Grandma's Concord Grape Jam

I'm need to wrap up the last of the goodies I made at my Grandma's house in Wisconsin earlier this month.

For as long as I can remember, my Grandma has made wonderful grape jelly and jam. I think the secret ingredient is the Concord grapes that her Dad, known to our family as "Big Bob," planted 62 years ago. There are actually vines in two different areas of Grandma's yard, and they seem to alternate years when they produce a lot of grapes.

Uncle Bob and I picked a lot of grapes, but a lot were still green, so we weren't sure we'd have enough ripe grapes for a good batch of jam. But I'm glad to report we did!

The first step was washing the grapes, plucking them off the stems, and discarding the green ones. Grandma and I did this together. Her method is to fill the left side of the sink with cold water and swish around the grapes. Pick them off the stems and put them in a colander in the right side of the sink. Plunk the green grapes and the stems into a pan (throw them away later). This was kind of a tedious job and I'm glad I didn't have to do it by myself!

Grandma says the best time to do this is a day ahead, so the grapes can dry thoroughly.

On jelly-making day, Aunt Pat came over to help us. She and I had a lot of laughs -- any cooking task is more enjoyable with good company!

We washed the jars and then put them in the oven to sterilize.

Grandma's recipe has just two ingredients -- Concord grapes and sugar, in equal amounts. Our first batch was 8 cups of Concord grapes (packed firmly into the measuring cup) and 8 cups of sugar. I know that sounds like a ton of sugar, and it is, but I realized why it called for so much sugar when I tasted one of the grapes. They are very tart!

The photo above is what the mixture looked like when we first put it in the pot. It looked like we used some green grapes, but those are really the grape innards that had separated from the skins when we plucked them from the stems.

Bring this mixture to a "hard boil," which means it has a lot of bubbles that don't go away when the mixture is stirred.

Then you let it boil, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Then we processed it through a food mill. The jam dripped into the bowl and we discarded the solids.

Then we returned the mixture to the pot and boiled it for awhile longer (10 - 15 minutes?). Every so often Grandma would use a spoon to see if the jam coated the spoon and looked thick as it dripped off the spoon. Eventually she pronounced it done.

After that, we ladled the jam into jars. Grandma doesn't have a canning funnel so it was quite a mess. (I have one that I have never used -- I wish I had brought it with me!)

Then we poured hot paraffin on top of the jam. I'm don't think paraffin is currently the recommended canning method but that's the way Grandma has always done it and it hasn't ever made anyone sick. But do this at your own risk! Once the paraffin was hard, we washed off the jam that dripped on the jars and put on the tops. (I am keeping all of my jars of jam in the refrigerator to be on the safe side.)

We repeated this whole process a second time with the rest of the grapes, and in the end we had about 17 jars of jam. We divided it among the three of us. It is grape-y and delicious and not as sweet as you'd imagine with all that sugar! I think of Grandma every time I use it and I'm glad I was able to spend some time with her.

Guest Cook for National Bologna Day: My Husband

Did you know that last Friday (October 24) was National Bologna Day? My husband thought the occasion would be the perfect opportunity to introduce Rah Cha Chow readers to one of his favorite taste treats: Fried Bologna. He even took photos of every step to make sure you all could replicate it at home. Are you ready? Hold onto your arteries, folks. Here goes...

First, cut a whole package of bologna in half. The nice soft texture of the bologna makes it possible to do this with one cut of the knife!

Next, melt a Tablespoon of butter in a large frying pan. My husband says you'll need a couple of Tablespoons for the whole recipe, but I think he goes through about 1/2 of a stick. You'll have to let your taste buds and your conscience be your guide...

Add slices of bologna in a single layer. When they get nice and brown on one side, flip and fry the other side.

When the slices are done, remove to a plate and repeat the steps above until the whole package of bologna is used up. You'll want to make sure the plate you use is rimmed to catch the butter and fat that drips from the cooked slices.

Serve on a nice soft white bread. Whole wheat bread is for wimps. To make a well-rounded meal, add a pickle as your vegetable. Chocolate milk is an excellent accompaniment to fried bologna, but beer also works well. This recipe serves three (the three males living in my household).

If this is too complicated for you to make at home, you can order this treat, which is popular in Buffalo, at HSBC arena when the Sabres are playing!

For the record, this is a dish my husband makes when I am not at home ... and yes, unfortunately my sons love it. If this recipe receives a positive response from my readers, maybe he'll follow up with the recipe for his favorite sub. First ingredient: liverwurst...

