Home Canned Tomatoes

There are a few things that come to mind when I think about home canning:

  1. Neato! Let’s all pretend we’re in the ‘50s for a while.
  2. Uhh, what about botulism? I mean, I don’t even buy dented cans at the grocery store.
  3. Trendy Mason jars.
  4. Amish people.
  5. Hipsters. People have been canning for quite some time, but it seems like hipsters have just discovered it.
  6. Zombie apocalypse – there’s bound to be one sometime or another… better stock up on home goods (and learn how to preserve things for the winter when I’m harvesting veggies from my summer garden as a sole survivor of said apocalypse).

I tend more toward the hipster admiration for canning, although canning isn’t entirely new to me. I have eaten enough home canned foods in my life to be relatively certain that I am not in danger of contracting botulism, at least from food (my black-tar heroin habit needs to go, though…kidding!)

When I was a kid, my family had a grape vine in our backyard, and every couple of years, it seemed to have an extra prolific crop. Or maybe they were just the vine’s lucky years when the squirrels didn’t eat all of the fruit. I witnessed a few grape jelly and juice concentrate canning sessions during these years, and I did feel like it was very satisfying to save and eat food that was grown in our own backyard.

But if there is one food in a can that I use more than any other, it is tomatoes. I use them for sauces, soups, chili, casseroles. They are so handy to have around. So, I invited some friends over for a little canning party, both to learn how to can under the expert tutelage of my mother-in-law, and to share in all of the work that goes into canning a big batch of anything as well as the loot.

Three of us went to a pick-your-own local farm that morning to pick 40 lbs of tomatoes. My mother-in-law brought 25 lbs as well, and we had enough to make about 2 dozen quart sized jars. While canning is not a particularly economical thing to do if you are buying the tomatoes as opposed to growing them in your yard (we priced it out, and each jar we made cost $5, for the ingredients alone), if you view it more as a hobby and a fun experience of preparing and saving some nice local produce, it’s definitely worth doing. Plus, we were learning a post-apocalyptic life skill, and I don’t have a yard to grow tomatoes in anyway.

We blanched the tomatoes, peeled and cored them, and then cut them into quarters. We used a raw-pack method and recipe on from the Ball canning book that calls 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt added to the bottom of each quart jar. The lemon juice adds enough acidity to the tomatoes so that we can all feel safe cracking open a jar and eating them later without getting dead.

We used steam canners, which are have a very clever design (check these out). The processing time in the canners when doing a raw-pack method is 85 minutes—if we had cooked the tomatoes first and done a hot-pack method, this would have been 45 minutes. We actually had 2 jars break in the canners! It’s apparently pretty rare for that to happen, but we think it was likely due to hairline fractures in the jars, which had been used multiple times before and were probably roughed up. Both failures exploded pretty neatly, somehow, so it was not a huge deal to take them out of the canners and keep going with the other jars. We all felt a strong sense of loss when it happened, though.

At the end of the day, we had 23 quarts and 1 pint of lovely tomatoes. All of them sealed successfully excepting one quart jar, which looked like it had overflowed a bit during processing. The jars were too hot for people to take home that evening, but I delivered them to friends’ houses the next day. I have five jars for myself, and I like looking at them so much that it will be hard to bring myself to eat them. I know they will be especially delicious in a couple of months when it’s cold outside and my memory of summer has faded. Until then, I’ve cleared some prime real estate in my pantry to display them. Neato!

WIP: The Purl Bee Sweatshirt Sweater
I have been knitting this sweater for over a year, and I kept leaving it and going back to it at a very leisurely pace. I am knitting it using Berroco Ultra Alpaca yarn, which is a nice and soft but sturdy blend of 50% alpaca, 50% wool. After making the sleeves for this sweater, I realized that I have rather long arms, at which point, I felt it necessary to rip out the sleeves and start them again, adding an additional row between each increase round to get more length. That was pretty tedious, and happened a couple of months ago, but now, at last, I have sleeves that will fit me. Next time, I’ll look a little more closely at the finished arm measurements before I do the sleeves!
I am very excited that the sleeve mishap is behind me, and the whole sweater is nearing completion! I can’t wait to finish it up and start wearing it this fall. Grey is a favorite color of mine these days, and I plan to wear this sweater with jeans pretty much every weekend.

