Monday, August 31, 2009

The Ultimate Burger Project - Ketchup

Here we are at the ketchup stage of the Burger Project. I love ketchup. So much in fact that as a child, my family would ask if I wanted fries with my ketchup. Heinz is great and with this project I am out to prove that I can do it better. So were do I start?

Tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. I was able to get paste tomatoes locally grown at a great price. The recipe I selected calls for 1 gallon of tomato puree so after getting a bit of advice I received a 12# box.

This really was a quick project with the exception of the blanche, water-bath, peel process. I peeled and peeled and peeled....

And finally I was done. All of the tomatoes went into a 7 quart stockpot (it was really full). I let it slowly cook until the tomatoes were soft before grinding them. I could have used canned tomato puree and might actually do that this winter. For the burger project, however, I wanted it to be as "scratch" as possible. Besides, wouldn't it really be cheating to not use fresh tomatoes - especially in August!

Another cheesecloth bag of spices. I like to use the cheesecloth from Williams-Sonoma - and no it's not a sales pitch and I'm not on commission. It's such great quality it's worth it to wash with kitchen linens and air dry so you can use it again.

A few other ingredients and it all went back into the pot - again. Rather than use fresh red chili peppers, I used half the amount of dried pasillas. I'd love to make a batch and used a smoked, dried pepper - that would be a good ketchup.

Let it cook down until it "mounds" on the spoon. I am not altogether sure what that means exactly but when it looked like I though mounding would look, I pulled it from the heat.

Back through the food mill once more.

I realized too late that the recipe I chose suggested a 4 to 5 week curing process to let the flavors meld. 4-5 weeks ago, I couldn't get my hands on any tomatoes and I really wanted to make this recipe so I forged ahead. As the count down to Labor Day draws near, my ketchup will have just over a week to "cook". We'll use it anyway and crack open a jar in 4-5 weeks to compare the two. Really though, how bad can homemade ketchup be?

Tomato Ketchup
adapted from The Joy of Pickling

1 gallon tomato puree
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup dried chilis, remove membranes and seeds for less heat
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cider vinegar
1 T. pickling salt
1 bay leaf, crumbled
2 T. coriander seeds
1 T. yellow mustard seeds
1 T. black peppercorns
1 T. allspice berries
1 3" cinnamon stick, broken
1/4 cup white sugar
1 /2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

In a large nonreatice pot, combine the tomato puree, onions, chili peppers, garlic, vinegar and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Add to the pot, the spices, tied in cheesecloth, and the sugars. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring often, until thickened.

Sqeeze the spice bag to extract all its' flavors and remove. Puree the mixture in a food mill, using a fine disc, or press the mixture through a fine sieve.

Return the mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil again, and continue to boil it, stirring constantly, until it mounds slightly on the spoon.

Ladel the ketchup into pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Close the jars with hot 2-piece caps and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Store the cooled jars in a cool, dry, dark place for at least one month before using.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

For The Bees

Today was a busy day. Between finishing many food projects and a trip to Whole Foods, I took some time with my bees. While I am sure they weren't pleased to see me, I love nothing better than taking a quick peak when needed to check out what's going on.

With summer's end around the corner, I wanted to be sure the girls had a well stocked pantry. This was the first year for my hive so there was much work to be done early on. That coupled with weird summer weather, I decided to focus on getting them through the first year and not worry so much about a harvest.

All seems to be well - but let's be honest - do I really know what I am doing? The frames were full and capped which is all a girl can ask. I think. They've begun to hang out on the "porch" lately so the addition of a super box was probably timely. Many honey blooming plants are past prime but perhaps the goldenrod and other fall flowers will allow the girls to fill up a box or two for me.

Keep your fingers crossed for us and maybe there will be mulled mead this winter after all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Taking A Bite Out Of Life

It's been a busy week here with school starting so there isn't much new. I do have several cool projects on the burner and I can't wait to share them.

