Tuesday, August 30, 2016

City Girl's Canning Cookbook- Cowboy Candy

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around the ever popular Cowboy Candy. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in February, 2014.

Finding myself with a nice amount of fresh jalapenos and a sorely lacking supply of home canned goodies these days, I decided to drag out the canner again and make up a couple of my favorite recipes. This one made the list. I hope you enjoy!

Canners everywhere have some recipes they are especially attached to. And they have recipes they love to share. Last summer a canning buddy shared a recipe with me and I LOVE it.

Canners always talk about Cowboy Candy. As a fan of hot peppers and hot pepper jellies, this recipe intrigued me and I knew I had to make it. I wish I could have gotten a mix of red and green jalapenos but I didn't this time around. I've used Cowboy Candy to add a sweet hot element to other dishes- stir fries, sauces (the syrup in delicious), as a snack with cream cheese like pepper jellies, and as an accompaniment to chili even. It's delicious on sandwiches and pizza as well. I hope you will give it a shot. It's unlike any commercially canned peppers I have ever tried.

Cowboy Candy
  • 3 lb firm, fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 3 tsp granulated garlic (I had to sub 2 cloves super minced fresh)
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Wearing gloves, remove stem end from peppers and slice into uniform 1/4 inch thick slices. Set aside.

In a large pot bring remaining ingredients to boil. Reduce heat, simmer five minutes, then add pepper slices and simmer 4 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, pack peppers into hot sterile canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Bring heat back up under the pot and boil the syrup at a full rolling boil for 6 minutes.

Ladle syrup over peppers. Remove air bubbles, fix lids and rims and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool, age peppers for at least two weeks.

*Note- if you want to skip the canning step, just divide the peppers and syrup among jars or freezer containers and store in the fridge. They are a pickled product so they will last a while.

Eat the World- Pitta Con Sarde

The City of Des Moines has a deep history of Italian traditions and deep Italian roots. As a child growing up on the city's south side my family was the only family in the neighborhood that wasn't Italian- I'm not kidding!! The elderly couple who lived next door were known to me as Gramma and Grampa Fazio and believe me Gramma shared her fantastic food and baked treats with us all the time. Just a few miles away from my neighborhood was an area of the city known as Little Italy, and here many Italian families settled, opened restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and celebrated their heritage.

The Italian American Festival was a big event in the community. In those days the festival was held in Columbus Park and featured rides, Italian food, bocce tournaments, traditional music and entertainment, games and fellowship with Italian and non-Italians alike. During my junior high years, the Italian Festival was a big big big event every summer. My best friend Liz and I would spend hours doing our hair, nails, makeup, trying on outfits and then pile in the car with either set of parents for a ride to the festival, where we would surely run into whatever guys we had our eyes on. Back then we didn't really appreciate the significance of the festival or the traditions its celebrated but it left a lasting memory.

Man of the businesses of those days have come and gone, and Little Italy no longer is a primarily Italian part of the city. The Italian American Festival has long since moved to new grounds but a few reminders of those days remain- like Graziano Brothers, an Italian specialty store known for its incredible sausage, fabulous breads, olives and seasonings. Just steps away from Graziano Brothers is Tumea and Sons, a family owned Italian restaurant that has been around as long as I can remember. 

Fast forward to today and The Chef and I were discussing what to cook. Now that's often a topic of conversation at our house- with two very accomplished cooks we usually have to have a plan. So The Chef was talking about a spicy roll his dad used to buy from Graziano Brothers. He kept calling them "pitagazardi" and neither of us could find any recipe for such an item. The Chef put the appeal on social media and before long our friend George, a well known local chef and food historian, gave us the name- Pitta Con Sarde. A quick call to Graziano's to see if they had any left another wrinkle in the plan- they don't actually make them, they are made at Tumea and Sons and occasionally sold at the store. Sigh. We won't be going to Graziano's to buy goodies today. Can we make these ourselves??

The Chef described in detail what the rolls were like, and even though Google didn't really help at all, I knew I'd be able to come up with a very close version. I was totally relying on his description because I have never had these before- never heard of them before. Amazingly enough we had everything we needed so I set about recreating the rolls The Chef is craving, the pitta con sarde.

