Sunday, June 27, 2010

Take me out to the ball game

My boss let us all play hooky and enjoy a day at an Iowa Cubs game. It was a steamy 85 degrees outside, and I came home with a bit of a sunburn.  But we had a great time at the ball park in Des Moines.

Our boss bought us footlong hotdogs for lunch.  The perfect game food.

We had amazing seats right behind home plate.

We got to see "Cubbie" entertain the crowd.

Sec Taylor Stadium offers an amazing view of the Des Moines skyline.

Look -- what is chocolate milk doing under the Iowa Capital dome?

If you're wondering, the I-Cubs lost.  But they played like winners!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cherries from heaven

Why, oh why, of all times, did I forget to bring my camera on the morning I picked cherries straight from a tree for the first time in my life?

I recently visited a local U-Pick farm to find pie cherries.  To be honest, I didn't even know what a cherry tree looked like.  We didn't have many cherry trees in northern Iowa where I grew up.

I arrived at the farm right when it was opening at 8 a.m.  Let me tell you, there is nothing prettier than a cherry tree, heavy with little red jewels of fruit, sparkling with droplets of dew catching the early morning light. Why, oh why, did I forget my camera?

When I got home, I told my husband that heaven must be lined with cherry trees.  The trees were so beautiful!

I picked half an ice cream bucket full of tart cherries.  A few hours later, I was back in my kitchen, wishing that I had ordered a cherry pitter on BEFORE I brought the cherries home.

I read once that you can pit cherries with a chopstick or skewer.  Since I have neither of these in my home, I improvised and used the tip of a paring knife to push the pit through the stem end of the cherry.

It took me two hours (!!!) to pit 8 cups of cherries.  It was getting close to bedtime, so I hurried to get a pie in the oven before it got to late.  Unfortunately, I had a terrible time rolling the pie crust; it wanted to stick to the rolling pin.  So I gave up on trying to roll the crust out thin, like my husband prefers, and just made do.

The pie looked pretty coming out of the oven, but the crust turned out a little dry and crumbly.  I made sure to measure out the cherries and let the filling bubble up in the oven to ensure that the filling would set this time, not like my recent disaster with rhubarb pie.

I have never made a cherry pie using tart cherries.  But I instantly fell in love when I took my first bite of the pie.  The cherries offered just the right amount of tartness, and they weren't gloppy like the canned cherry pie filling.

I think I have discovered my new favorite pie!


Sour cherry pie
From 14th edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook

  • 4 C. sour cherries
  • 1-1/3 C. sugar
  • 1/4 C. tapioca
  • 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
  • 1 tsp. butter or margarine
  • Sugar
  • Pastry for double-crust 9-inch pie

Mix cherries, sugar, tapioca and almond flavoring; let stand 15 minutes.  Pour filling over bottom crust.  Dot with butter.  Cover with top crust and crimp edges.  Cut steam vents.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer, until bubbly.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monkeying around

Now that I'm more comfortable with my bread-baking skills, I thought I'd try a fresh-from-scratch monkey bread recipe from a recent Taste of Home magazine.  (Must be a subscriber to see online.)

It's so much easier to make bread this time of year.  I can leave the dough out on our enclosed back porch, and the warm temps help it rise.

I had a little trouble with the caramel syrup.  It solidified while I was shaping the balls of dough, so I had to reheat it to make it pourable again.  Then when I removed the bread from the pan, the syrup was so thick, it stuck to the bottom of the pan (along with most of the chopped pecans).  I scraped the caramel from the bottom of the pan and spooned it back on to the warm bread.

Overall, these rolls were great, although they were a little on the dry side.  Not sure why, but I may have overcooked the bread a little.  Lately, I've been erring on the side of overcooking, after several attempts at baking bread that ended up still doughy in the middle.

Monkey bread is one of my husband's childhood favorites, so he ate nearly the entire loaf up fast.  I once made monkey bread for my family when they were helping us move into our house, and they thought it was the greatest thing, well, since sliced bread.  It always impresses, and it's fun to pull off the little rolls of cinnamon-caramel goodness.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cookie Friday: Butter-Pecan Turtle Bars

Happy Cookie Friday, everyone!  I don't know about you, but I'm so ready for the weekend.  I've been working all week on deadline, so I'm looking forward to kicking back and relaxing, maybe seeing if there's anything fun to do in Des Moines this weekend.

I'm so excited to share this recipe with you.  I recently sorted through my huge stack of cookbooks and rediscovered the Ocheyedan United Methodist Church Cookbook, a wedding gift from a family member.

I found this gem of a recipe, Butter-Pecan Turtle Bars.  At first, I was skeptical that the bars would turn out, because one of the steps in the recipe is boiling brown sugar and butter, and I have terrible luck with making caramel.  And the cookie crust seemed a little dry when I was mixing it up.

But I'm telling you, you have to try these bars.  They are so rich and so good.  When my husband smelled the bars baking in the oven, he thought I was making toffee.  And it does taste like toffee, even though I was expecting gooey caramel like my favorite turtle candies.

