Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Update #2 on the New German Adventure

Let me start off by planting some music in your brain- you know the kind of tune that played on The Price is Right when the contestant lost and over-guessed the price of things?  That whomp....whomp...whoooooomp thing? Ya, play that in your head for a few minutes. 

I am obviously not going to be a kraut maker, and I'm perfectly ok with that. It was just an experiment in "Can I Do This?" anyway, and I'm not a huge kraut fan to begin with. So no tears of disappointment and fits of frustration will happen here. Just a stinky pot of "stuff" to dispose of.

As I discovered while making a wellness check, I had not a pot of kraut fermenting, but something that looked like it belongs in Alexander Fleming's lab- a pot of mold. Weird mold. Curly, bendy, ruffly moldy in colors I never knew existed, and no, I didn't take any pictures. Gross.

Sir Alexander Fleming, playing with nasty and
disgusting stuff in his lab. Photo courtesy of
Out the back door and off to the compost pile with that nonsense. And to the farm for some vegetables I actually know what to do with!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye to summer, and a county fair wrapup

Ahhhh September has arrived. Labor Day weekend is over and summer festivities are ending. Before we know it the leaves will be changing, frost will be kissing our gardens goodbye and pumpkin everything will be everywhere. I do so love autumn.

Along with the end of the summer is the end of the fair season. The Iowa State Fair ended two weeks ago but our Guthrie County Fair is ending today. Time to load up the livestock, get the last funnel cake and corndog, ride the last rides of the summer, and of course....... pick up the entries submitted by folks with every talent imaginable. From quilting to baking to floral decorations, just about everything is represented here. Antiques, flawless garden produce, the tallest cornstalk- so much to see!

A few of the other competitors' entries on drop off day
And I won't lie....... I feel a sense of dread as I head to the Arts Building and see how I fared with my entries in the Open Class- Canned Foods and Dehydrated Foods. This is my second time entering anything in a fair and I'm just as nervous this year as I was last year! I'm a confident canner and food preserver but there is a lot of competition out there these days. Dropping off the jars last week I noticed there were quite a few more competitors than the prior year. So, yes, I did have butterflies. 

The busy fairgrounds didn't help. It's slow going with folks leading horses and other livestock around. A major storm system had passed through overnight leaving the roads and parking areas very muddy and sloppy. I found one of the few remaining grassy areas and took a deep breath. 

With the Tilt-a-Whirl and Space Rocket generating screams in the background I walked into the Arts Building, and found an awesome surprise! My entries did fabulous! Last week I dropped off twenty-four jars and two plastic bags of dehydrated vegetables and hoped for the best. Today I was seeing my success- sixteen first place blue ribbons, four second place red ribbons AND the Grand Prize for winning the most blue ribbons!

Here is the breakdown: 

Blue Ribbons:
  • Pear Halves
  • Corn
  • Bread and Butter Pickles
  • Whole Dill Pickles
  • Dill Spears
  • Dill Chips
  • Pickled Hot Peppers
  • Pickled Green Tomatoes
  • Dill Zucchini Relish
  • Asian Plum Sauce
  • Gooseberry Blueberry Jam
  • Cherry Jam
  • Blueberry Pineapple Jam
  • Apple Butter
  • Cranberry Apple Relish
  • Dehydrated Ghost chilis
Red Ribbons:
  • Carrots
  • Peach Jam
  • Applesauce
  • Dehydrated Sliced Tomatoes
2014 was a success!!
Add to that an awesome set of ceramic mixing bowls as the Grand Prize for the most blue ribbons awarded- and THAT my friends, is how I am closing out the 2014 Guthrie County Fair! See you next year!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Grape Jam

I have very generous friends. The kind of friends that call or text me and ask me if I just want to take a huge bowl of fresh-picked grapes off her hands. Silly question- of course I do! I never turn down a freebie!  In this case it was my super sweet friend Sarah who has an ages-old grapevine at her house. She and I had gone to a grapevine workshop earlier in the spring so she could figure out how to tame The Beast (click HERE to read about it).

Once I had the grapes home, all cleaned and ready to work with (THAT was a horrifying experience with insects but I guess makes them truly organic!) I started to research different recipes. I searched everywhere I could look for something other than grape jelly or jam and had no success. Grape juice sure, but that's not I wanted. So......grape jam it is! I will be using the directions from the Bernardin canning website so it is NOT my recipe and has been tested and certified safe for those who stick to approved-only recipes.

