Archived entries for basic techniques

Freezing Blueberries

Its blueberry season! You won’t get as tasty blueberries any other time of year, so make hay while the sun shines.  Be a good little ant and store some food for the winter.  Here’s the best simple way to ensure quality in your frozen berries.

Freezing Blueberries.

1. Wash berries and drain until nearly dry.

2.  Lay berries flat on a cookie sheet.

3.  Place in freezer.  Freeze for 24 hours.

4. Remove from freezer, remove berries from trays and put into freezer bags.  Mark date and put back into freezer.

And, done.

Fresh Baked Bread: DAILY!

Now that we are a family of four, we go through bread quickly.  I felt like I was always having to run to the store to get some.  Finally, I just thought, I’ve seriously got to start making my own bread.  Ha! Yeah, right.  When am I going to find the time.  So…I got a bread machine!

Yeah, I said it.  I got a bread machine.  You can get one too.  Just ask your Mom if you can have the one she got during the craze of the late 90′s and then hid in the basement when the Atkins frenzy hit and demonized bread and those evil carbs as the worst villain of the new millenia.  Is it cheating to make bread in a machine? Oh, who cares?? We have fresh baked bread everyday.

To make it simple, every Sunday, I premix the dry batter for a whole weeks worth of loafs.  Placing one batch in the machine bowl and then the rest in 6 mason jars.  That way, every night before bed, I can just throw the dry ingredients into the bowl with the water, add the yeast, press start and go to bed. When I wake up, bread! Yum.  Easy.  End of story.

And yes, I know the bread from the machine has those weird butts where the paddle kneads the bread.  I just cut off that end, dry it out and use it for bread crumbs.  Multitasking!

Tomato Juice

Not only is homemade tomato juice awesome and delicious, its a great way to get rid of ulgy damaged tomatoes.  I usually make this last, after processing my whole tomatoes and marinara, so I can use any excess juice or scraps from the other tomatoes.  Nothing makes for an amazing spontaneous brunch party then a quick bloody mary with your own juice.  Let’s get juicy.

Tomato Juice

  • Tomatoes, juiced
  • optional: salt

Core tomatoes and remove any bruised or damaged bits.  Place tomatoes in a pot and simmer on the stove top for about 20-30 minutes to soften up and allow for easy juicing.  Pour into a food mill to remove skin and seeds. If you are lucky enough to have a juicer, you can just use that and skip the simmering step.  However, I would still suggest running the pulp waste through a food mill to get as much juice as you can out of the tomatoes.

Bring tomato juice back up to a boil.  If its a bit watery, you can cook it down until you get the flavor you want.  Salt to taste.

Wash enough glass canning jars needed for tomato juice.  Temper by dipping in the boiling water of your canning pot.  Sterilize canning lids in boiling water.

Pour tomato juice into hot jars Wipe edges of jar to remove any materials which might impede lids from sealing.  Top with sterilized canning lid and ring

Process in boiling water canner 15 minutes for pints and quarts.  Beginning timing when water in canner comes back to a rolling boil.  When time is up, remove from water and allow to cool on counter top.  Do not jostle jars as it can impede a proper seal.

Once jars are cooled and sealed, mark with contents and date.  Put in your pantry and feel good about a job well done!

Easy Canned Whole Tomatoes

Whole tomatoes are one of my top pantry staples.  As I spoke about in my last post, rising concern for health risks with store bought canned tomatoes has made it even more important to can my own.  We usually reserve the more meaty Italian plum/roma varieties for canning whole, although you can use any type.  We’re going to do fresh pack which means the tomatoes will not be cooked first and will be processed with boiling water. (You can also use tomato juice). Its an easy process, in terms of skill, but can be a bit time consuming.  However its worth it. So, lets get going.

Canned Whole Tomatoes: Fresh Pack in Water

  • Tomatoes
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • canning jars and lids

Wash and rinse tomatoes clean.

In a pot of boiling water, blanch tomatoes for 30-60 seconds.  If you want your tomatoes to retain their shape, don’t over boil, as it will make your tomatoes become mushy.  However, it doesn’t really matter if they get mushy, and it sort of helps them fit in the jars better.  Its merely a matter of your personal aesthetics.

