Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On the bookshelf- Reading at the Little Lake House

I don't know why I haven't talked about this subject before! You would think this would be one of the first things I've ever blogged about. I am an avid reader. Love books.....LOVE books. I love the library, I love book stores. I love lots of different kind of books. I love reading text books of subjects I am interested in. I love silly Danielle Steele romances, Stephen King horror novels and biographies of all kinds of interesting people. I love reading about World War II, history, and I am hopelessly addicted to the "Prey" series of novels by John Sanford. My dad, also an avid reader, calls me regularly to ask what I'm reading, talk about what he is reading, and he sends me home with books he has finished with. My dad has always been the biggest influence in the things I study and am interested in, ever since I was a kid. You see, like me, my father is a cookbook collector.

The Chef says I am a cookbook hoarder and with the internet there is no longer a need for buying actual books. That may be, and my concession there was to stop buying cooking magazines every month (but I still buy one occasionally....shhhhh). My daughter and son-in-law gave me a Nook for Christmas last year- and wonderful and very thoughtful gift, as my kids know me oh so well and knew that I'd always wanted one, and would use it all the time (and I do). But when it comes to cookbooks I still need the feel of the paper, the weight of the book in my hand, the smell of the pages. I need an actual book. 

I have cookbooks of all sorts. I have many many many of the "thin" Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. They aren't much bigger than magazines but are hard-covered and single subject, such as Meals in Minutes, Barbeque and Salads. I have three of the classic red-checked-covered Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have old church cookbooks. Ladies' Auxiliary cookbooks. Celebrity chefs, some autographed and some not, and the classics like The Joy of Cooking and Julia Child's most famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have cookbooks you might never have heard of. I have cookbooks many of you probably own. Some are worn from years of reading and reference. Some are taped back together and the dust covers long gone. I even have a cookbook complied by Mary Kay consultants- their favorite recipes.

But why cookbooks? Well, to me, as a young woman years ago, I had no earthly idea what to do with food. I never cooked until I was on my own. I never had to. Never took home ec or any of those life skills classes in high school, preferring to take French and art and sciences instead. Back in those days Meredith Publishing used to have an annual book sale. Cookbooks were dirt cheap and I just started getting a few every year, and reading. Meredith Publishing, for those who may not know, is the company that publishes Better Homes and Gardens and happens to be headquartered in Des Moines- how awesome is that? Reading the recipes, seeing all the beautiful pictures, and growing tired of pizza, burgers and those boil in bag frozen meals (before microwaves were common), I began to experiment with cooking. 

At first it wasn't pretty. Those early meals were not often successful but I never gave up. Moving to England for several years and raising a family in a tiny English town with no drive thrus meant Mommy had to figure it all out, and I did. Quite successfully! I won my first recipe contest in 1981 at the ripe old age of 21, thanks to all those cookbooks.

These days my style of cooking is very diverse. Home cooking to nouvelle cuisine. Home canning to a luxe gourmet dinner for two. I still look to my cookbooks for inspiration. Of the 400plus I own I do have some definite favorites. Let's talk about some of them.

Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook- One of my very favorites is also one of my newest. The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville has landed a spot on the top ten list immediately. I will definitely wear this one out, undoubetdly. Getting to meet Wini in person was a real delight- and if you follow either of my blogs you have seen at least a couple posts about Wini or the cookbook or a recipe of hers. Unlike Julia Child all those years ago, Wini brings French cooking into the American kitchen with some recipes that are incredibly easy and delicious, no obscure ingredients and techniques most of us are already accustomed to. If you don't own this book, you simply must get it.

Anything by Ina Garten- How can you NOT love Ina and her beautiful kitchen, the big glass "Ina Jars" on the counter (yes I have Ina Jars of my very own), and her outstanding recipes? Seriously, besides this incredible life story she has, she lives in the Hamptons and owned that gorgeous little shop The Barefoot Contessa. Ina's recipes are simply amazing. She makes everything look so easy and perfect. Her Perfect Roast Chicken is something everyone should master. Pot pie goes gourmet when it is Seafood Pot Pie. Her Lemon Loaf Cake is the perfect picnic dessert. She masters everything from bechamel sauce to roasted potato wedges, and you can too.

