Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Awesome Roasted Bacon-Wrapped Maple Pecan Carrots in the Wood Cookstove

So, our Sunday dinner last weekend was really good even if I do say so myself.

The meat dish was a pork roast that I cooked in the Margin Gem using this method.  The roast was frozen solid when it went into the oven at 9:00 a.m. as we were leaving for church.  When we arrived back home at 11:30, it wasn't quite finished yet, but I needed a hotter oven for a new carrot recipe that I wanted to try, so I set one of my stove top ovens on the cooktop and transferred the roast to it.  This way, I could add a lot of biscuit wood to the fire in order to raise the temperature of the Margin Gem's oven but continue gently cooking the roast by moving the tin oven across the stovetop to the appropriate coolness.

Originally, the carrot recipe came from Hey Grill, Hey by Susie Bulloch, a website devoted to recipes for grilling a variety of foods.  Of course, I had to put my own spin on it and convert it for use on the wood cookstove, but she deserves all of the credit for the fabulous original idea.  You should go see her original post with links to a video because you will better understand what I did after you see what inspired me.

We had a wonderful carrot crop this year.  The carrots have had excellent flavor and texture, but they are shorter and thicker than what you usually see in the grocery store, so to make the cooking time in this recipe work for them, I had to halve or quarter some of them after they were scraped and pared at either end in order to make them cook uniformly.

Each peeled carrot (or half or quarter carrot) was wrapped with a slice of bacon.  Some of the carrots were small enough that only part of a slice was needed.

I then placed them on the top of a broiler pan (this was the first time I had ever used a broiler pan--a distinctly modern cooking utensil--inside a wood cookstove!).  I sprinkled them with a little bit of coarse sea salt and a little freshly ground pepper.  Go easy on the sea salt or feel free to omit it altogether; the bacon has plenty of salt in it.

The next step was to slide the carrots into a hot oven (around 400ºF) and let them roast for about 20 minutes.

Taken at the end of the process, this photo shows
the carrots roasting in the Margin Gem's oven, the
pork roast finishing in the stovetop oven, and the
mashed potatoes boiling over the firebox.

Now, this next part is where I went off script a bit.  We had a "baking for sale" day two weeks ago.  We had enough customers at our local farmers' market who asked us if we would be baking during the off season that we have scheduled one day a month on which I do some custom baking.  One of the most popular items that people request is our sweet rolls, and I had a number of orders for them with caramel pecan topping.

When we turn out a pan of these rolls (we often just call them sticky rolls), we put them onto a cooling rack which has been placed inside a jelly roll pan.  This allows us to catch all of the syrup that runs off the rolls.  All through the summer, we scrape this extra syrup into a sauce pan, save it, and then make it into pancake syrup, which is then water bath canned.

Well, for our baking day in October, we had a lot of pecan roll orders.  We try to make sure that as much of the pecan chunks stay on the rolls as possible, but some invariably land beneath the cooling rack, so my collection of syrup drips was very nutty.  To the saucepan of this mixture of pecan pieces, brown sugar, dark corn syrup, and butter, I added some hot water from the teakettle and brought the whole thing to a boil, stirring occasionally until the syrup no longer had any lumps in it.  When I took it off the fire, I added a little over an 1/8 tsp. of Mapleine.

After the first twenty minutes of roasting time had elapsed, I pulled the broiler pan of bacon-wrapped carrots out of the oven and spooned a little of the hot pecan syrup over each of them, taking care to make sure that as many pecan pieces remained on the top of the carrots as possible.

The pan of carrots was returned to the hot oven for another five minutes, at which point I removed it again and spooned on them what remained of the pecan syrup.  The carrots were returned to the oven for another five minutes, which resulted in the pecans being beautifully toasted.  Of course, the vast majority of the syrup dripped down into the bottom of the broiler pan, but enough remained on the carrots to give them a mildly sweet taste.

With the pork roast and mashed potatoes, these carrots were AWESOME! Really, they were so good, that I think they could be made as an hors d'oeuvre.

A scrumptious Sunday dinner.  You can see a jar of my
homemade Heinz ketchup at the top left corner, but everything
was so good that I didn't use any of it.

Now, if you aren't making a boat load of pecan rolls like we are, you could easily make a small batch of my homemade pancake syrup, using all brown sugar and reducing the water a little.  The result would be the same, and you could add a few pecans to it.  You can find that recipe here; just scroll down a little in the post to find it since it is about water bath canning on a wood cookstove.