As a baker, making a yeast dough is right up my alley so the real challenge was going to be the filling. The Chef knew it was deep red and spicy and he knew there were anchovies in it. We had a couple red bell peppers in the veggie drawer so they went over the open flame on the stovetop to roast and char. The bread dough came together quickly and easily and rose beautifully in the warm kitchen- it was also canning day. If you have ever made homemade cinnamon rolls, you know how to rolls these guys. The dough was soft and not a bit sticky so it rolled out great and rolled up like a dream. Here is the recipe.

Pitta Con Sarde

2 1/4 cups flour
1 packet yeast
1 tsp flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tb olive oil
3/4 cup barely warm water
additional olive oil

2 red bell peppers or equivalent amount of canned roasted red pepper, drained and patted dry
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves fresh garlic
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2-3 tablespoons crushed red pepper
1 tb Italian seasoning
2 tb anchovy paste OR a small jar anchovies*
1 tb olive oil

* I used an entire small jar of anchovies- think of the tiny jars of jam or mustard that come in gift baskets- that size.

To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together the flour, salt, Parmesan cheese and yeast. Place on the mixer and fix the dough hook. Add the oil to the bowl, followed by the warm water. Let the dough hook mix the dough until it forms a ball. Leaving the dough hook in place, cover with plastic and let the dough rest 15 minutes or so. Then using the dough hook, knead the dough a good 7 or 8 minutes until smooth and pliable and comes off the hook easily. Place the dough in an oiled bowl turn to coat, then cover and let rise about and hour and a half until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling. Roast the peppers over an open flame until charred (or under the broiler), then cool and peel, remove seeds.

I had a red bell pepper and a red and orange striped Enjoya
bell pepper. The colors are so gorgeous.

In the work bowl of a food processor combine all filling ingredients and puree. Set aside for later.

After the dough has risen, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently roll out into a rectangular shape approximately 10x13 or so. Spread the filling evenly over the dough leaving 1/2 inch border on one long edge. Begin rolling up and continue, like cinnamon rolls, pinching the edges to seal.

Slice the dough and place in oiled baking pans. I used 8 inch square pans, you can use round if you like. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about an hour.

Brush with melted butter, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Brush again with melted butter and serve.

Now, as I've said, I have never had these rolls before so I can't compare with the ones made at Tumea and Sons, but The Chef proclaimed them "so @#$%^&* good" so I take that as a compliment. I loved the tender yeasty bread dough, the crispy bottom and the soft spicy filling. The red pepper makes it's presence known, as does that crushed red pepper. The paprika adds a smoky sweetness and the anchovy, like always, is not really something you can taste- no fishy taste at all- but the savory salty richness is in the forefront.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Canning Cookbook- Triple Cherry Jam

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around canning and a sad loss at an Iowa aquaponics farm. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. Since I have had my love of canning reignited this week, it seemed appropriate to bring back a canning recipe that's easy and delicious- great for beginners. This story was originally published in June, 2015.


The other night the Little Lake House, and a whole lot of others in Iowa, were rocked by storm after storm after storm. All day long, starting in the early morning, the rain and thunder and lightning just kept coming. Tornado sirens sounded in the nearby town of Dexter and like it always does, the satellite tv signal was knocked out by the storm. Even at nearly 3 a.m. the storm raged on. In the morning much of Iowa awoke to flooded roads, rivers bursting out of their banks, basements turned into indoor pools, and storm debris all over.

photo courtesy of Chris Winget
One casualty of the storm was a cherry tree at the aquaponics farm a few miles away. Checking my email this morning I was surprised to see Cherries!! in the subject line. I had no idea they even had fruit trees! The tree's misfortune was my good luck, because I scored a big bag of fresh sour cherries for a mere $3.00. While chatting with the farm owner, he hinted that this is the perfect amount of cherries for a pie. Good idea, although I already had plans for these guys.