Paisano's: GREAT Italian in Richmond, Illinois

While I was staying with my Grandmother in Wisconsin earlier this month, I met my Dad and Stepmom for dinner one night at Paisano's in Richmond, Illinois. Richmond is a cute little town near the border of Wisconsin, about 1 1/2 hours north of Chicago.

My Mom, who lives in Florida but spends a lot of time with my grandma in Wisconsin, had told me that the restaurant was very popular, and advised me to call for reservations. I was skeptical that I'd need them on a Tuesday night, but sure enough, the place was packed. Once I was there, I understood why.

The interior of the restaurant is charming, with murals painted on the walls. (You can see a photo on their Web site, above. I'm not up for taking photos in restaurants). It was a little noisy, which didn't bother me at all.

I had a "special" shrimp dish. It was huge shrimp that had been butterflied, breaded, and pan-fried. The coating was crispy perfection and the shrimp inside were perfectly cooked. Each shrimp was topped with a dollop of a creamy and slightly spicy sauce. It came with spaghetti with olive oil and garlic (a welcome change from the pasta with red sauce that seems to be the standard side at every Italian restaurant in the Rochester area).

My Dad had his favorite Italian dish, Chicken Cacciatore. When he read the menu, he had been disappointed to see that the dish was prepared with boneless skinless chicken breasts (rather than bone-in and skin-on). He ordered it anyway, and was very happy with it.

My stepmom had a salmon dish that my aunt had told was one of her favorite dishes there. It was a special but I'm told it's usually on the menu. I can't recall much about it, other than it had a nice topping. I tasted it and it was good, but I'm not generally a fan of salmon so it's not like wanted to steal bits off of her plate. But my stepmom was happy with it.

My only quibble with the place is that everything on the menu was a la carte, so if I wanted a bit of veg with my meal, I had to order it separately. I ordered the marinated and grilled veggies for $4.50. My stepmom and I shared them, and we didn't even finish half of them -- they weren't anything special.

My dad and stepmom said they would go back even though it's a 45-minute drive for them. I wish we had something like it in the Rochester area -- I am so "over" Italian restaurants that mostly serve red sauce and alfredo sauce. Or maybe we do -- any Rochesterians have any recommendations?

Paisano's on Urbanspoon

Easy Peasy Beet Salad

I'm on my way home from my week-long stay at my 94-year-old Grandma's house. Once it dawned on me that she didn't want me to wait on her hand and foot -- that she wanted to do things for herself -- my time with her was mostly harmonious. The only teeny weeny disagreements we had were over (of all things) cooking.

My husband will tell you -- I can be a wee bit controlling in the kitchen. Whenever he or one of the kids are doing something in the kitchen, I can't help but offer suggestions. As it turns out, I come by it honestly -- because Grandma does the same thing! But it was her kitchen, after all, and I was guilty of losing sight of that at times.

One example of this was beets. Uncle Bob pulled four final beets out of the garden -- one the size of a baseball, another the size of a softball, and two about as big as my head. OK, maybe not quite as big as my big head, but huge for beets. The latter two went into the trash, because I was sure they'd be tough and stringy.

When I brought in the two remaining beets, Grandma asked how I cook beets. I told her I roasted them. She said she always boiled them whole, so I did that. I boiled the baseball beet for our dinner, and when I thought it was tender, I sliced it and served it with butter, salt & pepper (the way Grandma said she liked them). But it wasn't quite tender enough. I left the softball beet to boil and boil and boil -- I don't know for how long but I'm guessing it may have been an hour or more. But in the end, it did become tender. I diced it and marinated it in Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette (which was in Grandma's fridge).

When it was time for dinner, I served the diced beets on top of baby greens with some finely chopped red onions, chopped toasted walnuts and baby greens that had been tossed with a little more vinaigrette. I wanted to serve it with goat cheese but I couldn't find some in the grocery store in Grandma's grocery store. Sometimes I forget that I've been spoiled by Wegman's (a fact confirmed by a friend who joined us for dinner, who had moved from the Rochester area to that same part of Wisconsin). But it was still good without it.

Easy Peasy Beet Salad
Rah Cha Chow recipe

1 beet
Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette
Baby greens
Finely chopped red onion
Toasted chopped walnuts

Boil beet until very tender. When cool enough to handle, peel and chop. Put in a bowl with a bit of vinaigrette and marinate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, toss the greens with a little vinaigrette. Top with marinated beet, red onion, and walnuts.

Stuffed Green Peppers (that I actually like)

When I told my Mom about the overwhelming number of green peppers that had been harvested from Grandma's garden, she immediately suggested making stuffed green peppers. In fact, she suggested making enough to freeze, so that when she came to stay with Grandma in mid-November, there were some for her!

