Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pickled Peppers and Plums (say that ten times fast!)

I finally found someone else who likes my pickled turnips!  We had a friend over for dinner this week and he trustingly tried spoonfuls of unidentified items from jars in my refrigerator, declaring the Lift "delicious" and even having some as a side with dinner!

Proof positive I cannot multi-task when I am tired!  I snagged a few pounds of tomatoes at bargain basement prices at Wednesday's Farmers' Market, cut, cored and olive oiled them, added seasonings and even peeled garlic this time.  Then I slid them into the oven to roast away.  I kind of meant to turn the oven off before I went to the bus stop but even if I didn't, they should have been fine.  Except there was a bolt of lightning.  And the school took all the kids back inside from the buses.  And I did not know about this - they sent an email but I have a dumb phone - so we waited for our children at a bus stop too far from the house to let them walk alone while this happened to my tomatoes.
Two pans looking like this :(

I did salvage some, but they are unusable for my original intent, which was more of that silky-smooth marinara I made in my last tomato adventure.  Ah well, try again next week!
(Please note, the pill bottle off to the left is filled with meds for the dog...not for me when my tomatoes blacken up as one friend suggested!)

On a more positive note, I found a simple recipe for pickled banana peppers and whipped up a jar.

Slice peppers into rings, and place in a bowl with  2 bay leaves and 5 cloves of crushed garlic.  Boil 1 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 Tbsp of raw sugar, 2 tsp mustard seed and 2 tsp kosher salt.  Pack jar, pour liquid over it, let it cool, cap and refrigerate.  Eat in 3 days.

They are pretty darned tasty on sandwiches, but watch out, they have a healthy vinegar kick that will leave you coughing if it goes down the wrong pipe!

This morning, I gazed at the sad plums that should have been turned into something yummy by yesterday at the latest.  They still showed signs of life, so before the kids even finished breakfast, I had a small batch of Amaretto Plum Jam going in the canner.   Or it may turn out to be Amaretto Plum Dessert Sauce, depending on the vagaries of high altitude canning with non-pectin recipes.  There was only a spoon-licking quantity left over so no previews on my toast.
No coffee made to justify a nip of Amaretto
I am beginning to enjoy Ellie Top's Small Batch Preserving book more and more.  There is a Mango Plum jam on the next page.  There is a mango on my counter.  hmmmmmm

Saturday, August 13, 2011

small batches

I am enjoying the concept of small-batch preserving this year.  In past years, I have gone all wild with 20 lbs of peaches or cases of strawberries, but this year, I want to try things that may or may not work.  So I see it as cutting down on the waste.

I am completely uncomfortable with my first effort at sauerkraut.  Perhaps my kitchen was too warm, maybe I was overtired and added too much salt.  But it is at a loss of only one small cabbage and either 4 tsp or 4 Tbsp of salt, so the experience was worth it to me.  I'll be working up another batch once I find a suitable cabbage.

My small-batch experiments this past week involved Pickled Turnip (Lift) and plum jam.  The Lift (from Canning for a New Generation) is a resounding success, all pretty in pink with tasty tart turnips.  I need to build a sandwich to put it on now!
cooling on the counter
Peel, slice and blanch your turnips.  Layer into a jar with celery leaves and a few slices of pickled beets.  Pour hot vinegar/water/salt mixture over the top.  Add a little extra pickled beet juice because you really like that pink Easter egg color.  Cool on the counter; cap; refrigerate.  They are ready in 3 days, although I snuck one early and it was definitely what I tasted in that sandwich in that Arab joint in Manitou Springs!

3 days later!

I am actually surprised I have not tried plum jam before.  The recipe is very easy, not even involving pitting them.  The pits are skimmed out just prior to canning.  

boil with some water

add sugar and lemon juice, cook until pulpy

jar up and eat the leftovers
As always, altitude is tricky in this one.  We don't boil well at just under 7000 ft above sea level, so I am never sure whether to give something an extra few minutes - brown rice, for example - or to just go with the normal time.  My jam may be a little less jammy than I'd like, but again...4 jars.  I have no doubt it will be eaten, it just won't be given away as a gift LOL.  In my post-jam research, I realized that plums are naturally high in pectin, especially if you are taking advantage of the skins and pits (that sounds so very wrong!).  So although my initial set test - watching slightly cooled jam slide off a wooden spoon and looking for sheeting - indicated I should let 'er boil for a few minutes more, I see this is not actually warranted.

I think I'll be printing off a copy of that natural pectin level chart of fruits so I can be aware during future jam sessions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

you say "tomato"


Needless to say, I had not tried canning tomatoes before.  I was good, sat down and read what I could find in several of the canning books, located what seemed like a pattern for how to cold pack the goods, and set out to accomplish the canning of about 20lbs of tomatoes.