Anyway, with all this new found freedom, I have been thinking about things to do. I have always wanted to make a life list and now seems to be an opportune time - since I finally have the time. Life lists are a good way to assess what one has done as well as give guidance as to how to proceed.

So, I am starting my life list. I figure a few things here and there scribbled down in a blank book are a good place to begin. For now, off the top of my head, I have only three.....

#1 - Go to France.

#2 - Knit a blanket for Project Linus.

#3 - Learn the Thriller dance. (yes, really and since forever)

At least it's a place to start.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And They're Off

Today was the day.

Henry is a kindergartner now - it seems like yesterday... *sigh*. He was so excited this morning and didn't waver for a moment. How can a mom cry about that? I like to think he was happy to see me at 3:30 though. Ella, a fourth grader is looking very forward to the exciting year ahead. She is running for class president. We were working on slogans tonight. How does "Don't Smella - Vote for Ella" sound? I am so proud of her courage!

The middle schoolers, Max in 6th and Jake if 7th. Max, being a man of few words, didn't say much but I know he's going to love middle school and have a great year. He starts bike club next week. Jake, started cross country last week and is proving himself to be quite the runner. The social butterfly that he is - school is a big party.

Wow, four well-adjusted, brilliant and talented kids off to school. I couldn't be any prouder.

Now if I could just figure out what to do with my time.....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Sweet Peas

I've spent the last several days getting four kids ready for school. While the massive outlay of cash is a heavy blow the craziness of making sure everyone has everything is the worst part. Supplies, outfits, shoes, ziploc bags, ear buds (!), AAA batteries (!) and boxes of tissue. To label, not to label? It's exhausting.

My respite has been when I slip outside to my garden for my daily harvest. For a brief moment everything is peaceful. How bad can it be when you have sweet peas to cut in August? Not to mention the tomatoes, pole beans, beets, squash, chard, herbs and carrots.

The kids are excited to start school and in a few days it'll just be me and the dog. It's been a busy 13 years. Having them all in school is bittersweet. Henry is so excited to be in kindergarten, I am truly excited for him. I'll miss him dearly and still can't seem to remember that when everyone is off to school Henry and I won't be together. I am overwhelmed with what I perceive will be tons of time on my hand. This could go one of two ways. I'll be so busy, I won't know how I got through the day before or I'll be panic stricken as to what to do with all of my free time. Lord, knows I have enough to keep me busy with projects and hobbies alone but the prospect of actually accomplishing some things that seem to move from list to list is daunting, too. I think it'll all work out.

I'll enjoy my time and my sweet peas hope they will continue to bloom - in school.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beets For My Sweets

After a many year hiatus as beet growers, we began again and have been blessed with a nice little crop from our small garden. I love beets. After harvesting about 2/3 of our little crop, I pickled them. I really love pickled beets. Through all four of my pregnancies, and still today, one of my favorite things is cottage cheese topped with pickled beets, coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Ironically, or not, I have brought into the world four pickled beet lovers. Max has suggested that we make our own cottage cheese and turn this into a full blown food project. Hmmmmm.......

I have a very distinct memory of scrubbing beets on my grandma's stoop one summer day. I bet they were destined to be pickled. Grandma was fond of pickles, too. She, and in turn my mother, made pickled eggs about Easter time. I can still see them floating in the big, bright yellow tupperware bowl. I've already promised to make them for the kids with our pickling liquid. It's been ages since I've made them. This time I know I'll have a lot of help eating them all.

I think the best part of beet prep is peeling them. I love how the skins just slip right off. The color is good, too. I never mind finishing the job with magenta tipped fingers. It makes me feel like I've really accomplished something.

A cheesecloth bag filled with aromatics goes into the pot to flavor the brine. The recipe I decided to try is from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. It calls for apple cider vinegar as opposed to the more harsh white vinegar and brown sugar for extra flavor.