It's getting to be canning season around here again. The pile of empty jars in the storage room is growing and the cupboards are starting to look a little bit like Old Mother Hubbard's cupboards. The tomatoes and tomato jam are long gone. So is the salsa, and many of the jams. A few odd pickles remain, a few pints of salsa verde, several jars of green beans, and a decent stash of apple butter. The cherry jam I made before has been gone for months and I've been waiting patiently for cherry season so I can replenish my stash. As you can imagine, I wasn't too heartbroken to hear about the rush sale on cherries at the farm (although losing the tree means there will be a lot fewer cherries next year) because I got a great head start on pitting cherries tonight. Those have been safely stashed in the fridge, and tomorrow I'll grab some sweet juicy Bing cherries, and my very favorite, Rainier cherries, to add to the pot. They will add a new dimension of cherry deliciousness to my jam and beautiful color too.

photo courtesy of Chris Winget
Triple Cherry Jam

2 cups chopped pitted sour cherries
1 cup pitted chopped Bing cherries
1 cup pitted chopped Rainier cherries
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin
5 cups sugar

Pit and chop the cherries. I like to use a food processor to chop the cherries. Just add the pitted cherries to the workbowl and pulse several times to desired size. I like to keep some larger chunks of fruit in the jam so I only pulse two or three times. Measure 4 cups fruit. Place in large heavy stockpot with the lemon juice and pectin.

Sour cherries, pitted and ready to go.
Bing cherries and Rainier cherries
Measure the sugar and set aside.

Place the stockpot over medium high heat and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar all at once. Return to boil, stirring the entire time, and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and skim foam.

Ladle the hot jam into prepared canning jars to 1/4 inch headspace. Fix lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Let jars cool undisturbed overnight before removing the rings and checking seals.

I had enough cherries to make a double batch BUT you should never double a batch of jam or jelly. You might end up with a jam that doesn't set properly. Make two batches instead. You don't even have to wash the stockpot between batches, just add the fruit and cook the next batch. Each batch makes about 8 8-oz jelly jars.

Next up on the agenda? Popping an English muffin in the toaster, slathering that bad boy with real butter and adding a nice big spoonful of this luscious cherry jam. It's also really good served with a creamy cheese as part of a cheese plate, spooned onto a slice of cheesecake or even as part of the PB&J.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one. Having said that, cherry jam is a basic recipe and this one differs from tested recipes only in the fact that there is more than one type of cherry in the mixture. Acidity is not affected.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Odds and ends from the garden? Pickle them!

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around fresh veggies and fridge pickles. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in May, 2015.

This recipe is a great way to use up the last garden stragglers too- you can use any vegetable you like in this recipe. Some you may want to blanch, others can go straight into the brine. 


Ohhhhhh pickles!!!

When I was first getting into home canning in a big way, pickles were among the first foods I learned to make. Spicy dills, bread and butter pickles- my favorite, pickled carrots, pickled onions, quick asparagus pickles, relishes of all kinds. Dills. So many dills. Chunks, slices, whole, spears. Blue ribbon winning pickles. 

There are two types of pickles- brined pickles and fermented pickles. Fermented pickles, like sauerkraut, get their sour flavor from being fermented in a crock in a salty water mixture. I prefer to make brined pickles- pickles that get their sour flavor from a vinegar brine. It's quicker and since I have fur kids, I don't want to have crocks of fermenting foods sitting around. I prefer my pickles with no fur.

Adding spices to the brine changes the flavor of the pickles. Dill, of course, gives a tremendously green and fresh flavor to pickles, and garlic, mustard seed, black peppercorns and even hot peppers bring varying levels of heat and spiciness to the brine. I got the bright idea to add ghost peppers to jars of pickles one time- wow!! Talk about spicy!! 

Pickling is also a great way to preserve those beautiful summer veggies and a great addition to your relish tray for parties and holidays. I will pickle pretty much everything. It's easy to whip up a quick brine, add some herbs and aromatics and pour over a colorful mix of veggies. You don't even have to "can" the pickles- fridge pickles, also known as quick pickles, go right in the fridge and last for weeks. 

If you have a crinkle cutter you can make gorgeous slices of
bright carrots. You can also purchase crinkle cut "chips"
What kind of veggies should you pickle? Whatever you like! That's the great thing about pickles- the brine adds the necessary acidity to make your vegetables safe for canning at home, and using a colorful combo makes the jars beautiful and interesting. 

Isn't this gorgeous? I just couldn't say no
Strolling through the produce section at the big grocery store in the city I had so many choices to make. I found gorgeous little shishito peppers back on the shelf so I had to grab a couple handfuls to use in this pickle recipe. There was a fabulous display of cauliflower and broccoli set up including the most beautiful purple cauliflower. Naturally I chose one of those. I considered baby carrots but instead went with "carrot chips"- slices of large carrots cut with a wavy blade. Those are going to look great in the jars. Fresh green beans and red onion round out the veggies for this batch.

