Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's all about the pie- Sour Cream Apple Pie

Country folks really do love pie. Seems like every small town cafe we stop in for a quick bite has a pretty impressive selection of homemade pies. You can't argue the simple deliciousness of this classic dessert, and small town folks are pretty down to earth and usually pass on the froofy stuff.

So they love pie.

Naturally as a baker I am drawn to this phenomenon. I think of myself as more of a cake person but really, I love making pastry. I love the idea of the homemaker spending the afternoon cutting up fresh apples or sorting berries, piling it all into a flaky crust and baking it until a perfect golden brown. In a different time it might have been me in that kitchen, wearing a pretty apron, flour sprinkled on my shoes, rolling out the pastry to the perfect thickness. Maybe I picked the apples or peaches just that morning, from a tree in my own yard, or maybe I stopped at the market in town and bought a basket full.

Life has moved on from those simpler times, but even in the midst of our busier lives, there is something so special about a perfectly baked pie. Maybe it reminds us of our grandmothers, or Mom's homemade chocolate cream pie, or family time over the holidays with pumpkin and mince pies. Whatever our individual connections to those memories might be, the fact is, we all need to make time for pie, and while the era of the homemaker spending hours in the kitchen making homemade desserts all the time may be gone, but the generosity and friendship you find in America's small towns remains. A neighbor with an apple tree means everyone has fresh apples. 

I love hearing my friends' stories about their mothers and grandmothers and the different pies that were popular in their families. My friend Tina has a wonderful story of her mom's award-winning- and drop dead gorgeous- apple pie. Seriously, this pie looks like a giant sunflower and every time I see Tina make it and share pictures I can just picture her mom in the kitchen.

Almost everyone loves apple pie, but a very very special lady who was once a huge part of my life taught me to make an old fashioned creamy apple pie that her mother used to make, and I loved it, and when I make it now it reminds of her and all the time we spent together. She taught me so much about life and strength and how to always be gracious. It just seems fitting that I would make "her" pie and share it with you.

Evelyn's Sour Cream Apple Pie

pastry for one pie shell
6 or 7 apples*
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
several grinds freshly grated nutmeg
big pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Crumb Topping (recipe follows)

*Choose apples that are good for baking, but not too tart. I like to mix up a couple kinds of apples.

Peel, core and cut up the apples into small pieces. Toss with lemon juice in a large bowl. Sprinkle with flour, spices, sugar and salt and toss to coat apples completely. 

In a small bowl combine the egg, sour cream and vanilla. Pour over apples and mix to coat well.

The velvety sour cream mixture coats the apples and
makes this pie so extra special.
 Roll out the pastry and fit into 9 inch pie plate. Crimp the edges. Pour the apples in the crust and place in a 350 degree oven. Bake the apples in the crust for 45 minutes. Watch the edges of the pastry closely and cover with foil if it's getting too browned.

While pie is baking, make the topping. After 45 minutes, remove from oven, sprinkle with crumb topping, and return to oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. 

Serve slightly warm or cool.

Crumb Topping

1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Combine everything except almonds and pulse in food processor to make crumbs (use a whisk or pastry blender to make by hand). Stir in the almonds. Sprinkle over the pie and continue baking.

Just the aroma of this amazing apple pie makes me smile and think of Evelyn. She taught me all about babies, when I knew absolutely NOTHING about how to care for a baby, all about canning (although she did things the "old" way and I don't), all about saving money and always making sure to have a secret grocery stash- a "squirrel cupboard" as she called it, and to always put my children first. She was a great role model, a hardworking strong woman, a cancer survivor, a volunteer, a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She helped me through some very difficult times over the years and told me to always hold my head up high. I miss her every single day.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Rose Petal Jelly

One of the very first things I ever canned was jelly. Lots of jelly. When I moved to The Little Lake House the very first spring I made my very first flower jelly- dandelion. That was the beginning of a very rapid ascent into flowery jellies.

Dandelion jelly. It looked and tasted just like honey. It
was delicious on toast and made a lovely glaze for meat.
Violet jelly came next. With a partially wooded property and loads of wild violets every spring, of course I'd pick box fulls of every little kid's favorite flower to pick a fistful for mom. I'd spend hours separating the petals from the stems. I'd steep the petals in water until the water was a lovely violet, or yellow, or pink color- depending on the flower. Boiling, straining, hanging jelly bags from cabinet handles. Fun times. 

