Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adventures in Canning!

I'm really excited to share our recent culinary adventure - canning! I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never have even CONSIDERED canning even a year ago! City living is amazing, and man I miss the Logan Square farmer's market more than I can express in words, but I wasn't looking to buy fruits and veggies to store for the winter! In retrospect, I had more organic produce available to me then than I do now, so I probably should have been, huh?! Oh well! I'm a convert NOW, and that counts for something, right?! RIGHT!

So how did this all start anyway? With a virtual book wish list on my Pinterest account of course! I spread the word about the wish list through the best networking tool ever- my mother! :) For my birthday I got three of the books I'd been coveting, and all our experiments came from the absolutely stunning "Food in Jars." (Thanks sister Erin!)
Check out her AWESOME website too: Food in Jars!

My mother's birthday is just six days after mine, and after I got this book I knew IMMEDIATELY that I wanted to try some recipes out and create her gift from our experiments! I poured over the book for over a week trying to figure out what I wanted to try, and ended up marking far more recipes than I could realistically make... but that's okay because it means that I will have more to try out later! 

The first recipe we tried was inspired by our back yard! Hey, remember when we waxed poetic about our rhubarb? Well add this recipe to the MUST MAKE for you rhubarb lovers (and non-lovers!) because it's amazing! Behold, the glory that IS Strawberry-Orange Rhubarb Jam! Holy Moly! The fantastic taste of strawberry and rhubarb with an awesome tart note from orange juice and zest! The flavors are so bright and fantastic - a serious summer in a jar winner! 

OKAY! Now that I've over sold it - here we go! 

My amazing sous-chef Martin chopped his heart out for me! 

Strawberry-Orange Rhubarb Jam
From "Food in Jars" by Marisa McClellan
(Makes 5 Pint Jars - Though we used some half pints for gift giving!)

6 cups chopped rhubarb (about 2.5 pounds)
4 cups chopped strawberries (about 2 pints) 
zest and juice of 2 oranges
5 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 (3 oz) packets liquid pectin

Prepare a boiling water bath and the pint jars, place the lids in a small saucepan and simmer over very low heat. (If this is the first time you are canning, make sure you read up on this process! Also make sure you have all the tools you will want or need!) 

Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, orange zest, juice, sugar, and cinnamon in a large nonreactive pot and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and cook fruit over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes or until the rhubarb breaks down and the jam has a glossy shine. 

Add the pectin and increase the heat to high, letting the jam boil for five minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and ladle the jam into the prepared jars. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 

Testing the jam, filling the jars, and processing! 

Okay... seriously? I can't even tell you how worried I was that I was going to do something seriously wrong and that we wouldn't hear the POP! of the tops that we wanted to hear! BUT, soon after removing the jars from the water bath, we heard the awesome ping, ping, pings we were listening for! Hooray! 

I was looking for something fun and different to make, and I saw that there was a recipe for a Zesty Lime Curd included in "Food in Jars!" My mom and I share a lot of tea party, scone, and coffee shop memories, and I know she is a great fan of lemon curd, so I thought this sounded perfect! I have to be honest, Martin made the whole thing, start to finish, and all I did was process it! I was actually working on making the pear butter recipe we made, which we forgot to take any pictures of, but I DID get great pics of the curd! Away we go! 

Martin, hard at work!

Zesty Lime Curd
From "Food in Jars" by Marisa McClellan
(Makes 2 Half Pint Jars... ours made a BIT less than that!)

1/4 cup finely grated lime zest (about 4 limes)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks 
2 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 6 limes)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Prepare a boiling water bath and 2 half pint jars; meanwhile, simmer the lids and rings in a saucepan.

Combine the lime zest and sugar in a bowl, rubbing the zest into the sugar until it is fragrant and combined. Set aside. 

Set up a double boiler (or... you know... two sauce pans that you hold over heat and stir constantly... you rock Martin!) with 2 inches of simmering water over medium heat. Keeping the top half of the double boiler off the stove, add the egg yolks and whole eggs to it and whisk them together. Add the zest and sugar combo and whisk in. Finally, add the lime juice and stir until blended. 

