Archive | August, 2011


31 Aug

The widely circulated story on the new offering at the Iowa State Fair, fried butter, was only shocking to those who’ve never been to a country fair. Fried everything is the order of the day. And though the Crawford County fair doesn’t offer fried butter (yet) the panoply of fried goodness is enough to satisfy even the most discerning tastes.

Ok, so the rookie mistake is hoping to try everything.  Last year I wasn’t discerning enough, because let’s face it, even the pros can only eat so much fried deliciousness.

I decided to take it easy, focusing on a few new things and splitting everything with enough folks to allow for more experimentation.

Twinkies? So last year.

This year started with something I’ve never had before….

Here the secret is definitely in the sauce. And this sauce wasn’t very good. A commercial ranch just didn’t really make me love this onion.  A good horseradish dip (or maybe I should have just stuck to catchup) would have been great.  But even if I wasn’t trying to expand my horizons, I’m not sure I’d go back to this.

This plate of goodness includes fried Oreos and a fried snickers bar. The fried Oreos for me are the best fried sweet I’ve had. The bitter chocolate of the cookie is the perfect counter balance to the heavy fat and sweet flavors.  The fried snickers bar, which I thought would be great because of the peanuts, was good, but not great.  The next day we tried the fried Twix which I have to say was better. The cookie in the middle held up really well.

*Yesterday in the grocery store as we passed a premature display of Halloween candy I said to Riley, “ooh, fried butterfingers would be great!”  My wise daughter looked disgusted and pointed out that if she hadn’t been at the fair with me, that would sound really awful.

But the winner, the realio trulio best of the best fried food winner of the fair, and possibly the decade were these:

That’s right. Porktato Fries. PORKTATO. It wins on name alone. But you know what? The execution was even better than the name. Zoooooooooommmmmmmmmmggggggggg these are so goood.

Fries with pulled pork, cheese sauce, bacon, barbeque sauce and sour cream.

And the angels sing.

They had a ton of other ridiculously yummy looking selections, but these had me at porktato.  Maybe next year I’ll branch out and try a different concoction. Or maybe I’ll break with intentions and go back to the porktato. Because after all….PORKTATO. Porktato. It makes me happy just to say it.

And that was it. I missed the fried pickles but one can only eat so much fried food. I was so full of salt and fat after this I needed to go flush out my system…


My big redneck birthday II

31 Aug

The Crawford County Fair has its closing days the last weekend in August, conveniently right before my birthday every year.  That makes it easy to convince family and friends to join me for a weekend going full (or almost full) Redneck. This was our second annual visit which I like to call “My Big Redneck Birthday.” We camped, petted cows, ate fried food, and went to both the Tractor Pull and the Demolition Derby. It. Is. Awesome.

I have to admit it, I love the farm component of the fair. Every time we entered a new exhibit my daughter changed what she was begging for, a horse, a cow, a pig, a chicken, a rabbit… at one point we watched an adorable lop eared bunny hold his ear to his mouth for cleaning…that was a close call for the “no new pets” policy.  Though if I got a bunny, it would be a Flemish giant, the seriously gigantic breed of bunny, for sure.  I also love seeing the produce that the kids in 4-H grew, the cans of preserves (not surprisingly) and all the other DIY projects people bring to the fair for judging.

But the highlight (aside from the fried food) is really the shows. Friday Night is the Tractor Pull, Saturday the Demolition Derby–the crowning moment of the entire redneck weekend.

Of course as awesome as the Tractor Pull is, nothing beats the Demolition Derby. Nothing.

And this one was very exciting.

This station wagon got hooked upon the trunk of the red car which then proceeded to drive around the entire field trying to shake it off!

These cars are unstoppable. You think this was the end of this car?? Nope. They paused to remove the tire off the field then it kept on going.

Here is video of the final heat. These are all the cars that made it through one round. Notice some cars just don’t die? Even when you think they can’t possibly go any longer?? And, by the way, isn’t it fantastic? The video occasionally wanders off track because I was more interested in watching than filming, but its still pretty exciting!

A perfect redneck end to a perfect redneck birthday!

