Mom, Wife, Chef, Gardener, Dog Wrangler, Mom, Writer, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Mom, Creative Problem Solver, DIY Chick...figuring out life one day at a time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mom/Preservationist…The big weekend canning project!

I posted the other week about Bountiful Baskets and how much fruit and vegetables I have been getting from them. Not only do the baskets themselves give you lots of produce, but the add-ons are often too good to resist. 25 pounds of mixed citrus for $15?! 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes for $12? Yes please! Well the problem with buying all this stuff is that you have to use it before it goes bad, so this weekend, surrounded by citrus, tomatoes and plenty of other great stuff over-running our kitchen, Tim and I rolled up our sleeves and got canning.

I used to be a reluctant canner, jam and the occasional pickle would be all I would can. Fear of botulism kept me from getting too into canning. However, last winter, realizing we would be moving by spring and needing to use up the dozen chicken carcasses in our freezer I let Tim talk me into making and canning chicken stock. 19 quarts of it. Once safely through my first pressure canning experience I lost my fear of it. This past summer we expanded our pressure canning repertoire and canned 14 quarts of whole tomatoes. There is something so reassuring about pulling out big glass jars of produce you put up. And I know exactly what is in it: tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. End of story. Except for the jars in which we added some oregano and rosemary.

So back to this weekend wherein we have several flats of empty jars, two canners and mountains of produce.

A quick note on my canners. The one on the left is my mother's Presto aluminum canner from the 1970's. Still works great, unless you need to water bath process quart jars, it is a little too shallow for that. The one on the right is my brand new All American heavy cast aluminum pressure canner/cooker that the best Christmas present ever fairy brought me this Christmas. Works great, it is slower to come up to pressure than the smaller Presto, but quicker to cool down, and as anyone who pressure cans know, half the time of the project is spent building up pressure and bringing it back down again.

Tim started out working on tomatoes. We got a 25 pound box of Roma Tomatoes so we decided to make sauce and to try a batch of homemade ketchup. The recipe for the ketchup comes from “The Homemade Pantry: 101 foodsyou can stop buying and start making.” by Alana Chernila. This book was a recent purchase to go along with the recent direction our cooking and eating is taking, (but that’s another blog post) and is my new favorite cook book.

Tim seeded and cored the tomatoes and cooked them down with onion, garlic and spices. After a good run through with the immersion blender and the addition of vinegar, brown sugar and molasses we had ketchup. One recipe uses 6 pounds of tomatoes (we might have used a little more) and we got 3 quarts of ketchup plus a little left over that went straight into the fridge.

Now for the critique of homemade ketchup. This recipe is heavily spiced. We ended up adding extra brown sugar and molasses to get a more ‘ketchupy’ taste. Tim really likes the finished product. I think it tastes more like the base for an Indian sauce then actual ketchup. I could see it as the start to a good butter chicken sauce. Still, it was a good experiment and hey, how many people can say they made their own ketchup?

Homemade (spiced) Ketchup

From “The Homemade Pantry” by Alana Chernila.

2 T olive oil, 1 C diced onion, 5 garlic cloves, minced

6 pounds ripe tomatoes: peeled, seeded and cored. (We did not peel and it turned out fine)

3 t kosher salt

1 T paprika, 1 t ground cinnamon, ¼ t ground cloves, 1 T celery salt (we used celery seed)

½ t ground cumin, ¼ t dry mustard, 1 ½ T chili powder, ½ t ground pepper

¼ C apple cider vinegar & ¼ C white vinegar

1 T brown sugar, 1 T honey (we also added molasses)

Canning specific instructions: ½” headspace, water bath process for 30 minutes.

Now that the ketchup was out of the way we started on tomato sauce. We saved the insides of the tomatoes we used for ketchup and added those in with more of the tomatoes, plus onion, garlic, bay leaf and oregano and cooked it all down. Salt and lemon juice were added to up the acidity and we ladled the sauce into quart jars. The tomato sauce we pressure canned at 15 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. I think that was actually a little long, but we are at a higher elevation here (around 4000 ft) and we added the extra time just to be safe.  

This weekend project is being split into two posts due to length and my inability to sit at the computer for more than 5 minutes without a child meltdown. More on canning and the marmalade project soon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mom/Reporter...notes from last week.

Do you know the single best thing about unpacking? Unpacking the kids’ toys is like Christmas all over again. Toys they haven’t played with for months are suddenly brand new. One box I opened this morning has kept them busy most of the day. It is a nice bonus in the middle of threading my way through box mazes and unpacking two boxes only to have to clean the kitchen make a meal, clean again and then unpack something else.

Do you know another fun thing about unpacking? Discovering things you forgot you had. I just recently unpacked all my cd’s. I had last seen these in May of 2012, when we left Roslyn for Kelso and Tim starting school. When we moved to Kelso, since we knew it would only be for six months we decided to only unpack the essentials. Music and a lot of books didn’t make the essentials list considering I had Pandora and my Kindle. Plus kids don’t allow me a lot of time to read anyway, or, you know, do anything for myself.

So I unpacked my cds and it was like a time capsule. Remember when I was obsessed with everything British/Celtic as a teenager? Hello everything Enya ever released. Remember that college roommate who introduced me to Sky Cries Mary? There’s the cd I bought at their concert. (They played our college). How about that time an ex and I went to Bumbershoot to see someone perform and discovered Beth Orton when she opened for the act? I can’t remember who we were there to see, but here are three of her cds that I obsessively played for a year or more. And question, why the heck do I have a Nine Inch Nails cd? I’m definitely not a downward spiral girl, maybe not since high school. Here are a bunch of compilation cds that my favorite radio station in Seattle, KEXP releases every year as part of the pledge drive. Remember when I was a city girl and kept up on things like current music?