As is typical of canning projects today, many hours of work and 3 pint jars was all I have to show. I like how tender the tiny beets are so I forgo quantity for quality. Regardless of our net product, they are our beets. From sowing the seeds, to harvesting, scrubbing and cooking it's all us. Worth every minute of time spent.

I know as I write this that when the kids remember there are 3 little pint jars of beets hidden away, they'll want to devour them immediately. I like to hoard these special jars to surprise my sweeties. Maybe on a chilly fall day that seems to be too quickly approaching....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ice Cream For Dinner

I love to be an aunt. I have two nieces, the older 8 and the younger 5. The younger, Lily, just decided that she was ready to spend the night with us. I think it may have something to do with my promise of a fabulous dinner, that under no uncertain terms was to be divulged to mom and dad.

The first time Lauren came to stay, I suggested we have ice cream for dinner. She was delighted, as was I that something so simple could elevate me to goddess status. In keeping with my "can't do anything simply" theme, I decided to make homemade hot fudge sauce for Wednesday evening's dinner. There would be no squeeze bottle of Hershey's on this dining table. In all honesty though, it's really simple - basic ingredients that you probably have in your pantry (especially if you caught a good sale Scharffen Berger chocolate to expire in October). Super easy to put together in about 10 minutes, too.

Dinner is served. Hot fudge served table side. Of course there was caramel sauce, "magic shell" (ugh), chocolate jimmies, whipped cream and cherries, too.

I learned two things in the making of this recipe - number one it's so easy and worth it to make kids happy. Number two, photographing hot fudge with limited photography skills is a greater challenge than making it.

Chocolate Fudge Sauce
Williams-Sonoma Ice Creams & Sorbets

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 t. vanilla extract

In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the cream, butter, corn syrup and confectioners' sugar. Stir with a wooden spatula until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Add the chocolate and stir over medium-low heat until melted. Remove for the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and let cool before using.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Has Arrived!

You set seeds, mist, rotate, hope, coddle, mist, watch and wait. Then one day those little seeds have sprouted and grown enough to set out on their own. You dig, mound, water, weed, mulch, water, weed and wait. You cage, tie, pamper, tie and hope the wind doesn't blow it all over. Then one day you see it - a little green orb that grows into the true essence of summer. Soon the waiting draws near as the first blush appears upon its' shoulders.

Today, my wait is over. I have harvested the first of what I hope to be many, many more tomatoes. I am swelling with pride over this huge heirloom of unknown heritage. A mixed pack of Renee's Garden heirloom tomato seeds was planted so I have no way of knowing what these beauties are named.

I really don't think it matters though because I have buffalo mozzarella, a fine balsamic and basil in the garden.

Regardless of what the calendar says, in my backyard summer has arrived.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Burger Project - Mustard

The burger project continues with mustard. I like my mustard spicy. The heat that brings tears to your eyes but it's so good you can't stop eating. I also wanted a project more challenging than dump and stir mustard made with mustard powder alone. Far be it from me to do anything simply. I decided to go with a whole grain mustard made with black and yellow mustard.

I purchased my ingredients from The Spice House which makes this a very affordable food project. Mustard seeds go into the bowl with a little bit of ale. I used a bottle of home brew Doug made with a friend. Only the best for this little project. The seeds bathe in beer for 8-12 hours to soften. Mmmmm....

The next day, add dried minced onion (mine were toasted) and mustard powder. I decided to use the hot mustard powder to get that spicy heat that I like.
A quick spin through the food processor with a bit of salt and good quality apple cider vinegar and it's mustard. You've got to try this!

Coarse Grain Beer Mustard

1/4 c. brown mustard seeds
1/4 c. yellow mustard seeds
3/4 c. good quality ale

Mix mustard seeds and ale together in a bowl and allow to sit for 8-12 hours.

1 T. mustard powder
1 T. dried minced onion
Add mustard powder and minced onion to the bowl and allow to hydrate about 20 minutes.

