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Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce

My wife makes a killer cranberry sauce. The recipe is an amalgam of various recipes that she’s tried or read over the last couple years. We’ve served this the last two Thanksgivings, and it’s a complete hit.

After the Thanksgiving and Christmas season cranberries start going on sale as vendors just want to offload what they have left. Dess found them on sale for $1.49 a bag (half of what they were the week before Thanksgiving) and grabbed 7 of them.

Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce:
Multiplied x 7 for this recipe

1 – 12oz bag of Cranberries
3/4 C Red Wine (Cabernet)
1/4 C Triple Sec
1 C Brown Sugar
1/2 t Ground Ginger
1/2 t Ground Cinnamon
1/4 t Allspice Berries
2 T Candied Ginger (chopped)
1 T Orange Zest
1 Cinnamon Stick

Combine the wine, Triple Sec, and brown sugar. Heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries.

Place the Cinnamon stick and the Allspice Berries in cheesecloth and tie it off.

Add the spice bundle to the cranberries and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the cranberries pop and the liquid thickens. Sometimes we’re left with a couple dozen unpopped cranberries floating on top, and that’s fine.

Remove the spice bundle, stir in the crystalized ginger, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and the orange zest.

Let the mixture simmer another 2-3 minutes and then ladle in to jars.

Lets talk about jars for a seconds. A friend asked me to touch on preparing jars, reusing jars, cleaning jars, etc. When I open the case I take the jars out and remove the lids and rings. The jars get washed, by hand or in a dishwasher. the rings get set aside. Then, before I start my recipe, I fill my canning pot/pressure cooker with water and place the jars in there. As the water heats to boil, the jars heat with it. I let the jars boil until I’m ready to start filling them. I also throw my ladle and funnel in the mix too.

When I’m ready I pull the jars out (slowly and carefully, since they are full of boiling water) and gently tip out the water back in to the pot. I place the lids in a bowl and use the water from the 1st jar I remove to cover the lids with now, just under boiling temp water. This warms the adhesive compound on the lids and gets a better seal going.

Fill the jars with the sauce and leave 1/2″ head space. Put the lids and rings on and finger tighten the rings. Remember, air needs to escape from the jar to form the eventual vacuum seal needed for preservation.

Place the filled jars in your water bath canner, making sure that the jars have at least 2 inches of water covering them. Process for 15 minutes for pints.

Using 7 bags of cranberries this made 11 pints of sauce. And now we can enjoy cranberry sauce year round.

Let’s can some tomatoes.

Update: This recipe won a 1st place Blue Ribbon at the 2013 Arizona State Fair in the Canned Vegetable; Tomatoes category.

As you know, I have great love for Superstition Ranch Market. When we went there last week they had Roma Tomatoes on sale for $0.25 a pound. In my experience, that’s pretty much unheard of. We talked about it, and decided to buy two cases, 50lbs, for $12.50. An amazing deal. Rather than make spaghetti sauce like last time, we chose just to can the tomatoes. Especially since the transition from stewed tomatoes is easy. Plus stewed tomatoes are more versatile, and easier to prepare.

Canned Stewed Tomatoes

Start off by filling a large pot with water and bringing it to boil, filling your sink with ice and water, and laying out a cutting board and knife for prep work. Henry Ford was on to something….it’s much easier if you have an assembly line.

Look through your tomatoes. I found a couple that started going rotten in the 2 days it took me to get the this project together. Just toss them. If you have any with a dark spot or whatnot, we can work around that.

Drop the tomatoes int he boiling water, using tongs, and let them boil for 2-3 minutes. You’ll notice that the skins start to split. As that happens, remove the tomatoes and drop them in the ice water. this process makes the skins really easy to remove.

Let them chill for a while in the ice bath. If you try to soon, you’ll burn your fingers as the insides can remain hot for a couple of minutes.

As you remove the tomatoes from the ice water, start where the skin split, and remove the skin. On most of them it was super easy. The tomatoes fell out of their skin. On a couple I had to do a bit of peeling.

Remove the stem area and any black spots from the tomatoes. Then cut them in to quarters. As usual, only work with clean, sterile, prepared canning jars. Drop 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in to each pint jar, or 2 tablespoons into each quart. I like to use quarts for what will eventually become spaghetti sauce, and pints for what will be used in recipes. However, we had so many tomatoes that i was scrambling just to find enough jars. If you run out of lemon juice (like I did) you can also use powdered citric acid, red wine, or vinegar for the acid. We did about 1/2 dozen with balsamic vinegar.

Start stuffing your jars. Drop the quarters in and when they reach the neck tap the jar on the counter to get them to settle. I also used my fingers to force them down. Once they look full take a ladle full of boiling water and dribble enough in the jar cover the tomatoes, but leave head space. Honestly, with the juices that came out, this was only a couple of tablespoons of water in each jar. Remember that air doesn’t heat the same way water does, and that’s why the liquid is important. Use your non-metal tool to run around the edge of the jar to release any air bubbles. All the real estate int he jar needs to be tomato or liquid (except for the head space).

