Monday, October 24, 2011

Over-Coming Fear With Strings Attached

For as long as I can remember, I have had an irrational fear in the kitchen. I'm ok with knives despite several nail-biting viewings of films such as Halloween and Scream. Perfectly calm with gas burners, electrical appliances and even though I have thrown a few across the room after poor performance- can openers do not produce the shivers. Nope, for me it's the pressure cooker. I have even been known to flee the room and watch Star Trek re-runs with hubby on Thanksgiving when my dear mother-in-law decided to use the dreaded hissing pot for cooking black-eyed peas. I have never been witness to a pressure cooker induced disaster but the combination of the steam engine noise, rattling weights and old stories of pot roast being scrubbed from the ceiling has been enough for me to refuse it's use.
Imagine my sadness when I learned that if I wished to can veggies, including my husband's favorite- green beans I would need to use a Pressure Canner. After much success with jams, pickles and salsas, I had convinced myself that being a hot-water bath canner would be enough for me. Another sign was that I was not able to grow or obtain any fresh green beans this summer. Satisfied with my accomplishments, I took a trip to the Farmers Market last Tuesday. To my surprise and amazement I was able to pick up a bushel of beautiful green beans. I quickly shoved them into my trunk never considering how I would preserve them. After unloading into my kitchen it hit me, short of meeting a hungry vegetarian hoarde all craving green beans- I would have to can them.
Brave I am not, but stubborn I am and with that in mind I viewed several on-line videos on pressure canning and since none of them included explosions or severe scalding burns, I headed to Wal-Mart and bought a pressure canner. After several hours of prayer, reading safety instructions repeatedly- I proceeded. At each step I found myself fearing less...ok so the first batch I did sit in the dining room which is a safe distance from my stove- but the point is I did it and by the time I reached my 5th load I was an old pro.
Basking in my success, I tried a bite out of the single non-sealing jar (there were 22 quarts). The taste was fabulous, yet as I reached the last chew a new sensation appeared~Ptooi! What had begun as what warriors describe as the sweet taste of victory became something akin to chewing on a rope that had come unraveled. Strings gagged me as I realized, they call them string beans for a reason. While planning out my nearest exits and the probability that I would experience severe steam burns should the canner explode- I forgot to string my green beans.
My dear husband has proclaimed them a wonderful source of fiber, while he choked down a bowl that night during dinner. So I over cam the fear of the pressure canner, learned that you must string your string beans and that my husband will suffer through much to ensure that I focus on the win rather than the loss.
BTW~ the next day my local farm stand had stringless beans for sale. I bought 10 lbs and got 9 quarts for when company or those who prefer other options for their daily fiber come to dinner.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

First let me be clear~ I am not a Chile Head. In fact i'm such a wimp when it comes to all things spicy that I don't even eat salsa on my chips when we go for Mexican. My son, sister and several others that I love, despite questioning their good sense, are BIG fans of all things hot.
I heard about a new favorite in the foodie world called Siriacha and thought it just might make a unique gift for the spicy set. Canning is easy, but like standing upright on a sphere turning round in space- there are some simple rules you must follow or trouble ensues. One of those rules being that acid must be present for canned items to remain safe. I mean nothing says, "Happy Holidays!" like botulism and a trip to the E.R. Siriacha is typically not high enough in acid to be canned safely, but thanks to a fellow blogger, the following recipe was just what I needed.

As we speak, about 2lbs of peppers, a mix of Sweet Reds, Red Bananas, Red chilies (either Thai or Cayenne) and few Habineros thrown in to make it interesting) are marinating in vinegar with about 15 cloves of Garlic....

