Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Who planted 10 zucchini anyway?

Ahhhhh zucchini, that wondrous crazy vegetable that goes from blossom to BLIMP in 24 hours. We all at one point in our lives, as a cook or gardener, have had a love/hate relationship with it. We love the tender baby zucs we can halve or quarter and throw on the grill, and we love the big monster zucs that we shred and make delicious baked goods from, while at the same time we absolutely loathe dealing with those big monsters, and zucchini overload when the office master gardener shows up with yet another big bag full to share. This just might be ME this summer, since I got the wise idea to plant ten, yes ten, zucchini in the garden- and it's just The Chef and I at home. We do, after all, love fresh zucchini, and we hate to waste perfectly good food.

By the time summer is nearing the end, even though those plants are STILL producing, most of us are pretty tired of trying to use the crazy things in dinner night after night. Zucchini bread and cakes and muffins fill the freezer. What else can you do? Make relish!!

When it comes to canning recipes, everything BUT pickle relish is something I want to make. I already make pickles, I don't want to do pickle relish too. I like trying different vegetables in relishes though, like radish relish, corn relish, and a carrot relish I'm trying to figure out. It's just natural to me that zucchini should fit the bill in relish recipes. It has a mild flavor on it's own, much like cucumbers do, and should meld well with relish flavors. Almost every canning cookbook has a zucchini relish of some kind. Do a little research and reading and you will find one with the right blend of flavors for you. I tend to like "peppery" and hot spicy foods and make relishes and sauces that reflect that. This time, however, I think I'll go with a dill relish and see how that turns out. So let's get busy with Summer Zucchini Relish.

You will need:

12 cups finely chopped UNPEELED zucchini
4 cups finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped bell peppers, one green, the other red or orange
4 tb canning or kosher salt

Combine all vegetables in large mixing bowl, sprinkle with salt, toss to mix. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, rinse and drain thoroughly.

In a large stock pot combine:

  • 2 1/2 cups vinegar (I prefer apple cider but white is ok- 5% acidity)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tb mustard seed (I use one each of yellow and brown)
  • 2 tb dill seed
  • 2 tb dried dill weed or 4-5 tb fresh
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Bring ingredients to boil. Add vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes. 

Pack hot mixture into prepared pint or half-pint jars with 1/2" headspace. Adjust lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow jars to cool, check seals.

Because this is a pickled product, you will want to let it mellow and let the flavors meld. You can also switch out yellow summer squash for some or all of the zucchini if that's what you have an abundance of. 

Recipes like this always look so pretty in the jars, and I can't wait to enter them in the county fairs. Sometimes that unusual relish combination gives you an edge over the same old relish recipes that have been entered for decades. I hope you will give this recipe a try- I'm sure you will love it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Canning Cookbook- Gettin' Kinky and Jammin'

Gooseberries! When is the last time you guys saw or ATE a gooseberry? The old standard of my childhood, something once grown in every grandmother's garden, the gooseberry has all but disappeared from modern gardens, but oh how I remember that puckery super tart little gem growing in my grandmother's backyard. Growing up it was common to see gooseberries in those little green plastic square baskets like cherry tomatoes used to be sold in, for sale in every grocery store and local fruit market, but now, if you're lucky, you might find some at a farmers' market.

The lovely gooseberry
Well, since being inspired by a pie recipe I came across over the cold winter months, I have been on a quest to find these tasty little memories and create something new and "totally me" and you can't get more ME than a boozy jam. The hunt has finally paid off- gooseberries at the farmers' market in Stuart. The hunt for this delicious little tidbit has also unearthed a fascinating discovery- the wild gooseberry. Even better, apparently the woods surrounding the Little Lake House is just teeming with them. After The Chef's recent battle with a tick, we are a little reluctant to go scampering into the woods. Luckily, the gentleman at the farmers' market is NOT so he can do the hunting and I will gladly pay him.