After blanching, use a knife to remove the core.  Remove skins.  They should peel right off without use of a knife.

Boil some fresh water for filling jars, 1 cup for every pint, 2 cups for every quart.  In your canning pot, begin boiling water to prepare for processing.

Wash enough glass canning jars needed for tomatoes.  Temper by dipping in the boiling water of your canning pot.  Sterilize canning lids in boiling water.

To prepare jars, fill each pint jar with: (Double for quarts)

  1. 1 Tbs lemon juice
  2. 1/2 tsp canning or kosher salt
  3. Stuff as full as possible with skinned tomatoes
  4. Fill jars with boiling water  leaving 1/2″ head space.

Wipe edges of jar to remove any materials which might impede lids from sealing.  Remove air bubbles from jar.  I usually use a chopstick.  Top with sterilized canning lid and ring

Process in boiling water canner.  40 minutes for pints. 45 minutes for quarts.  Beginning timing when water in canner comes back to a rolling boil.  When time is up, remove from water and allow to cool on counter top.  Do not jostle jars as it can impede a proper seal.

Once jars are cooled and sealed, mark with contents and date.  Put in your pantry and feel good about a job well done!


Applesauce Is Easy!

Fresh apples are one of the best parts of fall! Applesauce is super easy to make. Fresh apples are always so full of sugar, you doesn’t need any additives so it makes a perfect nutritious food especially for babies. We’re going to have 2 babies to feed this coming year, so I’m planning on canning at least 8 gallons.

You may be thinking, is making your own apple sauce worth it? Even though it is easy, it can be a bit time consuming to core and peel apples enough for a good batch.  Bon Appetite’s blog recently posted an article asking this same question.  Their answer was, yes, it is worth it for a superior taste. Although they say it costs more to make it for yourself.  This may be true if you buy apples in the best quality.  However, if you can get them for free, or find discounted bruised ones at your local orchard, you can save a lot of money.  Since you’re cooking them down, it doesn’t matter if there are some bad spots you need to cut out.

Since we get our apples for free from my Aunt Shirley’s apple trees, our sauce costs us basically nothing to make gallons and gallons of delicious, nutritious organic apple sauce!  Perfect for babies, children and adults alike!  Let’s get cooking!

Easy Applesauce

  • apples, as many as you want.  At least a couple pounds

Prep apples: Core and skin apples.  Cut out any brown spots.

Cook apples: Place apples in a large enough soup pot.  Fill pot with a couple inches of water.  If you’re only doing a small amount of apples, just an inch will suffice.  The water is just to keep the apples from burning the bottom of the pot before they’ve cooked down enough to make a sauce. Cook apples over medium low heat for 30-90 minutes, again depending on the amount of apples.  Just cook them until they’ve cooked down into a sauce.  Stir occasionally to keep it from burning at the bottom.

I never add any spices or sugar, but if you prefer, you can season to your taste and add some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or sweetener at this time

You can leave your apple sauce chunky or you can puree for a more smooth consistency.  For small babies, a smoother consistency is better.

Storage options:

  • Canning is a great way to store your applesauce.  Apples have enough acidity so you can safely can them in a water bath with no additives.  Just place your applesauce in a canning jar, seal using the proper sterilized canning lids and process in a boiling water for 20 minutes.
  • Freezing is also an easy way to store applesauce.  You can place in jars or bags and put in the freezer.  For quick baby food, you can freeze single serving portions in an ice cube tray.  Once they are frozen, remove from tray and transfer to a freezer bag.

Quick and Easy Raspberry Freezer Jam

Want to make your own jam, but intimidated of the canning process?  Don’t worry, here’s an easy way to make your jam and preserve it all year.  We’re going to make freezer jam!  What’s great about this method is that it does not take any fancy equipment, so anyone can do it!