1 t. sea salt
1/2 cup good quality apple cider vinegar
After 20 minutes put the mustard mixture into the bowl of a food processor along with salt and cider vinegar.

Blend until most of the seeds are crushed with some whole seeds remaining.

Put mustard into clean jars and allow to cure for 4-5 days.

Yield: About 1 cup

How easy is that? I think it would make great gifts with a 6-pack of the beer you used and a bag of pretzels. Just in time for football season.

As for the burger project, Thursday I hit the market for tomatoes that I'll turn into ketchup!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Food of Boyne

Boyne City is the home of the National Morel Mushroom Festival so I figured they had to like good food. When away I always have to check out everything food. Once on a vacation, Jake asked why we had to visit a particular store. Doug's answer was, "most people see sites on vacation, Mommy has to check out all the food stuff". Pretty astute and very true. Tuesday morning Amy and I visited the Boyne market. It's always interesting to see what different markets offer. The French Breakfast Radish for a dollar a bunch were great for an afternoon picnic.

My favorite farmer, by far was Blackbird Garden. This is a two fold business, both catering company and specialty grower. Growing great food and then cooking it. What a cool business! I am so envious - even though it's a lot of work.

Beautiful herbs, baskets of red garlic and nasturtiums thrown into bags of salad greens by the handful. Our greens turned up with an easy vinaigrette, cheeses, prosciutto, smoked white fish mousse and toasted bread. My favorite way to eat.

After this farmer's red garlic tutorial I brought home two heads - one for eating and one for planting. I am hopeful to have a bumper crop of my own next summer. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask this man his name but his willingness to chat and passion for his work is why I love markets.

After the market we made a quick stop at Lake Street Market, home of the smoked whitefish mousse. Just the exterior makes me want to go in. This little market has a nicely edited cheese case, great sandwiches, fabulous baked goods, micro brews and other fun foodstuffs. If you get "up north" you really must check it out.

The best part of traveling for me is the food. Checking out the businesses of like minded people and experiencing the culinary offerings of the area.

Food creates great memories.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Up North"

We have very dear friends that live in Michigan, north of Detroit. For years we have laughed at the expression "up north", very often used by Michiganites. Exactly how far up north does one have to be to be considered "up north"? This year we found out when an invitation to beautiful Boyne Mountain for summer fun was extended. This gorgeous view is from the ski lift.

Every evening the ski lift was open for twilight rides up and down the hill. There were many rides and many reconnaissance missions deployed in search of missing flip flops.

At the beach I take this picture of the kids. It's fun to see how they have grown through the years. Interestingly, when photographed as a group, they always arrange themselves this way.

We were able to spend a day on the lake our friends call home. Swimming, swinging and boating. Another picture tradition, lined up on the pier. I wonder how much longer they'll all fit?

Our trip was wonderful and filled with swimming, shopping, relaxing, lots of laughs and a brush with KidRock. We all returned home sun soaked and tired. We can't wait to go back and spend more time with our extended family in Michigan - "up north" or otherwise.

Oh, and for the record, anyplace north of Manistee, is "up north".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Peach-Rosemary Syrup

In August, I think of peaches. They are my most favorite summer fruit. Perhaps because peaches are so delicate, they seem like a gift. Since even passable peaches aren't available out of season I like to strike while the iron is hot. When I was at the market last Thursday, I couldn't leave without a quart of these beauties, especially given a few ideas I had in mind as to how to enjoy them.

Although I love to eat them out of hand, as with my sugar snap peas, I wanted to do something special. I've been making a lot of fruit and herbal syrups as of late and that seemed like a good way to capture the essence of these beautiful peaches.

A simple sugar syrup infused with the essence of summer peaches and rosemary from my garden seemed to be an amiable combination. The poached peaches and fragrant syrup would be heavenly over ice cream.

However, on this horribly hot afternoon, a Peach-Rosemary Wine Spritzer, after painting the boys' room, was a perfect way to beat the heat. Enjoying the breeze on our front porch and reading a special book it almost didn't seem like a 90 degree day.