WIP: The Purl Bee Sweatshirt Sweater

I have been knitting this sweater for over a year, and I kept leaving it and going back to it at a very leisurely pace. I am knitting it using Berroco Ultra Alpaca yarn, which is a nice and soft but sturdy blend of 50% alpaca, 50% wool. After making the sleeves for this sweater, I realized that I have rather long arms, at which point, I felt it necessary to rip out the sleeves and start them again, adding an additional row between each increase round to get more length. That was pretty tedious, and happened a couple of months ago, but now, at last, I have sleeves that will fit me. Next time, I’ll look a little more closely at the finished arm measurements before I do the sleeves!

I am very excited that the sleeve mishap is behind me, and the whole sweater is nearing completion! I can’t wait to finish it up and start wearing it this fall. Grey is a favorite color of mine these days, and I plan to wear this sweater with jeans pretty much every weekend.

I’ve been doing a whole lot of eating recently, so thought I would post some pictures of a newly completed project as a break from all the food! I based this painting on a Libs Elliott quilt design (check it out here). Her quilt patterns come from images randomly generated by the software program Processing. I think this is a really cool/nerdy idea, and I might like to make a quilt like this someday. However, I was in the market for inspiration for a painting for my office, and this fit the bill. 

I painted my quilt replica on a 3x3 foot canvas using acrylic paints. I modified the colors to a cooler palette, since I’m not a big fan of pink. I changed the placement of some of the triangle shapes (which may or may not have been an accident based on a wondering paintbrush incident when I was painting with dark grey one day… oops!)  I was able to get pretty clean lines by using painter’s tape, but did some touching up by hand with small brushes around the edges.

Although the painting does not capture the texture and directions of the quilting lines, I think the modern, geometric pattern also looks good as a two dimensional work. And now, my office wall looks a lot less empty! 

Fresh Pesto

When my husband was in college, a large portion of his diet was pasta (bought by the 5 lb bag-full) and jarred pesto from Sainsbury’s. Behold, the dietary staple:

image

I have eaten my fair share of jarred pesto as well, and can safely say that the real thing is beyond comparison.

To make fresh pesto, a lot of basil is required. Despite my best efforts to grow large basil plants on our balcony, we simply don’t get enough sun. So, in this recipe, I used 2 big bunches of basil from the supermarket, which amounted to about 4 cups of basil leaves (unpacked). Other ingredients: 2 TB of pine nuts, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup of grated Parmesan, about 1/2 cup of olive oil, and about 1/2 cup of water from the pasta pot.

Pesto-making in a food processor could not be easier. I grated the cheese first, and saved whatever grated cheese beyond the 1 cup I needed in the fridge. Once you have your grated cheese, start here (note that this recipe makes enough pesto for 2 pounds of pasta): Pulse together the pine nuts, garlic, salt,and basil leaves. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the opening in the top of the food processor. When the mixture starts to gurgle, it’s done. It may take more or less than 1/2 a cup of oil.

Empty the pesto into a large bowl, and add 1 cup of Parmesan. Mix together with 1/2 cup of pasta water, or more if needed to make a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove half the pesto and store in the fridge in an air-tight container, covering the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent discoloration. You can also freeze it!

Toss the remaining pesto in your bowl with 1 pound of hot pasta, adding additional pasta water (if more moisture is needed), or additional olive oil (if more sheen is needed). Makes a delicious summertime meal!