Beautiful red gooseberries 

I love fruit combinations when making jams. Many times I will find myself with a little bit of this fruit, and a half cup of these berries in the freezer, maybe half a bag of some other fruit- not enough of any one to make a single fruit recipe but enough combined fruits for an interesting flavor combo, and adding a boozy kick is right up my alley. Adding liquor to jams and sauces really ups the flavor impact and the alcohol cooks off so you don't have to worry about catching a buzz with your eggs and bacon. I have decided to pair my gooseberries with one of my very favorite berries, the blueberry. To me it just seemed like a natural combination- like peas and carrots! Similar in size, they will cook uniformly and won't required any chopping beforehand- easy peasy in the pot they go. Because I have added alcohol I won't want to use pectin in this recipe. Instead I'll use the "old fashioned plate test" to see when the jam has reached the jelling point. Don't worry- it's super easy and you may never go back to using pectin.

So let's get started with this crazy boozy jam I am going to call Kinky Blue Goose Jam. You will need:
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 4 cups fresh gooseberries
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Kinky Blue liqueur
  • zest of one lime

Place a small plate in the freezer. In a very large stockpot, slightly crush the berries. Mix in the Kinky, sugar and zest. Bring to a full rolling boil. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, about 30-35 minutes. At this time, remove the plate from the freezer. Place a couple drops of jam on the plate and tilt. If the jam is firm and doesn't run, it's ready to jar. If it's too thin, continue cooking, checking every 5-10 minutes. When ready, remove from heat. Skim off foam if needed and ladle into hot jars. Adjust lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (pints and half pints).

**You can omit the liqueur if you don't want to use alcohol.

Interestingly, the gooseberries I purchased from the farmers' market were a mixture- half cultivated gooseberries from bushes in the garden, and half from the wild, and were a nice mix of green and red gooseberries. Combined with the blueberries, the color of the jam is so beautiful and rich.

Every year it seems like I send up making way more jams than we reasonably need, but that's not a bad thing. It gives me something to give away as a last minute gift and something to swap with other canners. It's also a fun way to experiment with flavors, and create something totally unique.

It's hard to see in the picture but the gooseberries are easily
seen in the jam
***Berry pics from WikipediaCommons

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."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A new German adventure !

Ok, I have decided. I am taking the plunge. I am going to master this. I've decided it's time that I start to embrace some of the foods I think I don't like (there aren't very many by the way) and try them, and even better, learn to prepare them. So armed with loads of info from some very experienced people to guide me, I am embarking on a new adventure. A German one. A stinky one. I am going to make sauerkraut.

What's the big deal you ask? I have been convinced most of my life that I don't like sauerkraut. To be perfectly honestly, I never really did. Having a mother who was born and raised in Germany meant more than my fair share of sauerkraut on the dinner table, and with the exception of oysters, if Mom made it, we ate it or went hungry. Lots of celebrations at the German American Society meant.....more kraut. An entire summer spent in Europe.....more kraut. When I reached adulthood I swore I'd never cook any of those foods, the ones I was forced to eat as a kid- turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga........sauerkraut!

I am very fortunate to have so many experienced canners, preservers, and homesteaders as friends. Most of not all of them have some experience with fermenting kraut, and since I'm a total newbie, I need the advice! After spending a lot of time talking with several people I feel like I can do this- and it's much easier than I ever imagined it would be. Two ingredients- cabbage and salt. The amount of cabbage is up to me. Since I have zero experience, I am definitely starting SMALL- using a good size head of cabbage and a small bucket. I'm thinking a few quarts of finished kraut will be a success if this novice can pull it off. 

The process is simple. Slice the cabbage finely. Obviously, the actual size is up to you. You don't want big HUNKS but you also don't want thread-like shreds. You can use whatever method of slicing you like. My friend Ben advised me to not cut it TOO small but to get a good chop on it. I can see why- adding the salt will release the juice from the cabbage, which is what forms the brine. The more cut surfaces, the more brine will be made faster. The Ball Book recipe for kraut uses about 25 lbs (5 heads) and one cup salt. I am planning on about a head to start my small experiment so I will need to do some math with the salt. Too much salt, I'm told, will prevent fermentation, and I'm sure won't taste very good. 