So, amidst the dust and mess and stress of trying to unpack and set up our house, there have been some fun discovery moments. Just enough to help make the seemingly endless boxes a little more bearable.
It's okay mom, boxes can be fun.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mom/Chef...Bountiful Baskets

In my search for healthier, better food for my family, and frankly for alternatives to the very high prices at the one grocery store in town, I discovered Bountiful Baskets. Several moms in the playgroup I attend first told me about it. Bountiful Baskets is a food cooperative in the purer sense of the word. It isn’t a store where you pay a membership to shop at; it is a group of people who pool together their money to buy fruits and vegetables each week. They are all over the United States, and luckily we have one here in Cut Bank.

It goes like this: on Monday or Tuesday of each week you go online to their website and purchase your share. I pay $15 for a conventional basket, which is comprised of 50% fruit and 50% vegetables. You can upgrade to an organic basket for $10 more. There are add ons each week, several different types of bread packs (5 loaves for $10, healthy whole grain breads not cheap filler breads), organic granola, in season you can buy big flats of fruit or vegetables for canning purposes. Once you have purchased your share, that’s it. Friday or Saturday, depending on the pickup time in your area you show up and pick up your food. People who want to volunteer show up an hour early to unload the truck and sort out everyone’s share. I’ve done this two weeks in a row now, and there are always a ton of volunteers at the site here.

Now I am not sure where they source everything. I know that their bananas are sourced from some smaller family farms in Mexico, so they are more fair trade. But some of their vegetables are of a size and quality Tim and I have only seen in restaurants, so we suspect that they sometimes source through Cisco or other food purveyors. Which makes sense, which is why restaurants use companies like Cisco, you get big amounts of high quality veg for a very low price.

The downside of all this is that you don’t know what you get until you pick up your basket. For instance, I was a little disappointed the first week as my vegetable portion was: 5 pounds of potatoes, 4 onions, 1 big head of celery, 3 green peppers and 5 tomatoes. However, this week was different; here is the list of what I picked up last night.

1 large (3 pound) yam; 3 pounds of apples; 1 bunch bananas; 7 Asian pears; 1 pint strawberries; 1 big head cauliflower; 1 big head cabbage; 1 pound green beans; 1 bunch radishes; 5 tomatoes; 3 cucumbers.

Now I don’t know about where you shop, but that much produce would cost me over $30 at my local store, so already I’m cutting my produce bill in half. I was happy to see the yam, cabbage and cauliflower this week. I wish they would be a little more seasonal, I personally would prefer some kale over strawberries in winter. And I gave them that feedback on the survey they send you after your first basket pick up. Seasonal produce aside, overall I think Bountiful Baskets is a good deal, we get lots of fresh produce and it saves on my grocery bill. For instance, the only extra produce I bought this week was a head of lettuce and a couple of avocados.  And it can be fun trying to think of ways to use everything. Last week I got 4 lemons in the basket, add that to the 3 I already had and you get my preserved lemon project. The tomatoes last week were not very ripe so I stuffed them and baked them. They were delicious as a side dish for dinner and reheated for lunch the next day. I went to the store after picking up my basket last night and bought a head of lettuce; since this week’s box included radishes and 3 cucumbers I think I will be having lots of salads this week. Maybe we will have Greek Salad one night, I’ve got feta cheese in the fridge and garbanzo beans in the cabinet.

This brings me to the special add on this week: a 20 pound box of mixed citrus!
There is a big yellow pomello, which is similar to grapefruit but sweeter. Blood oranges and naval oranges, tangerines and the "cutie" style mandarin oranges. The oranges in the bag are Seville oranges, aka Marmalade Oranges, so I will be making marmalade this week! With all the citrus I hope to get at least two big batches of marmalade out of this box, also we will be eating citrus for a snack several times a day. That’s okay though, it is flu season and we could use the vitamins.
Well friends, it is Saturday morning so I am going to go make French toast for breakfast (bread pack add on!) and get the family fired up to finish unpacking this house, I’m getting sick of looking at boxes. Have a wonderful weekend!

Baked stuffed tomatoes:

Wash and dry your tomatoes. Cut the top ¼ “ off the tomatoes and scoop out as much of the inside as you can (a grapefruit spoon works awesome for this) while still leaving the outer walls intact. Chop up the inside and the top of the tomatoes, removing the core, and set aside. Salt and pepper the insides of the tomatoes and place in a baking dish. Chop up a little onion and garlic. Bring some oil or butter up to medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Add the onion and start to cook, when the onion starts to soften, throw in the garlic. Let the garlic cook for a minute then throw in the tomato innards. Add in a few fresh or dried herbs (marjoram and oregano are very good, as is basil), some salt and pepper. If you have it, add in some frozen chopped spinach. Or even fresh if you happen to have it. I almost never keep fresh spinach around but always have some frozen spinach in the freezer.  Throw in some cubed up bread, any sort will do (this is a great way to use up those last few slices that are going stale). Stir and let everything cook together for a few minutes, the bread will soak up any extra juice in the pan. Pull the pan off the heat and fill the tomatoes with the stuffing. This would be a good time to throw a little mozzarella or parmesean cheese in as well. Cover the baking dish and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull the cover off the dish, add a little cheese on top and cook 5-10 more minutes until they start to brown.

Serve as a side dish to almost anything. I served them alongside shrimp and grits. They really will accompany anything. And they reheat well too.