Thursday, August 27, 2015

Food Preservation: What to Can

Bread and Butter Pickles from my
mother-in-law's pantry
We all know that canning is a great way to put the foods we grow in our gardens away for a rainy (or snowy) day, but what exactly are you able to can? 
Well, pretty much anything!

Jam, Jelly, Preserves, or Apple Butter
Peaches, Apricots or Pears
Apple Sauce
Pie Filling
Veggies (carrots, green beans, corn, etc.)
Taco Soup, Dill Pickle Relish and
Marinara Sauce from my pantry
Pickled Peppers, Okra, Squash or Asparagus
Salsa, Taco Sauce or Chili Sauce
Pasta or Pizza Sauce
Soup, Stew, or Chili
Barbecue Sauce
Fruit or Vegetable Juice
Chokecherry Jam from Mom's
In my family we have always had our canned "staples."
Grandma and grandpa always kept a fairly large garden, and grandma would can the resulting produce. Strawberry jam, canned peaches, tomatoes, chili sauce, salsa, and she also canned meat. I know what you're thinking: "WHAAT?! Canned meat?! Why would one need to can meat?" Well, grandpa worked for the state fish and game association and, therefore, went hunting on a regular basis. When he brought home a deer, elk, or pronghorn most of the meat went into the freezer, but a good portion was also canned by grandma. It was tasty, already cooked, and made the best loose meat barbecue sandwiches you've ever tasted. So, why can meat? Why not?!
Aunt Steph's Apple Pie Filling

At my parents house my mom made strawberry jam, peach jam, canned peaches, tomatoes, salsa, and pickles. At the house they live in now they have a peach tree that produces far too many peaches for any human to eat, so mom stays pretty busy canning jam and peaches each fall.

At our house Willie and I have canned taco soup, marinara sauce, green beans, dill pickle relish, potatoes, and tomatoes.

So, by now I'm sure you're asking "But what about your great uncle? What does he can?" The answer: Jalapeno jelly.

I've asked my family to take photos of the canned food in their pantries for this blog entry. Photo credits go to: Cheryl Nisonger, Pat Williams, and Stephanie Black.

Aunt Steph's Pickled Beets
Aunt Steph's
Raspberry Jam
Aunt Steph's Tomato Juice
and Crushed Tomatoes
Aunt Steph's Salsa
Aunt Steph's Bottled
Aunt Steph's

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chicken and Ramen Stir Fry

I found this recipe in a recipe book I bought a while back, and adapted it a little. I make it all the time to pack in my lunches I take to work. It reheats really well, it's easy to make, and the ingredients are inexpensive. It's a win all-around!

Here's what you'll need:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 packages of ramen noodles (at least one needs to be chicken flavored)
1 package of frozen stir fry vegetables
Stir fry sauce (I recommend Kung Pao, but any will do)

First cut your chicken into small cubes and set aside.
Open up your ramen noodles and take out the flavor packs. You will need one chicken flavored pack for this recipe, set the other one aside for another use. Cook the noodles, reducing the cook time on the packaging by half.
Drain your ramen noodles and set aside.
Get your frozen veggies all ready. (I dumped mine into a bowl so I could sift through and remove the water chestnuts. I don't care for those.)
Measure out 1/2 cup of stir fry sauce.
Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in your wok. If using a non-stick wok, keep the temperature at about medium high. If not, you can crank it up! 
Add your chicken and stir fry until you can no longer see pink. If there is too much liquid that collects in the wok, move the meat up on the sides and allow the liquid to boil away.
Next add the veggies. Stir fry until they are pretty well heated through. Again, if there is too much liquid that collects you can move the food up on the sides of the wok and let it reduce. This time, though, don't let it all boil away. Leave just a bit so that the noodles can finish cooking.
The noodles, sauce, and flavor packet should all be added now. Stir fry until the sauce is hot and coats everything in the pan.
I typically top my stir fry with dry roasted peanuts before I dig in! Whatever is left over I portion into containers and put away for my lunches.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Drink Bottle Flower Vase

So, a while back there was a lady at my nursing home who was not doing so well. I decided to bring in some flowers to spruce the place up. My only problem? No flower vase. I decided to make my own!

I found an empty sports drink container and decided that I could figure out how to make it cute! 

First I took off the label and the cap. 

Next, I rinsed it out and cut off the neck. 

After it had dried out a bit, I found a metallic marker to decorate it with. It doesn't have to be metallic, I just happened to have a metallic one and decided to make my vase fancy! 

After you have fancified the vase, you will need some flowers. If you have some growing in your yard, go ahead and use those. All my flowers had either died or been eaten by goats, so I went down to the vacant lot on the corner. 

There I found a bunch of scarlet mallow, and cut a handful. 

I took them home, rinsed off the bugs, trimmed away some leaves and added them to my vase. I added a bit of water and took it over to the nursing home. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Canning - Dill Pickle Relish

Willie had bought some cucumbers to experiment with making cucumber salad, but after his first batch his interest waned somewhat. Since the cucumbers were starting to get a bit long in the tooth, I figured some preservation was in order. I did what anyone would do, I made relish! This post will take you through all the necessary steps, from prep work to canning.