Another summer, another fruit tart! This year, I really piled on the fruit and glaze, and it was tasty, if not as artistic as usual.
I really should make this dessert more than once a year, but so far, its only appearance was at our father’s day BBQ with my father-in-law. 
Recipe here!

Another summer, another fruit tart! This year, I really piled on the fruit and glaze, and it was tasty, if not as artistic as usual.

I really should make this dessert more than once a year, but so far, its only appearance was at our father’s day BBQ with my father-in-law. 

Recipe here!

Camping Food!

We took an awesome camping trip to Assateague Island National Seashore for Memorial Day weekend, and although we were roughing it, we probably ate as well if not better than we usually do at home. Thank you, Aunt Jemima’s “complete” just add water pancake mix for being surprisingly delicious. Also on the breakfast menu were copious quantities of bacon and fried eggs.

We had some foil dinners one night with kielbasa, potatoes and mushrooms (they nearly burned, but we salvaged them just before the point of no return — note to self: fire is really hot! Shocking!). Hot dogs, hamburgers, and steak shish kebabs were also consumed, along with some tasty sauteed zucchini and summer squash. Cast iron skillets rule!

And of course, there were smores at night. I probably would not have considered this a camping trip otherwise.

Sea Scallops alla Caprese
I’ve been doing a whole lot of eating recently, and with that comes some fun cooking experiments. One triumph was this scallops dish, the recipe for which appears in a book I recently picked up for $2 at a local used book sale (Food & Wine Magazine’s Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes from 2009, here). This delicious recipe is Mario Batali’s, and can be found online here.
At $35 a pound, our scallops were not only overpriced, but actually very nice quality. I used a cast iron skillet to cook the scallops (no grill here), and though the recipe calls for scoring them on one side, I am not convinced that action made much of a difference. They cook up very quickly, so I was mostly just pleased that I didn’t overcook them.
The recipe calls for twice as many onions as any group of humans would likely want to eat — we knocked the quantity back by half and still didn’t use them all on the platter. I was so pleased that my husband and friend, who made the grocery store run, were able to find some funky colored heirloom tomatoes in April. Country of origin? Your guess is as good as mine. I made a quick garlic pasta to accompany the scallops as well. I love the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for Spaghetti Aglio E Olio, here.
My mom was here for this dinner when she came to visit over Easter weekend, and since I won’t see her this Mother’s Day, maybe we can remember it as an early Mother’s Day celebratory meal! Over the course of our dinner, we confirmed as a group that scallops are in fact mollusks, and they of course have the pretty scalloped-edge shells (duh) that you will recognize from the Shell gasoline logo. Sometimes it’s fun to have Google at the dinner table.

Sea Scallops alla Caprese

I’ve been doing a whole lot of eating recently, and with that comes some fun cooking experiments. One triumph was this scallops dish, the recipe for which appears in a book I recently picked up for $2 at a local used book sale (Food & Wine Magazine’s Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes from 2009, here). This delicious recipe is Mario Batali’s, and can be found online here.

At $35 a pound, our scallops were not only overpriced, but actually very nice quality. I used a cast iron skillet to cook the scallops (no grill here), and though the recipe calls for scoring them on one side, I am not convinced that action made much of a difference. They cook up very quickly, so I was mostly just pleased that I didn’t overcook them.

The recipe calls for twice as many onions as any group of humans would likely want to eat — we knocked the quantity back by half and still didn’t use them all on the platter. I was so pleased that my husband and friend, who made the grocery store run, were able to find some funky colored heirloom tomatoes in April. Country of origin? Your guess is as good as mine. I made a quick garlic pasta to accompany the scallops as well. I love the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for Spaghetti Aglio E Olio, here.

My mom was here for this dinner when she came to visit over Easter weekend, and since I won’t see her this Mother’s Day, maybe we can remember it as an early Mother’s Day celebratory meal! Over the course of our dinner, we confirmed as a group that scallops are in fact mollusks, and they of course have the pretty scalloped-edge shells (duh) that you will recognize from the Shell gasoline logo. Sometimes it’s fun to have Google at the dinner table.