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls and Buttery Yeast Rolls- a delicious 2-fer

I love to bake. As a little girl my grandmother would set me up on her kitchen counter, along with her creamy yellow Mix Master, and engage me in the wonderful world of flour, sugar, eggs and flavorings. Most often we made cakes, sometimes pies but sadly never bread. As an adult I married into a family that considers bread an all-important part of the meal. Seconds, thirds and so on of some type of bread items is required.
Early on in my marriage I discovered that I could make my own bread and so after my mother-in-law gave me what has become my most prized possession in the kitchen~ a cobalt blue Kitchen-Aid that I still use today, I began my adventure into bread-making.
As satisfying as it is to make pizza dough, sour dough bread and garlic butter knots, it's my Cinnamon Rolls that people usually ask for. As easy as they are to make; and truly bread is one of the easiest things in the world to bake, it does take an investment of time. Three hours for cinnamon rolls, no matter how delicious takes some commitment and so I developed a yeast roll recipe, made from the same dough that allowed me to get a 2-fer out of the process.
I'll post the recipe when I have a few more moments. I still need to make the cream cheese icing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A moist muffin that goes crunch

I came upon this really simple idea while making some Banana Muffins for my son Matt. In college and chained either to the computer or textbooks, he finds it difficult to stop and eat. Foodstuffs that can be held in the hand and devoured in several bites are a premium. I had just got done making some individual rustic tarts that received a lovely sprinkling of sugar on the crust before baking; giving it a wonderful crunch~ when it hit me. Why not add some to the muffins. In this case it was a light dusting of cinnamon sugar. The result is a moist muffin with a sweet crunch.
I would imagine this would work with most sweet muffins and adds that little something extra.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Who Could Be A Mater Hater?

To be honest, my love of tomatoes has not always been. I mean they were ok. Most of my experience as a kid with tomatoes came from a can, with the exception of my dad's spaghetti sauce which I believed was more about alchemy than tomatoes. In my teens I discovered that people actually grew tomatoes, but still my interest was never peaked. One day, while reading a magazine in a doctor's office, I saw an article depicting images of something called "Heirloom Tomatoes". now these were no ordinary red tennis ball sized veggies- they were purple and yellow, green and orange; ranging in size from tiny grape like fruit to ginormous grapefruit sized beauties. It was at that moment that I became intrigued.

Most cooks talk about flavor profiles as what draws them to a certain ingredient- but for me it's color, shape and texture that draws me in...which might explain my disasterous experience with some yellow egg-shaped tomatoes I grew last year . They were so bad that I couldn't give them away, at least to people who had tried them. I was not happy to see that the gorgeous little darlings had re-seeded themselves into my tomatoe patch to make a return visit this year...gotta admire them for their perseverence.

I planted several varieties of heirloom tomatoes this year. With the crazy weather, including a tornado that hit less than 5 miles from my home, my maters have struggled. Slowly but surely they have begun to ripen and are now yeilding their wonderful greens, yellows, blood reds and orange fruit. I woke up wondering what to do with them to preserve their uniqueness- other than of course slicing them up on a couple of pieces of toast with salt, pepper and balsamic dressing. I found this fom one of my favorite blogs. I believe Black Krim Tomatoe Butter may just be the thing for my favorite tomatoes...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Zucchini Bread

I love to make up my own recipes or at least put some twists on others, but sometimes you find one that just works. This was the first year that I grew zucchini. Truthfully I had never tasted the stuff, but it sounded interesting so why not. Well, the plants grew into these paleozoic monsters and the zucchini just about took over my freezer. That is until I discovered Zucchini Bread and this recipe. It really is worth a try. It makes 2 loaves, one to eat and the other to freezer or gift. I pulled up the remains of my dino squash today, but we'll still have zucchini well into winter. And of course there's always next year ;)

Gettin' Tomatoes Nekkid

Here in the rural south you don't get naked; you get nekid. Stripping off your clothes in order to enjoy fun or rest. Today, my tomatoes are gettin' nekid. I'm discovering that prepping tomatoes for canning is sort of a messy business. Juice all over the counter, dripping onto the floor- seeds everywhere. On the other hand, the color, the smell and even the feel of these red fruit is really a happy experience. One of the best parts is slipping off the tomato skins, sort of like undressing after a long day and getting ready to just relax- in this case a pair of shorts and t-shirt is replaced by a glass jar, the couch my pantry shelves.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tomatoes and supporting your local growers