The Quarterback Killer's Cookbook- Of course I would own this one. I can't say for sure if I bought it as a Viking fan or a cookbook collector but regardless, it's turned out to be one of my favorites. Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is much more than a sports figure. He is a hunter, supporter of veterans, restauranteur, and surprisingly, a pretty amazing cook. His book is FUN- stories and pictures from his childhood, his father and grandfather- his idols- and recipes from ducks and pheasant to fish to bears, elk and deer. How about some Ostrich Steaks with Piperade? Venison with Blackberry and Horseradish may be more up your alley? I'm big into braising.....wonder if I can track down some bear meat for Braised Bear Steaks?  Even if I don't get to cook too many of the recipes, this cookbook has been a fun addition to my collection and is very treasured, If only it were autographed........

Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen Cookbook- Speaking of autographs.....If you don't know who Nadia Giosia is, you need to get out more. The Cooking Channel's star of Bitchin' Kitchen is a ball of fun- she reminds me so much of myself as a younger woman- all high heels and heavy metal attitude. Pepper Crusted Teriyaki Tuna with Wasabi Smashed Potatoes is just one of the recipes in her cookbook that YES !!! sports an autograph *insert happy face* Her cookbook is arranged as complete meals, rather than chapters on meats, vegetables, appetizers, etc., and have silly titles such as Break-up Bonanza, consisting of Splitsville Salad with Caramelized Figs, Reverse BLT, Mascarpone Honey Toast; The Single Life, which is Crispy Salmon with Leek Sauce, Mac & Cheese and Perfect Spinach Salad with Grilled Pears. Fun stuff, great recipes and lots of useful information laid out in a wacky rock girl style this is one awesome cookbook, or as Nadia G might say "Bitchin!!"

The 150 Best American Recipes- Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens did a fantastic job compiling recipes from all kinds of sources- cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, and so on. The Appetizers section contains some truly delightful tidbits. Vodka-spiked Cherry Tomatoes with Pepper Salt sounds like a bite-sized Bloody Mary.  Lots of delicious soups and interesting salads made the cut, and entrees from Black Bean Burgers to Shrimp and Grits to Braised Short Ribs make me want to cook everything!! The cookbook includes breakfast and brunch recipes, breads, and an awesome selection of desserts. Lots of gorgeous photos fill the pages of this fantastic collection of recipes. I think this cookbook was actually a gift, and couldn't have been a more perfect gift for me.

I really have way too many books to really pin down the absolute favorites, and what I am loving changes from season to season, year to year, as I learn more techniques and discover new foods and ingredients. You could say........I've never met a cookbook I didn't like!

Note: Almost all of the above books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble- except for the vintage and community cookbooks. Those I have collected over the years from book sales, garage sales, thrift shops and even a few on Ebay. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Life and it's crazy ups and downs

It's been a pretty crazy couple of weeks here at The Little Lake House.

Winter has arrived, and with much fanfare. No, not feet of snow or crippling ice, but with single digit temperatures and just enough snow to make it beautiful. Normally I am so excited to see the first snowfall and this year inside I am still a little bit giggly about it, but with our furnace on the fritz it's not as enjoyable. But like life's many challenges this too will pass and we will soon be warm and toasty again. It's strange to think that a few weeks ago people were still boating, and today the lake is nearly frozen over.

The Chef is in the midst of his busiest time of year, with the country club hosting dozens of events and Christmas parties, a big Thanksgiving Day meal and a few weddings here and there. Speaking of weddings, The Chef surprised me the other night with a beautiful engagement ring! I was so happy I cried! Now we just need to agree on a date and make it official. It was a very touching moment as he gave it to me, and yes, it's mushy but he truly is the love of my life. I can't stop staring at my beautiful diamond ring.