Saturday, November 3, 2018

Easy Baked Fish in the Wood Cookstove

I've mentioned before on this blog that this land-locked Iowa boy prefers to eat meat that originally had fur or feathers on it, but I do occasionally enjoy fish.  This method of baking fish is what my mother used to do when she cooked orange roughy for us when I was growing up.  However, when I find orange roughy these days, it is horribly expensive, so I now use this same method with pollack and feel that it is almost as good.  (In case you haven't followed this blog for very long, I'm all about dirt cheap cooking!)

I think that baking fish is particularly well-suited to the wood cookstove because it doesn't seem to me like it needs a certain oven temperature to be successful so long as your oven is at least above 250ºF.  If you disagree, let me know in the comments section below.

Because I never worry about an exact oven temperature for baking fish, I don't have to build my fire in any particular way before I begin the preparations for it.  I have also baked fish in both of my stovetop ovens quite successfully.

The first thing to do is to put your fish filets in a glass baking dish and sprinkle them with perhaps a tablespoon of lemon juice.  The acidic nature of the lemon juice is why I use a glass dish rather than a metal pan.

I then sprinkle the fish with a little seasoned salt.  I used Lawry's in the picture.  Some regular salt and a little paprika would work, too.  Then add a little bit of pepper.  I've also used a sparing sprinkle of Mrs. Dash, but Nancy doesn't like that, so I just used a tiny bit of freshly ground pepper in the photo below.

Lastly, dot the top of the fish with a little bit of butter--you don't need much!

The fish is ready to go into the oven.

Pop all of this in the oven to bake uncovered until the fish flakes easily when you stick a fork into it.  This occurs at an internal temperature of 145ºF.  The cooking time simply depends on how hot your oven is. Obviously, the hotter it is, the faster it will bake.

The fish is done because it flakes easily.

So quick, so easy, so flexible for the wood cookstove, and so delicious!

The fish was the only part of this meal that did not come from
our farm.  I wrote about preparing the squash in this post last week.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Using a Pressure Cooker on a Wood Cookstove

When I worked as a local banker, my boss was a lady from Carson, Iowa, who is a lot of fun to visit with.  We enjoyed talking about food and cooking, and I'll never forget her telling me that she resisted getting a microwave oven for a long, long time when they became popular in the late 70s and early 80s.  As I remember, she finally caved under a great deal of pressure from her mother-in-law, but only used the microwave to reheat leftovers.

"I didn't need a microwave," she insisted, "because I have a pressure cooker.  I can cook things fast in it, which is why I call pressure cookers 'the poor man's microwave.'"

Microwaves are now standard equipment in the modern kitchen, but Instant Pots seem to be the current rage in countertop kitchen appliances, and one of their features is the ability to cook things quickly by using pressure. However, this is certainly not new technology; what is new about an Instant Pot are its safety features, automation, and some of its versatility.

Those of us who are cooking on a woodburning cookstove aren't exactly known for being the cooks who are taking advantage of the latest technological advances, though, are we?  That said, a carefully used pressure cooker can help us speed things up a little when we feel like it and add some variety to our cooking.  This was the case on Monday of this week when I had been out with a friend on a photography romp all afternoon and had nothing planned for supper when I returned home after 4:30.

I dug around in the freezer and found a package of country pork ribs.  I put them in the microwave to defrost a little (only because they had been packaged with waxed paper between them and I couldn't get it free) and brought my smallest pressure cooker up from its basement abode.  This pressure cooker was given to me by my aunt who had received it from one of my great-great aunts who had bought it sometime in the 1940s.  It came to me with its original instruction booklet which includes several recipes--what a blessing!

When cooking with one of these pans, the first step is usually to establish the pressure.  For the wood cookstove cook, this means that you are going to start the cooking process with the pan directly over the firebox.  You can see in the picture below that for what I was going to do I also put the rack in the bottom and added about a 1/2 inch of water.


Next, I inserted a small old Pyrex pan (I think it was the precursor to the Visions Cookware line) that I got from Nancy's grandmother.  Into that I put my three small pork ribs, which were still pretty frozen in the middle.


Over the ribs I poured barbecue sauce, which I made out of homemade ketchup and some barbecue sauce concentrate from Watkins.  In hindsight, I should have seasoned the meat more before putting the barbecue sauce on it because it was plenty bland.


I then put the lid on the pan, set the weight on the petcock to ten pounds of pressure, and moved the pan to the hottest lid over the firebox and began waiting for the weight to jiggle.


