Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some interesting canning facts

This month's Can Jam challenge is carrots.  Hosted by Doris and Jilly this month, these two sisters write a fine food blog that has lots of wonderful canning information. Check it out! I love that this month's canning challenge is carrots, because I would never in a million years ever desire to can carrots.  Why?   Carrots are a low acid food, so they'd have to be pressure canned.   At our house, we very rarely eat cooked carrots, unless they are an ingredient in chicken soup or pot roast.   In fact, you can always tell which bowl of soup was my son's, because everything will be eaten out of if except the carrots, which will be politely left in a pile at the bottom of the bowl.   This kid has never met a vegetable he didn't like, except cooked carrotsa.   In fact, he ate beet greens happily yesterday and even told his friend who was having dinner with us about how much he likes greens, but he won't touch a cooked carrot.  He eats raw carrots by the pound, but no cooked carrots. 

Why bother canning carrots when they store for a really long time anyway?  If you've got lots of carrots, they'd put up well in a root cellar (at my house, my "root cellar" is the shelf on the inside wall of my garage).  So carrots are a great challenge this month.  The rules of the Can Jam are only boiling water bath canning, so for carrots, that means pickles/jams/jellies/chutneys.    For me, it's going to be pickles, My family doesn't go for any kind of exotic jams or jellies - so making lots of carrot jam really isn't practical for me.  If it's not strawberry, it "ain't gettin' et" around here.    Note to self:  12 pints of strawberry jam was not enough to get us through the winter this year.

So, I've been formulating my pickled carrot plan - I'll probably do it next weekend when the cherubs are taking the ACT test on Saturday.    I spent some time looking around on the internets for ideas for pickled carrots, and found lots of canning information I thought was interesting, but not all really related to pickled carrots.   Here's a summary:

  • When brining pickles, hard water can interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from curing properly.  We have hard water at our house, so I have been buying distilled water to make pickles or beer.   But, I learned that I don't need to do that from the Clemson Extension Service.  Instead, I can soften my own hard water by simply boiling it 15 minutes and let set for 24 hours, covered. Remove any scum that appears. Slowly pour water from the containers so the sediment will not be disturbed. Discard the sediment. Great cost save!
  • Also from Clemson, I found some good tips for making sure my cucumber pickles stay crisp. 
    Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours prior to pickling is a one suggested method for making crisp pickles.  I picked up a container of Mrs. Wages pickling lime at Sparrow Meat Market a couple weekends ago. It was on the bottom shelf and covered with some dust - evidently the demand for pickling lime is not high in Ann Arbor, and I was surprised to find it because I'd been unable to find it anywhere around here.   So I bought it for next summer.    Clemson says that the calcium in lime does improve pickle firmness, and to purchase food-grade pickling lime from your grocer's shelves. Do not use agricultural or burnt lime. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. However, EXCESS LIME ABSORBED BY THE CUCUMBERS MUST BE REMOVED TO MAKE SAFE PICKLES. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. REPEAT THE RlNSING AND SOAKING STEPS TWICE MORE.  I'm definitely going to give it a try next summer and see how it goes.
  • From the University of North Dakota Extension, I found this excellent way to test the pectin content of the fruit I am making into jam or jelly.   I found this interesting because strawberries can have wildly fluctuating amounts of pectin year to year around here.  I can test to see if my fruit has enough pectin using this test: pour one tablespoon of the cool fruit juice and one tablespoon denatured alcohol into a cup. Examples of brands are E2, Dalox, Solex--are available at paint and hardware stores. Stir slightly and let stand for 2 minutes. If a solid mass of jelly forms, the fruit has a high pectin content. In this case, use one cup sugar for each cup of juice when you make jelly.  If several small jelly-like pieces form, however, the pectin content of the fruit is only moderate. Use only a 3/4 cup of sugar for each cup of juice. If the mixture forms small particles, the fruit has too little pectin to make jelly unless you add commercial pectin. In any case, do not taste the mixture as it is not for human consumption. Just throw it down the drain and wash equipment well.
  • A good way to test whether jelly made without added pectin is done is to use a use a jelly, candy or deep-fat thermometer(or, in my case, I'd use by electronic meat probe that we use for smoking meat).   I like the idea of using this test instead of the wrinkle test (drop some jam on a cold plate and run your finger through it to see if it wrinkles) because it saves time.   Before starting to cook your jelly/jam, take the temperature of boiling water. (this should be 212 F because we are at low altitude here in Ann Arbor, butboiling point varies with different altitude and the accuracy of most household thermometers are not very accurate. After boiling the mixture for a while, lower the bulb into the mix and read the results. When the jelly mixture temperature is 8 degrees above the boiling water temperature, the jam/jelly is done. 
I found some more interesting canning stuff on my internet travels I'll post about later.  I am enjoying the Can Jam and thinking of summer canning projects.   Summer seems so far off now - I guess this is the canning equivalent of gardeners looking over seed catalogs in the bowels of winter!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Note to self: Interesting canning recipes I want to try

Ginger beer concentrate:  This recipe looks good, I'm thinking I can process it for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Orange and Pinot Jelly:  The recipe is from Ferber's Mes Confitures which is a book I looked at in the past and decided not to buy, but it's growing on me.  I might just pick it up.  Christine Ferber's great with using natural pectin (not boxed) and I am a fan of the same technique.  In this recipe, she uses Granny Smith apples for her pectin.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another one of those memes

Some things about me....