Cooking Class at Rustico Cooking, NYC: The 10 Best Pasta Sauces

I recently took a trip to NYC with the women on my husband’s side of the family, and one of the highlights was a great cooking class we went to at Rustico Cooking. The “10 Best Pasta Sauces” we made included only one red sauce, and it was great to learn about some alternatives to marinara. Here’s a description of the ten (some of the recipes, along with some other great looking pasta dishes, are available here):

  1. Cavatelli with tuna, tomatoes, & mint (light and tart with lemon zest, capers and olives)
  2. Orecchiette with ricotta, arugula, & grape tomatoes (rich and pleasantly salty with Ricotta Salata)
  3. Campanelle with spicy broccoli & pecorino (delicious sprinkled with red pepper flakes)
  4. Pappardelle in fragrant basil pesto (my favorite! Green beans and Yukon gold potatoes were added to the sauce, which was interesting and delicious)
  5. Spaghetti in Ligurian walnut-garlic sauce (creamy and nutty. I had never had this sauce before, but liked it a lot)
  6. Pappardelle with shrimp, asparagus, & saffron  (saffron makes everything fancy! Recipe suggests using spaghetti)
  7. Baked penne with gorganzola cream (very rich and delicious for blue cheese lovers. Recipe suggests using rigatoni)
  8. Orecchiette in savory leek cream (this was a close second favorite. Recipe suggests using spinach linguine, which sounds like a tasty substitute for plain orecchiette)
  9. Penne with spicy sausage and fennel sauce (this would have been my husband’s favorite. Planning to make it next week! Recipe suggests using fusilli)
  10. Spaghetti in spicy Amatriciana sauce (the only red sauce we made. Uses pancetta, which is just awesome in everything. Recipe suggests using bucatini).

Throughout the class, we cooked all ten sauces, with their own pastas, and tasted each combination as they were prepared. It was carb heaven. We made one type of fresh pasta (the adorable Cavatelli), and used boxed pasta for the other sauces. The instructor talked a lot about saving pasta water to use to thin sauces as needed, and about the occasional need to add more olive oil to the prepared pasta/sauce combination if it looks like it needs more sheen. I have already made the tuna pasta sauce at home, and found that adding an extra tablespoon or so of olive oil at the end made the dish even more appetizing.

I had a great time at this class! The chef/instructor, Micol Negrin, was fun and slightly kooky (in a good way). I am considering buying her book, The Best Pasta Sauces: Favorite Regional Italian Recipes, because I could never have too much pasta in my life!

Medieval Feast 2014

Sixth Course: Course of Cheeses

Seventh Course: Desserts: Mon-amy & honeycomb, Quince Pie, Taillés

The ending of the feast is both savory and sweet! We were all very full by the cheese course, so we served just a couple of hard cheeses with brown mustard and an assortment of crackers. One of the cheeses was a green herbed cheese (a Dutch brand), that had a very thick wax and was green all of the way through.

All three of the desserts (excepting the honeycomb, which we just thought would be a fun addition) came from a Dutch medieval cookbook. My favorite was the unhealthy but delicious Mon-amy. Apparently, there is a 15th century painting depicting Charlemagne eating this dessert (painted about 500 years after he died, but interesting nonetheless). Though it was not thick enough to slice when we made it, it was the consistency of a very thick custard, and still looked pretty decorated with delphinium flowers in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. The Taillés (a fig pudding) was very tasty; we cooked it on the stove until it was about the consistency of oatmeal, then pressed it into a Charlotte mold and chilled it in the fridge. It popped out of the tin nicely, and we served it at room temperature. For the quince pie, we used pears instead of quinces. The pie was delicious, though the dough was difficult to work with because we had to spread it very thin to cover a 9” pie plate. Here are the translated recipes:

Mon-amy

  • 1 cup of double cream or unsweetened whipping cream
  • 1.1 pounds of quark (we substituted with ricotta)
  • 6 tbs. cane sugar, some saffron, 0.11 pounds of butter
  • 20 egg yolks
  • (We also added vanilla extract)

Boil the double cream gently with the quark (which has been pressed to remove excess liquid). Add the sugar, saffron and butter. Then take off the heat and mix in 20 egg yolks that have been passed through a sieve and then mixed together. Make sure the mixture doesn’t cool too much, so the egg yolks won’t bind, but also don’t heat it too much, to prevent the egg yolks from cooking. Wait until this is as thick as a pudding, then cool and serve by cutting slices of it (about 3-4 per person) and decorate with violets (or other small flowers).

Quince Pie (makes one 9” pie)

  • 3.3 pounds of quinces (could also be any other type of cooking pear)
  • Red wine (to boil the quinces in, so depending on our preference, it could be sweeter or more sour)
  • 0.11 pounds currants, 0.11 pounds raisins
  • 0.22 pounds crushed, peeled almonds
  • 0.11 pounds pine seeds (not pine nuts, so may be hard to obtain)
  • 2 eggs
  • Cane sugar, cloves, cinnamon, bonemarrow (note: we left this ingredient out, and the pie was just fine without it!), nutmeg, butter

Crust

  • 0.44 pounds of all purpose flour
  • 0.22 pounds butter
  • 0.17 pounds of powdered sugar
  • one egg, a pinch of salt

Make the dough for the crust which should be enough to both line the tin and make a lid; so we may need to adjust the recipe. Then boil the quinces in the wine for an hour (or until done). Then peel the quinces and grind them into a paste, expulsing excess liquid. Add currants, raisins, almonds and pine seeds. If we want, we can then add two eggs we’ve mixed together. Line the cake tin with the dough and sprinkle some cane sugar, cinnamon, cloves on the bottom. Then spread bonemarrow over it. Add the quince mixture, making sure it doesn’t pile up too high. On the top, add more cane sugar, cinnamon, some nutmeg and some clumps of butter, then add the lid. Put in the oven at a mild temperature and bake for 45 minutes or until done with bottom heat (we baked it at 350 F for probably 1/5 hours). Serve cold.

Taillés (serves 8)

  • 0.55 pounds of dried figs
  • 0.33 pounds of raisins
  • 1 liter almond milk
  • Crumbled crust of one small baguette
  • Two crumbled eschaudés (choux pastry buns)
  • Two crumbled galettes (similar to a thick pancake!)
  • Saffron for color, cane sugar for taste

Boil all of the above together until it forms a thick pudding. Once it cools, it should be easy to cut.

Medieval Feast 2014

Fifth Course: Roast Leg of Lamb & Roast Fennel & Mint Sauce & Farro with Herbs

To my mind, roasting a large hunk of meat (or two) is a very medieval activity. If only we had a roasting spit, and some place to operate it. We roasted two legs of lamb, bone-in, rubbed with rosemary and garlic (we used this recipe, sans potatoes!).

We made an interesting mint sauce, the only ingredients of which were white wine vinegar, sugar, and mint leaves. The sugar and vinegar is reduced to a syrup, then chopped mint leaves are added off the heat, and the sauce steeps like a tea. It was tangy, sweet, and only mildly minty, but still a good accompaniment to the meat.

One of the tastiest vegetarian dishes of the feast was the farro with herbs, which we served at room temperature. Farro tastes and has a texture similar to barley and seems to work well in salads. This was actually a Giada recipe that I had been wanting to try, and we added some sauteed onion and mushrooms to it. We also substituted vegetable stock for chicken stock to keep it vegetarian-friendly. It was a great side-dish for the non-vegetarians eating it with the lamb, too.

The fennel was simply roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I love the anise flavor of fennel, and it was a good medieval choice of vegetable to round out this course of the feast.