Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Cutler Creek

Good grief it is HARD to write about a wine when you can find virtually nothing about the vineyard or vintner. This is the problem I am having right now. The Chef brought home a couple bottles of Pinot Grigio for me to try and I have searched, searched and searched for any information about Cutler Creek Vineyards, and ............... nothing. So I have no interesting back story to share at all. No long family history or unique location, just my experience in the glass.

As a Pinot Grigio goes, this Cutler Creek wine was enjoyable. This one goes in the class of wines I like to call "girlfriend wines." If you are a wine drinker at all, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Barefoot, Flip Flop, Lulu, any wine with a cute label of stick figure girls- obviously marketed to women-  tend to be light, sweeter and simple flavors. Don't get me wrong, I like these wines as well, and often will grab one for sipping, they just aren't very complex. Cutler Creek Pinot Grigio is almost a perfect clone of Barefoot. It's sweet with a hint of tart. It's fresh and makes a good wine for sipping as well as splashing into a light and fresh pasta sauce, marinade or a sprightly vinaigrette. It has an alcohol percentage of 12.5% which is a nice little kick for a low price wine and makes it a great choice for a white sangria if you want to tame the alcohol a bit. 

The Chef and I were tasting and trying to pick out the notes. We both found something very different in the wine. He got a lot of green apple and fruity notes like pear and peach, but I found it to be slightly citrusy, with grass and herb notes, and some minerality underneath. Almost a flinty flavor. It made me wonder about where the grapes were grown, which launched my search to learn more.....that led me nowhere.

Would I buy this wine again? Sure- it makes a nice "stock your fridge" wine, a nice end-of-the-day sipper, would be great in wine cocktails. In fact, I may just grab a few just to play with- wine cocktail party anyone?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family traditions- A Grandmother's Story

Sometimes the story should have nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with a canning recipe. Nothing to do with vegetables or fruits or cakes. Sometimes the story has everything to do with the history of how we got to where we are today, and today my story begins with two little girls I would not meet for many years, Lisa and Daiynna, and the many memories they have of their grandmother.

Grandma's 1950s era Westinghouse Electric Roaster
Through the magic of the internet I learned that my friend Daiynna was selling off a few things she didn't need around the house. All kinds of things from yard equipment to appliances. One thing I really really needed was a large electric roaster. I've been borrowing my sister's for the last couple years and really wanted one of my own. Daiynna had three. One was sold right away and picked up before I ever saw it. Another was sold but not yet picked up when I staked my claim on the third. "It's a little older," Daiynna told me, "but it works just great. It belonged to my grandmother." I am totally ok with that. I only use one a handful of times a year- it will be perfect for my needs.

Modern roasters don't come with time and temp charts.
My own sister and I make a trip to the city and stopped by Daiynna's to purchase the roaster. It just so happened that the other, newer roaster was again available because the other person changed their mind. But as soon as I heard the story of the older roaster I just knew......there is so much more here than just an appliance. There is a story, a history, love and memories that need a place to be preserved and kept safe. I knew that roaster belonged with me.


I was soooo excited to see that light fire up!
At this stage in my life I no longer have any living grandparents. All the remnants of my grandparents' lives were divided and disposed of and my sister and I, living in Iowa, were never given an opportunity to have a piece of their lives to remember forever, which makes this roaster all that more important, not just to Lisa and Daiynna, but to me. I never knew their grandmother, but I know she is smiling happily knowing her hardworking roaster lives on, feeds families, and is just as treasured as if it were my own grandmother's.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Canning Cookbook- A Ball Blue Book Classic

Fall is in the air. Apples, pumpkins, and pears!! Tonight I needed something to make with a radar full of thunderstorms and no desire to leave the house at all. So I browsed the Ball Blue Book- the canning bible for us home canners and I found an awesome recipe that will use up the few pears I had in the house. I have a case of jelly jars I haven't even opened yet, so I figured, why not?


Pears. Limes. Fresh ginger. Can you tell I have been shopping in the big city? I try to make the most out of every trip to the city so pears, limes and fresh ginger went in the cart last week, and tonight, in the pot! Pear and Ginger Preserves are on the agenda and here is what you will need-

5 1/2 cups chopped pears- I used Bartlett and I did not peel- that's up to you
zest and juice of 3 limes
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 tb fresh freshly grated ginger root

Prepare 6 or 7 half pint jars and hold in hot water.


In a large saucepot combine all ingredients. Bring to boil and simmer until the mixture passes the gel test. Not familiar with the gel test? Put a saucer in the freezer and when a couple drops of the mixture forms a firm gel, it's ready to jar up!

Ladle the mixture into jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Fix lids and rings and place in hot water bath. Process for 10 minutes.