Put the double boiler back together and drop in the cubes of butter. Switch to a silicone spatula and stir continually as the lime curd cooks. Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature of the curd while you stire. As is approaches 190-200 F, it should start to thicken. It typically takes 6-9 minutes for a curd to cook (it took us a lot longer because we weren't using a double boiler!). When the curd has thickened to the consistency of sour cream, it is done! Remove the top half of the double boiler and stir off the heat, it will continue to thicken a bit. 

Strain the curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring cup. The straining removes both the zest and any bits of scrambled egg! Pour the curd into the prepared jars, leaving a generous 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in the boiling water bath for 25 minutes. 

When the time is up, remove the canning pot from the heat and remove the lid. Let the jars sit in the pot for another 5 minuts, this helps to prevent the curd from reacing to the rapid temperature change and bubbling out of the jars!

My contribution to the process!
Wowza - way more complex that we expected! Martin and I were sweating bullets in our over heated kitchen, and we were NOT expecting to be standing over boiling water for as long as we did! We already have plans to make more of this.... but maybe when the weather is a little cooler since citrus is in season (um... in Florida!) in the winter! 

Want to see the gift we crafted? Here it is!

Happy Birthday Mom!
Of COURSE Martin whipped up a batch of bread to go with our spreads, what else?! All three were big hits, and GUESS WHAT?! We got to bring home my great grandmother's double boiler! I am so excited to try making more curds - oh boy!

Do you can? What are your favorite recipes? Share! :) 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

UP Living: Bridge Fest

Ooooohhhh everybody - get ready! You're about to enter one of the most unique seasons in the Yooper year - summer! It seems like there is a parade or celebration just about every other week up here at this time of the year. You know we have to celebrate the nice weather before it runs away again! :) 

Last year Martin and I were smack dab in the middle of moving me up here and out of Chicago. I distinctly remember driving out of town just as signs for "Bridge Fest" and "Seafood Fest" started to go up. I told Martin I was determine to attend the festivities the next time they came around, and I did! 

You might think that Bridge Fest is a festival celebrating the bridge that connects Houghton to Hancock, as I thought. And while that might be the roots, I didn't see much celebration of the actual bridge! The festivities are kicked off on a Friday evening with a parade that does in fact, go over the bridge! It is just absolutely typically small town, and I dig it! Flags everywhere, marching bands, local businesses with poster board signs, and to finish it off, a line of fire trucks from EVERY SINGLE DISTRICT AROUND! I happened to be working, and had handed my camera off to one of my girls, and it wasn't until I looked at them later that I realized some shots I WOULD have taken didn't make it, and many shots I wouldn't have bothered with did make it! C'est la vie! Let's watch a parade! 

Oh how patriotic!
The parade had many flags, many armed forces, and of course, some tanks! I'm not sure HOW this celebrates the bridge, but my goodness, I can't imagine a parade up here without this line up!

Music, music, music! Bands and flasks, oh my!
 There were bands of all size, talent, and professionalism at this parade! There was a bag pipe man drinking straight from his flask in front of us, and the Michigan Tech pep band (the goofs in the overalls) sang a song about drinking beer. Just want I want my 15 year old charges to see and hear, haha!

Hometown heros
Throughout the whole shindig there were trucks, sports teams, kids, and...well... trucks! I know I've lived here for a while when I actually KNOW people I see in the parade! Hooray! I'm a noob no longer! 

Bridge Fest is REALLY a celebration of (of all things) SEAFOOD. Now, when someone says "Hey, let's go to seafood fest!" I think that it will be a festival of SEAfood. Not QUITE how we roll up here! However, since it is indeed a fund raiser for the Rotary Club and not a gastronomic, epicurean festival, I guess I'll let it slide. I have to say though, that it's a bit sad when you can see the Sysco truck parked behind the food pavilion! But hey, it's live music, beautiful views, and good company! 

Check out the menu (if you can!)
I had to get a good picture of the bridge in here at some point, now didn't I?? The fest is right on Houghton beach, and it's quite lovely! I was sad to realize that I didn't get a good picture (okay, ANY pictures) of the live music. People were dancing and having a dandy time! I would have just LOVED to throw back a brew and listen to the music, but alas, I WAS at work! Next year maybe! 

I'm officially on vacation for a few days, so I hope I can get a few more posts up before I have to go back to work! How are you celebrating summer in YOUR neck of the woods? We have construction going on literally outside our door, so I'm pretty excited to escape a shaking house for a hot minute! Fingers crossed it will be done by the time we are back! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Menu Planning Monday: Thievery!