I chose this recipe because it is a smaller batch, and I certainly didn't need any more jam but didn't want to waste the fruit, and also since you need to separate the skin from the flesh- it will take a while but not as long as a bigger batch. I have never worked with grapes at all, so we're learning this one together, guys! I have Concord grapes to play with, but this recipe works equally well with any grape that makes a good jam or jelly including some of the sweeter wine grapes- good to know since Iowa has over 100 wineries/vineyards!

We are going to need-

8 cups stemmed Concord grapes
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar

Place a metal spoon and plate in the freezer. Trust me, you'll need it later.

Wash and drain the grapes well. Make sure to remove alllll the multi-legged friends that come with things you've grown outdoors. Use your fingers to pinch each grape, forcing the pulp into one saucepan and the skin into another. 

Didn't think that pinch trick would work but it sure did!
Add the water to the grape pulp and bring to a boil. 

Looks like a pot of eyeballs- slimy and gross
Boil gently for 10 minutes stirring once in a while. Press the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds and set aside for now.

Looks like a big hassle but it went very quickly.
Next, chop the grape skins, I gave mine a quick buzz in the food processor. I don't want big hunks of skin in the finished jam. Return skins to their saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil until the water has evaporated. Thus usually takes about 10 minutes. Combine the skins and pulp.

Before I ran thru the food processor- turned out perfect after
Get your jars ready now- you should always wash them before you start. I like to hold the clean jars in the boiling water bath canner until it's time to fill them.

Place the grape mixture into a deep stainless steel pot. Add all of the sugar. Bring mixture to a boil slowly, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil vigorously until the mixture reaches the gelling point. This takes about 25 minutes, but don't plan your day on that 25 minutes. It took mine quite a bit longer.

How can you tell if it's reached the gel point? Well, remember that spoon we put in the freezer? Remove the pot from heat for a minute and grab that frozen spoon. Dip it into the jam mixture and quickly move away from pot. Mixture should coat the spoon, and if you put a couple drops onto a frozen plate, it will form a soft-set jam just like in the stores. 

Remove jars from hot water. Working quickly, ladle the jam into the hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim of jar and fix lids and rings. Process the jam for 10 minutes in the boiling water bath (start timing when the water is fully boiling). Let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes off the heat before removing to a towel or rack to cool. You will hear the distinctive POP as they cool and seal. Let them rest 24 hours before removing rings, checking for seal and storing. I got nine half-pints from this recipe.

Aren't jams easy? No straining, no hours waiting on a jelly bag to empty, no worries about cloudiness. Jams are great recipes for starting canners and most fruits are a lot less work than grapes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fair Season 2014- Guthrie County Fair

Once again it's time to load up the jars of home-canned goodies and head off to the Guthrie County Fair. I'm not here for the concerts, or the mud bog racing. The animal competitions and deep fried fair foods really aren't on my agenda. I am headed to the Open Class Competition, to show my jars of colorful foods and hope for a few ribbons. Last year was the first time I'd ever entered anything, and took home 10 ribbons out of 13 entries- I'd say that's pretty good for a newbie! 

2013 Guthrie County Fair winners
I've been busy! Canning is a year-round project for me. If it's not in season, I froze it when it was, and jams, jellies, mustards, relishes- you name it- can be made anytime. When the wind was howling and the snow was piling up, the canner was whistling away, warming the house and filing it with wonderful aromas.

On the list of entries for this year are-
  • salsa verde 
  • green beans
  • wax beans
  • carrots
  • hot pickles (dill pickles with a cayenne pepper added to each jar)
  • cowboy candy 
  • spiced pears
  • pear halves
  • applesauce
  • dill pickles- whole, spears and chips
  • corn 
  • tomatoes
  • pumpkin cranberry ale mustard 
  • pickled green tomatoes
  • apple butter
  • cherry jam
  • peach jam
  • Kinky Blue Goose Jam
  • Pineapple Blueberry Jam 
  • Summer zucchini relish 
  • Apple Cranberry Jam 
  • dehydrated hot peppers
  • "sun dried" tomatoes

I've also decided to enter things other than just canned foods this year and see how that goes, so you will notice I have some dehydrated things on my list too.

