Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't know when to stop

I still had a ton of zucchini left after making the cake, so I ended up making three loaves of zucchini bread, plus one loaf of chocolate zucchini bread. Boy, did I make a mess in the kitchen! But they turned out great, and I've got a freezer full of bread for breakfast now. I love to eat something sweet in the morning.

I also bought about 10 pounds of pickling cucumbers from the folks at Black's Heritage Farm in Ames. They helped start the nearby Slater farmers' market on Wednesday night. I can just call head, and they'll have the cucumbers(or whatever veggies I want) waiting for me after work.
Since my garden dill is starting to wilt, I decided to try bread & butter pickles. Unfortunately, in what has become an all-too-common pattern of mine, I failed to read the recipe ahead of time. When I decided to start canning on Saturday night, I realized I needed to soak the cucumbers in ice water for four hours first. So I delayed the canning until Sunday.

After the four-hour soak, I read through the rest of the recipe and realized I forgot to add the pickling salt. So I added it to the water last minute. Hope it doesn't make a difference in the long run...

I have to admit, it took forever to pickle and can all those darn pickles. It took more than eight hours, from start to finish, including four hours of boiling the pickling liquid and processing the jars. My canner can only process six pint-size jars at once, and I ended up with 18 jars of pickles. And the smell of the hot cider vinegar was overwhelming. I completely lost my appetite for the rest of the night.
But when I finished the last jar at 8:30 p.m., Josh and my sister told me the pickles looked great. I hope they taste better than they smelled. I may never get the smell of vinegar out of my mind. My pickling days are officially over (at least for the summer).
Just one more picture to show the potency of the pickling liquid: The yellow tumeric spice in the pickling solution stained my old countertop. But Josh insists that it will come out over time. We'll see...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Zucchini o'plenty

The CSA farmer offered me as much zucchini as I could carry back to my truck this week. So I grabbed three big squashes that barely fit into my refrigerator crisper. I've got big plans for these babies!

First on my list was baking one of my husband's favorite: zucchini chocolate cake! I found the recipe in an old church cookbook that my mother-in-law sent me. The zucchini makes the snack cake very moist. And how can anyone resist chocolate chips!

Here's the recipe:

Zucchini Chocolate Cake
  • - 1/4 c. butter, softened
  • - 1/2 c. oil
  • - 1-1/2 c. sugar
  • - 2 eggs
  • - 1 tsp. vanilla
  • - 1/2 c. milk
  • - 2-1/2 c. flour
  • - 4 tbsp. cocoa
  • - 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • - 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • - 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • - 1/2 tsp. salt
  • - 2 c. peeled, finely chopped zucchini
Mix all ingredients together, except zucchini. Add zucchini last and mix well. Spread in 9x13 greased pan. Mix the following and sprinkle on top:
  • - 1 c. chopped nuts
  • - 1 c. chocolate chips
  • - 1 tbsp. sugar
  • - 2 tbsp. brown sugar
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

I've also got a couple recommendations for the baking ingredients. If you ever are in West Des Moines near Valley West Mall, make a stop at Penzey's spices near Pier 1. I've been using Penzey's cinnamon and Mexican vanilla in my baking, and they are fabulous! They have a very rich aroma, and they make baked goods taste amazing. Also, I discovered Florida Crystals organic sugar at my local Fareway. I don't buy into the organic trend, but this sugar is something special. It's light brown in color, and it tastes more like brown sugar. It gives baked goods a nice caramelized color. Definitely worth the extra price.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How my garden grows

It wasn't a big haul, but I started picking the first tomatoes from my garden last week. I also picked a baby acorn squash, since the others on the vine have been attacked by bugs before they get a chance to grow. I'm getting a few cucumbers each week, as well, but not enought to make a jar of pickles.

My backyard garden is so colorful right now. The flowers are looking great thanks to the recent rains. And I can't believe the size of the marigolds. They were just little seedlings when I bought them from the Des Moines FFA greenhouse sale last May.

Another view of the vegetable/flower garden. The marigolds really have taken over.