Hopefully you put your lids in a small pan of water and heated them (not to a boil). So wipe the rims of the jars, put a lid on each one, and close with a band. Remember, hand tighten. That’s it. Finger tighten even. People have ruined batches of foods by overtightening the bands. Air needs to escape from under the lid.

You can water bath process tomatoes with the added acidity. But it takes 45 minutes for quarts. I chose to pressure can because I can fit more cans in at a time. Fill your canner with jars (remembering to off set the 2nd layer or use a metal grate to build your 2nd layer). For my location I did 12PSI for 15 minutes. (Follow your canner’s manufacture’s manual). After 12 minutes I just shut off the heat and walked away. When all the hissing stops, and all the steam has escaped, I took of the lid and lest the jars rest for another 10-15 minutes. This prevents shock, which can result in breaking jars, which can result in tomatoes and juice the temperature and consistency of napalm exploding on your body. After they’ve had time to rest use your jar lifter to remove them from the pot and place them on the counter where they should be able to sit, undisturbed for the next 12-24 hours.

If you bought as many tomatoes as I did you’ll need to repeat the process 3 times.

Remember, home canning eliminates unwanted added sugars or salts, exposure to chemicals (BPA is leached from the tin can lining in commercially canned tomatoes), and exposure to preservatives. This recipe requires only 3 ingredients; tomatoes, something acidic, and water. If you are on a low salt diet, don’t add any. If you don’t care for lemon juice, add powdered citric acid. For a more Italian flavor add balsamic vinegar or red wine. I also tried to make “Italian Seasoned Tomatoes” this time around. To 6 jars I added a 1/2 pinch of Oregano, Thyme, and Basil. Dried herbs offer a great deal of flavor, especially when canned, so go easy. You could also peel the tomatoes and leave them whole, cut them in half, or dice them; depending on how you wanted to use them.

Here’s the wife photo-bombing my victory shot:

50 pounds of tomatoes with about 10 spoiled tomatoes ended up being 23 pints and 11 quarts of quartered tomatoes. For $12.50 (plus the new jars I had to buy). I wont find commercially canned tomatoes that cheap. And I probably won’t find tomatoes that cheap again this year.

The fruit tends to float while the liquid sinks immediately after canning. So on the 2nd day I rotate all the jars back and forth, like I’m mixing paint, and that gets it’s all homogenized again.

Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower and Stout Beer Jelly; Two Quick and Easy Gift Ideas.

Last Christmas’ gift giving was Jammathon 2010. I made about a dozen different fruit jams and handed them out to anyone that was on our Christmas list. This year I wanted to mix it up a bit. After spending some time on http://www.reddit.com/r/canning/ I found some simple recipes that peaked my interest. Both appeared to be relatively quick and easy, unique, and a bit on the exotic side.

First I tried Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower; which I found at http://www.handjobsforthehome.com/2011/12/curry-pickled-cauliflower. I modified the recipe slightly by quantity. I’ve made the recipe twice now. The 1st time I had a head and half of cauliflower. The 2nd time I had 2 smaller heads.

Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower

3 C White vinegar
1 C Water
½ C Brown sugar
1 T Curry powder
1 T Salt
1 Cauliflower
1 Red bell pepper
1 Onion

Start by cutting the Cauliflower into florets. Try to keep them approximately the same size, try to keep them bite sized, and remember that they need to fit neatly into your jar. I cut the larger florets into smaller parts. Dice the onion and the red pepper.

In a large pot combine the vinegar, water, brown sugar, curry and salt. On a side note, don’t brown sugar measurements seem somewhat arbitrary? It seems that as long as you keep applying pressure, you can keep packing more sugar into that measuring cup. Anyway, stir all that together over high heat and bring it to a boil. After the liquid boils, add the vegetables, stir, and boil again.

After the liquid returns to a boil, allow it to simmer for 3-5 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften, but remember that they will cook an additional 10 minutes in the canner. Fill your clean and sterilized canning jars with the vegetables and brine, remembering to leave your head space.

Process in a water bath for 10 minutes for pints. I upped the time to 20 minutes for quarts. I made the pints to give away, and the quarts to keep. My wife loves spicy stuff like hot pepper mixes, spicy pickled vegetables, etc.

Next I tried my hand at Stout Beer Jelly that I found over at http://growitcookitcanit.com/2011/03/17/stout-beer-jelly/.

Stout Beer Jelly

2 – 12oz bottles of Guinness Extra Stout
1 Box of pectin
3 1/2 C Sugar

First off, a warning. Seriously. Use the biggest pot you own. You’ll think to yourself “24 oz of beer? How much could it make.” You’re wrong. When you grab your medium stock pot, put it back, and grab the biggest damn pot you own! The original recipe said “It will be very frothy, that’s normal.” This is an understatement. It’s like saying that Jolt Cola “May cause some excitement in children.” The reaction that occurs when you combine beer, pectin and heat creates what I thought was a movie prop from Ghostbusters. You have been warned.