My Mom used to make stuffed green peppers when I was little, and I didn't care for them. The ground beef/rice/tomato sauce stuffing was ok, but the flavor of the cooked green peppers was off putting. I don't think I've eaten one in 20 years. But I couldn't think of a better use for the green peppers (yes, you can chop and freeze them, but I couldn't envision the people who are staying with Grandma after me actually using them). So I thought I'd start with a traditional recipe and taste and tinker until I found it palatable.

I started by cutting off the tops of the green peppers to make cups, the way Mom had always done. I cut up the usable part of the tops and put that in a frying pan with chopped onions, ground beef, and ground turkey. Once that was good and cooked, I added the rice and tomato sauce, and recognized the "eh" flavor from my childhood. That's when I started adding various things from Grandma's fridge and cupboards until the flavor was perked up a bit.

Once I stuffed the peppers that were suitable for being cut into "cups," I had some stuffing left over. I cut one narrow pepper that was too skinny to stand up as "cups" into two "boats." Then I divided the rest of my homemade tomato sauce over all of the peppers.

I cooked the two "boats" for Grandma's and my dinner. The rest went into the freezer for Grandma's future visitors (one, at Mom's request, with her name on it).

Grandma thought I should parcook the peppers, because she likes them "really soft," but I told her I thought the peppers would be fine without doing that (and crossed my fingers that I was right). I cooked them for 45 minutes, covered, then uncovered them, topped them with cheese, and baked for 15 more minutes.

"These are delicious," said Grandma. "They are better than Stouffer's and Stouffer's are pretty good!"

I actually liked them, too. I liked the "boats" because there was a greater stuffing to pepper ratio. If I ever did them again, I'd do "boats." But Grandma's future visitors will have to be content with cups!

(A note I added later: Grandma's company who ate the peppers out of the freezer after I was there said that the peppers were tough and hard to eat. If you are going to freeze the stuffed green peppers, I recommend that you parcook the peppers first.)

Stuffed Green Peppers
Rah Cha Chow recipe

9-12 medium green peppers (boil for a couple of minutes if you are going to freeze them)
1 onion
1 lb ground round
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (I used white because that's what Grandma had on hand, but brown would be healthier and maybe even tastier)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp pepper
A lot of good tomato sauce -- 6 cups or so
Italian blend cheese (or a cheese of your choice)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut off the tops of green peppers to make "cups," or cut in half lengthwise to make "boats." Discard stems, seeds, and membranes. If there are any usuable bits of green pepper, chop them up and reserve. Arrange hollowed peppers in a baking dish, cut sides up. (Slice the bottoms of the peppers if necessary so that they will stand upright. It helps to have the peppers fit snugly in the baking dish to help them stand up.)

Combine reserved chopped peppers, chopped onion, ground beef and ground turkey in a large skillet. Brown on medium-high heat until the onions are soft and the beef and turkey are cooked thoroughly. Drain if necessary. Add rice, Parmesan, Worcestershire, soy sauce, seasonings, and 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce. Stir together until warm and well combined. Spoon into the peppers. Divide the remaining tomato sauce among the bottoms of the pans and on top of the peppers. Cover and bake 45 minutes. Uncover and top with cheese. Cook for 15 more minutes, until cheese is melted.

Tomato sauce from grandma's garden

A couple of days after Uncle Bob and I picked the last of the tomatoes from the garden, a lot of them were developing black spots that were the telltale signs that the tomatoes were starting to rot. Since I didn't want them to go to waste, I decided to make tomato sauce from the tomatoes that looked like they were past their prime.

When Grandma came into the kitchen as I was making the sauce, she noticed that her stock of fresh tomatoes had dramatically declined, and gave me the hairy eyeball. I explained that the tomatoes were starting to rot and wanted to use them up, and she looked a bit skeptical. I hoped that when she tasted my sauce, she'd approve of my decision.

One contraption that made the process a lot easier was Grandma's food mill. This old-fashioned gadget enabled me to make a nice smooth sauce without the time-consuming task of peeling and seeding tomatoes. All I did is cook the sauce for a couple of hours, then run it through the food mill. The seeds, skins and other solids remained in the food mill and only a smooth sauce remained.

I used the tomato sauce in stuffed peppers ... but that blog entry will come tomorrow!