Not for the kiddies: Plum Rum Jam

23 Aug

If you’ve been following my obsession with preserves with some amusement (or growing concern) but never tried to make any yourself, this here is the recipe to get you off the bench.  This is not your grandma’s jam (unless she was a bit of a lush) and it isn’t for your grade-schoolers lunch box (unless you want to train them up early in the family tradition of drinking before noon).  I’m assuming the booze boils out, but the taste is strong (particularly if you double the rum…)

All that being said, this is the best, most wonderful, most forget-the-bread-just-bring-me-a-spoon jam I’ve made so far. While you can still get good farmers market plums, I suggest you all go make this.  Even if you don’t can it, it should last in your fridge a month or two.

Start with 2 1/4 lbs plums. (Note I finally got a kitchen scale! YAY!) You can use any type of plums, and there are plenty of varieties, but if possible use tree ripened local plums. They are sweeter and more flavorful than the imported from California, god knows when they were picked, variety.

Cut them in half and remove the pits. No need to peel and I like some chunks of fruit so it is better (and easier!) to leave them in half.

Add 1 1/4 cup of water to the pot and bring to a boil.

The recipe calls for 6 cups of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar. I actually reduced it to 4ish cups and then added some reduced sugar pectin.  Boil it all up for 5 to 10 minutes until it passes the set test.  Remove from heat and add the magic ingredient….RUM.

I used Bacardi but you could use a spiced rum, a dark rum, a light rum, whatever suits yoru fancy.

Also, I doubled (ish) the amount. I know, I know,  shocking. (To give you perspective, that is a four cup measuring cup there.)

My recipe called for 3 TBS, which is about 1/4 cup.  I added half a cup…ish. I might have thrown in another dollop. Its a matter of taste.

Stir it in and put it up.  The recipe calls for hot water bath processing for around 5 minutes. That doesn’t seem like enough so I let it go for 10 which is more standard.  But you could also just refridgerate it and eat it “immediately,” as in this month, not in 6 months.

The Plum Rum Jam was the hit of our vacation. Everyone (except little Riley who is still not wise to the wonders of alcohol flavored food) loooooved it. It is definitely rummy, but after the Rum hits your palate, it recedes and the lovely juicy plum flavor coats your tongue, soothes your mouth, and lets you know the world is a beautiful place.

This jam would be good…anywhere. Eaten by spoon? Check! On cheese? Check! My dad ate bacon and jelly sandwiches with it for several mornings strait. It was so good I came home and made another batch.

So here it is folks, your chance to get preserving.  As Nike would say “just do it!”


22 Aug

I know what you are thinking…ENOUGH with the palooza.  This will be my last palooza for a while, but it’s never been more necessary…

Our vacation included two days in Lancaster County where we stopped at Kaufman’s fruit farm, the wonderful Mennonite run store from which I purchased my bulk pectin.

Even on vacation I was obsessed with preserving so I bought 1/2 a peck of peaches and some plums, anticipating arriving at my father’s house on Sunday in time to do some canning.

Of course my father had talked about picking me up some peaches from Solebury PA so I arrived to find another 1/2 peck of peaches for me to put up.  Oh boy. Well, I guess its lucky I had a few peach recipes I had been itching to make. First on my list was Ginger Peach Jam.

There are 100 recipes out there for this and I went through a lot of them, finally settling on the one above.  I liked this because it used crystalized ginger and was water bath processed (as opposed to frozen or just refrigerated).  Below I made a few adjustments

  • 4¼ cups peeled, chopped peaches (about 3½ pounds peaches)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 7 cups sugar (yeah, I used a little less. That’s a lot of sugar, but then I used the low sugar pectin so I’d get a set)
  • 1-2 ounces finely chopped candied ginger (I kind of wung it on this as I didn’t have a scale. I probably added more)
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin  (I used regular pectin, maybe 2/3 cup?)

Yield: About 6 to 8 half-pint jars

Please read Using Boiling Water Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.

Put your peaches, lemon juice and sugar into a heavy bottomed pan. Mix well and add your ginger.  Add lemon juice and sugar and stir well. Place on high heat and, stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil with bubbles over the entire surface. Boil hard for a few minutes stirring constantly. Stir in pectin, check for set.

Fill hot jam immediately into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a Boiling Water Canner.

This is delicious. I ate this on toast every morning of vacation and we had it as a snack with cheese (triple cream and goat) on baguettes one afternoon.  My dad also made bacon and jam sandwiches with it until he fell in love with the Plum Rum Jam (future post).