Add your 2 bottles of beer, and your box of pectin together and heat to a boil, stirring briskly. Allow it to boil, and continue boiling for 1 minute. Then add the sugar, all at once. Bring it back to a boil. And watch in terror as the volume creeps to the top of your pot as you stir with such vigor that your arm starts to cramp.

Boil for 2 more minutes as you artfully dodge volcano like explosions of your hot alcoholic sugary concoction. If you did not heed my warning you are now cursing your poor decision as it boil all over your stove. FYI, if that happens, it will create a horrid smell. Just use the large pot for god’s sake.

Remove the pot from the heat. This will quell the foam monster. Ladle the jelly in to your clean sterilized jars. I suggested spooning one ladle full in each of 5 jars, and then returning and topping off each jar again, as they tend to lose volume as the bubbles cool.

What I do love though is how the jars look like little pints of Guinness. Even after they are processed and cool.

Process the jars for 10 minutes in a water bath. The original recipe suggests using this to glaze lamb, or on a fancy grilled cheese. I’m also going to try it on a rotisserie pork roast, or a cheeseburgern with sauteed onion and caramelized onions.

I love making my own foods. I love canning. And I love sharing my creations with others. I think these little 20-30 minute projects are fantastic. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with my ambitions (like right now, as I have 50 pounds of Roma tomatoes staring at me from the corner). But a quick canning project makes me feel accomplished. Not to mention that people, in my experience, are far more impressed with a hand made, home created gift, than they are a gift card. So make something in your kitchen to give out at the office party this year.

And if you have a canning recipe that you consider quick and easy, please let me know in the comments. I’m always up for trying something new.

Italian Green Beans

I love canned green beans. I’ve always loved them. Even the store bought ones. The first time I made my own my mind was blown. They taste exactly like store bought green beans, but with only 3 ingredients, and no chemicals.

Home canning green beans is more labor intensive than other canning endeavors, but is one of the simplest recipes ever. As with all low acid foods, you need a pressure canner to safely process the green beans for preservation.
Superstition Ranch Market had fresh green beans on sale for $0.69 a pound so I grabbed 5 pounds while we were out today. I brought them home, rinsed them off and started preparing them. I grab a small handful at a time, lay them on the cutting board, and cut a 1/8 of an inch of each end. You only need to cut the stem end, but I slice off both ends because I can clean them quicker by avoiding aligning all the beans the same direction. The I cut the beans in to 1-2″ segments.

Clean, sterilized and prepare you jars. I use the pint sized, and prefer wide mouth for green beans. Fill each jar with green beans. Now you have options. You can go with just water if you need a low sodium diet. You can add a pinch of salt to the beans for a little flavor. Or, my favorite is a pinch of salt, and half a pinch of Thyme and Oregano in each jar. The dried herbs add just a hint of flavor to the beans.

Green beans, salt, thyme, oregano.

Then you simply use your canning funnel to add boiling water to each jar. Remember to leave your head space. Hand tighten the bands over the lids and process in a pressure canner at 10 lbs for 25 minutes. It’s fine to double stack in a pressure canner. But either offset the cans so they aren’t directly on each other, or use a piece of sheet metal with holes in it to create a 2nd layer.

Let the canner cool, and presto, 10 pints of green beans.

My favorite part of canning is still knowing what’s going in to the jar, what’s not, and knowing what my kids are eating. And speaking of, green beans are the one vegetable my kids gobble up without question, every time.

Mmmmmm Apple Butter

I drove out to the Superstition Ranch Market on Monday, and found that they had Macintoch Apples for $.69/lb, Fuji Apples for $.40/lb, and Jonagold Apples for $.39/lb.  About 30 pounds later, I’m driving home to make apple butter.

I’m torn on the joys of making apple butter.  Let’s be honest, people are always really impressed when you give them a jar of  preserves or pickles.  There’s an impression that it’s insanely hard to make this stuff.  But I think that’s only because most people don’t, and thus don’t know how.  It reminds me of the old Rice Krispie Treat commercials where mom spend 15 minutes making the treats, only to buy a couple hours of quiet time, throw some flower around, and be received by her family with admiration.  Jam is pretty easy to make.  It takes a little skill, the ability to closely follow a very simple recipe, and bit of free time. But it’s no souffle.  Am I right?
Apple butter on the other hand takes time.  A lot of time.  And while it’s not difficult, I get burned more by apple butter than I do jam (although the jam burns are significantly hotter).  Apple butter also uses more counter space, more dishes, and more manual labor.  So when people are appreciative of my apple butter, I take it.  Every word of it.