Shishito peppers are sweet with an occasional odd spicy one
I have included directions for processing the pickles in a boiling water bath canner for shelf stability if you want to go that route. I did not. These are so popular around here that they go straight into the fridge and get eaten up pretty quickly. I personally prefer fridge pickles over processed pickles- the veggies stay crisper and brighter.

Kicked Up Veggie Pickles

1 head cauliflower
1 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1 lb baby carrots (or regular carrots, peeled and sliced)
2 ears fresh corn
2 onions
3 bell peppers or other peppers of your choice*
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
yellow mustard seeds
garlic cloves
dried cayenne peppers*

*Instead of bell peppers I bought a couple handfuls of shishito peppers and used them whole. If you use a spicier pepper you can omit the cayenne pepper. I used dried Serrano chilies instead of the cayenne since I have so many.

Cut the cauliflower into good sized florets. You need about 3 cups. Cut the bell peppers into strips. I used whole shishito peppers so I just cut slits in them to allow the brine to get inside the peppers. Clean the corn with a veggie brush to remove all the silk, then cut it into one inch chunks, then cut into halves. Cut the onions into wedges. 

Fresh corn on the cob makes an interesting addition
Bring a stockpot of water to boil. Add the veggies and boil for one minute. Remove from water and into a large bowl. DO NOT use an ice bath!!

Bright veggies make beautiful jars of pickles
Meanwhile, in another pot, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the salt (or you can add a teaspoon of salt to each jar). 

Pack the hot vegetables into hot canning jars. Add a teaspoon of mustard seed, several peppercorns and 2-4 cloves of garlic (smash them a little to release the flavor) and a cayenne pepper (or half) to each jar. Pour the hot brine over to 1/2 inch headspace. Fix the lids and rings, place in boiling water bath canner. Process for 10 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 pints.

Make it easy on yourself- use the wide mouth pints for this pickle recipe. The brine is great for all different kinds of pickles so use your imagination. The brine acts as a preservative and the heat of processing in the boiling water bath seals the jars. Remember, you can also make the pickles and just pop them in the fridge instead of processing in the canner. I chose to make them a quick pickles this time because of the vibrant color of the cauliflower- I wanted to preserve that stunning purple as much as possible.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Kitchen Basics- Fried Chicken

It's been nearly a year already but let me just say again- Whew!!!  Moving stinks!! You never know how much kitchen stuff you have until you are looking at a stack of empty boxes, trying to fit it all in there. The days of lake living behind us now, The Chef and The Baker are making our home in the city once again, and it's a good thing. Much has changed in the five years we spent adjusting to rural life. New stores, new restaurants, new breweries and wineries have popped up all over the place, and Des Moines has become quite a culinary destination. 

I have really enjoyed exploring some of the new foodie hot spots around town. In the East Village section of the city is a specialty shop called Allspice that's filled with- you guessed it, spices. This was one of my first forays into city life again. While I really didn't need any more spices, I surely wanted them, and Allspice met that need and more so. In the Valley Junction area is a gourmet kitchen store I want to check out, West Des Moines is home to a brand new Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery store, and Vom Fass is in the trendy Shops at Roosevelt shopping area. I first discovered Vom Fass on a trip to the Mall of America and was thrilled to see one located in Des Moines.

One of my favorite places to shop when I lived in the city before was Gateway Market, located in the historic Sherman Hill district just on the fringe of downtown. I think of all the cool places in the city, this is hands down my favorite foodie place. The beautiful produce, incredible baked goods, outstanding wines selection, and of course- THAT olive bar........I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself with this fantastic shop and it didn't take long! A quick stop in Gateway on my way home from work is just as easy as hopping off the freeway and hopping back on.

Since I now have access to all kinds of amazing herbs and spices it's time to restock my kitchen shelves with some of my go-to basics. I have always made herb and spice blends and rubs of my own to use in cooking. It's so convenient to whip them up and cup or two at a time and have them ready on the spice shelf. I love trying meat rubs and spice mixtures from other sources but my own blends are my most-used combinations. A good seasoned flour mix is always great to have on hand. Not just for fried chicken but good with fish, chicken fried steak, dredging roasts and stew meat- anything that needs a quick dip into flour before being seared or fried goes great with this flavorful blend of seasonings. Dare I say, I think it's even better than the Colonel's 11 Herbs and Spices!