Moving to a small and fairly rural town often time means discovering new things that aren't new at all. I remember the first time I drove thru a typical southern "town square". It was like taking a step back in time. The first time I went to an off the beaten path family run resturant that had a 1 & 3 (1 meat and 3 sides) I was amazed that I had been so satisfied with drive-thru's and chain value meals. Granted both would clog your arteries thoroughly but at least at Teresa's you could do it with wonderful menu items like fried okra, banana puddin' and chicken fried steak.
Another revelation was the U-Pick farm. Being raised in an enviroment where farms and farmers were reserved for picture books or Farm Aid concerts, it was incredible to me that there were places where not only you could connect with family farms, but that you could be apart of the harvest.
This year my wanderings have led me to an especially great U-Pick Farm owned and opperated since the 40's. Payne Farm and Produce has become one of my favorite haunts this Summer. I have to admit, that part of my love of Payne's is that most everything is really cheap. I mean where else can you get juicy Rutgers Tomatoes for .48 cents a lb? I didn't even pick those- they did the work for me. But cost aside, it's just fun to visit this family run farm. To talk about how the beans are comin' along or why my tomatoes haven't turned yet. There in the steamy hot little shed where produce is stored, you can truly connect with those who are eeking out a living growing food in a responsible way.
It's hard work, growing and harvesting food. Everytime I go out and weed my own garden or pick squash at Paynes to put up I have some understanding of how difficult it would be to rely on rain, sun and the strength of your back to make a living. But each day they do it and make it possible for me and many others to enjoy great food grown organically and locally for a fraction of what the local Kroger charges.
Tomorrow I'll be putting up the tomatoes that the Payne family picked for me today. This winter I'll be making spaghetti sauce from those same tomatoes and next Spring I'll look forward to doing it all again, probably while I'm picking some of the greatest strawberries in the county at Payne Farm and Produce. If you are looking for a U-Pick Farm in your area, go to follow the links and it will give you lists of farms near you.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bronx Cheesecake

My son Matt is crazy for cheesecake, likewise his crew of friends. Matt is a great test taster. He's honest, sometimes brutally and he can articulate what he likes about a dish and what he does like. It took us a few tries to get the Bronx Cheesecake right. Matt prefers things less sweet and not really heavy. On the other hand I've tasted some desserts where you can't tell you've eaten anything, what's the fun in that?
Thru research I discovered that New York style is made soely from cream cheese and occasionaly some sour cream while the Italian version is made with ricotta. All ricotta seemed too light while all cream cheese would add 10 lbs and require excersise...NO WAY...
A blend of the two resulted in a creamy cake, not too sweet, not too heavy. Matt approved whole heartedly and so did his crew. This recipe is easy to adapt as well. I have added cocoa powder and used chocolate cookies/graham crackers for the crust to make a chocolate version as well as adding blackberries to make a summery treat.
The only trick to this recipe is baking it in a water bath. I do this so that the temperature remains pretty consistent preventing sudden changes, which can result in cracking on the top of your cheesecake. If that does happen, don't worry. consider it an opportunity to decorate with some fruit, whipped cream or anything else your imagination inspires you to do.
Like most recipes, they are inspired by others, a persons preferences and creativity. Give this one a go~I made the measurements and ingredient list easy. Eventually you can make it from memory.

Bronx Cheesecake

1/2 box graham crackers (your flavor and brand choice)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup melted butter

16oz cream cheese (softened)
16oz ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Crush graham crackers (I use a food processor), blend sugar and pour in butter. Mix until combined
I use a springform pan. a pie pan is going to be too small, but you might get 2 if you wanna try ;). Pour in crust mixture and pat it into the bottom and up the sides. I use a flat bottomed measuring cup. It works great!
Bake crust in oven for 10-15 min. Just until browned slightly. Turn oven down to 350 after removing crust. Set aside to cool a bit while you make the filling.

In a mixer (by hand is near impossible YIKES) add cream cheese. Blend to make sure it's creamy. Add ricotta, blend. Add vanilla, blend. Add flour, blend. Last thing add eggs, blend until incorporated well. DO NOT OVER MIX. Over mixing leads to cracking.

Take aluminum foil and cover the springform pan bottom to top. This will prevent any seepage of water from the water bath. Now set crust filled springform pan into a large roasting pan, or a pan with high sides that can accomodate the springform pan. This will be your water bath.
Pour filling into crust. Place roasting pan into the oven, middle rack then pour in as much hot water as it takes into the raosting pan to come up 1/2 the sides of the springform pan.