Once the cabbage is sliced, you need to layer it in the CLEAN container you plan to use for fermentation, alternating with salt and using hands, work the salt into the cabbage well, massaging it, crushing it a little, to help break it down and get the juices going. If you get this step right you will have enough brine to cover the cabbage completely. Ball has a brine recipe on their website if you don't get enough from the cabbage. Then weigh the cabbage down with a plate to keep it submerged, cover with a towel to keep multi-legged friends and junk out and place in a 70-75 degree area and let nature do it's thing. It should take a few weeks for the process to finish, and you'll know when it stops bubbling. Skim off any scum as it forms. 

You can do a few things to make your kraut a little different. You can add caraway seeds or juniper berries for a different flavor. You can use white or red cabbage- pink kraut- that's an interesting idea. I didn't do any of these things this time. For me it was a learning experience and I'll try those other ideas later. 

After it's been fermented you can either can it (it's a waterbath canning item so it's easy) or just store in the fridge. It stores well in the fridge for a very very very very long time.

So, now I have my cabbage brined and covered and ready to do its thing. You'll have to stop back by in a few weeks and see how it turns out.

City Girl Wine Journal- Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Let's just say I was having one of those nights. My day didn't start out very well and it wasn't improving much as the evening progressed. Maybe it was the weather- the oppressive heat and humidity. Maybe just a passing phase. Mopey, anxious, worried- about what I'm not sure, but I knew I needed a glass of wine. Stat.

That's where Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 comes in. The Nobilo winery was founded back in the 1930s when the family, fearing the impending war, fled Croatia for New Zealand. The Nobilo family had been making wine for nearly 300 years in their native country, but uprooted and took that expertise to a new land and began again. At first they struggled getting New Zealanders to embrace wine the way Europeans did, but in the end, that drive to succeed paid off, and today the Nobilo wines are enjoyed worldwide.

Which is how I got to experience the Sauvignon Blanc here in the middle of Iowa. This pale yellow wine was very fruity and not too sweet. The usual grassy and herbaceous notes typical of a Sauvignon Blanc were present, the slightest bit of minerality that I find very common in New Zealand wines, and believe it or not- maybe it was the age of the bottle, but a slight banana edge to it. Maybe it was the lush mouthfeel and creamy texture. Reading the winery's tasting notes they describe a "cut tomato plant" essence and I agree- the herby aroma has that faint familiarity.

I loved reading about this wine also. They harvest these grapes at night, which is something I had never thought of- does the time of day affect the finished product? Yes! Nighttime harvests protect the fruit's flavors and pressing them immediately and getting the skins out of the way very early keep the tannins very low and ups the "sipping quality" of this beauty of a wine.

Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with spicier foods, curries, and seafood. It can help tame the richness of roast poultry dishes as well. It's a great buy for the money, usually in the $15 range, and obviously, ages pretty well. My bottle was a 2008 that has been cellared since then. 12.5% alcohol gives it some potency and a nice bite, with a fair amount of acidity. I highly recommend this wine and will be looking for a new vintage to try in comparison (and to stash away for a few years).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fair Season 2014- Adair County Fair

It's Fair Season in Iowa! That means every county has put on their best show of the year- live entertainment, agriculture displays and competitions, artistic competitions- and the best part of all- FAIR FOOD. This year the Adair County Fair really caught my attention with their Pride of Iowa Cooking Contest. This year twenty chefs-in-the-making are competing in three divisions: Senior, Intermediate and Junior. The requirements? Each chef must prepare a dish using at least one Iowa product, in front of the audience and judges. How fun, right?

The competition took place in the 4-H and FFA Center on the Adair County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. According to the department superintendent Grace Evans "We have an excellent variety of foods to be prepared during the contest."  Each chef is judged on their skill level in preparing food, safety in the kitchen, how they chose to use Iowa products and the final product.