Peach Barbeque Sauce was up next.  I cannot replicate this recipe.  I combined two recipes, one from Epicurious and this one from Ball.  Then when it still wasn’t perfect I asked Rob to fix it. A little of this, a little of that, and viola, Peach Barbeque Sauce that sent my daughter looking for something to dip.  It really is good! I’m excited to make ribs or something for a Steelers game gathering to accompany this!

Also if you have a wealth of peaches and are looking for something new, you must try this:

This is a Dutch Boy “Pancake.”  It’s somewhere between a pancake and a soufle, rising up in the oven and then slowly deflating when you take it out. It’s traditionally served with powdered sugar, but we always had it with juicy sliced peaches and a topping my mother made by mixing marshmellow fluff and cream cheese.  Weird right? But oh. so. delicious.  It’s like cream cheese icing in a sauce. I’ve also had it served with yogurt mixed with honey which is also good, but not as good as the fluff laced sauce I grew up with.

**Oh my gosh, in searching for the recipe I used to share with yinz, I found the Kraft foods version, which is served with a sauce of marshmallow and cream cheese!!! The mystery of where my mother found the recipe is solved!  Don’t make this version, the instructions are incomplete anyway. Make the recipe I linked above and just mix 8 oz of softened cream cheese with about a cup of fluff.  (seriously, try it!)

Finally, peachapalooza was complete with some lavender peach jam.  There are a lot of recipes floating around but I used this one.  I adjusted it, naturally, adding a touch less sugar, using low sugar pectin, and cooking it for longer. Don’t leave out the lime zest, which I was tempted to do. It actually is perfectly paired with the sweet peaches and the herbal lavender.

For good measure, and because the recipe is boring, I’m just going to throw in some gratuitous raspberry pictures. With the help of my regular taste tester, expert cookie baker, and wing woman Desiree, we picked 6 pints of berries and I made raspberry jam.  Why nothing fancy? This will be the mainstay of my daughter’s lunch for the year. She loves homemade, full of seeds, raspberry jam. Grandma used to provide us with many jars, but she is gone and its my job now.

Epic vacation will live in infamy

22 Aug

Apparently, along with a desperate need to preserve EVERYTHING, my mid-life crisis comes complete with a drive to not waste a minute, NOT A MINUTE, of precious fleeting time…

The result was an epic family vacation that will live in infamy. Friends who saw my facebook album reported signs of exauhstion just from viewing the pictures. My family came within a hairs breadth of mutiny on more than one occasion.

This picture was 6 O’clock in the evening on the second day! Wimps.

I also have a catalog of pieces that could be titled teen asleep in car.

Admittedly, I’m tired too this week (soooo sleeeepy) but we did so much I’m happy to pay the price!

It was a perfect vacation for me, a mix of history and foodie tourism.  As another friend noted, she suddenly saw me in a new light, as the “dork mom” dragging her kids to obscure historical sites for a photo op.  Indeed.

Our Itinerary included:

  • 2 days in Gettysburg
  • 2 days in Lancaster County Amish Country
  • Doylestown (where we stayed the rest of the trip but only included that one day of local activities)

Followed by day trips to:

  • New York City
  • Historic Philadelphia
  • Ocean City New Jersey
  • Jim Thorpe PA
  • Foodie Philadelphia

Some highlights:

If you haven’t seen the Cyclorama, it alone is worth the trip to Gettysburg. A 42 foot high mural in the round painted in 1883, it presents a spectacular view of this important battle. If you like art, history, or spectacle, this is for you!  Granted my kids are a little nerdy, but they loved it too.

Did you know more Americans died during the Battle of Gettysburg, proportional to the population, than were killed during the entire Vietnam war?

Did you know more Americans died during the Civil War than during all other wars combined?

Which may be why Gettysburg is awash in monuments. I’d love to know the count. It’s in the hundreds, possibly over 1,000.

It must have been the thing to do in the immediate post war period, raise money to erect a shrine honoring your town’s fallen.

From there we stopped in Lancaster county to buy produce (future post…) learn about the Amish, and eat good country cooking. I gave in to the tired kids and chose the very commercialized (hence e-z for weary travelers) Amish Experience at Plan and Fancy Farm. It was a good choice. We learned a lot about the Amish, I’m pretty sure a direct quote from my daughter was “yay, more learning!”  We took a buggy ride with a very knowledgeable Mennonite guide who knew a lot about the Amish in general as well as in that community. We visited a real working farm (literally an Amish family lives there) and then ate at the Plain and Fancy Farm restaurant, which was terrific.  Don’t be turned off by the commercialization. My friend went to a much less commercial one and learned nothing, leaving with more questions then when she started.  I usually prefer a less commercialized experience, but in this case it worked well

It rarely happens, but after visiting the Italian Market in Philadelphia, I have a little bit of market envy. The strip is still a little more well rounded, but the freshness and array of seafood and veggies, and the price! Oh the price… it made my cheap heart sing to see vibrant bundles of pencil thin asparagus for $.99 in August!