The jiggling began in a surprisingly short time, and then "the dance" commenced.  "The dance" is my tongue-in-cheek term for the movement of cooking vessels across the wood cookstove cooktop to adjust their cooking temperature.  High heat is right over the firebox, and lower heats are further away.  Instead of adjusting a dial, pushing a button, or tracing your finger over a fancy touch response induction range, you slide the pots and pans to the area of the cooktop which has the desired heat.

In a weighted-gauge pressure cooker, once the appropriate pressure has been reached (as announced by the jiggling weight), the heat needs to be reduced so that the weight jiggles a minimum of three to four times per minute but does not jiggle constantly.  You can see in the picture above that I wasn't stoking a raging fire, so I didn't have to move the pressure cooker too far away from the firebox in order to maintain the correct number of jiggles per minute.

A quick word about safety: I wouldn't recommend leaving a pressure cooker unattended for long periods of time on any cooking device, not just a wood cookstove.  The occasional short absence from the kitchen should be fine, however.


I'm sure the meat was cooked much earlier, but because I was busy with other things and because I knew that this cheap cut of meat would be made more tender by a longer cooking time, I let these cook for an hour, and then stuck a thermometer in them to be absolutely positive.

I don't know why I felt the need for the thermometer on Monday.  I think it was due to the fact that it was resting above the warming oven from a different project.  Usually, I would just have cut one open to make sure there was no longer any pink in the center.


The ribs were done, were fork tender, and we enjoyed them.

I should try using the pressure pan for more foods; usually I just use it for meats.  One of my favorite things to cook in it is tongue.  Let me know if you're interested in seeing that process!  Also let me know whether you use a pressure pan, and if so, what you cook in it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Cooking Acorn Squash in the Wood Cookstove

We've been cooking with wood almost exclusively since turning off the electric water heater on September 21st.  The only exceptions have been a frozen pizza which I baked in the electric oven in the basement, and cakes and rolls were baked in the propane oven for our baked-goods-for-sale day last Thursday.  The wood cookstove oven was in use simultaneously that day, though, as there was such a large amount of baking to be done.  Now, I just need to get caught up with blogging!

One of the common themes among my posts about cooking on a wood cookstove is that I like to use it for foods that have long cooking times. Acorn squash is one of those foods that is particularly well suited to long cooking in a wood cookstove, and we had a large crop of them this year--all of which were volunteer!

A fraction of the acorn squash that grew in our garden this year.

Of course, there are as many ways to prepare acorn squash as there are cooks who do so, but I'm going to just show you what I do.

In the pictures below, I'm going to prepare two different sets of squash to be cooked at the same time: one set for eating, and one set for use in making other dishes.

Starting at least a couple hours before I want to have the squash ready to eat, I build my fire so that I will have a moderate oven--between 325º and 350ºF.

The next step is to wash the outside of the squashes thoroughly and cut them in half from side to side.




Then, using a strong metal spoon with a fairly sharp edge, I scoop out the seeds and pulp.



Next, I arrange the halves cut side up in glass or ceramic baking dishes.

Into those I am planning on eating right away, I place maybe a tablespoon of brown sugar in the cavity where the pulp was.  Then, I put around a teaspoon of salted butter on top of the brown sugar.  For the squash that I'm going to use for other things, I omitted the butter and brown sugar.



Without covering, put them in the oven to bake.  Baking time will depend on the size and ripeness of the squash, but I've never had a time when they took less than an hour and a half, and I've never seen them get too done.

I put the pan of squash that would be for our supper
in the oven first so that they would be ready in time.

Later, I moved the first pan of squash to the top rack and put the pan of squash
to be cooked for later applications on the bottom one.

When you can insert a fork in the fleshy part and it feels soft, remove them from the oven.



Now, I don't care for the stringy texture of acorn squash, so this is what I do to prevent having to deal with it.  Pour the brown sugar/butter syrup into the blender, cut them in halves again and use the same spoon that you took the seeds out with to scrape the flesh away from the peel.



Put the flesh into the blender and blend it with the brown sugar/butter syrup until it is all smooth.  If it is too dry, you can add any number of things; maple syrup, cream, and butter come to mind, but I just added some boiling water from the teakettle.

The squash pulp in the blender.  You don't have to have a
blender as cool as a vintage Osterizer Imperial handed
down to me from my grandmother, but it helps make it
more fun!

Once it is completely blended, you could put it into a slightly greased casserole dish and pop it in the oven if it has cooled off too much, but it was more than sufficient to slide this small bit into the warming oven while I finished the preparations for the rest of the meal.