Yesterday I was able to get 6 pints of delicious raspberries for $1 each.  I love getting a good deal!  So, we’re going to make raspberry jam.  The only special ingredient this recipe requires is powdered pectin to help the jam thicken.  Sure-Jell is the most common brand which you can find in most major grocery stores.  For this recipe, we’ll be using the pink box, which is the low sugar pectin.

Raspberry Freezer Jam*
makes 6-8 pints (or 12-16 cups)

  • 6 pints of raspberries to yield 8 c. crushed raspberries
  • 7 c. sugar
  • 2 packages of Sure-Jell low sugar powdered pectin
  • 2 c. water

Select the jars or containers you wish to use for your jam. Wash and rinse containers.  You don’t need any special containers, just ones with lids which seal tight to prevent freezer burn.

Rinse raspberries. Place in a bowl and crush using a potato masher. Measure out 8 cups.

In a large soup pot, measure out 7 cups of sugar, exactly.  Add two packets of Sure-Jell pectin into sugar, stir until well mixed with sugar.  Add 2 cups water and stir until mixed.

Place sugar mixture on burner over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until mixture starts to boil.  Boil and stir for 1 minute, exactly, and then remove from heat.

Add crushed raspberries and stir into melted sugar mixture for 1 minute.

Pour jam mixture in your jars and seal tightly with lids.  Allow to stand for 24 hours to set.

Place jars in freezer.  And eat at your leisure!

*based on recipe from the Sure-Jell packet.

Quick Tip: DIY Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are just that: crumbs of bread. I refuse to buy breadcrumbs because I always have unused slices of bread laying around the house.  Making breadcrumbs is easy and quick, so why not try this quick tip!

Forakble Tip: Instead of throwing away the butts of your bread, or that loaf that is almost going bad, just throw it into your freezer.  Keep collecting until you have a bag full of bread and you can make one big batch of crumbs.

Making Breadcrumbs:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lay out the bread on the wire racks.  Toast each side for about 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.  You want the bread to be completely dried out.  Place bread in a food processor or a blender and leave on until all chunks are broken down.*  Store in a dry, air tight glass jar.  Breadcrumbs remain good for up to a year.

*You might want to do a test piece first, to make sure its dried out.  If it doesn’t want to break down nice, its probably because there is some moisture still left in the bread.  If so, put bread back in oven for 5 minutes or so, until its complete dried out.

Canning Chicken Stock

Although I didn’t formally put this on my 2011 To-Do List, I’ve been wanting to can chicken stock in my new pressure cooker for a while.  Its different from the one I’ve used in the past canning with my Mom.  When I made a big batch of chicken stock this past weekend, I decided it was time for its maiden voyage.

Since you can’t can chicken stock in a regular water boiling method because of its low acidity, I’ve always just frozen it.  But whenever I want to use it, I always have to defrost it, which can be a pain.  So I want to start canning it.

It is necessary to use a pressure cooker when canning chicken stock because the low acidity of the stock requires the jars be brought to a higher temperature then water boils at to kill off all harmful bacteria.  Following the directions of my new cooker, I needed to bring the pressure up to 11 pounds (as shown below in the pressure guage) for safe canning.  Although pressure cookers can be very imtimidating, they’re actually very easy and safe to use as long as you follow their specific directions.

The process begins similarly to canning with a water bath.  After preparing a batch of chicken stock, straining it and bringing it back up to a boil.  I ladled the boiling stock it into prepared mason jars (washed and heated) and placed the two part canning top and ring onto the jars.

Prepare the pressure canner: Before beginning, I disassembled and cleaned every part of the pressure canner.    The lid of the canner has a steam vent pipe which allows the steam to be released.  Make sure nothing is blocking the free flow of air and steam through the vent pipe.  When wanting to create pressure, you place a pressure regulator also known as a petcock over the vent.  Have the petcock off the lid when beginning the canning process.

To begin canning: Check the instructions for your canner and follow them exactly.  This is the process for my Presto Canner:  Place the 3 quarts of boiling water into the canner along with the jars (and lids) and twist the lid of the canner into place.  Place canner on burner over high heat.

Bring to a boil.   Once a steady stream of steam starts coming out of steam vent pipe, allow steam to vent for 10 minutes.

