Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food Preservation Rocks!

Today Shaun and I experiment with other methods of food preservation while Suka and Harvey lay patiently at our feet expectantly waiting for a morsel of dried meat to fall their way... that's right... we're dehydrating...and it's...JERKY!

Sesame ginger deer jerky, to be exact. And oh, Man! is it delicious!

And easy!

Want to make jerky? Don't have a dehydrator? No problem!

What to do: Partially defrost meat. Leaner meat is better. While meat is still partially frozen, slice thinly and, more important, uniformly. If all the meat is cut the same thickness, it will dry evenly and all at the same time. Now, toss all that sliced meat with marinade of your choice. (I suggest internet research to find out what would work best for your taste... anything is possible.) In our case, we picked up a generic brand Sesame Ginger marinade from the grocery store. It was really thick, and we wanted to shy away from the ultra sweet ultra sticky jerky you buy in gas stations, so we thinned the marinade with apple cider vinnegar.

Now, put all that marinade and meat into a zip-lock bag and leave in the refrigerator over night.

When you are ready to make jerky, heat your oven to the lowest temperature. Ours was 170 degrees. Lay out your meat in a single layer on wire or oven-safe racks and place those racks on cookie sheets to catch any drips. Place in oven, and let 'em go. Check back after one hour to see how the meat is drying. You may want to leave the oven door cracked open to help release any moisture that is evaporating. Depending on how thick your jerky is cut and how dry you like it, it could take up to 6 hours to dry completely. But remember to check on it every hour or so, because ours only took 3 hours.

When all finished drying, let it cool down to room temperature, then zip-lock bag it and leave it in the fridge, or vacuum seal it like we did!

Shaun decided to test the vacuum sealer on an apple.

Ok... there you have it. Jerky. Yummy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Day Of Fall

I know the first day of fall is actually tomorow, but even though the grass is still green and it still feels like summer, the leaves are definitely starting to fall and collect in the driveway. (Super bonus photo...that's our van in the background! Whee! I'm a 'Soccer Sunshine'!)

And collecting on the door-mat as well.

So to get in the mood, I spent a morning canning a bunch of apple pie filling with some fresh tree apples that Shaun's mom got from a friend. (ok, I know all apples come from trees, but these ones didn't go through a grocery store...tree to bag to pie. Done.)
So easy and so delicious. I'm thinking I might just have to put the apples straight onto the icecream and skip the whole pie step... Look at that delicious spicy, appley syrup at the bottom of those jars!

When I'm not canning stuff in the afternoons, I try really hard to work on my sweater. It is so nice to sit outside and with the leaves on the trees changing and falling into my lap every so often, it's a good reminder that I need to finish it up fast before it gets too cold. I'm supposed to make one for Shaun, also... I'm thinking December birthday present...

And after work in the evenings, it's back out to the campfire. Can't get better than a cozy hot fire, and a cold beer in a coozy. (Hey-O! Big shout out to our favorite sushi spot with my lucky coozy signed by Eddie Money's band!)

It seems like the last time the seasons changed Shaun, Suka, Harvey and I were in the middle of a pretty big change ourselves. Driving from Montana to Iowa as the baby animals popped out and the flowers started to bloom. Now here we go again, soon to drive from Iowa to Montana as the flowers die and all the animals tuck in for the winter. It's so exciting to think that our lives can change as fast as they do and I can't wait to see what our next season will be like.
So cheers to the fall and the excited restlessness that comes with the changing trees!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pie and Fire

Shaun and I have been really enjoying the tail of summer here in Iowa. Eddie bought a house and we spend alot of nights around the fire in his backyard.

A few days ago we were walking through the amazingly beautiful flower gardens at Knowlridge park when I saw this giant spider sitting in it's web.

It was just beautiful!

The watermelon we picked from our friend's garden wasn't quite ripe... we made watermelon rind pickles!

Apparently tomatoes are intolerant to tobacco smoke... as seen in this photo... Charisse's plants died.

So we picked all the green tomatoes, pitched the plants, and Shaun made this beautiful saucy green tomato chutney. I am so tempted to open a jar and eat it by the spoonful.

Here is a little sample of our canning adventures.

Beef stew. With carrots, potatoes, onions, and zucchini. Yum!

The zucchini was giant, so after making stew, breakfast, and dinner, I canned what was left of it with tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and olive oil. It is pretty to look at and will be so delicious!

Hungover Shaun was craving pie. I told him if he would go to the grocery store, I would cook any kind of pie he wanted. He just had to pick out some fruit. The pie turned out peach, with 3 types of peaches! A couple really pretty white peaches, a couple Colorado peaches, and another orange one that lost it's name between the store and home.