Recovery has been slow going, but I am finally getting back up and around more. I have missed cooking! I have even missed washing the dishes to be honest. Knee surgery seems pretty simple but those are joints you bend all the time, without even thinking about it. The Chef has been an amazing caretaker and spoiled me terribly.

It has been a couple weeks but Halloween was fun with the grandkids- my oldest grandson was a scary hockey masked slasher this year, his first ever scary costume, my granddaughter was a princess, as she truly is, and my youngest grandson was a ninja turtle. Halloween is always such a fun time with kids in their cute costumes. We don't get trick or treaters at The Little Lake House which is one thing I do miss about city life. It's also hockey season for my oldest grandson, and as soon as I get back to driving all the time, I'll be watching him on the ice.

I've been thinking about decorating for Christmas this year. After many years of missing my holiday spirit, I feel like it is creeping back a bit. I have so many things to be thankful for in this life, and so much to be happy about, it's time to reignite that flame and at least do a Christmas tree and some stockings by the fireplace. I'd love to have more of those holidays where everyone drives out in the country to Gramma's House, where it's decorated so cute, with lots of delicious things in the oven, cookies on plates and bowls of homemade candy to share. I miss those big family gatherings at my house, now that my kids are grown and on their own, they like to host the holidays at their homes.

So friends, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, please take a few minutes to reflect on the good things in your life, your family and friends, the people you love, the blessings you have received. I am so very thankful for everything I have in my life- my amazing children and grandchildren, wonderful friends and the man I love with all my heart, and for all of you, who inspire me. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In the kitchen- Cooking with cast iron

When I think of a country kitchen my mind's picture always includes a row of neatly spaced cast iron pans hanging on the wall. For a lot of years, as a city dweller, I turned my back on cast iron. "Too rustic" and "too countrystyle" for my urban, contemporary kitchen and cooking style back then, I chose instead to furnish my kitchen with hard anodized cookware and pricey accessories. The only cast iron I was really interested in was enameled cast iron from Le Creuset. Friends offered me different skillets and grill pans to try and convince me I should try it, but I was stubborn. 

Vintage cast iron deep pan for frying
Ohhhhh life is filled with regrets, is it not? Now, several years later, I don't live in a big country farm house but I do embrace a different kind of life and after all this time cast iron cookware has a piece of my heart. My "collection" consists of one solitary skillet given to me by my sister but using this one skillet has started me on a journey I wish I had begun long ago. I think of all the times I passed on a rough looking old skillet in a thrift store that my friend Jessica would snap up in a second. Garage sales with the odd piece here and there that I left on the table continue to haunt me. I think the biggest reason I wasn't interested in getting any was not wanting to mess with seasoning and not wanting to worry about getting them completely dry after cleaning. My Calphalon is just too easy to care for and I was spoiled.

We all know cast iron has been around for centuries. What is it about this ages-old material that keeps cooks all over the world in the fan club? I asked my cooking friends to share their thoughts on cast iron and here is what they had to say-

Becca's awesome thrift store treasure is
featured on her blog,
Leslie says she loves the ease of being able to cook and bake in hers. She also loves the easy clean up and good flavors that a well-seasoned pan provide. Marie also loves using hers for baking.

Jennifer owns three skillets and loves them, although she feels eggs don't do as well in them as in other pans. 

Mary stresses NO SOAKING to reduce the risk of rusting. I agree completely. I have never had to soak mine. Even if stuff appears to be stuck really bad, just a few minutes wet loosens everything right up. She has skillets that once belonged to grandparents, and says they are the best for fried chicken.

Chef Todd's innovative use of cast
iron in the restaurant kitchen.
Paul likes his for cooking bacon (which is the easiest way to quickly and continuously season the pans too!) and for using on the grill. He is an advocate of the No Soap Policy, which I agree with. Todd had a very clever use for his skillet- he flips it and uses the flat bottom like a grill, perfect for searing tuna. Ingenious! As a professional chef he uses this clever idea in the restaurant kitchen, where single-use items are a hassle and finding multiple ways to use cooking equipment is important to your overall efficiency and creativity.

