco seasoning. Mix well. 

Spread the refried beans onto a large plate. Something with a rim works great. For parties at home I have a great big glass platter, and for a snack to take along I use a Tupperware cupcake keeper I have had for years. Top with the sour cream mixture and spread that out.

Layer on the cheese and then the toppings. I spoon a few spoonfuls of salsa on top and serve the rest on the side.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Additional toppings are totally up to you. We like spicy foods so I always add some sliced jalapeno, and use hot hot hot salsa. Sometimes I sneak a little teeny bit of finely minced super hot pepper- like ghost pepper in the sour cream making sure it's well distributed. WARN any guests if you use a super hot. I love avocados and if I'm making this to serve right away I'll add cubed avocado to the toppings, or spread some guacamole under the sour cream layer. Sometimes I'll scatter a handful of lime wedges on top too. Lime is a flavor that goes so well with Mexican and Tex Mex foods. Some other ideas include roasted corn, crumbled queso fresco, sliced or chopped hot banana peppers, sliced radishes, shredded lettuce- pretty much anything you might put on a taco.