The rest of the trip is a blur of Action!  I’ve taken a week to get this far in the post so I think I’ll just share a few favorite pictures and be done with it.


Wrap up post

2 Aug

Don’t worry, I’m not wrapping up as in “this is the end.” I’m wrapping up before I go on vacation for ten glorious days.  So, odds and ends…

I got a nice new camera. No more crappy droid pictures.

I made Blueberry Butter in the slow cooker yesterday. It was soooo easy!  You prepare your fruit, which with blueberries its a simple matter of putting them in the blender, then put your fruit puree in the slow cooker and go to work, go to sleep, read a book or otherwise kill a flexible amount of time somewhere between 5 and 24 hours.

  The beauty is the flexibility of this method. Seriously you can cut the timing short, or leave it in longer until you are ready to finish it.  Another canning blog (!!!) said she left it in for 24 hours!! That seems long, but I guess it worked.  I made a few other changes to the recipe above  to suit my taste as well:

  • I used 10 cups of blueberry puree
  • reduced the sugar to 1 1/2 cups
  • added an extra teaspoon of cinnamon

I love blueberries!  I can’t wait to pop this open come fall and winter and slather it on some scones.  Or eat it from the jar with a spoon…whatever.

Pickled Watermelon Rind

This, you may be surprised to learn, isn’t some crazy concoction I found in my search for pickled weirdness. This is an old family favorite.  I grew up on this.  My parents served it with curry in place of chutney (yes, I know, I did actually grow up eating curry in the 1970s.  Probably the only family in Doylestown PA in 1974 that had chicken curry once a month!)  but it probably stems from times of scarcity when you preserved everything you could. I imagine this was a way of turning sugar into an edible treat when corner stores didn’t exist in most of America and penny candy was a rare treat.

So what is it?? Just what it sounds like, watermelon RINDS, pickled.

The process goes like this:

Remove the flesh of the watermelon:

Peel off the dark green outer skin:

And what you have left is a tender fleshy rind which you cut into bite size pieces for easy snacking:

I made it two ways, neither of which recipe I have in my possession right now. But one calls for soaking the rinds in a brine for 12 hours and the other simply boiled them until they become translucent (seriously, its cool! you can see right through them!)  Here is a link to an online recipe of the brining sort.   This is basically how I made them, with the exception that I added lemons and ginger slices:

The dark pickled watermelon, after boiling, were added to a syrup made of brown sugar and left to bubble away for 90 minutes then canned.

If anyone desperately wants either specific recipe that used just let me know and I’ll post it or send it to you.

I can’t wait to take my dad a few jars of these homemade pickled watermelon rind!

Pretty Pickled Beets

Along with the Pickled Green Strawberries for the Grow Pittsburgh Picnic I was also given a bag of simply gorgeous little beets, golden and candy cane striped.

Of course I decided to pickle them.  I couldn’t find a recipe I liked for a quick pickle so I made up my own. I can’t recall the exact proportions of vinegar to water, but for a quick pickle that isn’t critical. I also chose a sweet pickle, with sugar and then chose spices to complement that:

I added flavors to compliment the sweet earthy flavor of beets including lemon zest, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper and anise seed.  I roasted the beets, packed them into the jar and then poured the brine over it.  They sat for about 24 hours which was long enough. Zesty, sweet and earthy these little gems compliment cheese and crackers, add zip to a salad, provide a counter point to a spicy polish sausage, and go down easy strait out of the jar (trust me!)

There’s more. Much more. My preserving has taken a turn towards obsession. But I don’t have time to share before I head out on vacation.  I’ll be gone 10 days, back the 15th of August. My dog sitter will be enjoying the fruits of my garden in the meantime but a trip through Amish country means I’ll probably do some preserving on vacation…like I said, obsessed.  Until then…

One final note, THIS is the top shelf of my fridge last week…

I don’t know if you can tell, but it is entirely, ENTIRELY, jars, booze, and a bucket of cherries waiting to be preserved.  Happy sigh.