Deb's cast iron collection
My good friend Deberah has an awesome collection of cast iron skillets in a range of sizes. I NEED this in my life! She has a big ol' skillet for frying up piles of food for her hungry household of guys, and one of the small ones I really really want bad! 

Becca scored a piece at a thrift shop for 50 cents! Even though it had a badly corroded spot she reseasoned it. It's not perfectly non-stick but she says it's awesome for fried chicken and cornbread.

It's interesting to me that my friends who responded represent a wide difference in cooking styles yet they all expressed the same basic pro and cons- durability, ease of use and great for frying. Some of them are home cooks like me and others are professional chefs, food writers and bloggers, culinary students and cookbook authors. I can't think of too many other kitchen items that have such a broad appeal. 

My one and only cast iron skillet
Now I have an overwhelming need to get to as many thrift stores, estate sales and auctions as I can to search for vintage pieces. I'm sure I'll be learning all about restoring cast iron to it's beautiful, usable form. Of course, I'd love to find a larger, deeper skillet for frying chicken and things like that. A Dutch oven is a must-have and something I would use all the time for breadmaking and a cornstick pan would make a nice addition. I could use several small skillets for table service, hot dips, baking cornbread and such. This is one hunt I'm looking forward to!

Right now, let's cook something in cast iron. Something simple, rustic and homey that will demonstrate everything we love about cast iron- the perfect crusty sear, the nonstick seasoned surface and the heat distribution you only get from a heavy solid pan. I'm going to make a quick German style toss of crispy fried potatoes, perfectly sauteed cabbage and juicy kielbasa slices, seared golden brown outside and perfect on the inside. This is a favorite weeknight meal for me, easy to pull together and on the table in minutes- simple flavors, easy techniques, just toss in a bowl and add some spicy mustard.

Fried potatoes are nothing else if not amazing when cooked in cast iron. Most people who use cast iron proclaim fried potatoes as THE best in cast iron. Yukon Gold potatoes are a great choice for fried potatoes. They are firm and less starchy and get that delicious crunchy brown exterior while staying tender and creamy on the inside. For this dish I leave the skins on (well, for every dish really) and cut the potatoes in half lengthwise before slicing. Give them a nice toss with oil and place in the hot pan, avoid crowding them as much as possible which tends to steam the potatoes rather than crisp up and fry. I am frying uncooked potatoes here, which is typical in the German kitchen, so they take a little longer than American "home fries." Turn the potatoes often to evenly brown, and place in a large bowl when they are all done. Season with salt and pepper. I like to use my giant stainless steel bowl and hold it in a warm oven.

Next up we are going to fry the kielbasa. This is the quickest step, as the sausage is already fully cooked. We just need to get that golden brown sear on the slices. Cast iron is made for searing meat. I put the sliced sausage in a bowl and toss with some oil, and add to the hot skillet. Just a couple minutes on each side usually does the job and into the bowl they go to rest with the potatoes.

Now the skillet has lots of gooey, crusty browned bits inside. We want to get that incorporated into our dish. Frying the cabbage last is a great way to do that. The vegetables release a little bit of juice, which deglazes the pan and the browned bits help caramelize and flavor the cabbage. This method is very similar to stir frying and demonstrates how versatile cast iron can be. I have a small head of green cabbage which I have cut into bite sized chunks (usually I use about half the head since it's just two of us). I add one onion, also cut in chunks, to the bowl, four minced garlic cloves and add to the sizzling hot skillet. Cooking over fairly high heat gives good caramelization to the edges of the vegetables without overcooking and the fat from the sausage adds tons of flavor. I like the cabbage a little on the crunchy side still so after a few minutes I season with salt and pepper and toss with the potatoes and sausage in the big bowl with a scoop of homemade German style mustard and a splash of vinegar.

Toss with a bit of grainy mustard- delicious!
That's it! Quick German-style dinner that is delicious with some grainy rustic mustard and buttered crusty bread. Cast iron makes dinner easy and delicious and cleanup is a snap. A quick rinse, wipe, heat to dry completely and that's it! 