First, the recipe:

3 lbs cucumbers (the recipe calls for pickling cucumbers, but regular ones will work fine)
2-3 sweet onions (I've used regular yellow or white onions with good results as well)
1/4 c. pickling salt (don't use table salt, it will discolor your beautiful yellow relish)
3 cups white vinegar
3/4 c. white sugar (you may choose to use less, depending on how sweet you like your relish)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dill seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp cornstarch

I liked this recipe so much that this is the third batch of relish I've made. Please take a moment to look over the original recipe here and give it a good rating. It really is phenominal! I only had a pound and a half of cucumbers, so I made a half batch. I would recommend reading through the entire post before you begin, because there is a lot of different steps, and there are a few things that need to be timed carefully.

Here's the equipment that I used for my prep work: 
Kitchen Scale
Cutting Board
Mandolin Slicer
Large Mixing Bowl

First, cut the ends off of your cucumbers and slice with the mandolin slicer. I used the medium setting, because I wanted my bits of relish to be small, but not too small. Don't have a mandolin? No problem! Just slice these fellows up with your knife.

Next, do the same to your freshly peeled onion. Once sliced, chop your slices into quarters so that it will fit onto your chopper. If you are using a chopper, that is.

Chop your onions, and put them in your large mixing bowl.

Do the same for your cucumbers, and add them to the bowl as well.

Next, measure out your pickling salt and stir it into your cucumber/onion mixture. Don't worry about making your relish salty. We're just using the salt to draw the water out of your vegetables. Allow this mixture to sit for an hour. That's right, walk away, come back in an hour. Maybe put your jars in the dishwasher to sterilize.

After an hour has passed you will see that there is a ton of water pooling up in the bottom of the bowl. The salt has done its job!

Empty the contents of your bowl into a colander or strainer and rinse thoroughly. Allow it to drain completely. You want this mixture to be fairly dry, so you may want to press some of the moisture out as well.

While your cucumber/onion mixture is draining and drying, get the ingredients together for your pickling solution.

Put everything but the turmeric and cornstarch into a large pot and bring it to a boil.

Add your cucumbers and onions and allow the mixture to boil for nine minutes. Right around your nine minute mark, measure out the cornstarch into a small container. Add a bit of the liquid from your pot to it, and whisk it until it is well incorporated. Stir this mixture into your pot, and continue stirring and boiling until the mixture thickens somewhat.

Cut the heat and stir in your turmeric. Mix it in well, as is will want to clump up a bit in the warm mixture.

Check out the color and texture of this relish. Delightful!

Now comes the canning! If you haven't already, sterilize your equipment, jars, lids and rings. You can use boiling water to sterilize, or your dishwasher if it has a sterilization feature. Be sure that you don't leave your lids in boiling water too long, or run them through your dishwasher, as it will activate the seal prematurely and your jars will not seal. Time it out so that your jars and your relish mixture are still hot when it comes time to combine the two. Now is also a good time to start your water boiling. Use a large pot, deep enough to cover the tops of the jars by two inches, and be sure to use some sort of rack. Since I only had two jars, and didn't want to drag my pressure canner out, I just used a large stock pot and put a flat-bottomed colander into it to hold my jars.

Use your canning funnel to fill the hot jars with hot relish.

Use your headspace tool to check your headspace. This recipe calls for 1/2 inch of headspace. Once your jars are filled and headspace measured, turn the tool over and use the flat handle to remove as many of the air bubbles from your jar as you can.

Using a damp paper towel or clean damp dishcloth, wipe the edges of your jars. Be sure that there is nothing on them, so that the lids can seal securely.

Use a lid lifter to place your lids on top of your jars. Screw the rings onto the jars, tighten them until "finger tight" and then back it off about 1/8 inch. If your rings are too tight, the air cannot escape and you won't achieve a vacuum, and you run the risk of bursting your jars.

Using your canning tongs, lower your jars into the boiling water gently. If there is not enough water to cover the jars by two inches, add more hot water and bring back to a boil. Process for ten minutes. Please note that this method of canning, known as the boiling water method, is not suitable for canning all foods. There are many foods which require pressure canning to achieve the temperatures necessary to kill bacteria and prevent food-born illness. Follow the instructions as noted on the recipe, or the instruction manual for your pressure canner, in order to prevent illness from home-canned food.

Once your ten minutes is up, use the canning tongs to lift the jars out of the boiling water. Place them on a dishtowel on the counter and let them cool. If you place the hot jars directly onto the cold counter, the temperature shock may cause them to shatter. Don't touch, bump, jostle or handle them until they have sealed and cooled. Reminds me of family car trips when I would fight with my brother. Mom would say, "Don't look at him, don't touch him, don't BREATHE on him." Same concept, I think. Except this time, rather than avoiding a fight, we are avoiding your lid popping off.

You can tell if the jar has sealed, because it will make a loud popping sound. Once cooled, double check that the jar is sealed by pressing in the center of the lid with your finger. If the jar is sealed the "button" will be down. If it is not sealed, you will be able to press the button down with your finger and it will pop back up when you remove the pressure. If your jar is sealed you can label it, remove the ring if you desire, and store it in your pantry. If the jar is not sealed, you can put it into the refrigerator and use it right away. Some people claim that you can process your unsealed jars with new lids, but I'm not a fan of this idea. Seems as though you will over cook the food being canned. Best to put it in the fridge and use it first.