Beautiful jars of violet jelly made by my friend Janet Ferson.
The color is absolutely stunning.
Wild flowers were one thing, but there was one beautiful flower, which is often used in cooking, that was not growing in my garden....... but I knew I could get my hands on...... roses! Pastry chefs and bakers often use rosewater in making pastries and candies. Rosewater is the main flavoring in that delicious candy Turkish Delight that I fell in love with in England years ago. Surely some lovely rose petals would make a beautiful jelly. Of course they do!

Roses from Stuart Flowers and Gifts
Where you get your rose petals is very important. If you don't grow them yourself, seek out a friend who has rose bushes but isn't obsessed with keeping them flawless. You want pesticide and chemical-free roses. Sometimes a florist is your only option- just ask and make sure the roses aren't preserved with chemicals. Many florists these days DO keep edible flowers in stock. Maybe you're super lucky and have a gourmet food shop that sells food-grade roses, and if you do I am super jealous!

Color is also very important. Obviously, all roses with have the same delicate floral fragrance and flavor but deeper colored roses will make the prettiest jelly. Lighter colors, like lavender and pink roses, will have a hint of color or look like honey in the jar. I love a coral color so I try to get red and orange roses. Super dark pink roses, like fuschia, also make incredibly gorgeous jellies.

Rose Petal Jelly

4 cups fresh rose petals
3 cups water
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
2 cups sugar

Place the rose petals into a deep saucepan, slightly crushing them. Add the water. Bring this to a boil and boil for about 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to steep several hours or until cool. I often tuck the pot in the fridge overnight and finish the jelly the next day, for the most intense infusion.

Strain liquid into deep stockpot and discard the petals. Add the lemon juice and pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat. Add the entire amount of sugar. Return mixture to boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Boil one minute.

Remove from heat and ladle into jelly jars. Place lids on and allow to cool. STORE IN THE FRIDGE. This is NOT a shelf stable canning recipe!

REMEMBER- make sure you know where the flower petals are from, regardless of what type of flower you are using. Don't use dandelions or other wild flowers from public areas, where they may have been sprayed, and ALWAYS make sure the flower is edible!! 

Rose petal jelly makes a lovely gift and you can use super cute jars to store it in.I always save cute little glass jars to reuse with things that won't be processed in a canner. If you plan on giving the jelly as a gift just let the recipient know it must be in the fridge.

BIG THANKS to my friends Janet Ferson and the gals at Stuart Flowers and Gifts for generously sharing pictures.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sometimes I just want to have breakfast!

Here at The Little Lake House we really aren't morning people. Likewise, we aren't big breakfast people either. Unless we're having breakfast for dinner- I can get behind that idea! When you're serving breakfast for dinner however, a bowl of oatmeal or cereal and toast is not going to cut it. You need something more substantial. When my kids were young I used to love making breakfast stratas and casseroles, especially on the weekends and holidays. They all have their own homes and traditions now, and I don't have to feed big crowds anymore. Sometimes though, I get a craving for some really lush breakfast food.

I recently returned to work after having several months off and getting up in the morning has been a challenge. We all know we should start the day with a good breakfast, and driving thru the fast food place for a biscuit of fat and a cup of bad coffee isn't the way to go. Again, these little frittatas fit the bill to perfection. You can zap em in the micro on the way out the door and have a mess-free road snack or heat them up at the office and make everyone else jealous!

These mini frittatas are perfect for us. The leftovers freeze great, reheat in a snap and make great picnic foods. They are perfect for a light lunch on the deck, with a nice chilled glass of wine and make good party foods too- just make teeny ones in mini muffin cups for a bite-size appetizer. They are super easy to mix up and are so versatile. Use your favorite cheese. Use whatever vegetables you like- broccoli is delicious, and of course, spinach, kale or other greens. I like to add some diced sweet red or orange bell pepper for a pop of color if I have one around. Let's make frittata!

To make Easy Baby Frittatas you will need-
  • 1 small bunch fresh asparagus
  • 1 package fresh mushrooms
  • small bunch scallions
  • 1/2 lb sliced bacon
  • 1 bag shredded hash browns (thaw if frozen)
  • 1-2 cups shredded cheese (Colby Jack is great)
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 9 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons fines herbes*
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • cooking spray
* For the herbs, you can use fresh or a dried fines herbes mix, such as Penzey's. If you use fresh, plan on 2-3 tablespoons minced and combined fresh parsley, chervil, chives and thyme.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice off the asparagus tips; set aside. Slice the tender parts of the stems and set aside. Chop the mushrooms in small dice. Slice the scallions. Heat a couple tablespoons oil in a skillet. Saute the asparagus stems, mushrooms and scallions for a few minutes until the mushrooms are softened. Add the asparagus tips; remove from heat after a minute. Set aside to cool.