I'd love to hear some of your cast iron stories!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Autumn in the country

Leaves are like spring flowers. Shades of red, yellow, orange dot the landscape, rustle and whip around in the breeze. Dust from the corn harvest fills the air. The sound of combines off in the field create the soundtrack. Deer poke their heads out from the cover of the woods. Autumn has arrived in the country.

"Knee high by the Fourth of July"is now dry and brown and
ready to harvest. Summer is officially over.
The fall season is so different at the Little Lake House than it was living in the city. No crowds pack the stores trying to get a jump on holiday shopping. The holidays still seem so far away right now. There is work to be done for country people. It's harvest time, and the fields are busy with activity. Late into the night farmers drive combines and grain trailers back and forth. The wild blows stray corn husks all over the highways. Farmers markets are closing for the year, apple orchards and pumpkin patches are overflowing with visitors from the city. Here at the lake people are busy readying their homes for the winter. Stacks of firewood line the sides of sheds and garages of the full time residents. The weekenders are packing up their fun in the sun toys, loading up boats and four wheelers and closing up houses til spring. Most days the air is heavy with the warming smell of burning leaves and fire pits.

photo by Todd Leech
It's time for us to clear out the gardens, dump out potted plants and clear the deck- anything that shouldn't freeze needs to be put away. It's bittersweet. This is my favorite time of year, and I definitely am looking forward to the first snow of the winter, but I will miss the garden and fresh herbs and stepping out the door to grab a couple of fresh tomatoes for dinner. Vegetables are now packed away in glass jars, lining the shelves of the kitchen cabinets. Jars of dehydrated herbs and peppers are crowded onto the bookcase shelves. Almost 40 pounds of peppers make a lot! Only a handful of cold-hardy plants remain out there-some kale, a couple of herbs. Lots of amazing winter meals will come out of those jars- chili, roasts, apple pies, toast with homemade jam and apple butter.

Long, leisurely drives in the country often reveal real gems
like this old farmstead, long abandoned and left to decay.
Another year has gone by and I didn't collect any walnuts for picking over the winter. I always say I am going to but.......the squirrels outnumber me. Leaves don't need to be raked here, so The Chef and I let nature do what it does with leaves. Mostly I enjoy watching them blow in the breeze and the way they smell during a cool fall rain. I love that they get stuck in the corners of the deck- I love their pop of color against the worn wood of our rustic weathered wood deck. It's also time for pumpkins and winter squash and all those amazing "fall foods" we love so much. Wonderful smells that fill the house, roast turkeys and beef stew and apple and pumpkin desserts. All those things remind me of holidays when I was younger, when my children were younger, time spent with relatives.

Autumn is definitely my favorite time of year, a time of giving thanks, reflection over the year that's coming to a close, and getting prepared for the year to come. It won't be long and the first flakes of snow will begin to fall.......

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mastering the perfect beef stock

Every good cook knows, you have to have the basics down before you can really shine in the kitchen. The basics are simple enough to master- pastry, knife skills, sauces, cooking methods and stocks. While they can seem a bit intimidating at first, you will soon see just how easily you can master them. Today we have a special Guest Cook walking us through the stock-making process so you can get a step by step look at how to make your own. 

I met Rhonda Graham in an online canning group. Like me, she knows what a huge difference homemade stock makes in your cooking. No preservatives, no overly salty fake flavors, just amazing flavors coaxed from slow-roasted and long-simmered bones and aromatic vegetables and herbs. Several other members of the canning group had asked for advice on stock-making and Rhonda stepped up to the plate, not only walking them step-by-step, but sharing pictures so the "students" knew exactly what to look for throughout the process. Both Rhonda and I recommend that you read through this post before starting out. Make sure you have everything you need before you start- bones, veggies, herbs, and away to store the finished stock. We will cover both canning and freezing.

And now, I am turning the blog over to Rhonda........