Wisconsin Harvest Tomato Sauce
Rah Cha Chow recipe

2 T olive oil
1 onion, rough chopped
1 carrot, rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
Lots of ripe tomatoes - about enough to fill a pot halfway - different varieties work great
1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar (or more to taste)
sprinkle of black pepper
2 bay leaves

Cook onions on medium low heat until soft and some are caramelized. Add carrot and garlic. Cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes -- you can core and quarter them as you add them to the pan. Cover and cook 1 hour, until there's a lot of liquid in the pan. Uncover and cook for 1 more hour, stirring occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes as you stir.

Process the mixture through a food mill and discard the solids left in food mill. Return the sauce to the pan. Add the Italian seasoning, salt, sugar, pepper, and bay leaves. If the sauce needs to be thicker, simmer awhile longer until it's the desired consistency. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve over pasta or in your favorite recipe that calls for red sauce.

From homely apples, a beautiful cake

My grandma's yard in Wisconsin has a great big Golden Delicious apple tree that is just loaded with apples. The apples aren't the pretty, shiny apples we see in the grocery store, though.

Because the tree doesn't get sprayed often (if ever), the skins of the apples are spotted. A lot of the apples are misshapen or have a hole from some kind of critter taking a taste.

But inside, they are white, firm and tart. You could eat them as is, ugly skin and all, but we're so used to the grocery store apples that we don't prefer to do that. Instead, we bake them into goodies.

Grandma's visitors who pick from the tree tend to use them in apple pie, but to be honest, apple pie is not my thing. I'll pick just about any dessert over apple pie, and I do not have any interest in dealing with homemade pie crusts.

The first night I was here, I made an apple crisp -- heavy on the crisp. I didn't have my usual recipe so I just mixed the apples with a squeeze of lemon juice and a couple tablespoons of sugar in a deep-dish Pyrex pie dish. For the topping, I mixed flour, brown sugar, quick oats and melted butter until it looked right. Didn't bother taking a picture since I knew I wouldn't have a recipe post.

The second apple recipe I made was an old-fashioned apple cake. Nothing unusual or fancy about it -- just good. I may have gone overboard with the apples because it was moist to the point of being wet the second day, but it was still good. I divided it between two pans -- an 8x8 pan that went in the freezer for one of Grandma's future visitors, and another in a cool-looking loaf pan that should have had pumpkins and leaves on the top. Instead of having a decorative top it looked kind of lumpy, so I drizzled it with a glaze. I happen to like frostings and glazes anyway.

(This is on Tastespotting! Be sure to check out the site for more delicious recipes!)

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake

2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups apples - peeled, cored and diced
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Glaze, if desired: confectioner's sugar, milk, cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour one 9x13 inch cake pan (I did a loaf pan and an 8x8 pan so I could freeze one -- just adjust baking times a bit.)

In a mixing bowl; beat oil and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.

Combine the flour salt, baking soda, and ground cinnamon together in a bowl. Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until combined. The batter will be very thick. Stir in the apples and walnuts by hand using a wooden spoon. Spread batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out without batter on it. Let cake cool on a wire rack. You can just dust it with confectioner's sugar, but I made a glaze. Just pour some confectioners sugar into a bowl. Add a little milk until it's the right consistency. Add a bit of cinnamon until you like the taste. Drizzle over the cake. Let set before serving.

Melitzanosalata (Greek Eggplant Dip)

Meh-leed-zah-no-sah-LAH-tah. Come on, try to say it. You can do it! It's fun! I love saying Greek words.

And boy do I love Greek food. This dip used three items from Grandma's garden: eggplant, tomato, and parsley. And speaking of eggplant from Grandma's garden, did you know eggplant vines have sharp thorns? Yeah, they do and they hurt like a ... oh, I'm at Grandma's so I'll keep it clean. But take it from me, if you're picking eggplant, wear gloves.

This dip was the amalgamation of a few recipes. The traditional way of making this recipe is to cook the eggplant on a wood fire, but I didn't have one handy so I stuck to the stove. I'm sure it would be especially delicious with that smoky wood taste, but it was pretty darned tasty with the eggplant roasted in the oven.

Rah Cha Chow recipe

1 large eggplant, washed
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 shallot
1 tomato, chopped
Juice of 1/4 of a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt to taste
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Pierce the eggplant with a paring knife a few times. Roast until soft until starting to collapse, 45 minutes to an hour.

While the eggplant is roasting, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and saute until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool.

As soon as the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel. The skin will come off easily. Place green stuff in a bowl and chop with two knives. Stir in the garlic mixture, tomato, lemon juice, parsley and salt. Garnish with feta cheese. Serve with pita triangles or pita chips.