That all being said, you know I do this stuff because I love it.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t make it (see Okra).  So I give to you, Apple Butter:

The first step is to get some apples.  Actually, a lot of apples.  Probably at least 10lbs.  You want about 9 quarts of apple sauce. Wait, what’s that you say? You didn’t know we were making apples sauce?  Yes.  We are making apple sauce first, and then apple butter.  And since I’m getting the water canner boiling, and making the kitchen messy, I figure, might as well get it all done at once.  You can’t make too much.  Because if you decide that you don’t want that much apple butter, just can the apple sauce the way it is.  Make sense?

What kind of apples you ask?  What kind do you have?  I wouldn’t use Granny Smith, or anything else overly tart.  But generally any other kind of apple will work. And here’s the thing, the more variety, the better.  I’ve used 5 different types in the past.  Each apple variety brings a little something different to the table, and together, they make magic.

I (as you read above) went with 3 varieties this time; from left to right Jonagold, Macintosh, and Fuji.  Why did I go with those 3?  Did you not see the prices I listed above?  Cost is a huge motivator for me when it comes time to decide what to make.

I bet for step one you’re expecting peel, cut, and core.  Nope.  That’s a huge wast of my time, and a waste of apple.  I let the Kitchenaid do all the work for me.  Did I mention that I use a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer wit the food and vegetable strainer attachment for this? Well I do.  And you should too.  If you fancy yourself any kind of semi-legit cook, or a home canner, or a neo-homesteader, you need a Kitchenaid with the grinder.  I can’t live without it.

Cut the apples into 8ths. Some of the Jonagolds were really big, and they got cut into 12ths or something.  But try to keep the shapes about the same size throughout.  The only thing you need to remove is the produce sticker, and as much of the bulk of the stem as you can.  But everything else stays.

Put about an inch or 2 of water in the bottom of a large pot, and start to heat it on high.  then toss in your apples as you cut them.  I don’t cut them all ahead of time, cause where am I gonna store 30lbs of sliced apples?

Lets interject to discuss pots quickly.  I have mostly All-Clad stainless cookwear.  And it’s amazing.  I also have this cheap-o aluminum stock pot from a grocery store.  And it sucks.  I almost lost half of my patch (15lbs!!) last night when the cheap-o pot got 2 hot spots and started to burn the apples.  Whereas the All-Clad is so thick, it heats evenly and maintains the heat too.  If you don’t have a nice set of cookwear, save up and get some.  It makes such a difference.  At least get a nice heavy skillet and a nice heavy pot.  The All-Clad batch cooked faster, and nicer than the cheap pot ever did.  I actually turned the cheap pot off halfway through and did smaller batches in the All-Clad.

Anyway, heat and stir, heat and stir, heat and stir until the apples are all soft.

As you can see there are some different consistencies in there.  I found that the Macintosh apples disintegrated in the heat.  The Fuji’s put up a good fight, but started to fall apart as well.  The Jonagold’s however, good lord.  They took forever to soften, and they never broke down.  Mental note, what a great baking apple if I need it to stand up to heat.  When all the apples are soft, move them to a large bowl and heat another batch if needed.

The set up: The blue bowl will catch the remnants.  The middle bowl will catch the applesauce, and the bowl on the right contains the cooked apples.  After attaching the grinder/food mill, turn the mixer on 2.  Start feeding the apples through.

This is the part that hurts.  The food mill has a tendency to suck and spit all over the place.  And those apples were boiling 30 seconds ago.  Don’t put your face over the food tray while you’re doing this.  I got hot apple juice in my eye last time. It hurts.  Nuff said.

Cooked apples go in the top.  All the skins, seeds, stems, cores, etc come out here in dried out little apple poo nuggets. This is why the blue bowl is here.

And out of the bottom comes pure liquid gold.  Congratulations, you’ve just made apple sauce.  It’s just that easy.  And if you wanna quit at apple sauce you totally can.  And this is it.  It doesn’t need anything.  No sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no sodium stearoyl lactylate, no nothing!  And that’s the best part about making our own food, isn’t it?  Now, I have been known to add a touch of cinnamon, but you don’t even need to add that now if you wanna sprinkle it on it when you eat it.  You can just reheat it to a boil,   jar this stuff up and water bath can it for 15 minutes for pints, and 20 for quarts.

That being said, in the interest of transparency, you could also (shudder) used purchased applesauce and start the recipe here.

Those fibrous apple nuggets can be composted if you’re into that (and if you’re reading my blog, you probably are).

Fill a crock pot almost to the top with your apple sauce.  Mine holds about 4 quarts.  Though bigger is fine.  Add 2 cups of sugar, 2T Cinnamon, 1t Clove, and 1/2t Allspice.  Then mix it all together well.

Put a wooden spool, a couple of chop sticks, dowels, or shish-kabob skewers across the pot, and then set the lid on it. This allows steam to escape, which will help it reduce, but keeps yoru kitchen clean and napalm free.