Stock is the single most effective tool a cook has to impart flavor into a dish. It's the oomph that takes an ordinary dish and makes it extraordinary, like French Onion Soup, for example. From such humble ingredients as bones, onions, bread and cheese, I cannot imagine a more incredibly satisfying dish. 

There are just as many ways to make beef stock as there are cooks in the world, and there is no right or wrong recipe. I started making stock after watching The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith's Chicago-based cooking show on PBS many years ago. His advice was just make it, an no matter what recipe you use, that cup of stock will add more flavor than anything you can buy. He also advised to never even think of using a bouillon cube-  "They are nothing but salt."

Where do you get the bones?

Good beef stock should taste like beef. Since beef bones have less collagen than chicken bones, you need more beef bones to get that same rich mouthfeel that chicken stock has. Use whatever kind of bones you can get. You can usually find bare rendering bones at Asian markets, in the frozen section. If you use those, make sure to also get some meaty bones too. The more meat clinging to them the better. Knuckle bones, shank, shoulder and neck bones are preferred for stock, and you can always save up bones in the freezer until you have enough to do stock.

City Girl's Note: Rhonda recommends some great sources for bones- the Asian market, butcher shops, meat processing facilities. Depending on where you live, you may have different sources- for example where I live there is a small meat locker in a nearby town. I get bones for free there. Shop and call around before you spend much on stock bones- you might be able to score some freebies.

Choosing vegetables for your stock.

Everyone uses different vegetables, but most agree on onions, celery and carrots. Many recipes suggest using leeks, but they can be cost-prohibitive, so I never use them. Some cooks add turnips, use them if you like. Onions are the most critical ingredient, in my opinion. Julia Child and Jaques Pepin always studded the onion with a couple of whole cloves. I personally like to add a little tomato paste. It really enhances the beef taste and adds richness.

Choosing your seasonings

Rhonda's note- Seasonings are not added until after the roasting and we are ready to simmer. Just get them ready and set aside for later.

Many traditional recipes call for a bouquet garni or herb bouquet, basically a few parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, a bay leaf or two and some whole peppercorns. Don't add salt, you want a stock that is as versatile as possible. In some recipes you will be reducing the stock, and if it's been salted- you will have a very salty reduction.

Add a sprig of thyme, some parsley, bay leaves and black
peppercorns to help flavor the stock.
Garlic is optional. I don't add it but many people do. Since I consider stock as a building block for future dishes, and I don't add garlic to every dish, I just choose to leave it out. Julia Child adds a couple of cloves, smashed, to her stock recipe. Some chefs use the entire unpeeled head of garlic, cut in half crosswise. Again, the choice is yours.

Getting everything ready for stock

Here are the bones we'll be using. I didn't have room in the fridge, so the bones were kept on ice overnight in a cooler. Rinse them off well and dry them. If they are wet they won't brown properly in the oven and you won't have that nice deep color. If desired, you can rub the dry bones with a little olive oil, as chef Hubert Keller recommends. Julia and Jaques do not and I don't either. They will give off fat during the roasting period anyway. After roasting, the bones should be deeply browned. Like searing a roast or a steak, browning is your one chance to get good color in the stock. 

Oxtail and beef soup bones make nice "meaty" additions
Arrange the bones in a roasting pan in a single layer, and don't pack them tightly. If you don't leave room in the pan they will just steam and not brown. You may have to roast in more than one pan or in batches. Roast in a 400 degree oven for an hour to and hour and a half, turning the bones occasionally. You want very well-browned bones but not burned. When you start the bones roasting, this is the time to prep the vegetables. Now, traditionally cooks did not peel any of the vegetables. Since I plan to pressure can my vegetables, I want to make sure I leave bacteria no hiding places so I peel all vegetables. Chop roughly into 2 inch chunks and pieces. Onions can be halved or quartered. Halfway into the cooking time, add the chopped vegetables and this is also when I like to spread the tomato paste on some of the bones. I usually use about half of a 6 ounce can, or a couple tablespoons.