My perinnual garden is also blooming, although it's not as colorful as it has been in past years. Some of the flowers didn't come back from last winter's subzero temperatures.

Found this strange worm (or is it a catepillar) on my cucumber plants. Very strange. It didn't move the whole time I was taking this picture.

The tomatoes are growing out of control. I've tried to pinch the vines back, but they just want to keep growing. Still not many ripe tomatoes yet.

Josh's clematis vines are blooming like crazy. So pretty!

The glads are also looking beautiful, although they keep falling down under their own weight. These blooms are in a vase on my kitchen counter.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Peachy keen!

My husband brought home a huge box of peaches from the Slater farmers' market last week. And when I say huge, I really mean it! I counted more than 80 peaches in the box. They looked a little different than the peaches you find in the grocery store. The peach fuzz was a little rougher, the fruit was tart and the peaches had blemishes and insect holes. But they had a beautiful color and seemed very old fashioned, which I love.

Josh helped me lay out the peaches on his workshop table so they wouldn't bruise before I had a chance to work with them.

I went on a canning spree over the weekend, making two kinds of peach jam. I tried a recipe for peach pie preserves for the first time. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the recipe smelled fabulous!
After five hours of canning, and still half the peaches left, I went into panic mode and decided to can whole peaches in quart jars for later use. It was my first time canning peaches, so they look a little rough. I'm hoping they still taste good, though.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


My husband brought home a sack full of cucumbers from a nearby farmers' market last night. So I decided to spend the evening making pickles from the fresh bounty.

I have a few picklebush cucumbers growing in my own backyard garden. But to be honest, they've been disappointing so far. The plants are almost too compact, and they haven't produced enough cucumbers to make a single jar.

But my husband did pick off this giant cucumber from the plants. Seriously, it's almost bigger than the actual plant. Amazing!

Anyhow, I ended up canning more than a dozen jars of cucumbers last night. It was nearly a three-hour endeavor. But I love using the fresh dill from the garden and the garlic I received in my CSA box last week. I used the sweet dill recipe from the "Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving." It's a super easy recipe. So far, the pickles I've made taste great, but they are soft. Next year, I need to plant a cucumber variety that is great for making crisp pickles.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Garden's a buzz

My little backyard garden is in full bloom right now. And the bees are loving it. The coneflowers look a little wilted right now because we haven't seen any significant rain in almost a month now. Thankfully, the temperatures have been cool, so the plants aren't burning to a crisp.

The glads are looking beautiful, although they keep tipping over from their height. When I do find a stalk on the ground, I snip it and place the blooms in a handmade pitcher in my kitchen.

I can't believe how huge the marigolds are! I bought these bright yellow marigolds at the Des Moines FFA greenhouse sale. They were just tiny, overwatered seedlings. But now they've taken over most of my "victory garden."

It's the beginning of August, and still no tomatoes. I planted them late, so I shouldn't be surprised. But I'm just itching for a BLT. These cherry tomatoes are looking good.

The baby acorn squash, unfortunately, isn't faring well. I've learned that you need to spray the vines early to keep them free of bugs all season. This squash looks like it has potential...

But this squash has been attacked by bugs.

The neighbor's cat, Levi, visits my garden every night. He loves to prowl through all the greenery.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Can do!

My CSA shares box contained a huge head of cauliflower, and my green beans are growing like crazy. So I decided to turn that extra produce into mixed vegetable pickles. I used a garlic-dill pickle recipe. Again, I have to wait two weeks to taste them, but they look pretty in the jar.

I also found apricots and peaches on sale, so I decided to make jam. Unfortunately, it took so long to peel, cut and boil down the jam, I was working in the kitchen for 4 hours. The jam turned out runny, but it tastes yummy, so I guess all the work was worth it.

Of course, I had to bake bread to go along with the homemade jam. This time, I baked sourdough rolls, using sourdough starter I've kept in my kitchen since I took a Living History Farms sourdough baking class this winter. The rolls turned out great, even though I think I forgot to add the 1/2 cup milk that was called for in the King Arthur Flour recipe.

I also found time to make peanut-butter chocolate bars. So good!

Josh and I finished half the pan in just one night!

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