Peach and Rosemary Spritzers

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
4 large ripe peaches, halved, pitted & sliced
4 sprigs rosemary

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the peaches and rosemary then bring to a simmer. Remove pan from the heat, cover and let cool. Throw away the rosemary and if desired, peel the peaches. Put the peaches and syrup into a covered container and refrigerate until very cold.

For spritzers:
4 cups chilled rose wine
1 liter chilled club soda
Sprigs of fresh rosemary

Place several peach slices and about 4 T. of syrup into a ice filled stemmed glass. Add approximately 4 oz. of wine and top with club soda. Garnish with fresh rosemary and serve immediately. This would, of course, be equally refreshing without the wine - even my kids thought it was delicious!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Best Of Friends

The other day, I looked through the screen door to see Henry and his neighbor friend. They seemed to be taking a break from the landscaping game and were deep in conversation over a chalk drawing.

Our kids have been lucky to grow up in a neighborhood full of kids. Ok, most of them belong to me but there is usually always someone around to ride bikes, make chalk drawings, swing or just hang out on the porch. It's usually easy to gather a group for night games. Individually, there is someone for every age and better still, as a group, they (usually) all get along famously and look out for one another.

Of course, the kids have friends from school and family friends, but there is something unique about a neighbor friend. It's comforting to know that as they move towards middle school and high school, there are still those friends that in some ways, know them best.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Flea Market Finds

Sunday, at about 2 o'clock, Max and I remembered it was flea market weekend. We jumped in the car and beat a path to the fairgrounds. I love that Max loves flea markets as much as I do. When I was his age I always went with my mom and now I enjoy going with Max.

While our time was really limited, I think we were both happy with our loot. Continuing with my bowl obsession, I scored two cobalt blue, and a bright red in a shape I've never seen. While the last thing I need are more mixing bowls, I can't help myself when I find a deal. Their fun colors make me happy and I use them everyday.

I added another waist apron to my collection. Red gingham, perfect for my kitchen, with hand embroidery. Finding a great apron is always a thrill. I usually get a great deal, particularly considering the time a talented woman put into them. I wear them to save my clothes while cooking and just because they make me feel domestic.

Max has recently become talented with a yo-yo. Leave it to Max to love an old-school past time. He got a new one for his birthday but when he found this great orange Duncan, he had to have it. After brief trauma when the dowel broke, he and Doug have been working on repairing it. Soon he'll be back in action with an awesome new, old yo-yo! By the way, if you are interested in any Duncan yo-yo trivia, Max is your man.

Finally, I was captured by a stack of old photos. The latest theme I seem to be drawn to is the kitchen or just eating in general. (surprise!) I found a few great ones at an estate sale and it's fueled me to continue the hunt. Two ladies in a 50's kitchen behind a table laden with food and a young boy whipping something up in an old stand mixer are among my favorites. I have in my head that I'll use them in printed material for my fledgling cooking instruction business, nourish.

So, for $27 I got two hours of treasure hunting with Max and lots of cool stuff. How can I beat that?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer On A Plate

I love to cook. I cook a lot. I like to think I am a good cook. Every cook has their bad days, every cook makes an error in judgment. And occasionally every good cook make something that makes them feel like a rock star. With some simple ingredients, I felt like a rock star. Okay, rock star is a bit overstated, but I was really proud. Trying to decide what to cook for dinner a few days ago, I came across a recipe I that I've held onto for awhile. With a few minor adjustments, I had everything I needed to make a great corn tart to go along with some simple balsamic grilled chicken.
A press-in crust of butter, cornmeal and egg whipped up quickly. I finally just bought a hand mixer. My mom always had one but since I had a stand mixer, I never thought I needed one. A really, really, really good deal at Williams-Sonoma PLUS a mail-in-rebate, changed my mind. Now I don't know how I lived without it all these years.