It's the beginning of a new week, and I'm looking forward to having some more time to spend in the kitchen and at home! For my birthday I got a lot of super neat things that I plan on making the most of in the coming weeks and months! But the thing that I got that I'm thieving from today? CABLE TELEVISION! Oh my dear, sweet Jesus! The Cooking Channel and Food Network have been in HEAVY rotation when the television is on! I am absolutely smitten with Rachael Ray's "Week in a Day." I've wanted to play with prepping a week's worth of food for a while now, and she gives you five great ideas to work with. This very morning, we were lounging around watching Ms. Ray and her theme for the week was "Bold Thinking." Every single recipe sounded soooo tasty that I decided to scrap the half baked plans I had for MPM today and just steal these!

I have no official pictures, but I do have a link! How yummy does this menu sound? RR's Bold Thinking Menu Plan

1. Southern Style Italian Short Ribs - (6/13) I was a short rib newbie, but it was beyond easy! I've lived and learned, and I am so ready to make them again! I know which cut I should be getting, and I am all about the yummy flavor! I ended up making about 2/3rds of the full recipe, but I sure did use the full bottle of wine! Beef + Red Wine = Amazing!

Coming out of the oven, the ribs still on the bone, the onion and fennel still quartered!
This recipe started off with broiling the meat in the oven and creating the sauce on the stovetop. I don't own a dutch oven, but my Le Creuset pan did the trick today! Hooray! Martin took care of trimming the meat and de-boning the meat while I spruced up the sauce. For the first time EVER I added unnecessary garnish just so that it would look pretty for the picture - what do you think of my efforts?

Fresh Baked Bread, parsley, fennel frons, lemon zest, and freshly grated pecorino! 

2. Veal Paprikash with Four Cheese Polenta - I'm absolutely in love with polenta, so I'm all about making more ASAP!

3. Deconstructed Arrabbiata - We haven't had a good pasta day in a while - it's time!

4. (Turmeric and Cumin Chicken on RR's Menu, made a substitute!) Lentils with Chia Seeds - (6/12) I've had this on my menu for weeks now, and I finally decided to make it! Oh, so good! Martin is a meat and potato man, and he loved this vegetarian main too! DO make the brown rice, it really adds something to this dish!

Red lentils really add a hearty flavor in this dish!

5. Beef & Broccoli - Chinese takeout style at home! Woohoo!

I don't own a dutch oven, and two of the recipes call for one, so I'm not sure what to do about that. Seeing as we don't actually need to make portions for four, I might cut them in half and use my Le Crueset pan instead. Anyone have any other ideas for this? I do have a big stock pot, but it certainly isn't cast iron or enamel! I'm not in a position to run out at buy one right now, so I have to make do somehow! Ideas are totally welcome! :)

Sorry this is not a very colorful post! I'll take pictures as I make them and edit them in, how about that!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wellness Wednesday: Mental Health!

Hi everyone! Boy, I'm feeling the aftermath of a long day, followed by a short night of sleeping, followed by a short day of work, and a WHIRLWIND of a trip from the UP to the north woods of Wisconsin! Are you ready for another edition of Wellness Wednesday? Well here we go! 

Let's talk about the power of "mental health" days, shall we? Yesterday, the hubs and I jumped in our car and drove a bit over three hours away to spend the night in Wisconsin with some family friends. Mid-week trips are pretty rad (and feel a little sneaky too), but the BIG NEWS is that this trip marked the first trip I've taken outside of Michigan since my honeymoon in January! I am a prisoner NO MORE! I drew a line in the sand, declared that I would indeed be taking time for me, and left. Glory be! 

Did we do much? No! Is that amazing? Yes! We ate good food in a great location with AMAZING friends, and even though I am weary now, I feel restored! If all goes according to plan, I will have a few more days away to visit family and friends at home later on this month! Oh it just sounds too good to be true! :) 

Back to the day! We were invited to crash in on a family visit of a dear friend. Her grandmother lives in the north woods of Wisconsin, and man were the surroundings beautiful! Sure, we live near Superior too, but it's always beautiful and fun to see from different angles! Here's a peak into the little that we did and saw while away! 