My All Purpose Seasoned Flour

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon celery seed
couple dashes ground cayenne pepper

Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the celery seed to a powder. Combine all ingredients in a bowl; spoon into jars for storage.

I love having this mixture ready to go on the shelf- it is soooo useful in so many dishes. One of my favorite of all comfort foods is good old fashioned homemade fried chicken. It's easier than you think too. Fried chicken has always been a much-loved food at our house, even an obsession when it came to our beloved cat Georgie. Although he is no longer with us you can't have fried chicken at our house without laughing about Georgie's Daring Chicken Robbery. You see, one weekend the Chef and I were spending considerable time perfecting our fried chicken recipe, tweaking the seasonings, trying different brines, and making batches of fried chicken. Now.... you could have roast chicken, baked chicken, chicken salad, barbequed chicken- George paid no attention, but the minute he smelled FRIED chicken, he'd lose his mind. Like a possessed wild animal he would do anything to get some, and after a lot of cooking and finally coming up with the perfect buttermilk brined fried chicken, the Chef was just sitting down to eat dinner with a perfectly prepared fried chicken breast on his plate. The Chef got up to grab a fork and thought he saw a flash of orange fur from the corner of his eye- and sure enough, faster than the speed of sound Georgie had stolen that perfect chicken breast.....

So in honor the the late great Georgie the Cat, let's butcher a chicken and get ready to make fried chicken. Start with a chicken, of course- I usually cut up a whole chicken myself but you can use chicken pieces, all breasts, all dark meat- whatever your family likes. I learned how to butcher a chicken from my mother and that's just what I prefer. Besides getting all the traditional pieces I like to cut the breast halves in half again crosswise so all the pieces are approximately the same size.

A good quality knife is critical when butchering whole chicken, or any other meat. My knife of choice is a Cutco chefs knife. This thing is badass. It can cut right through bone and never seems to dull.

To cut up a whole chicken start by rinsing the chicken thoroughly and pat the skin dry with paper towels. I know the current trendy thing is "don't wash your chicken" but honestly, I rinse my chicken under gently running water, I don't slosh chicken water and juices all over so I have no concerns about flinging bacteria around. In fact I'm much more concerned about the bacteria the chicken picks up in processing than I am about any potential contamination. If you prefer not to rinse your chicken, that's fine too. Place the chicken on a plastic cutting board (not wood) and start by loosening the thighs from the body. When you have loosened and snipped the skin use your hands to separate the thigh joint from the body, then use a sharp heavy knife to cut through and remove the leg quarter. Cut through the joint between the drumstick and thigh and set the pieces aside. Repeat with the other side. 

Use a similar technique to remove the wings and set them aside. Then stand the chicken up and cut through the ribs to separate the  back from the breast. Reserve the back portion for stock if you make your own, otherwise discard it. Now, it's easiest to place the breast skin side down and split it in half from the back. I split the chicken breast into halves lengthwise, then again crosswise to make four breast pieces. I also rinse my chicken again to make sure there are no bone fragments anywhere. 

Bone-in chicken is always best and thighs are delicious
Some people like to brine their chicken overnight, in a very salty brine. I love brining poultry- you end up with a spectacularly juicy and delicious bird. To make the brine, dissolve 1/3 cup salt in one quart cool water. Place the chicken in a gallon size zip top bag, pour the brine over and seal the bag, pressing the air out. Place in a bowl in the fridge overnight. Rinse well and pat dry before cooking.

Another way to impart fantastic flavor and juiciness to your chicken is to let the chicken bathe in buttermilk overnight. Follow the same method with the zip top bag, and when you're ready to cook, simply shake off the excess buttermilk and roll in the seasoned flour to coat. I love this method because you get a thicker crust on the chicken.