The best part was they were so quick to make.  I baked them up on a weeknight. They would be perfect for unexpected treat days at work.  I already had all of the ingredients in my cupboard.  I love it when I don't have to make an extra trip to the grocery store.



Butter-Pecan Turtle Bars
From Ocheyedan Methodist Church Cookbook
  • 2 C. flour
  • 1/2 C. butter or margarine
  • 1 C. brown sugar
  • 1 C. pecan halves
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 2/3 C. butter or margarine
  • 1 C. milk chocolate chips
In mixer, combine flour, butter and brown sugar. Pat into 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle pecans over unbaked crust.

Cook brown sugar and butter over medium heat.  Boil 30 to 60 seconds, stirring constantly.  Pour mixture over pecans and bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 22 mintues, or until caramel layer is bubbly.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Wait 2 to 3 minutes and swirl chips.  Cool and cut into bars.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strawberry pickin'

I took the day off work recently to visit a local U-Pick farm, Berry Patch Farm in Nevada, Iowa, to get my hands on the first strawberries of the season.  I asked my sister to join me, partly for the company, but mostly because I wanted another pair of hands so I could double my strawberry haul.

The weather was perfect for a day out in the strawberry patch.  And the strawberries were definitely ripe and ready to be picked.

We ended up picking about 10 pounds of strawberries.  Before we headed home, we stopped by Starbuck's Diner in Nevada.  No, it's not the Starbuck's you are thinking of.  Starbuck's Diner was Starbuck's before there was a Starbuck's.  (Did that make any sense?)

The menu is typical Iowa diner fare -- pork tenderloin sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken strips and ice cream.  I ordered the mushroom swiss burger and a side of waffle fries.  So good!  We couldn't leave without ordering ice cream.  We both ordered cookie dough "Cyclones," which are basically Blizzard knock-offs, but named Cyclones because Nevada is near Iowa State University in Ames.  Go Cyclones!

Seriously, this was the best cookie dough ice cream I've ever had, and I consider myself a cookie dough connoisseur.  I can't wait to find an excuse to go back to Starbuck's to get another.  (Again, I mean the diner, not the coffee, although I do enjoy a good latte.)

As soon as I got home, I realized that the strawberries were super ripe and needed to be handled immediately.  So I started making strawberry jam. The jam turned out beautiful, but I realized the next day that it looked a little runny in the jars.  Guess I added to many strawberries, or did I not boil it enough?

I've still got a ton of rhubarb growing in my backyard, so I quickly whipped up a strawberry-rhubarb pie to use up the berries.  I guess I worked a little too quickly, though, because when my husband cut into the beautiful pie, the filling was runny (just like the jam).  And the rhubarb was super tart.  Guess I needed to add more sugar?

We also tried to dehydrate the remaining strawberries.  I took my husband's advice and sliced the strawberries thin, but I guess it was too thin, because the dried strawberries ended up just a little thicker than a sheet of paper.  I'll probably try to add the dried berries to a batch of granola.  Until then, I'm storing them in a plastic baggie.

I'm feeling a little bummed that I took a day off and spent $40 (yikes!) on strawberries, only to have such bad luck with my strawberry recipes.  But I still want to find another time to pick more strawberries. I guess the fun is in trying sometimes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Iowa Road Trip: Dubuque

A few weekends ago, I took advantage of an opportunity to meet my dad and a few of his friends in Dubuque for an Iowa-style road trip.  I met my dad for lunch at Breitbach's Country Restaurant, known as the oldest restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

The restaurant was featured in an episode of the Alton Brown show where he rode along the Mississippi on a motorcyle (I've forgotten the name of the show).  Breitbach's Country Dining also won a James Beard award for its authentic Midwestern food.

Once again, I was embarrassed to take pictures of the food in front of my family, so I'll just have to tell you what was on my plate.  The restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, homemade dinner rolls, homemade soups and an amazing salad bar with such local favorites as pickled beets, chow-chow and marshmallow fluff pudding salad.  Oh how I love a salad with marshmallows!  I went back for seconds.

There were huge crowds of motorcycles parked outside the restaurant.

The bikers were all here for the view.

Easy to see where Iowa painter Grant Wood got his inspiration.

After lunch, we visited a dairy farm (as you can see from my early post) so my dad could scout a few alfalfa fields.  (He's a hay and forage seed salesman.)  We stayed on the farm for quite a while, so we didn't have time to do much sightseeing that night.  But we stopped at the famous Fenelon Place Elevator, the world's shortest, steepest scenic railway.

It was built in the 1800s by a local banker who wanted a quicker way to get to his home up on the bluffs so he could eat lunch and take a nap.  True story!

The elevator offered the best views of Dubuque and the Mississippi River valley, hands down.

In the morning, we decided to stop at the National Mississippi River Museum, since my dad and I are history buffs.

We got to tour an old steam boat and learn about how Dubuque was once the center of the riverboat construction in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  I'm fascinated with anything to do with the Mississippi River, so I'm so glad we stopped.  It's a must see!

Thank you, Dubuque!  We had a great time!
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