MaKenna Lilly makes Individual Oreo Turtle Cheesecakes.
I wish I could have judged her recipe. Sounds yummy!
Competing in the Senior Division this year, and their dishes, we have- MaKenna Lilly- Individual Oreo Turtle Cheesecakes; Hank Bohling- South of the Border Casserole; Katharine Hrubetz- Loaded Chicken Alfredo Gnocchi Bake; and Bailee Huddleson- Bailee's Breakfast Bacon Bowls.

Check out Alan Evans- he had meatballs ready for the
oven in just ten minutes!
The Intermediate Division is bringing some serious competition- Alan Evans, Meatballs; Cody Mertz- Chicken Pot Pie; Kyra Evans- Cheese Puff; Jill Wallace- Jill's Petite Hamballs; Reba Lonsdale- Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza Puffs; Skyler Rawlings- Korean Beef Bowl; and Alexis Shelley- Italian Salad

Two cooks compete side-by-side, each with a judge just for them.
Can you believe these are kids cooking? I need to figure out how to be a JUDGE for next year's fair!

Every cook made a poster of their recipe
The Junior Division also is showing some pretty impressive kitchen know-how with Erin Ford- Delicious Corn Bread; Gaige Schwochow- Gaige's Omelet; Zayden Rawlings- Enchilada Meatballs; Riley McCall- Tortellini Soup; Shelbee Woosley- Pizza in a Pan; Ethan Blomme- Red, White and Blue Smoothie; Storm Hoadley- Pepperoni Bubble Pizza; Rylie Mertz- Breakfast; and Bella Rubio- Chicken Nuggets.

Erin Ford makes her Delicious Cornbread recipe. She was very
confident in the kitchen, got right to work and impressed the
heck out of me!

Gaige Schwowchow sits with his judge during the tasting part of judging.
Gaige's omelet was a meaty, cheesy omelet I want to make myself!
I am SERIOUSLY impressed! I was most definitely NOT cooking when I was a kid- not even in high school. Enchilada meatballs? Pizza puffs? Individual cheesecakes? We're talking Superbowl Food here! And how did they do?

Zayden Rawlings makes Enchilada Meatballs. I am anxious
to make his recipe at home myself- it looked delicious.
The Junior Division Champions-

Ethan Blomme, Erin Ford, and Isabella Rubio
The Intermediate Division Champions-

Alan Evans, Skyler Rawlings and Alexis Shelley
And the Senior Division Champs-

Bailee Huddleson, MaKenna Lilly and Hank Bohling
The weather couldn't have been more perfect for a day to visit the fair. The breeze was brisk and cool, lots of shady places to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of a laid-back rural county fair. I wandered through all the exhibits and saw everything from beautiful floral arrangements to vintage quilts and, of course, canned foods! It's really gotten me even more excited for my county's fair, which takes place next month. Guess I better get busy canning!

Sponsors included Hometown Foods, Stuart; Fareway, Greenfield; HyVee, Creston; Adair County Pork Producers; Adair County Cattlemen; Rose Acre Farms, Stuart; Adair County Corn and Soybean Growers Association; Midwest Dairy Association; Iowa Egg Council/Iowa Poultry Association; 3 Bee Honey Farms; and Adair County 4-H Booster fund.

*** Thanks to the Adair County Extension Office for providing pictures of the winning kids

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."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Riesling and White Schoolhouse

How about a little Saturday night wine tasting at the Little Lake House? Sounds like a fine idea to me, and I happen to have a couple bottles chilled and ready to open. It's a beautiful, cool evening so The Chef and I decided to give them a try.

Polka Dot Washington Riesling 2012. This is a wine that is definitely marketed towards women. Cute name, cute label, and a big pink polka dot complete the packaging in the tall blue bottle. If you shop with your eyes, you'll definitely be picking up a bottle of Polka Dot.