And now.......the waiting. Our fair is only 5 days long but it's a very very long five days waiting to see if I am lucky enough to snag a ribbon or two! As long as I'm here, I might as well enjoy some of the fun fair stuff. Of course, the ever-popular fair food and rides are all around. The campground is filled to the brim with campers, many have had the same spot for generations, and it's a reunion of sorts- old friends and new, sharing food, drink and stories. The livestock buildings have everything from bunnies to chickens, lambs to cows.

Thursday is free admittance day, and drop-off day for exhibits like mine. Livestock judging, the dog show, family meal and the Bill Riley Talent Search competition take place on this day. Don't forget, the carnival rides and fair food all open too!

Friday the fair has lots of fun things for all ages. 4-H and FFA kids show their horses in the morning, poultry in the afternoon followed by pets. You better brush up on your cribbage skills for the tournament. Little buckeroos can demonstrate their prowess at mutton bustin', and the evening is capped off with the IRCA sanctioned Grand River Rodeo in the grandstand.

Saturday the fun kicks off with the parade in the morning, followed by more livestock and animal shows, mud volleyball, antique tractor show and the MPA and MAPA Truck and Tractor Pull in the grandstand. 

Sunday begins with church service bright and early at 7:30 am. Bring your appetite and your wallet to the pie auction, and stay for the Baby Olympics. If you're feeling competitive, sign up for Arm Wrestling. Gunnar and the Grizzley Boys take the grandstand stage to wrap up the day, followed by fireworks.

After Sunday, the weekend may be over, but not the fair! Labor Day closes the fair for the year with livestock auctions, mud bogs, and a last chance to take a spin on a carnival ride or enjoy a funnel cake or hot dog. It will also be time to pick up my entries and see what the results are! Make sure to watch for an update!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dinner from the garden

What a terrible thing it is- to be able to step out in the yard, pick an armful of fresh veggies and make dinner happen. Just terrible. Especially right now, with all the tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, onions, garlic...... just awful.

Tonight we're having dinner from our garden! Fresh yellow summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions- the only thing we didn't grow was the hamburger and Parmesan cheese. This is a quick to put together dish, pop it in the oven and relax for 20 minutes or so, then get some pasta water going, toss in some pasta to go alongside and voila! Dinner is served.

Italian Stuffed Summer Squash
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash or zucchini
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • big pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2-3 tb minced fresh marjoram, basil, oregano or a combo
  • oil
  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or puree
Wash squash well and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard. Also scoop out some of the flesh leaving a half inch shell. Chop squash flesh.

In large oven-safe skillet heat a couple TB oil. Add onion, garlic and chopped squash. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Crumble ground beef into skillet. Cook and stir until beef is cooked. Add herbs and pepper. Add half the tomato sauce to skillet, then stuff the squash halves with mixture. Add all remaining sauce to skillet, stir, and nestle the squash in the mixture. Sprinkle with topping mixture (see below). Place in 425 degree oven about 20-30 minutes until squash is tender but not mushy.

Remove carefully to plates, cut in half if you like, and serve with pasta and extra sauce.

  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of herbs used in dish
Combine in small bowl. Sprinkle over squash. Drizzle with a tiny touch of oil. The topping bakes up crunchy from the panko and salty from the Parmesan cheese and makes the perfect textural element. 

You'll notice I did not precook my squash before stuffing. I prefer mine to still have some hint of crisp to it, but you can certainly precook yours if you like it softer. Put on a microwave safe plate,sprinkle with a few drops of water and cover tightly with plastic wrap- cook for a minute or two until barely tender.

All you need now is a hunk of crusty bread and a breezy spot on the patio to enjoy a perfect summertime dinner!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Chinatown Plum Sauce

Ohhhhhhh I have been waiting a year to be able to make this sauce! Ever since hitting the jackpot- finally, after 2 years of searching the Iowa countryside, I finally found wild plums last summer. So now that I know where all the trees are, I just needed to get through winter, spring and summer again and voila! Plums! I have been wanting to make an Asian plum sauce. Why a plum sauce? Iowa's native wild plums ripen to a gorgeous ruby red and become juicy and sweet like other plums but they are TINY- and that makes it hard to do much with them other than sauces and jams. I have a huge stockpile of jam already so, plum sauce it is!