How awesome is the Lincoln Log cabin we got to stay in?! The view was unbelievable! 

The backyard of the cabin was once home to a quarry! See the markings? 

Exploring the backyard and shoreline of Lake Superior, beautiful! 

We got to play the most polite, friendliest games of Scrabble I've EVER had the pleasure to participate in last night! The kiddos were pretty wiped out from their full day, but even so, mom and grandma were up throughout the night a few times and up and at 'em pretty early! There were so sweet and got all the kids ready and out the door for a morning hike and let us sleep in! There is something about sleeping in when you are really worn out that is just... magical... isn't it??? 

This morning we did some more visiting and explored the nearby town! Shopping and beautiful sights? Okay! I'm in! 
I like to call this, "The Many Faces of Martin & Beatrice!" She's so sweet! 
No one can feel at all down when a baby is smiling, clapping, and grabbing for you, am I right? I was playing with Bea this morning, but she was absolutely fascinated with Martin's beard! She kept flirting with him, and finally I grabbed the camera and handed her over! How sweet were these two?!
Exploring the town, and SHOPPING! 
Of course our camera decided that it was time for the battery to die way before we were done taking pictures! I have a few on my camera, but I'm not going to wait until I get them on my computer to finish this post! Maybe I'll add them in if they look good!

So there you have it! Hiking, Scrabble, visiting, sleeping, eating, and SHOPPING made this a Wellness Wednesday that I would gladly repeat!

Well, now that I'm back home in the UP, it is only appropriate to end this with a big dash of... Yooper Love!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Menu Planning Monday... or is it?

Wow! I took a look at my June calendar yesterday and I can't believe how much is going on this month! Yesterday was my 29th birthday - full of yummy treats and delicious eats! I had to work in the morning, and even though that was a bummer, the kids that I worked with we're pretty on the ball and I was determined to not let anything bug me! It was a smooth shift, but having to get up and be at work by 7 in the morning didn't leave me with a lot of desire to go out and party in the evening! We DID go to Pilgrim River Steak House in Houghton, MI for a decadent birthday meal! I've been cutting back on my meat intake the last few months, but we really indulged last night! YUMM-O! 

But now I'm looking at this week and I'm not even sure how much planning we need to do! I'm working tonight and tomorrow morning, then we are going to visit some friends in Wisconsin for a few days, then I'm working ALL DAY on Thursday and Friday! Oh boy! We figure that we only need to have a few ideas ready to go for dinner this week, so here are the three that we decided on. 

Dinner #1: Quinoa Broccoli Cheese Casserole (Favorite & Co-op Bulk Items) Confession. The last time I made this the top of my nutmeg was loose, and nearly half a bottle fell into the bowl! I spent A LONG TIME trying to fish out as much as humanly possible, but I really should have just cut my loses. It was ruined. Almost inedible! Even though we both love this dish, I admit I've been gun shy about trying to make it again! It's time. It will be perfection, of course! 


Dinner #2: Lisa Oz's Lentils with Chia Seeds (Pinterest & Co-op Bulk Items) This will be the first time cooking red lentils - I'm pretty pumped! It sounds pretty yummy, so I sure hope it will be! 

Red Lentils AND Chia Seeds... almost too healthy! 

Dinner #3: Grilled Chicken Salad - No fancy picture or recipe around here! We just have some left over arugula that we need to find a use for! We have one or two chicken breasts in the freezer that would make this into a meal! :) 

June is going to be quite a ride! A dear friend is going to be visiting US next week for a few days (fingers crossed!) and hopefully you'll get to see some of our favorite places around our parts -  after all, that's what a City Girl does to show some Yooper Hospitality! YAY! Bring on the summer! :) 

Yooper Love!

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Fancy Pants Friday!

I may not have been wearing my fancy pants today (in fact I have been in a sweatshirt and track pants pretty much the whole day!), but we sure had a Fancy Pants Feast today! I had today off, and Martin had a few really long days this week, so we totally lazed around this morning and decided to do lunch right!