Frying chicken is easy too. A great big deep cast iron skillet is the traditional way to go but any deep heavy pan will do. Heat a good amount of oil over medium high heat until nice and hot. After dredging the chicken in the seasoned flour mixture place the chicken pieces carefully in the hot oil and fry, turning often until golden brown all over. Remove to drain briefly on paper towels and then finish the chicken in a 400 degree oven until cooked completely- 165 degrees is what you're shooting for. Is gravy your thing? Use some of those tasty drippings and more of the seasoned flour to make a delicious cream gravy. If this isn't comfort food..... I don't know what it.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Housewife Food- Cheesy Chicken Black Bean Enchiladas

Wait....housewife food? What the heck is housewife food? I actually made this term up but I'm sure it will be a trending topic before long- once the internet sees how ingenious of a term it really is. That's my hope anyway. So back to what I'm talking about. You all know The Chef and I cook all the time. He in the restaurant kitchen, myself for competition and recipe development. This usually doesn't include a lot of homestyle food and casseroles and the types of things a busy homemaker might make to feed her 4 kids and hungry hubby. THAT is what I call housewife food- the simple, easy to make, but filling and homey meals that reminds us of an era in the past. Maybe we remember our own moms being at home when we got home from school with a big pot of spaghetti sauce simmering away or just searing off that pot roast, or maybe we remember the television moms that never seemed to leave the kitchen......

Sometimes even The Chef and I crave those comforting foods. We both are absolutely nuts over a pan of tator tot casserole, and who wouldn't be? Beefy, creamy mushroomy goodness topped with crunchy tots. Yum. We even sometimes get a serious craving for tuna noodle casserole. Imagine that, with all the gorgeous produce and interesting foods we have to cook with, we sometimes just want something that starts with a can of cream of something soup.

The Chef, of course, cooks for a living. Myself, my career field is far less glamorous-insurance. My day can be a little on the dull side, or it can be stressful as heck with angry insureds calling about one reason or another. It's not unusual to be yelled at several times a day by a person in a bad circumstance who just wants to blow off some steam and raise a little hell and I'm the person on the other end of the line. It's all good. We've all been there.  I also spend a lot of hours in front of dual monitors typing. Typing a lot. Notate every conversation. Document every specific. Make notes, check notes and make more notes. While not physically demanding, it can be mentally demanding and many days I get home and regret planning on making an elaborate pounded, stuffed and rolled steak dish with a potato side that includes numerous steps, a specific baking dish and a countertop full of ingredients. Plus a salad- always a salad, right?

I was so thankful today when I got home from just such a day that I had the foresight to buy a couple convenience products. Especially that can of soup. Tonight's dinner took some of the simplest ingredients and turned them into something really good, really filling and definitely housewife food. What did I use? A bottle of store-bought salsa, a jar of queso dip, a can of black beans, a couple chicken breasts and a can of nacho cheese condensed soup. Amazing results from everyday ingredients, let's make some enchiladas!

Cheesy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

1 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 small bags shredded cheese
10 flour tortillas
1 jar queso cheese dip
1 jar salsa
1 can condensed nacho cheese soup
1/2 cup water

Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper and cook until done. I poached them in just a small amount of water until cooked through. Let cool slightly, then shred or cube and place in a large bowl. Toss with one bag of the cheese, the black beans and half of the sliced scallions. Set aside.

In another bowl combine the queso dip, 1 cup of the salsa, the nacho cheese soup and water. Mix well. Add about 3/4 cup of this mixture to the chicken mixture and mix. Divide the mixture among the 10 tortillas and roll up.

Spread a few tablespoons of the sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 pan or two square pans. Arrange the enchiladas in the pan and spoon remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the other bag of cheese.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes until hot and bubbly. 

Serve with additional salsa and the remaining sliced scallions. They are delicious with a dollops of sour cream or even some guacamole, but guess who forgot to buy sour cream when she was at the grocery store?

This recipe absolutely goes against our rule about fresh cooking and real foods and not buying stuff in cans and bottles but every once in a while you just have to. It doesn't make us bad people, or lazy, or unhealthy. Let's face it, sometimes life is hectic and cutting the occasional corner isn't a bad thing at all. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

It's A Pickle Party In Puyallup

I'd have to say that honestly I am pretty content living in Iowa. There is a lot of cool stuff here. Incredible pork. The world famous state fair. All the corn you could ever want. One hundred wineries and growing, plus an impressive collection of breweries. Gourmet restaurants and foodie events. Templeton Rye. Apple orchards and pumpkin patches. Yes, I would say that this is my happy place. Recently I heard about a very unique business in Washington state that spoke to my heart and my love of home canning and quick pickling. How about a cucumber farm that not only sells cucumbers grown on the premises but offers pickling parties? I am sooo there !!! Well....I wish anyway.