How long should this cook?  I don’t have a clue.  This isn’t so much a science as it is an art.  start with 8 hours, and work your way up.  I’m well above 12 hours, but my Crock Pot isn’t impressive.  Start with your pot on high to get it going, and then turn it down.  Check on it after 6, 8, and 10 hours.  And stir it any time you walk past it.  You want it to reduce in volume almost by half.  I set this at 2am, and it was ready for the next step at 7:30pm. So, almost 18 hours.  But, I also kept the pot on low since i knew I wouldn’t be around.

What if it burns? If it burns, remove the sauce into a bowl.  The burnt part should be stuck to the crock pot.  Clean it, return it to the pot, and continue.  What if it’s too runny?  Cook it longer.  What if it’s reduced too much?  Add apple sauce.  This is the nice thing.  Like I said, not a science.

After however many hours, your apple butter will be reduced by about half.  Mind you, that’s more than in this picture, but I totally spaced taking a picture at that point.

Then you add apple sauce to to the top of the crock again, and another 2 cups of sugar.  Mix well.  Let it cook a couple more ours to combine.  I cooked it another 3-4 hours.

Using an immersion blender, process until smooth.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, either buy one, or skip this step.  I do not want to get an email from you in the burn unit after a blender or food processor mishap.  Ok?  Safety first.  This is boiling apples and sugar.  If you don’t blend this, I don’t think it’s the end of the world, it just wont have that smooth buttery consistency that apple butter should.

That’s it.  You’ve made Apple Butter.

Using safe canning methods (you know, clean jars, ladle, and funnel) fill your jars with the apple butter.  I’ve done pints in the past, but apple butter doesn’t go as quickly as jam in our house.  So I stick to 1/2 pints to avoid any waste.

Remember to leave your 1/4 inch head space, put the cover on and hand tighten the ring.

Put em in the water bath (yes, there are 5 1/2 pints in there) and let em ride for 10 minutes for 1/2 pints or pints, and 15 min for quarts.

Remove, and let sit for 24 hours without disturbing them.  I usually put them back in the original cardboard case the jars came in them, and slide them in a cupboard to keep the kids away from them.

And we’ve made apple butter.  You can put it on toast or english muffins, make PB&AB sandwich, or heat it and brush it onto pork, pour it onto pancakes, mix it in oatmeal, or use it to top vanilla ice cream.

 

Aggroculture

I’m getting more and more into (the theory and dream) of homesteading and off the grid living.  And the more I read and follow blogs, it almost seems as though this is the beginning of an underground movements of this decades “F the man.”  The pepole I’m running in to are tattooed, pierced, rockabilly, punk rock….chicken farmers.  It’s like the way to fight societies rules, now-a-day, is to raise your own food, produce your own power, and work your own land.  Maybe it’s a coincidence.  Maybe the people I grew up with, and got tattooed with, are now old enough, and in a financial position, to do so.  But personally, i think I’m on to something here.  There seems to be a throw back to late 1800’s early 1900’s independence.

And on that note, I helped my friend Joel build a chicken coop.  Oh..not just some rinky dink little back yard cage.  I’m talking a full on, walk in, chicken chook condo.

Joel picked up a half dozen chicks back in February.  They’ve been living in a dog kennel in his work room in the back yard.  Joel started coming up with plans and designs.  Finally the day came.  He made a run to Home Depot, and called me to come over.

The plan.

When I arrived, Joel was busy staining the wood, and sealing it.

We started by framing out the sides.  3/4 of it will be covered with chicken wire, and 1/4 will be the plywood sleeping area.

After the sides were assembled, we stapled the chicken wire over the open areas.

Joel framed out the door and the 4th wall after I left.  I returned the next day and we put up the 4 walls.  Once the walls were up, we screwed on the plywood for the sleeping area.

One of the side walls is 6 inches higher than the other, to allow for drainage.  One of the first ideas we tossed around was a green roof.  Maybe an herb garden.  Or some kind of vine that the chooks could actually eat.  But due to the size, he decided to stick with something more traditional.

The roof has beam going in each direction for support.

Then, the inside of the residence was finished.  A couple of roosts on one side.

And the egg box on the other.

The area under the coop got a nice layer of bedding.

The outside of the coop looks even better than the inside.

The egg box. Accessible from the outside.

The people door.

And finally…the finished product:

I think it looks amazing.  I can’t have chickens where I’m at right now, so I’m living, partially at least, through Joel.  I think any chook would be lucky to live in this 12′ x 6′ x 7′ luxury condo.

And beyond the independence of raising his own chickens, and getting is own eggs, I got to share int he experience of building your own building.  And that carries it’s own satisfaction with it.

Having a blast!

For more on homesteading and off the grid living check out some of my favorite blogs:

Neo Homesteading.
The Alaskan Life
Living Off Grid

I’ll touch more on the topic in the future.

Canning 101: Strawberry Lemon Jam

A lot of people I meet and talk to are really interested in getting in to canning, but are also scared to try it.  I think this is one of the easiest recipes to get you into it.

Before you start, you’ll need a few basic supplies.  It’s an initial investment, but most of it will not need replacing or replenishing.