Bones, partially roasted, vegetables and a bit of tomato
paste for richness- ready to go back in the oven

The bones have a beautiful caramelization and look at how
the tomato paste roasted onto the bones, sweet  and rich.

Adding wine or vinegar to the stock

Many cooks use wine to deglaze the stock pots and add that to the stock. I don't add wine. If I'm making a sauce I'll add the wine then. Some people like to add vinegar too- just a tablespoon or two. Again, I do not, but you have that option.

You definitely want to deglaze, even if just with water. There
is so much flavor concentrated on the bottom of the pan that
you don't want to leave behind.
Transfer meat and vegetables to a stockpot. Deglaze roasting pan and add that liquid with the browned bits from the pan to the pot. Cover bones and vegetables with cold water and bring pot to a low simmer. You will start to see scum forming on the top. Skim it off as it accumulates. It will eventually stop.

Once the scum has stopped forming is the point when I add my seasonings- the bouquet garni. You can use a cheesecloth bag or square (tied up), a tea ball or just throw it in. This is why I wait until the skimming part is pretty much over- so any loose aromatics don't get skimmed out. Let the stock simmer, NOT BOIL, at least 12 hours or overnight. You don't have to cover, but if you do, leave the lid ajar a bit.

Add your aromatics now that the skimming is done.
Now that Rhonda has walked you through making stock, we want a way to store it. You have a couple different options here. For shelf-stable storage that doesn't take up valuable freezer space, you can pressure can your stock, and if you don't have a canner or don't want to can it, you can freeze it.

First we are going to strain our stock. Remove as much of the big stuff as you can- bones, vegetable pieces, etc. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or clean stockpot. Pour in the stock and allow it to drain and drip through.

We also want to remove the excess fat, so pop the stock into the fridge for several hours or overnight. Scoop off the cooled fat and discard. If you are going to your stock, you can just ladle or spoon it into freezer containers, label, date and pop in the freezer. If you want to can the stock you must have a pressure canner. Prepare your jars and lids. Reheat the stock to boiling, ladle into hot jars, seal and process at the correct weight for your altitude for 20 minutes for pints, 25 for quarts. Complete canning instructions can be found HERE

Now you are a stock master! You'll never look at bones the same again, and you also have the base for loads of great meals in the future- soups, roasts, gravies, sauces and braises. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Country Life: After all, Iowa IS a farm state, but wind farms ??

Over the last year I wrote several posts for a tourism project in my region of Iowa in which the Little Lake House is located. The tourism project fizzled out but the stories and pictures endure. It's time to share them with you!

Renewable energy. That's been the buzzword for some time now. Since the gas shortages of the 70s to high prices of today, we are always looking for newer, more affordable, and more environmentally friendly ways to generate power to keep our tech gadget-dependent society plugged in and connected.

Ever since Ben Franklin discovered electricity humans have been studying ways to make more, and more, and more. But who discovered WIND energy ? That's an ages old answer. Humans have been using the wind for centuries, to power windmills to grind grains, to propel sailboats across bodies of water. Years of experimentation and research have led to a new kind of Iowa farm- the Wind Farm.

Adair County is home to one of the largest wind farms in Iowa, and you can see the massive turbines for miles as you drive alone Interstate 80. On the west-bound side of the interstate the Adair rest stop is dedicated to the history and development of the wind farm and features an actual turbine blade. The sheer size of the blade gives you an idea of how MASSIVE these turbines really are, even tho they seem so small spread out over the farmland.

I stood beneath this incredible blade and it just seems to go on forever ! 

At the base of the blade there is a plaque that explains how the turbines work, who the manufacturer is, and a lot of other information.

Even though it's technically a rest area on the interstate, it's also a goldmine of information. The walls are lined with tiles that provide facts and figures about the turbines and how they work. 

For a weather buff like me, the tiles provided a wonderful learning experience- about so many things about Iowa wind and weather patterns I have never heard before. 

Pretty incredible to think about the amount of energy generated, just from the wind that's part of every day life on Earth.

And the wind never goes away..............