Fresh corn and eggs, basil from the garden, cracked black pepper blended with half and half (that I keep stockpiling for ice cream I never seem to get to ) make an easy custard.

The entire family loved it and ate every inch of a 9" tart. Looking at this picture makes my mouth water at the memory of how wonderful it tasted. If you ever make a recipe I post - make this one. I promise it won't disappoint. Summer on a plate!

Corn and Basil Tart

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 t. salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernals
1/2 cup chiffonade of fresh basil
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

For the crust: Beat the butter about 30 seconds on medium-high speed til light and fluffy. Add sugar and salt, beating til combined, then add 1 egg, beat to combine. Add the cornmeal, then as much of the flour as you can with the hand mixer. Any remaining flour can easily be blended in with a wooden spoon. Form the dough into a disc and refrigerate about 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9" removable bottom tart pan. Prick the bottom of the tart shell several times with a fork and bake about 10 minutes. Check for any bubbles in the crust, flatten if necessary and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.

While the crust is baking, whisk remaining eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 together. Stir in corn kernels, basil, 1/2 t. salt and black pepper. Pour into the hot pastry shell and return to the oven for 35-40 minutes or until just set (mine was perfect at 35 minutes).

Let stand for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the pan and serving.

I served this dish room temperature and it was delicious that way, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Day In The Creek

Today was a perfect day to join some LivingWell friends for a little creek fun. Nets in hand, many kids and adventurous adults went in search of cool creek life.

Last year, Henry was unwilling to put his feet in the water and I carried him through the creek. After removing his socks he jumped right and snagged two crayfish. Yaaayy, Henry!

Heads down, we did our best to gather as many specimen as possible. After hours in the creek and a quick picnic lunch we had found many tiger frogs, a bullfrog tadpole, tiger frog tadpole, lots of crayfish, damsel fly larvae, a baby catfish and a baby bluegill. A diverse group of creatures with lots to teach.

After hands-off viewing and fond farewells, our catches were returned to their homes in the creek where they were found.

Cool water, hot sun, picnic lunch, the thrill of the hunt with a little education thrown in. What more could a mom want for her kids on an August afternoon?

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Burger Project - Pickles

In the June 2009 Gourmet, the article A Burger with (Homemade) Everything really inspired me. It seems to me the humble hamburger, a backyard barbecue staple has been taken advantage of over the years. So easy to elevate to something stellar, all too often a round of ground beef (often of questionable origin) thrown on the grill as a spur of the moment meal, or way to feed the masses. Mini "gourmet" burgers have been in the limelight as of late but I wanted to go back to the basics.

Enter the Ultimate Burger Project. I am beginning work on all that makes a burger great. Traditional toppings, crisp produce and soft fluffy buns all from my own garden, green market and kitchen. It seems like a nice way to round out the summer.

My first step was the pickles. A firm believer that dill pickles make a burger it seemed like a good place to start. The recipe I use is easy and tasty. I took a portion of my chunky cucs and thinly sliced them into perfect burger toppers.

Pickles from the market, garlic and dill from my garden topped with a quick hot brine, into the jars and sealed tightly.

The first of what will be many, many batches of pickles that may not make it to the first day of fall. My dill chips, however, are hidden away, waiting to grace the perfect burger on the traditional last weekend of summer.

Now...on to the ketchup!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Busy Bees

Last week I checked on my girls to see what they were up to. I have resigned myself to the fact that the shingle will not be hung for the Yellow House Apiary until next year. As a fledgling beekeeper, I am not sure but feel it's been a tough year to start a new hive. The comb had to be drawn out of all the frames so there was tons of work for these industrious ladies to get the homestead ready. That, coupled with the kooky weather, many rainy and overcast days, has made it quite a challenge.

The most important thing is keeping them healthy and getting them through the winter. My hope is that they'll be able to stock the pantry well and we'll try again next year.

Perhaps besides a reminder of the virtues of hard work they are teaching me patience, too.