Start with a water bath caner.  You can go out and buy pot, or, if you ave stock pot (which any self respecting cook does) you can just use that.

You will need canning kit like this kit from Amazon. You can get these kits almost anywhere. Some contain more parts, and some less. What’s really important is the jar lifter and the funnel. I don’t use the magnetic lid lifter, the jar wrench or the tongs. Some kits contain a little wire rack for the jars to sit in. That’s nice, but not necessary.  But truth be told, if you have a wide mouth funnel, and can figure out how to get hot jars out of hot water, you really don’t need any of this.

You’ll need mason jars, lids, and rings. If you weren’t aware, all regular mouth jars use the same size lids and rings.  All wide mouth jars use the same size lids and rings.  All of them.  1/4, 1/2 pint, pint, quart, whatever. It’s one of the few standardized things left in my life.  This is beneficial for a few reason.  1st, you only buy 2 sizes of lids.  Ever.  2nd, the rings are re-usable, and don’t need to be on the jars once they seal.  So you seal your jars, remove the rings, and use them on the next batch.  The jars are also re-usable.  The only reasons you ever need to buy more jars once you start are that your jars are all full, or you’ve given away too much of you stock.

Jars are available at any grocery store, and Walmart and Target during the summer/fall.  But, they are also available at Goodwill.  And Saturdays are 1/2 price days.  Which makes you average mason jar about $0.40.  Remember, lids ARE NOT reusable, and you have rings at home.  So don’t pay more for a jar with a lid and ring.  Just buy the cheap jar.  All jars will be sterilized prior to use, so don’t worry about buying food jars at Goodwill.

For most jams and jellies you will also need Pectin.  It can found in groceruy stores.  It’s sold under the names Fruit-Jel, Fruit Pectin, Sure-Jell, Can-Jel, and many others.  It’s all the same stuff.  I pay $1.69 for Kroger Brand.  It works just as well as the $3 Ball Brand.

Canning is a great way to save money.  You buy things in season, or in bulk, when savings are good, and then preserve them for use when the price is high.  Right now, Strawberries are less than $1 a pound almost everywhere, because Florida just had their season, and they are abundant.  This is a great time to make strawberry jam, preserves, or just can them.

Now on to the good part.  Actually making the jam.

Strawberry Lemon Jam:

  • 1/4 cup thinly slice lemon peel (about 2 large)
  • 4 cups crushed strawberries (about 4 1-lb containers)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1.75-oz pkg Fruit Pectin
  • 6 cups sugar

Preparation:

Put water in your pot.  Remember that you need 1-2 inches of water above the tops of your jars.  But also remember that your sealed jars will displace their own volume in water.  Place either your wire rack, or a dish towel in the bottom of your pot.  Put your empty and open jars and lids in the water.  Heat.

Directions:

Crush your strawberries, one pound at a time, with a potato masher.  Consistency is up to you.  I like larger chucks of strawberry in my jam, so I do this step roughly.

Combine the 4 lbs in a large pot.

Cut the ends of the lemons.  Cut the rind off the lemon in strips from end to end.  Now, place the rind zest side down on the cutting board.  Using a long sharp knife, fillet the pith off of the zest.  You want to remove as much pith as you can, without damaging the zest.  Work in slow thin layers.

Rind removed from the lemon. Now to get that pith off.

When the pith is removed, stack the layers of zest.  Then slice them into the thinnest strips you can.  Place the strips of zest in a small pot of water, and heat to a boil.  Boil for 5-10 minutes, until the zest is soft.  Drain the zest, and add it to the strawberries, along with 1 tablespoon lemon juice (from the zested lemons), and the package of pectin.

Heat over high heat, stirring constantly.  The mixture must be heated quickly, or the pectin will break down.  Of course, high heat can cause burning.  So crank the heat up, and don’t walk away!  Just keep everything moving with a silicon spatula.

Heat the mixture to a full boil that can not be stirred down.

Add all the sugar at once, and stir in.  Continue to heat on high and stir constantly.  Constantly!  I can’t stress that enough.  Don’t leave.  Not to change the channel, not to use the bathroom, don’t even answer your phone.  Reheat the mixture to a full boil.  Be aware that at this point, this stuff is hotter and stickier than napalm.  It was also nearly double in volume, so a large pot is a must.

It should basically look like a volcano on your stove.

Keep it boiling at a full boil for 1 minute.  Then, remove from heat.

In the mean time, keep an eye on that canning pot over there.  You need to pull the lids out prior to the water boiling.  The hot water needs to soften the adhesive on the rim of the lids, but boiling water will compromise it.  Keep the jars in the water through boiling, and don’t pull them out unitl just before you’re ready to use them.

Skim any foam off of your jam.  It’s just not that tasty.

Using your funnel and ladle,  fill each jar with your jam.

Leave about 1/4 inch “head space”, that is, empty space at the top of the jar.

Put a lid on each jar.  Place a ring over the lid, and finger tighten.  Don’t crank down on it, air needs to get out.