After ten minutes, place the petcock over the steam to regulate the pressure.  Bring pressure up to 11 pounds and regulate pressure by adjusting the burner heat to medium-low to keep at 11 pounds.  For quart jars, boil at 11 lbs pressure for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, turn burner off and remove from heat.  Allow to sit until pressure is down to zero again.  DO NOT REMOVE petcock before the pressure has been reduced.

When pressure is at zero again, remove petcock and allow canner to sit for 10 minutes or so to cool down.

After ten minutes, remove lid.  Keep face and hands away from the steam which will be released.  Remove jars and allow to sit to cool.  Label with name and date and place in pantry.

I know have 7 quarts of chicken stock which is ready to use whenever I want it without having to defrost it first.  Yus!

Acorn Squash: Tres Delish!

Its Thanksgiving time and we all want easy dishes with a bit of elegance.  A tasty treat, easy as (frozen) pie and a natural fancy pants is serving up acorn squash in its shell.  I love, love, love the sweetness of fresh squash in the autumn.  Yes, it could take up some prime real estate in your oven on Turkey day if you’re serving a group, but if you’ve got the space, this is a gobble-gobble great way to go!

Buttered Acorn Squash in its Shell
Each squash serves 2

  • Acorn Squash
  • butter
  • fresh rosemary
  • salt
  • pepper

Slice squash in half.  Scoop out seeds.  Pierce squash inside wells with a fork about 4-6 times, depending on size.  Try not to pierce through the outer skin.  Slice butter into squash halves, about 1 Tbs per half depending on taste preferences.  Lay one stalk of rosemary in squash well, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Place on a baking sheet into a preheated oven of about 350-400 degrees.  (You can roast these with other dishes in the oven if there’s space, so the temp variation is for that.  Bake for about an hour, or until the squash tests soft with a fork, or as we like to say, forkable!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

That’s A Crock’a…Awesome: Open Crock Pickles

To make dill pickles, just soak some cucumbers and dill in vinegar and salt for a few weeks.  Yup.  Its that easy.

This kind of pickle is often called “open crock” because in old times, they were put in crocks, a thick ceramic container and left to sit out in cold dark spots until the pickles were done.  The thick ceramic would help maintain a steady cool temp of the pickles.    Now you can just put them in jars in the refrigerator.

For a wedding present, my sister gave us a 1 gallon crock.  I decided this year was time to pull it out and activate my pickling scene.

Open Crock Pickles
(makes 1 gallon)

  • 5 lbs pickling cukes (4-6 inches)
  • 6 Tbs pickling spice
  • 8 c. water
  • 4 c. vinegar
  • 6 Tbs kosher or sea salt
  • 3 large dill stems with seeds -0r- 1/4 dried dill seed
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 3 dried chillies
  • 1 gallon crock or glass jar

Soak cucumbers in ice water for 1 hour.  This washes the cucumbers as well as helps ensure crispiness.

Start filling your crock. Layer dill, 2 tbs of your pickling spice, a dried chili and 1-2 cloves of garlic on the bottom of your crock.

Layer on top of this 1/2 of your cucumbers. Top with second layer of dill and spices. Fill with last 1/2 of your cucumbers and top with remaining dill and spices.

Make your brine. Mix water, vinegar and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.  I would normally use white vinegar or cider vinegar.  However, I currently have a shit ton of red wine vinegar which I want to get rid of so I’m using this.  It may give a slight pink color if I can them later, but it won’t be visible if they’re all eaten relatively soon.

Pour boiling brine over your full crock.

Weigh your pickles down.  If you’re using a crock, find a plate which fits just over the top and weigh down with plates to keep cucumbers below the surface of your brine. If you’re using a jar, put the lid on it.

Store your pickles in a cool place for 2-3 weeks. You can put the crock in the fridge to brine, or you can also leave it out on the counter.  As you can see above, I had some room in my fridge.  My sister leaves her out on her kitchen counter all the time.  Instead of a plate, she uses a clear plastic sheet draped over the top and weighed down with extra brine.  This helps keep out bugs and scum.

So get out there and make some pickles!

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