Slice the bacon into lardons. Cook in heavy skillet until browned and crispy. Remove and let drain on paper towel.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the vegetables, bacon, cheese, creme fraiche, herbs and season with salt and pepper. 

Spray cups of muffin pan with cooking spray. Divide mixture among cups. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the eggs are set. Remove and let cool slightly. Remove from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Besides making these yummy little breakfast treats I also got to play with my new mini Santoku knife by Joseph Joseph. I talk about knives all the time and everyone who knows me KNOWS I am deeply obsessed. I found this knife in a little gourmet store in the city and figured I could spend a few bucks on a new toy and see how I like it. 

The handle feels great in my hand, and for a small knife, it has a great deal of "heft." They also designed the handle to have a built in stand to keep the blade from resting on dirty surfaces, or dirtying clean surfaces.

The blade is colored so we'll have to see how durable the color is over time. The edge is beautifully sharp, as I'd expect from a new knife, and chopping was very easy. It feels thinner than some of my other knives, so I'm anxious to see how that compares. I am actually surprised that I got so much weight behind this small knife. Looks can be deceiving, I tell ya!

The knife also comes with a sheath to protect the blade- that's a huge bonus for me. So many inexpensive knives do not have covers and can be dangerous to store and difficult to keep sharp. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, April 6, 2015

In My Kitchen-The Linen Obsession

Most people collect something. It's often something useful, that's part of our daily lives. I have collections. Bundt pans. So many that I can't fit them into a cabinet. They have to live in plastic tubs in my storage room. Wine glasses. I have a wineglass from every winery I have visited, and they collect dust, err, I mean sit nicely in a china cabinet all their own. Kitchen knives. Now there is a useful collection. I do use them- all the time. Every day, in fact. 

Kitchen linens. Especially kitchen towels. By and large my biggest collection and most used. Some are old, some are new. Some are pristine, some are stained and tattered. All are loved. 

My best friends know me so well that when they travel and look for souvenirs to bring me, it's often a kitchen towel and something food or wine related. When I visit cute little shops in different towns I always am on the lookout for kitchen towels. I have found some of the cutest and most unique towels in those little shops. Sometimes they are embroidered, sometimes stamped or printed with something cute and kitcheny. 

Sometimes I find beautiful antique kitchen linens in antique shops. Long ago some woman spent hours creating beautiful needlework on that towel, maybe a crocheted edge. When I was little my mom taught me to embroider and she often made cute little tea towels with vines and flowers and French knots sprinkled all over. 

Don't leave me unattended in a kitchen store for very long. I don't shop at the mall very often- maybe once a year, if that, but when I do a stop in Williams Sonoma is a must for me. They have some of the best kitchen towels I have ever had. I love stopping in there at odd times during the year and digging through the clearance pile, looking for last season's "in" colors. I don't care what color they are!! 

When I am doing my regular shopping I still am vulnerable to my obsession. The nearby town has a small department store where I stop in for necessities like laundry supplies, pet supplies, things like that. Darnit, they always have an endcap with the current season's cute new kitchen towels. Sometimes it's the closest holiday, sometimes it's just a cute theme, like fall leaves or teapots.

They end up in my cart every time.......

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Julia Child's Kitchen

It's no secret- I loooooove Julia Child. Love her food, her cookbooks, her life story. What an amazing icon she is, not just in the culinary world, but for women as well. I read about her as much as I can. I am obsessed by the movie Julie and Julia. Her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is one of my most treasured books. Can you imagine how envious I was upon hearing that my good friend and canning/gardening enabler...... err, I mean buddy, Janet, went to The Smithsonian and got to see with her very own eyes Julia Child's Kitchen? Ugh....... I died a little. 

Seriously, if I were the sort of person to make a bucket list, Julia's kitchen (well actually the whole Smithsonian to be honest) would be right at the top. Perhaps I am drawn to Julia by some cosmic connection- her show The French Chef first appeared on the air the year of my birth. Maybe it's just my love of old Europe and France and knowing that such a big part of her life was there...... who knows. I am just so curious about this amazing icon and admire her in so many ways.