Place the jars in the boiling water, ensuring that once all the jars are in, you have 1-2 inches of water on top of the jars.  Return the water to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.

Here’s a bit of the techy side I’ve learned.  You boil the fruit, killing bacteria.  You boil the jars, killing bacteria.  You added some lemon juice, increasing the acidity, which bacteria isn’t fond of.  And now, by heating, you increase the pressure in the jars.  That force that head space air out of the jars.  Watch, you’ll see the bubbles coming from the jars.  This creates a bit of a vacuum in the jars.  And, voila, canned.  Preserved.  Safe for months.  Also, delicious.

After 10 minutes, remove the jars.  Place them somewhere where they won’t be moved for 24-48 hours.   This gives everything time to settle and seal.  After that, remove the rings from the jars (gotta re-use them, right?).  The lids are on there tight, so don’t worry.

Make yourself some sweet labels.  If you’re going to give them away as gifts, include the ingredients, and a mad on, or use by date.  If you’re really going to get in to canning, labels are a must.  You need to know what’s in that jar, and when you made it.

Plus, your pantry starts to look kinda cool when everything has your own label on it.

Domestic Preparedness

Canning has a lot of benefits.  You save money.  You know what you’re eating.  And it’s one step closer to off the grid independence.  I’m very much looking forward to the summer and fall when I can start canning my own grown vegetables.

Future caning recipes wont be nearly this detailed and tedious.  But I was trying to make this an intro post for beginners.  I hope you enjoy this jam on some homemade bread or English muffins in the morning.  The sweet strawberries, with the bright burst of lemon zest is the perfect thing to coax me out of bed int he morning.

Herbs down, veggies to go.

Container Garden, part 2 of 2.

Little toes and little plants.

After an unusual high amount of rain, and some changes in my work schedule, I finally found time to finish my 2nd container garden.  The herbs are doing well in the trough.  Now, to move on to growing veggies.

I spent some time walking the halls of Lowes, and they had this nifty little plastic, snap in to place, pre formulated raised garden.  For $40.  For a 46″ square, by 8 inch container.  Really?  I am by no means a carpenter, but I figure I can make something bigger, and better for cheaper.  The back of the prefab showed how you could make clever designs if you bought additional sets.  If I wanted something 9 inches tall and 8 feet long, I needed to spend $160 on their crappy sets.  That wasn’t happening.

I wandered down to the lumber section and found some “premium white wood boards.”  I picked up 4 8’x9″x1″ planks, and a 2″x2″x8′.  I also grabbed a gallon of water seal, and some brushes.  The nice thing about Lowes and The Depot is that they’ll cut any board you buy twice for free.  Seeing as how I wanted a 4×8, I had them cut 2 of the boards right down the middle.  That save me a lot of measuring and cutting time later.

I started by water sealing all the wood.  Then, on to building.

My design was pretty simple.  Cut the 2×2 into foot long sections, use them as the corners, and screw the boards on to them.

Outside corner.

inside corner.

I made the posts a little taller than the boards for a few reasons.  1st, I can staple a net over the top of the whole garden if birds become an issue.  I can lash trellis material to them if I need to.  It made it look a little more decorative.  I can add a “2nd story” to it if I want to add some height for visual effect, or for deep rooted plants.  And, most importantly, you can’t tell if one is a 1/4 inch longer than the other, cause they aren’t next to each other.

I put another board in the middle of the container to add some structural support, and to allow me to tend to one half of the garden at a time or to segregate aggressive growers (like mint).

New garden. You can see the trough herb garden in the back.

I shoveled the rock back from the yard, and loosened the soil up a bit.  I dropped the new container in to place and tried to get it as level as possible.

I dropped a trellis in, for cucumbers and beans, and filled half the container with garden soil and composted mulch.  Near equal parts.  I didn’t want to go back to buy more soil, which is why I split the garden in half to begin with.  I’ll get to the other half in the coming weeks.

I bought this little prefab trellis.  but I’m starting to think about lashing bailing wire between the two brown posts that support the covered patio.  That way, i wouldn’t be limited by height.  I’ll get back to that.

Trellis

I got some fill dirt, and mixed it in with the soil.  Again, about equal parts dirt, soil, and mulch.  That was my magic recipe in the last garden, and I can’t argue wit the results.  X-man helped me mix it all together.

Kids are good at anything that involves dirt.

Then we started planting.  X-man but in some corn and carrot seeds.

Hopefully we'll reep what we sow.

X-Man catches me planting.

Zucchini, Crook Neck Squash, Red and Yellow Bell Peppers, Poblanos, Cucumbers, and String Beans.

Future dinner.

And now, we wait.

I’ll get to the other half here pretty soon.  I’d like to do some leafy greens, but I think I missed my season.  I might go for strawberries, or maybe some easy flowers for the kids to enjoy.