Below is a picture of what the final product looks like on the plate.  You don't have to tell me how ugly it is; Nancy has already taken care of that job.  She said it looked like baby food.  She's right; however, when I look at it, the first thing that comes to mind is the 1970s gold insulated drapes that my mom and both of my grandmothers had hanging in our living rooms when I was little.



Acorn squash tastes much better than drapes, though.  When prepared this way, I serve it instead of a potato.  Except for the fish, each of the foods here was raised on our farm.  I love meals like that!

Use the comments section below to tell me how you like acorn squash cooked.  Bon appetit!



Friday, September 28, 2018

Cookstove Inspiration and a Vintage Recipe: Raisin Rice Dainty

Today marks a week since we have been cooking exclusively on the wood cookstove again, and it has been extremely satisfying.  The other night as I was cooking supper, I was thinking about how comfortable cooking on the wood cookstove feels and about what a smooth and welcome transition it was to return to cooking on wood.  The best way I can illustrate it is to say that, for me anyway, quitting the gas stove in favor of the woodstove was like leaving a straight-backed kitchen chair for an overstuffed recliner.

Believe me, the comfort of the wood cookstove is not because we need the heat in the house.  In fact, the windows have been open most of the time, and we have been letting the fire go out between meals if we have no need of hot water.  What's comfortable is the pace and rhythm of the wood cookstove, the feeling that the stove and I are working in tandem (weird, I know), and the feeling that experimental cooking and long cooking times are neither expensive nor inefficient.

Furthermore, I said to Nancy the other night that having the cookstove going again just plain inspires me to want to cook.

And have I been cooking!  I can't remember everything that was cooked this week, but one of the highlights was Beautiful Burger Buns for our barbecued beef sandwiches.  This recipe is from the King Arthur Flour website, and it was a definite hit.

The three remaining hamburger buns.  They are a little dry for
sandwiches now, but they make excellent toast!

Because I've been so inspired, I dug out my 1926 West Pottawattamie County Farm Bureau Women's Cookbook and began looking for more things to try from it.  For Saturday's breakfast, I whipped up some cake doughnuts using a recipe out of this unique collection.  They were good, but Nancy and I decided that we are not really cake doughnut lovers, so the chickens enjoyed the vast majority of them.

Tonight I used some leftover rice and made Raisin Rice Dainty, a recipe which was contributed to the cookbook by Mrs. Dudley Stupfell.  I'm posting this recipe here to document how our taste in food has changed over the last ninety years.  Initially, it caught my eye because I love rice and raisins together, and after reading the recipe, I was interested because it doesn't have much sugar in it and I'm trying to reduce my sugar intake a bit.

Then, when I read the directions, the idea of a cold rice dish reminded me of a very pleasant memory from my childhood.  When I was about six or seven, my paternal grandparents went out to supper with us at a local restaurant called The Pink Poodle.  I remember having a small dish of a pink desserty salad there that I thought was really good, so Granny and Dad also tried it in order to figure out what was in it.  I remember how surprised we all were when Granny announced that one of the ingredients was rice.  This recipe is a little like that.

Here is what you need:
2 cups cold cooked rice, packed loosely
(You cooked this rice on the wood cookstove, of course.  You could also use prepared instant rice using this method.)
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipped cream (measured after it is whipped--approximately 1/2 cup before whipping)
1 tsp. vanilla


The directions are pretty simple:

1. Combine the rice, raisins, and powdered sugar.

2. Blend the vanilla into the whipped cream.

3. Fold the rice and raisin mixture into the whipped cream.

4. Put into small glasses and serve extremely cold.

I garnished this with a small dollop of unsweetened whipped cream on the top.

We only have one little footed sherbet glass like this.
I would estimate that this is about a quarter of the total
recipe yield.
By today's standards, this recipe is extremely bland and not very sweet at all.  I think a little more sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and maybe a few apples (stewed a bit) could perhaps update this recipe.

But maybe it's not worth updating.  I don't know.  Maybe this post's recipe is best left as a history lesson.

So what about the title?  Have you heard of any other kind of "dainty"?


Friday, September 21, 2018

The Beginning of the Full-Time Cookstove Firing Season 2018-2019

Well, today was the day.  Yesterday (and for several days before that), our high temperature was in the nineties.  After a terrific rain storm last night, a cold front went through, and today our high was in the sixties.  With lows in the forties tonight, tomorrow is not supposed to reach seventy degrees.  The long-range forecast has a few seventies in it, but nothing too terribly warm.  Thus, after Nancy's shower this morning, I turned off the electric hot water heater and our season of firing the wood cookstove every day has officially begun.  I do believe that September 21st is the earliest we have ever done this.