Bake for 1 hour at 350. Turn oven off and leave cake in for another hour as the oven cools. Remove roasting pan from oven. Remove springform from it and allow the cake to cool in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Remove springform and serve.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blue Berry Summer~Blueberry Crumble

This has been Berry Summer. Actually it started in late spring with my re-discovery of strawberries, but that story is for another time. Over the past week I have picked or benefited from anothers pickin' 8 gallons of berries. This last haul was 4 gallons of blueberries at a private home that seems to have very few interested parties. Bad for them, wonderful for me and my pickin' sisters; all of us stay-at-home moms who rarely stay at home.

This mornings harvest was quick but fruitful, so to speak 6 gallons in total. Well at least thats what we went home with- if each of us were to be weighed; heaven forbid, the quantity would have been substantially more. $6 a gallon for delicious fruit that will mostly go into the freezer for crumbles for my son Matt, who believes that fruit must only be consumed covered in oatmeal crunchies, is a small price to pay. Of course my canning adventure continues. Did I mention blueberrys make pretty good jam as well?

If you'd like to give the Blueberry Crumble a try, here ya go:

Blueberry Crumble


4 cups fresh blueberries

3/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon


1 1/2 cups oatmeal

2/3 cups butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup flour

pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 400

In baking dish combine filling ingredients

In bowl mix all the topping ingredients well. It should not be wet or dry but just a nice crumbly mixture.

Pour on top of filling mixture, covering the filling. Some of the filling can peak out, how else are you gonna see that sweet blueberry goodness?

Bake in oven for about 30 minutes. Check the last 10 minutes to make sure you don't over brown.

Remove and serve warm with ice cream.

In my house we are a family of 3, so leftovers happen and are sometimes welcomed. In the case of the crumble, it can be served cold or better yet nuke it and apply ice cream liberally. ENJOY!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oh the colors!

One of my first joys in canning was jam, to be specific it was the color of jams. The first time I set my jars in a cabinet I was smitten with their jewel-like quality and to think that what was inside those jars was just as wonderful to the palette as it was to the eye, was unbelievable. I have since had to build a mini pantry under my stairs to keep all the jam, pickles and salsas. My Hoosier Cabinet, which I dearly love (pictured here) now holds pectin, lids, pickling supplies and other canning goodies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's time to go-

Maybe it was the frogs, maybe when the hail came, maybe it was as soon as the river started getting pink; at some point an Isrealite knew a change had to be made and said, "We're outta here- we're leaving Egypt!" For me it actually began at Wal-Mart, the land of many miracles.
An ice-storm had left my family and I home bound for several days, an event rather uncommon in N. Georgia. I had to get out, and a supply run to the store was just the ticket. As expected the aisles were filled with people, schools were still out so I imagine that a combination of cabin fever and empty fridges had propelled all of us to a common locale.
I don't remember what I was even needing, I just remember standing at the shelves where eggs are- or were. There in 15 ft of cooler space once reserved for the incredible edible egg were 3 cartons. 1 was open and missing 3 eggs, the other 2 were slightly crushed and caked in yellow goo, remains of what I imagine once were eggs. At least 8 people stood around the empty space, just staring. And it hit me, we are all actually thinking the same thing- should we buy them? and if we don't will they ever bring more?
I realize that an ice-storm that shuts a small town down for 4 days is not the appocalypse, but if Wal-Mart can't get eggs in bad weather... I began to dawn on me how dependant my family had become on full shelves that led to full bellys. I knew absolutely nothing about how to supply food for my family without the convience of a grocery store. How pathetic- how unprepared.
Now let me say this~ I'm not a survivalist. I'm not stockpiling MREs (meals ready to eat), ammo or gas masks. I just want to be as self sufficient as I can be, or at least have some knowledge about growing, harvesting and/or preserving food for my family.
So the following Spring I began. I learned how to can with the help of a merciful friend, and I found out that what started as an effort to gain skills became a wonderful adventure in being creative with food. Taking fruits and vegatables both from my own garden and from other harvests in my neighborhood, and turning them into delicious food that feeds my family and my need to create.
So I'll post my experiences here. Good and bad- sealed and unsealed. What do you say? Ready to leave Egypt?