How does it turn out? Fantastic!! The color or the pears is subtle and the lime zest adds little green flecks- so pretty! It tastes like heaven!! The ginger, the lime, all of it shines through.This is a must-make!!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Pizza Sauce

Breaking out the big roaster! It's time to make pizza sauce!



Our first trip to the Amish farm was a pretty good trip. About 10 pounds of gypsy peppers and 40 pounds of tomatoes makes a nice start to the busiest time in my canning season. The majority of those gypsy peppers was diced up and put in the dehydrator to save for cooking throughout the cold winter months. I had other plans for those tomatoes.



Just a couple hours of prep time- quarter the tomatoes, squoosh out the seeds, cut out any bad spots- buzz in the food processor until smooth (yes, skin and all. Save that fiber and vitamin-rich skin) and pour into the roaster.



We make a few pizzas every once in a while at the Little Lake House, and a while back we got to sample some Habanero Pizza Sauce from a company called FireFood. I have been wracking my brain ever since trying to duplicate this recipe. I know enough about hot peppers to know to use caution. But I figure 40 pounds of tomatoes and 3 Habaneros should be a balanced mixture. So....with that in mind, let's start to work on a recipe. So far I have used-

40 lbs tomatoes (unpeeled)
1 medium onion
4 bell peppers (any color)
10 cloves garlic
3 fresh Habanero peppers IF DESIRED (We will talk about alternatives later)



Wash, core and quarter the tomatoes. Use your fingers to remove as many seeds as possible and place in large bowl. Clean and quarter the onion and bell peppers. Remove stems from Habanero peppers (and as many seeds as you desire). Process vegetables in food processor in small batches and pour into large electric roaster. Note: I did not peel my tomatoes. Buzzing in the food processor very finely chops the skin and makes them barely noticeable. You CAN blanch and remove the skins if you desire.




Pour all the pureed veggies into a large roaster and set on 300 degrees.



Cook, stirring often, until reduced by half. Add a couple tablespoons salt, a few grinds of black pepper and anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar during cooking. Taste often. 

About the peppers- if you didn't use fresh Habaneros you can add crushed dried hot peppers such as cayenne to taste. USE CAUTION. Mixture will probably reduce by half so the heat may intensify!! Remember, you can always add Tabasco sauce at the end if you need to.



I am letting mine cook overnight but will turn it way down for the sleeping hours and turn it back up in the morning. Cooking tomato puree in a roaster is a very easy way to get perfect results without worrying about watching a pot on the stove or scorching the bottom if you don't stir often enough. 

The next morning I turn the heat back up to about 275-300 and let it keep cooking. I check it every hour or so and give it a stir to make sure nothing is sticking and it's cooking down evenly. At this point there is nothing in the roaster but the vegetables- no herbs at all. It would be pointless right now to add a bunch of herbs and cook it down so much you've cooked the herb flavors right out.



By early evening the sauce has cooked down to half it's original volume. I don't need this giant roaster anymore (it takes up a lot of counter space) so I shut it down and let it cool off for half an hour or so, then bring out my big crock pot. I recommend transferring the tomato sauce with a ladle. Not the quickest way but it's much less messy and you don't splash hot tomato sauce everywhere.



NOW is the time I start adding my seasonings. I grow all my own herbs so I make my own Italian blend containing basil, parsley, thyme and marjoram. You can use a store bought blend like Italian Seasoning- that will work just fine. You're going to need up to one cup of dried seasoning by the time you're done. Stir about 1/3 cup or so of the dried seasoning into the tomatoes in the crock pot and continue to let it just cook and do it's thing.Why dried seasoning? Fresh herbs are very delicate and they lend a fresh herbal flavor at the END of cooking. Since this is a canning recipe you want to avoid adding fresh herbs because they may interfere with the acid balance and make the recipe possibly unsafe, and processing in a canner will just wipe out their freshness. Always go with dry herbs in a canning recipe.



So after another night of slowly cooking and reducing, we now have a rich and thick tomatoey pizza sauce. It's time to add the rest of the herbs and let that simmer for about an hour, while I get my canner and jars ready to go. Right before adding to jars, add 1/4 cup lemon juice to the sauce (you MUST acidify tomatoes when canning) and stir well. Pour the sauce into pint jars, wipe the rims, fix lids and rings and place in a boiling water canner. Process for 35 minutes, remove jars and let rest for 24 hours before checking seal and removing rings. My crock pot full of delish yielded 7 1/2 pints spicy pizza sauce.

Next step- make pizza !!!

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
Wikimedia.
Out the back door and off to the compost pile with that nonsense. And now........off 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.