So what is this farm called? Where is it? What is this all about? Tamara Harden, who lives in Puyallup, Washington, shared this story with me, about Duris Cucumber Farm, a very unique business that's part farm, part store and part pickle factory in Puyallup. I visited the company's website and learned all about the history of this business and how it all started back in the mid-50s when Hazel Duris asked her husband Al to help her get a garden started. She wanted to grow cucumbers for pickles, as well as other fresh vegetables. Like so many gardeners experience, Hazel soon had cucumbers in abundance and began selling her extra produce. Little by little their garden plot grew into a farm, now operated by their children. The farm's chief crop is pickling cukes and with that, everything you need to make pickles. The farm also features a shop where you can find everything you need to make fresh quick pickles- spices, jars, cookbooks, vinegars, and of course, the cucumbers. They even have cute labels and twine for your finished pickles, as well as pre-made canned and pickled foods and other cute canning-themed items for you to purchase.

Customers make their selections from different sizes and
varieties of farm fresh pickling cucumbers.
Every Saturday the farm's shop has a pickling demonstration. They teach customers the cold-pack method, what I call quick pickles or fridge pickles- fresh cucumbers, spices, pickling brine, and no heat processing. These are not shelf-stable pickles- they go into the fridge, and believe me, the best pickles are made this way- always crisp and crunchy. Their recipe is featured on the website and interestingly, they use two sizes of cucumbers in each jar. Just looking at all the pictures made me crave pickles!

The shop features pre-packaged spice mixtures for
different types of pickles- so easy!
Let's talk about this pickle party. Tamara tells me it's a ton of fun and very versatile- you can come just by yourself or bring friends (up to 23 people per party). You just schedule a time and when you get there, they have everything you need on a tray for each party-goer. You get the jars, a paring knife, one grape leaf per jar, sliced onion, sliced red pepper, fresh dill, garlic cloves, spices, and a label for your jar. 

What an awesome setup, all ready for the Pickle Partiers
The center of the table is piled with different sizes of pickling cucumbers. The first thing you do is choose your cukes and fill your jar, then you return to your tray, remove the cucumbers from the jar and get ready to pickle. 
Shaking those pickles!
The instructor walks you through each step, how to add ingredients to your jar and in what order, and you make your jars of pickles, topping with the pickling brine. The cost of the class is per jar- $8 for quarts and $6.50 for pints, and you can make one jar or many many jars- totally up to you. This sounds like so much fun!

They even sell commercial mixes for people who want to
make pickles with a minimum of fuss and measuring.
Luckily for those of us who don't live nearby, the Duris Farm shares their pickle recipe on their website. Let's make some Duris Cold Pack Refrigerator Dills. For each quart jar you will need:

(add in order)
1 grape leaf
1 stalk fresh dill wound in a small circle
3 peeled cloves of garlic
1/8 sliced white onion
3 teaspoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons mustard seed
15 whole black peppercorns
1/2 to 1 dried red chili pepper
1/4 teaspoon alum
1/4 fresh jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 slice sweet red bell pepper (place against the side of the jar)
5 medium cucumbers, blossom end removed
2-3 small cucumbers, blossom end removed
1/2 cup of 5% apple cider vinegar

Fill the jar to 1/2 inch headspace with tap water. Top with a lid and ring, tighten, and shake to dissolve the powders. Store in the refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to enjoy in 3-4 3 weeks. Enhanced flavor is achieved by allowing them to cure in the fridge longer.

Pickle jars in every size and color!
How easy is that? I am a huge fan of fridge pickles- no need to drag out the big bulky canning pots and I can make every jar a little different. The pickles are always so much crisper and fresher than heat processed pickles and they retain their color better too.

Tamara is a big supporter of local producers and frequents the produce stands all over her area. She tells me the Puyallup Valley has some of the most fertile soils anywhere as well the areas surrounding eastern Washington, which is a huge agricultural area. Tamara likes keeping in touch with local growers so she gets a heads up on great deals so she can preserve fresh foods for her family at home, and is an avid home canner. She really loved sharing the Pickle Party with her granddaughters. Maybe they will be the next generation of home food preservers!

Abby and Tamara show us each step
**All the photos in this story were taken by Tamara on her recent visit to the farm.

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."