I decided to go with raw packed whole tomatoes because that would leave me the most options to use them later.  And it looked pathetically simple to make.  Cut the x on the bottom of the tomato and blanch for 1 minute (2 or more at my altitude) before pulling and plunging the tomatoes into an ice water bath.  I quickly had a rhythm of cut, boil, plunge and peel and soon there were enough tomatoes for a jar.  The directions had mentioned pushing the small, whole tomatoes into the jar with your hand but I had located only regular-mouthed jars (the wide-mouthed jars purchased for this specific reason were MIA in the basement) which were too small for my hands, so I pushed them down with a spoon until I had covered them in their own liquid.  (Note possible fail point here.)

"Leave a generous 1/2 inch head space."  (Potential fail point two?)

"Water bath processing for 85 minutes" plus my high- altitude requirement of an additional 15 minutes.  I am just going to blame the whole debacle on altitude and call it done.  (Three strikes?)

And, in the small section I failed to see when I was doing my pre-canning prep:  "Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the canner for 5 minutes to prevent siphoning." 

Siphoning - This bit of evil is when liquid boils out of your jars while processing.  Possible causes are fruit packed too tightly, too little head space, and rapid pressure change.  OH yes, that 5 minutes I was supposed to leave the jars in the canner post-boil!  To be honest, I suspect the damage was already done.  The smell of stewed tomatoes was a bit strong when I pulled the lid off the canner.  But when I lifted out a quart jar of tomatoes out, there was an immediate and ominous hissing sound as tomato juice spurted out around the ring and into the hot water.

Poor, sad, liquid-reduced canned tomatoes
Normally, this would be end game for the tomatoes and I'd have had to remove them from the cans, place them in freezer bags and use them before they were irretrievably lost in the depths of my ice box in white fur coats.  The liquid passing from the jar would compromise the integrity of the seal by depositing food between the seal and the jar.  But wouldn't you know it, those little buggers began to ping pop the canning song within minutes and, in the end, all of them sealed.  That's not to say it was a pretty effort - the tomatoes at the top will likely discolor - but at least my learning experience can still be productive!  I'll use the ugly ones first and pretend it never happened.  A few of them even sealed properly!

better packing on this jar?
I still had tomatoes leftover, that's always the way, isn't it?  So I quartered, oiled, salt and peppered, and tucked a handful of basil from my garden under the mix and roasted them until they started to blacken.  Yup, I really want them that way.  It makes them sweeter, caramelizing the natural sugars.  A quick trip through the mouli - I still don't like doing that so it wasn't just my teenage self - and I had an amazing marinara sauce.  Or pizza sauce.  Or something to ladle over baked chicken.  Wow.  This will have to be repeated and frozen!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

with relish!

Hot dogs get a bad rap as being filled with leftovers and rejected parts of a multitude of animals but there are some good ones out there - Nathan's and Hebrew National spring to mind as easily-acquired brand names, and any butcher worth their salt will stock a tasty local-style dog.   But as a friend once said to me, the main function of a hot dog is as a vehicle for condiments.

With that in mind, I made Cucumber Relish.  I have plans for ketchup and mustards at a later date!  Fortunately, I read the entire recipe ahead of time, not always something I do but I am getting better, because not only was there a 3-4 hour soak time but there was also a 12-18 hour overnight soak!  There is also an overwhelming amount of dicing and chopping that I was able to make short work of with my cute little Manual Food Processor.
from this...
to only a matter of strokes!

A bit of mixing to show off the colors of the red and green peppers, red onions, and pickling cucumbers used, and voila...
from the old Ball Blue Book of Canning
Speaking of colors, turmeric stains everything.  Oh my word, does anyone have any useful ways to take it off my rubber spatulas (scrapers for those of you in other parts of the country)?  I had to use stainless cleaner to get it out of my giant stainless steel bowl and eventually, it will stop making me look like I have nicotine-stained fingernails!

Aside from inadvertent dying of everything it came into contact with, the relish canned up easily, no major missteps, which is more than I can say about my first venture with tomatoes.  But that is for another post!

You can vary the taste by changing up the type of vinegar (white or apple cider) and sugar (white granulated or brown) and onions (white, yellow, red...).

From Ball Blue Book

2 quarts chopped cucumbers (about 8 medium)
2 cups chopped sweet green peppers (4 small)
2 cups chopped sweet red peppers (4 small)
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1 tbsp turmeric
1/2 cup salt
2 quarts cold water
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 quart vinegar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp whole mustard seed
2 tsp whole allspice
2 tsp whole cloves

Combine vegetables in a large bowl; sprinkle with turmeric.  Dissolve salt in 2 quarts cold water and pour over vegetables; let stand 3 to 4 hours.  Drain; cover vegetables with cold water and let stand 1 hour.  Drain thoroughly.  Combine sugar  and vinegar in a large saucepot.  Tie spices in a spice bag; add to sugar mixture.

Bring to a boil; pour over vegetables.  Cover; let stand 12 to 18 hours in a cool place.  Bring vegetables to a boil;  reduce heat and simmer until hot.  Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Adjust two-piece caps.  process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner

Yield:  about 6 pints