This was not a complex design, nor was it a complex project.  I wasn’t looking for an architectural award.  I was looking for an economic way to grow veggies to feed my family.  Total bill from Lowe’s was under $50, with the seal and brushes.  All I needed at home was a circular saw, a drill, and a handful of screws that I already had.  I think this container will last a long time.  I’ll update any modifications I make to it.

Lemon Basil Pasta Salad

This is one of my favorite original recipes I’ve come up with.  It started as a need for a dish at a potluck or block party or something.  It was the dead of summer, and temperatures were in 110’s.  It was way too hot for anything with mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, or the like.  I didn’t want anything heavy, or too spicy either.  This was also when I was in a phase of trying to cook with 5 ingredients or less (salt and pepper not included).  I figured a pasta salad, with a bright citrus dressing could really be something.

So here it is:

Lemon Basil Pasta Salad

  • 1 Package Bowtie Pasta
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 Bunch Basil
  • 1 Pint Grape Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil

Boil the pasta per the directions on the package.

Remove zest from both lemons.

I use a micro plane and I love it.  But you can also use those fancy zesters they sell.

Get all the zest from both lemons.  This is where all the flavor is.

Juice both lemons.  Make sure to strain out the seeds.

Slice your grape tomatoes in half.  If you decide to use cherry tomatoes cut them in quarters.  Rome Tomatoes, in 8th.  Vine tomatoes in 16th.  You get it.  Make em bite size.

Chiffonade your basil.  Chiffo-whatnow?  Chiffonade.  A technique in which herb are cut into long, thin strips.  STart by pinching the leaves from the stem.  Stack the leaves on top of each other, with the largest on the bottom, and the smallest on top.

Roll the stack of leaves up, like a tight cigar.

Then slice narrow strips across the cigar.  You’ll end up with little ribbons of basil as they uncurl.

Place the lemon juice in a mason jar.  Add olive oil to your liking.  I find that most dressing recipes call for more oil than vinegar.  I prefer mine the opposite way.  I usually do about 2 parts acid to 1 part oil.  That’s a good ratio for this recipe too.  You can even do 3 parts acid to 1 part oil here.  The idea is to have a bright, refreshing salad.  Not a thick, heavy, oil laden dish.  Add a liberal amount of Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Add your lemon zest.

Now, for my favorite life hack of 2010.  I don’t understand how this never occurred to me before.  Take your blender blade and base, and screw it on to the mason jar.  That’s right.  Blender bases were intentionally designed to fit regular mouth mason jars.  Mind boggling.

But your jar on your blender and blend into an emulsion.  If you don’t have a mason jar, or a blender (weirdo), then you could use an immersion blender, or a whisk if you’re super old school.  If that’s the case, start with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle the oil slowly as you whisk.  You want the dressing to emulsify.

Drain the pasta, and rinse in cold water.

Toss the pasta in cold water to properly cool it.

Toss the pasta, tomato, basil, and dressing together.  Enjoy.

Time to make my kitchen more self sustaining.

Container Garden, part 1 of 2.

Ever since leaving Maricopa, I am resentful about not having my herb garden. In Copa-town, I had the most beautiful basil plants ever. It started as two, that grew to be over 2 feet in diameter. Those two seeded and grew about a dozen the next year. Those dozen turned into 30. And by year four, I was thinning, re-potting, and giving away more than 30 plants to friends, just so mine would have ample room to grow. I would literally harvest pounds of basil leaves 2-3 times a year. It was amazing. Then we moved….to a yard that has 2 citrus trees and a lot of 1/2 inch granite.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The other day I needed fresh basil, and I had to pay $2 for a little 3oz package at the store. Despicable. I told Dess we needed make a container garden. One for herbs, because I love cooking with fresh herbs. And one for vegetables. Because beyond fresh veggies in your yard, you also have the option of canning them. I’d love to get to the point where I am growing and canning more than 50% of the veggies we eat.

So weekend we began. The Reverend Lovejoy was kind enough to donate some water troughs from his homestead to my cause.

The larger one is about 6 1/2′ t in diameter, and the smaller is 3′. Once I got home, I realized the logistics of filling the larger one with dirt (Pi)(r2)(height) was more than I wanted to do this weekend. I chose to start with the smaller one.

We went to the Depot, and bought some potting soil, mulch, a couple flats of herbs and veg starters, and some seeds.

The troughs were higher than I anticipated when I asked for them. Filling them with premium potting soil would have broken the bank. So I started with some fill dirt from a field down the street.

Topped it off with an even mix of top soil and composted mulch. put the little starters in there and watered thoroughly.

Clockwise from the top:
Dill, Cilantro, Rosemary, Basil, Jalapeno Pepper, Taragon, Oregano, and Parsley. Lemon Thyme, and Tabasco Peppers in the middle.

We also got three varieties of tomatoes and put them in pots. Pink Ladies, Rome, and Bonnie Grape.

And now we wait…….

I’m building a second raised planter out of premium white wood shortly. I need to wait for the rain to subside, which doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.


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