The skin of the Colorado peach was so pretty when I was peeling it. It kinda reminded me of a salamander or something.


And if you could even immagine a sweeter finish to the night, Shaun made fresh whipped cream by hand! I don't care if I have a heart attack at age 30, my pie was piled high with all the whip cream it could handle.

My only complaint is that I think I overworked the pie crust a little bit. Next time I will strive to make a 'crustier' crust. But overall, I think I did pretty darn good for only having made a scant handful of pies in my life. Knitting, gardening, canning, baking...This 'home-making' stuff must be in my genes. (Thanks mom!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Summer Of (Canning) Love

On August 20th, Shaun, Harvey, Suka and I took a little drive out to the countryside and helped ourselves to the quickly ripening vegetables going to waste in our friend's garden while he and his family were out of town. We didn't have much time to work, and we really didn't plan out our strategy very well, so we found ourselves scrambling through our friend's unlocked garage for bags, buckets, boxes, or anything else we could carry vegetables in. We worked quickly in the hot summer sun, collecting tomatoes from the ground where they had weighed down the plants, plucking pepper by sun-bleached pepper, and baring our naked hands against the prickly, pokey stalks of the okra. We ended up a bit late for work, but oh our joyous bounty was worth every minute of sweat.

At least 4 kinds of peppers: Anaheim, jalapeno, dark green bells, and light green bells.

At least 2 kinds of tomatoes.

Long skinny green beans and short 'normal' green beans.

And a few carrots which, unfortunately, were rotting in the moist ground and we were unable to save them.

Okra. Beautiful, beautiful okra. If you have never seen an okra plant, please proceed immediately to wikipedia. But, ow! They are not much fun to grab onto. Immagine a big, fresh, green piece of fiberglass insulation.

3 Cabbages. 1 large zucchini. 1 small zucchini. 2 cantaloupes. 1 english cucumber. 2 watermelons.

We managed to pick over 60 pounds of vegetables.

We soon realized that we might be facing a big rotten problem. Rotten veggies, that is. We drove straight from the garden to work. We finished work about 11 at night and went home. In the morning, we got up about 8 and went to work at 10:30, returning at 2:30, then leaving again from 4 until 11. We looked at our schedule and realized that we were working every night for the forseeable future and would hardly have one night available to cook up our fabulous finds.

So to the store we went. Canning supplies we sought, and can we did.

Pepper jelly. Hot? We'll find out eventually!

Jalapenos and garlic packed in olive oil. Yum! But I doubt I will ever eat any... talk about fresh HOT jalapenos!

This is Dulce de Tomate. A sweet tomato preserve that is oh so popular in Argentina and was our absolute favorite dish, served with baked brie at La Granada, a french restaurant in Barrio Norte near our house in Buenos Aires. We got a recipe from an Argentine cook and it is so so delicious. We were told by a co-worker to save that recipe, commit it to memory, lock it up in a box, and never forget it so we can make Dulce de Tomate forever and spread joy throughout the world. We started by canning it in these cute little squat jars, but soon switched to the larger jelly jars when we realized that even an open gallon of this stuff would quickly dissapear.

Then we come to this nasty stuff... Tomato Jalapeno jelly. HOT tomato jalapeno jelly. I never tried it for taste because I was too scared of it's mouth-igniting spicy-ness.

It turned out a very beautiful color, but unfortunately (or luckily) it didn't set up. I'm not even going to try to fix it for fear that it will splatter or drip at some point and burn a hole through my skin.

I realize that okra, when cooked, sometimes gets slimey. Ok, ok...It gets really slimey. But we really didn't have a choice, since we have no freezer.

We used my mom's wonderful recipe to make dilly beans.

I wanted to make sourkraut, but didn't really have the time or the proper equipment, so I pickled the cabbage instead. I think it looks really wonderful, but I'm really interested to see how it tastes.

It's hard to see it in this picture, but this is cantaloupe preserves. Yah. Cantaloupe. It is very very pretty and the cantaloupe was great fresh, so we'll see how it turns out when we eventually find a good time to open it.

We roasted and skinned the anaheims and bells.

And viola'! Food for the winter. And 60 lbs of veggies not rotting in the basement. It's funny how things change as you get older. I remember my mom canning when I was a kid and it was always such an annoyance when she asked us to help her or whipped out a jar of canned goods for dinner. But now, I am loving every minute of it and am so excited to eat free food all winter.
Besides all the fresh veggies, Shaun's sister heard us talking about my mom's canned meat and told us that she had meat in her freezer she was going to throw away to make room for fresh meat. So now I am spending my limited morning hours canning stews and crockpot roasts.
Pictures soon to come. Oooh! This is going to be a good winter. I feel kinda like a squirrel...