Just the other day they were green!!
I love learning new techniques and new styles of cooking and Asian foods is definitely a weak spot. Maybe the perfect plum sauce will inspire me to explore Asian recipes and sharpen up my skills! Anyway, let's round up some plums and make this sauce. I am using Iowa wild plums but you can use any plum you like, you just need 10 cups pitted and chopped. Peel the plums if you like, I didn't- they break down well in cooking. You will need-
  • 10 cups chopped, pitted plums, peeled if desired
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tb finely minced/shredded gingerroot or 1 tb dried ground
  • 3 tb crushed red pepper
  • 1 tb salt
In crockpot, combine plums with all other ingredients. Cover and set to high. When boiling, turn heat to low and cook several hours until thickened. 

Since it's VERY early in the wild plum season, I had to
supplement with store bought plums, cut up.
To get the perfect smooth sauce, buzz in a blender or food processor for a few seconds. Reheat if necessary.

Red onion, freshly garlic and spicy ginger make the sauce pop!
Ladle hot sauce into half pint or pint jars leaving half inch headspace. Wipe rim, fix lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for ten minutes. Remove and cool, check for seals after about 12 hours.

This sauce makes an awesome dipping sauce for egg rolls or a great base for a stir fry sauce. You can tame the heat by using a little less crushed red pepper if you like. It's also great for tossing with chicken wings for a Asian take on wings. Depending on the plums you choose you will get a beautiful sauce anywhere from golden yellow to deep purple. 

Hurry up and ripen guys!! I have plans for you!
This recipe is safe for home canning- it's very similar to the recipe featured by Bernardin in Canada. The only differences are in seasonings, the acid is still in there. Safety should always be on the forefront of your mind as a home canner. The internet can be a scary place when it comes to canning recipes with a lot of people touting outdated and unsafe methods. Please check a reputable source before trying a recipe if you're not sure if it's safe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Stella Rosa

Wine drinking is very trendy these days. Not the stuffy and pretentious cork-sniffing boastful wine drinking of a generation ago. The old rules for wine- white with fish, red with pasta- are thrown out the window and people are exploring different tastes. In am a huge advocate of "drink what you like, when you like, how you like." You can have chianti with sea bass if that's what you love. Go ahead and drink Sauvignon Blanc with a steak- why not? Like all your wine cold and not cool room temp? Go for it! 

Several years ago I offered my services to clients as a personal wine tasting guide. They gathered a few friends for an evening and I would come over with a selection of wines and guide them through 5 or 6 different wines, talking about tasting notes, legs, food pairings, and winemaking. It was fun but I noticed a pattern- while most of the men favored the big bold super Tuscans, women tended to clutch the Moscato bottle and be afraid of reds. I'd recommend wines from all over- California, Europe and Iowa. In Iowa, the wine industry is flourishing with over 100 wineries in the state and many farmers growing acres or grapes as a permanent crop, and trend with locally grown grapes is.......sweet. 

Dry wines are just as delicious and and usually more complex compared to any sweet wine, and learning to appreciate them is an important part of growing as a wine drinker. As the ladies became bolder and wanted to step away from the Moscato and sweet wines, I knew I'd need a good second step wine to recommend. Stella Rosa fit the bill perfectly. It was sweet, just a tad effervescent and most importantly- red!

Stella Rosa wines come from the village of Santo Stefano Belbo. They are imported by the San Antonio Winery, owned by the Riboli family. They are really great wines for newbies. Since discovering Stella Rosa all those years ago the company has expanded the range to include reds, whites, fruit-kissed and sparkling wines. 

After getting some bad news, and in need of some cheer, my wonderful kids stopped by with flowers, a gift card for my Nook, and a bottle of wine (they know me so well!). That bottle was the limited edition Stella Rosa Black.

Let's just say this bottle didn't sit around too long. It went straight into the wine chiller for an evening of relaxation. I remember the original Stella being very fruity and grapey. This one is a little different, more depth, more berry and black cherry notes than grape jam and still has that ever so slight fizz that's so appealing. A quick swirl in my big red wine glass released so many beautiful floral and fruit aromas. The flavor was divine. I happened to have a little chocolate just laying around so I had a little nibble. It was heavenly. 

Stella Rosa wines also have a lower alcohol contact than some wines, which makes it a great choice for a warm summer afternoon sipper on a shady patio somewhere. This would be a great base wine for a sangria too, or a fresh and delicious wine cocktail. Mmmmmm- wine snow cones for the big kids??

If you are stuck in the Moscato rut because you don't like reds because you think they are too dry, give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.

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."