It's fascinating to me that The Smithsonian has the real actual kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts- it is not a replica. Reading all about it I was also surprised to find out that her home kitchen was also the "set" where three of her television series were filmed. I fact, some of the rigging from the cameras and lighting are still in place in the kitchen. Imagine having a fully functioning film set in your kitchen- holy cow not in MINE, I'd have to clean it every single day! Her kitchen was also designed by her husband, Paul, including the color scheme, with countertops two inches taller than standard because Julia was quite tall. 

Julia's Kitchen at The Smithsonian opened to the public on her 90th birthday in August of 2002. As I jealously looked over Janet's pictures I couldn't help but giggle at Julia's stuff. Many times I said "I have one of those!". Her Kitchenaid stand mixer immediately caught my eye. The Cuisinart, the butcher block with all the knife slots. Julia was a self-confessed knife nut, and so am I! Magnetic strips holding knifes of every type fit in every nook and cranny imaginable. Pegboard covers some of the wall space- I had pegboard in my childhood bedroom (we ARE connected!!) and gadgets hang all over. She had such beautiful cast iron pans, and her legendary copper pan collection- just perfect and flawless! She even had a bookshelf for cookbooks- something I truly wish I had room for in my kitchen.

**All photos by Janet Ferson

Monday, March 30, 2015

Italian for Two- Chicken Cacciatore

Here is something I didn't know. Cacciatore means hunter in Italian. Makes me chuckle a little bit when I think about the most common cacciatore I know of- chicken. Have you ever hunted a chicken? Me either......

When I was a young girl my dad was very into cooking. He and his buddy Norman often got together on the weekends for a few games of tennis and then they would cook up a storm for dinner. Around that same time my dad got his first Crockpot slow cooker. Of course, he also got a slow cooker cookbook so he could experiment with all kinds of recipes.

My dad. The Seventies Foodie
We had all kinds of soups and stews and dishes made from short ribs. Back then short ribs were the cast-off cut and not trendy like they are today, so Dad could make a big pot of something awesome for not a lot of money. One of the first recipes Dad made in the Crockpot was Chicken Cacciatore. I remember looking at those whole pieces of chicken swimming in that red sauce and thinking it was....weird. 

Now that I am all grown up I have a different appreciation for food. I still have never hunted a chicken, but I love to cook them! My new challenge is cooking for two, and that's not as easy as it sounds when you're cooking Italian foods. Pasta sauce tends to start out small and end up being enough to feed an entire village. This recipe gives you a generous amount of sauce which is perfect for another pasta dish the next day. 

Chicken Cacciatore for Two

2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
salt and pepper
olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 medium bell pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons crushed dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon marjoram, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
big pinch crushed red pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 quarts chopped tomatoes*
1 pint pizza sauce**

In a large stockpot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil.

Cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise to make 4 equal pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken in the olive oil, skin side down first, until golden brown. Flip the pieces and brown the back side. Remove to a bowl.

Two chicken breasts cut crosswise gives you four nice portions
Cut the onion into halves and then slice. Slice the bell pepper. Add to the stockpot and cook over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes until slightly softened. Mince the garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Cook for a few minutes but watch carefully so the garlic does not burn. Add the herbs and spices to the pot and stir until fragrant.

Sauteing the herbs for a minute or two really makes a huge
difference in flavor and aroma in the food.
Add the undrained tomatoes and wine to the pot, and the pizza sauce. Stir well. Place the chicken pieces into the sauce. Cover, reduce heat and cook at least an hour, until chicken is cooked through. The longer you cook, the better the dish becomes. Serve the chicken and sauce over hot cooked pasta.

* I used home canned tomatoes. You can use 2 of the larger cans of chopped tomatoes, or 8 cups chopped fresh tomatoes.
** I used home canned pizza sauce. You can use 2 cups commercial pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce. If you use tomato sauce you may want to increase the basil and oregano a bit. I used pizza sauce because I had it on hand.

I had plenty of sauce leftover to make another whole dish too. You can also pop the leftover sauce into a container and freeze for future use. I like a thicker sauce so the majority of the cooking I did with the lid ajar, which lets steam out and helps evaporate the sauce, making it richer and thicker. The garlic melts in the tomato sauce, the onions and peppers taste so fresh and the herbs are classic Italian seasonings.

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.