We are big, huge fans of Amy's Chunky Tomato Bisque, and are particularly partial to the light in sodium varietal! We can't find it anywhere around the UP so far, but we were lucky enough to get SIX CANS in the mail in a care package from my parents! Thanks Mom & Dad! :) We knew that we were going to want some of that soup soon, and what goes better with tomato soup than grilled cheese? Nothing. That's what!
The genesis of the Fancy Pants Feast
Now, if you didn't know, I'm absolutely addicted to Pinterest. I actually get mad at myself sometimes because I didn't get on it sooner. When I think of how many ideas I missed out on, how many times I was stuck lesson planning with no inspiration at all... gah! It just makes my head spin! I may not be lesson planning right now, but I sure do make use of it! I have a board dedicated to ideas for my students in the residential program where I work, inspiration boards for decorating, craft ideas all around, and best of all, I have recipes to last for months. Pinterest is my virtual playground! If YOU are a Pinterest freak like me, please feel free to follow me! I'm always on the hunt for new ideas! 

Why did I just babble on about Pinterest? I'll tell you why. Because Pinterest has supplied me with enough grilled cheese varieties that I could open my own version of Melt right here in the western UP! (If you don't know what Melt is, it is the best darn grilled cheese restaurant ever, and you'll find it in the Cleveland area of Ohio. Do visit it. It's tops!) My mouth was just watering at all the glorious ideas for add ins for our toasted cheese sammies that deciding on which ones to try was literally painful! After some debate, we decided that we would be going with the theme of "fruity and fun" this go round. Good. Choice. 

Now, did we have the insight to take pictures of our glorious creations? No, of course not. But I'll gank some random tasty looking grilled cheese pictures from the intrawebs, and you all will play pretend with me that they are authentic, right? Right! Here we go! 

Adapted from Heat to 350 blog post

Slices of Fancy Pants Bread
Apple Butter
Dried Rosmary
Thinly sliced pear or apple
Thinly sliced smoked cheddar cheese

I really think I'd be insulting your intelligence if I were to put tablespoons and other measurements for this! Look, you make or buy some good crusty bread. Spread some butter on the outside of the bread - you don't need much. Flip the bread over and spread some apple butter and sprinkle some rosemary on top of that. Layer the cheese and pear (which was an accident, but a happy one!). Heat a skillet and cook til golden brown and the cheese is melty. If the sandwich is too thick (ours was!), finish it under the broiler for two to three minutes to melt everything down. Serve and devour immediately!

Oh yes. This is a tasty sammie! I would NEVER have thought to add rosemary, and it is wonderful. Next time I won't mistakenly add pear, but I WILL purposely add apple slices. I think that will be absolutely magnificent. 

I also mentioned on our menu planner that we would be making a version of the sandwich that wooed my sister! Her boyfriend impressed the heck out of her by whipping up this fancy pants grilled cheese for her vegetarian pleasure. It has always sounded yummy, and I'm here to tell you, it is perfect. Just perfect. Excellent work Dan. It would have wooed me too! 

Dan's Woo-ing Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Some more slices of good bread
Crumbled or Spreadable Blue Cheese (We used Laughing Cow's Blue Cheese)
Shredded of Thinly Sliced Havarti
Thinly Sliced Pear
Handful of Arugula 

Take those beautiful slices of bread and butter one side of each. We don't use blue cheese very often, so we decided to use Laughing Cow's Blue Cheese spread. I spread some of the cheese on the non-buttered side, then layered pear, arugula, and havarti. The sandwich will stay together better if you spread a little of the blue cheese on the pear or put the arugula directly on the bread. Top with another blue cheese layered piece of bread, and grill in a hot skillet. Again, if the sandwich is too thick to get the cheese melted and the pear caramelized, put it under the broiler for two to three minutes before serving. 

The bite of the arugula with the sweetness of the pears plus the richness of the cheeses? Divine. Magical even! For us, the spreadable blue cheese was a good choice. It has less fat (as if the rest of the cheese was going to be low fat.. haha!) and only 35 calories per wedge. If you have real blue cheese around, I bet that it would be even better, though I can hardly imagine! So very tasty! 

We're already excited for the next round of Fancy Pants grilled cheeses - next time will be savory! Jalapeno Popper and French Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwiches to be exact! And hey... why DON'T I just open a grilled cheese shop up here - our six months of winter makes it an ideal location! Anyone want to back this superb idea? Hmmm.... time to ponder a restaurant future! (Nah... but it would be a seriously great location for a restaurant like that!)

Until next time - Yooper Love!