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?