That is not a bad thing either. It's really good- sweet but not too sweet, peachy and melon flavors, and takes the edge off spicy foods. I get a lot of peach notes in tasting, medium in body and mouthfeel, creamy and soft. A very very very tiny hint of grassiness finishes it off. In the glass the wine is a pretty light amber and clear. It has beautiful floral notes and fresh herbal aromas. Served alongside a spicy Asian dish, this wine would be perfect!

Dale Valley White Schoolhouse 2013. This is a wine I've had many times already- obviously it's a favorite of mine. It reminds me so much of Riesling- many of the same flavor notes and aromas. Peach and stone fruit, sweet cantaloupe and honey highlight this summer favorite of mine. I think it would be awesome with a nice bowl full of Dragon Noodles.

Sadly, unless you live in Iowa you may not be able to try Dale Valley's White Schoolhouse, but if you can- definitely try it. It's worth the drive.

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."

Date Night- Jethro's

I know it's canning season, and I've really been bombarding you guys with canning posts, so let's do something a little different. Let's go out for dinner.

When you share your life with a professional chef you don't often get to enjoy a lot of weekend nights out for dinner like everyone else. Sunday nights are the closest thing to Saturday we have- it's his first day off and my last day off. This Sunday we decided to take advantage of a gift card I received as a thank you for participating in a special promotion hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and head to Jethro's for some delicious grub.

If you are a fan of Man vs. Food, Jethro's might sound familiar to you! Adam Richman and crew were visiting the Des Moines area back in 2010 and he attempted (and failed!) the Adam Emmenecker Challenge (more on that later) at Jethro's Forest Avenue location in Des Moines. Locally owned, Jethro's now has five locations around Des Moines and some of the best barbeque around. Jethro's was also a sponsoring partner in the IPPA pork promotion and provided awesome gift packages for the bloggers who participated to give away to lucky readers.

We live in west central Iowa and so the closest location to us is in the far-west suburb of Waukee, Jethro's Jambalaya- a barbeque powerhouse with a Cajun twist. The menu is impressive, appetizers, barbeque specialties, sandwiches, burgers, chicken- and a whole menu of Cajun dishes. We are big menu researching people, and always like to check out a restaurant online before we even head out the door, so we knew before we got there what we wanted- the famous tenderloin.

Waiting for our food to come out, which took just a few minutes, we were able to browse the fun wall displays- the Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame...... the results of the many attempts to defeat the Adam Emmenecker Challenge. The challenge was created to honor former Drake University basketball player Adam Emmenecker, who was a regular at the original Forest Avenue location, and includes all of his favorite foods on one plate: cheeseburger, bacon, smoked brisket, fried cheese curds, white cheddar cheese sauce, buffalo chicken tenders, pork tenderloin, a bun, spicy pickle AND a pound of waffle fries. You have 15 minutes to eat it.......

Only 3 have defeated the Challenge at this location

but has three walls of those who failed.

The restaurant has been featured in many magazines and newspapers including being one of the Top Ten Manliest Restaurants on Mens Health Magazine. Articles and covers are proudly displayed. It's fun and exciting to see a local business have such an impact.

Our tenderloins arrived and all I can say is- wow. Just wow. They are HUGE! I couldn't even see the plate! The Chef got down to business right away but I knew mine was going to be a two-meal event. Every table at Jethro's has all of their sauces on the table, so there is no way I am going to go with ketchup and mustard. I set the bun aside for now and just did the fork and knife thing, trying all the sauces. Each one was very different and unique. I found myself going back to the Traditional and the Thick and Sweet sauce. 

I could only manage the outer "rim" of my tenderloin and a handful of the yummy waffle fries before I had to give up. Not a bad thing- just means I have another meal tomorrow!

The Chef however.......he wasn't messing around. Empty plate club lifetime achievement member!

Though we didn't actually try any of the barbeque, we left full and happy, and we know we will be back. Lots of seating inside and out means a short wait if at all, and the Cajun menu bring a whole new dining option for us in the future. We can't wait to try it everything!

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." A free giftcard was given to me as thank you for participation with the IPPA.