Supper tonight was just chips and fresh salsa, raisins, and apples, but while the fire was going to heat some dish and laundry water, I cooked some more red raspberries for jelly. 

Another cooking job that I had been saving was the sugar pot from our Monday Market baking.  When I turn out a pan of sticky rolls, we catch the caramel syrup that runs off them in jelly roll pans beneath the cooling racks.  That is then scraped into a stockpot, and at the end of the season I make pancake syrup out of it.  It is quite delicious, and this way the sugar is not wasted.

The first step in that process is to add water to the pot and bring the whole thing to a rapid boil.  Tomorrow I will skim the butter and cinnamon layer from the top, make sure it is the right consistency, bring it to a boil again, put it in canning jars, and seal them in a hot water bath.

The kettle of red raspberries on the back of the
firebox and the sugar pot at the front.
This was not the first fire we've had in the stove this season, but with the electric hot water heater turned off, we are now committed to daily fires.  I'm really looking forward to it!


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cheating with Your Wood Cookstove: Gooey Butter Cake

A quick internet search reveals that Gooey Butter Cake is a pretty common recipe, but I didn't know that several years ago when I found this recipe in the back of my mother-in-law's mini-van.  It had been written on a fancy recipe card and then photocopied onto an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper.  It was attributed to someone named Hilda and neither Leona nor anyone else in the family knew where the recipe had come from.  No one knew Hilda, and no one even recognized the handwriting on the recipe card!

I made this according to the recipe the first time, but I wasn't that impressed.  I tweaked it just a bit this time, and the reviews are better, but I still wouldn't call this a stellar dessert.  However, if you need something a little exciting but don't have much time, this could do in a pinch, and because it is so rich, a little goes a long way.

For the bottom layer, here is what you will need:

1 chocolate cake mix (this is why I call this recipe cheating)
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla


The original recipe called for a yellow cake mix, but my first change was to use a chocolate one.  I would say that yellow cake is probably my favorite, and if given a choice, chocolate cake is the last thing I would take. However, the bottom layer of this cake has kind of a brownie texture, so I opted for a chocolate cake mix, and that suits my eaters much better.   Lately, I've taken to putting about a tsp. of burnt sugar flavoring into brownies, so I also added that.  If you are unable to find burnt sugar flavoring, you can fairly easily make your own burnt sugar syrup.


As always when baking in a wood cookstove, the first step is to build your fire and begin heating your oven to the desired temperature.  You need a moderate oven for this cake, and I think it is best to shoot for around 325ºF.

While your oven is heating, begin melting your butter over the coolest part of the cooktop.



Combine the melted butter, cake mix, eggs, vanilla, and burnt sugar flavoring.  This could be done by hand, but I used an electric mixer because the mixture is so stiff.

Once everything is thoroughly combined, transfer to a greased 9"x13" baking pan.


Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, spreading evenly all the way to the edges.  Buttered fingertips make this process a bit easier.


For the second layer you will need these ingredients:

1 pound of powdered sugar
8 oz. softened cream cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla


Combine all of these ingredients until smooth.  Again, I used an electric mixer.


Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cake mixture.  I am careful to not let it touch the edges of the pan.


Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes.  "Hilda" forbid me from peeking during this time, but I did take a gander in the oven at about thirty-eight minutes.  I think it is generally bad wood cookstove practice to never peek.  Mind you, I'm not advocating opening the oven door every few seconds, but we have to be reasonable.  When Meme taught me to bake, she never used a timer for anything.  In fact, she didn't even own a timer. Instead, we would take casual looks at the kitchen clock and rely on the sense of touch and sight.

I used to have a blind friend who could tell whether something was done baking by the smell of it.  However, wood cookstove ovens are not vented into the kitchen, and the Margin Gem even has a gasket around the oven door, so you can rarely smell baked goods until you open the oven door at least a crack.  

What Gooey Butter Cake looks like when it is done baking.
If you look closely at the oven thermometer, you can see that
the oven was running at about 325ºF.  I wouldn't go much
hotter than that.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.  You could eat this cake at this point, but I have to say that I think this one benefits quite a bit from being covered very tightly and refrigerated for at least a day.



These are extremely rich, and I find that a 1"x1" square is plenty to satisfy my sweet tooth for quite a while.

I hope you enjoy them!