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Artisan Baking and why I love it

I love baking. Turning the oven on, warming up the house, the wonderful smells that fill the air. Of course in the autumn that means pumpkin, apple dumplings and apple crisp, pear tarts and lots and lots savory things like stews and roasts and casseroles. I have a giant roasting pan that holds enough lasagna for an army and it takes all day to bake. Don't forget roast turkey and chicken and pheasant- the smells coming from roasting birds are just about the best smells of autumn.

And bread. I love love love baking bread. I love bread pans, I love bread machines, I love clay baking stones. I love all of it! The yeasty smell of bread dough is one of my favorite kitchen smells of all. It really doesn't matter to me if it's a yeast bread or a quick bread, muffins or cheesy biscuits, I love baking it. The approaching holidays usually include banana bread, pumpkin bread. Gardens are giving up the last of the zucchini, many of them too big to use for anything but baking. Let's not forget, the holidays are coming- you're going to need lots of dinner rolls for holiday dinner.

Baking also is a way to express yourself, show off your skills. Hence the term artisan. Now some people say it's thrown around too often, too cliche, used for every recipe that is a little off the beaten path. I think some people just have a real deep passion for the food they produce, whether it's bread, cheese, condiments such as mustards and sauces, or charcuterie, just to name a few. I mean come on-artisan cheese? Sign me up! I recently watched an episode of Real Girl's Kitchen and Haylie visited a farm and creamery that made artisan goat cheese. Yum! That is my idea of artisan, and especially bread. Think of the beautiful loaves you see in the windows of bakeries. Long golden baguettes. Round loves of earthy, crusty whole wheat bread. Seeds sprinkled over. Herbs mixed inside. Cinnamon swirled in layers of tender dough. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

So I am going to bake some bread. I always have yeast on hand. Flour- check.Whole wheat flour- check. I even have cracked wheat to sprinkle on top. And I think I am going to go artisan and make a beautiful round loaf of crusty bread. Maybe I will even throw a pot of soup. 

To make a really good loaf of crusty bread, you will need-
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (keep it around 100 degrees so you don't kill the yeast)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 2 tb honey
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-2 tb crushed wheat for sprinkling

In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, honey and stir until dissolved completely. Add salt. NOTE- I was out of honey, so I used a couple tablespoons of sugar.

If you don't have honey, you can use sugar- I had to today.

Combine the flours in another bowl. I wanted an herby bread to go with my dinner so I stirred a couple tablespoons of Penzey's Parisian Herb mix. 

Add to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup. The dough is very soft and not a "kneading" type of dough. 

Form dough into a soft ball in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in a warm spot for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Get the oven ready for baking: place one rack in the lowest position and the other in the upper middle. We want our bread to have a crusty and chewy crust and you need steam to make that happen, so place a metal baking pan on the lower shelf. Choose one that holds at least 2 cups of water. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Get your baking pan ready: all I need to do today for this bread is lightly grease the pan.

Now for the dough.  Flour your hands, sprinkle the dough with a teeny tiny bit of flour (remember, it's sticky) and dump it onto prepared pan. With floured hands again, form the dough into a round loaf, or boule as the French would say.

Using a very sharp knife cut three slits in the top of the loaf. Brush or mist the dough very lightly with water and sprinkle with crushed wheat. Let the dough rest for ten minutes while the oven reaches temp. Go ahead and place the pan on the upper rack in the oven, and add at least 2 cups of warm water to the metal pan on the bottom rack. Don't use glass or you might break it and have a real mess.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove to a rack and cool. You can serve the bread warm but you should let it cool for 10-15 minutes minimum. 

This is the perfect kind of bread for sopping up rich gravies and soup broth. Round loaves are the perfect bread for a party size muffuletta too. I love round loaves of bread because you get more "bread butt" and THAT is the best part of any crusty bread if you ask me. This one took a little more work than the Dutch oven crusty bread I have made but it was still fun, and I'd definitely make it again this way. I hope you give it a try! Be an artisan baker for a day!