Do you get regular massages?
I don't have that kind of time.

Do you have an answering machine?
No, I have voice mail.  Who has a machine anymore?

What cuss word do you use the most?
I don't swear. HA!  That was a lie!  Probably $hit
Are you underweight or overweight?
I'm normal

Can you see your veins?

I don't have one

Kind of red meat?
beef, well done

Candy bar?
Almond Joy
Have You Ever…

Eaten a whole bag of potato chips?
No, but I'd love to do it someday

Eaten lobster?
Yes, many, many times.  I love it!

Climbed a mountain?
Define mountain. 

Been skydiving?
No thanks!

Been water skiing?
Yes, but I suck at it

Do You…

Wish you could change something about your life?
I wish I was independently wealthy

Like your nose?
Yes, but I broke it twice and had to return it to it's original beauty via plastic surgery.
Like salt and vinegar chips?

Eat salsa?
The hotter, the better
Own a boat?
No, but would love to do so

What Is…

A small thing that people let slide but that actually has dire consequences?
Taking care of the poor

Your most macho trait?
I work in a male dominated field (engineering) so I act like a man in meetings. 
The longest relationship you’ve ever had?
My sweetie and I have been together for almost 20 years
Your most embarrassing thoughts?
I am embarassed that I don't have embarassing thoughts.

Your most shameful moment?
Playing at a piano recital.  Not sure why I felt shamed, but I do when I play piano.   Calling Dr. Freud!



Pencil with a .9mm lead

Jelly/Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese

Bagel, but they are so fattening that I usually opt for toast

My greatest weakness is…
I am a compulsive advice giver

I wish I was…
More athletic

Three things I wouldn’t do for a million dollars are…
Give up my kids, give up my husband, be 13 again

The oddest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth is…


Credit card you had?

Loan you got was for?
Student loan

Paycheck was for how much?
I don't remember, but I made minimum wage, and it was $3.15 at the time

Time you had stitches?
First ankle surgery, 1979

Time you went to the hospital for something?
I had pinkeye and my mom took me to the ER for it

List everything you ate in the last 24 hours.
Wine, Greek salad, potatoes and cailflower with cheese, eggs and bacon, coffee
Last thing you used a credit card for?
I rented a TV and  phone for my dad at the hospital

What was your job previous to the one you have now?
Graduate Teaching Assistant

Last thing you celebrated?
New Year's

Last time you were at a sports bar?
Does the Inverness Inn count as a sports bar?  Saturday night

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This ain't New York City Gingerbread

Much has been said of the gingerbread at the fabled Grammercy Tavern in Manhattan's Flatiron district, and of it's creator, James Beard award winning pastry chef Paula Fleming.   Around the holidays, there was lots of chat on Chowhound about gingerbread, and Paula Fleming's recipe from her cookbook The Last Course: The Desserts of the Grammercy Tavern.  I've been to New York City exactly once in my life, and it was long before the Grammercy Tavern existed, so I haven't actually tried this gingerbread in it's native form.   I am not sure when I will be back to NYC.  When I was there for a conference in 1990, I spent most of it in my hotel room watching the movie "Steel Magnolias" ad infinitum with a nasty case of food poisoning from the hotel food.   Thank you NYC!  When I was finally ambulatory, I did make it to all the touristy things like Little Italy, Central Park, Statue of Liberty and the Carnegie Deli.   I actually found the the Big Apple a Big Disappointment.   Everything is very expensive, it's a hassle to get anywhere and do anything, and the whole city smells like urine.  Why is that?  Does everyone just pee in the streets there?   Eventually, I'll be back, I am sure.  Perhaps as a chaperone for a school trip or something.  And maybe when I get there again, if the Grammercy Tavern still exists, I'll try the real deal.

But until then, I made Paula Fleming's gingerbread recipe was originally published in Gourmet (RIP) in 2000.   It yields a large Bundt sized cake.  I picked up a totally awesome Bundt pan at an estate sale last winter that I've been dying to try - so this will be it's maiden voyage.    I hopefully will not be only person eating it - there will be shock and dismay when unsuspecting diners discover that it's gingerbread, not chocolate cake.   (similar to the molasses cookie "bait and switch" we've all experienced).   While I love molasses in anything, I find I am often the minority.   Paula's recipe as it it written required dirtying way too many dishes and doing things I never do like sifting.   I hope Paula will forgive me, I made some changes for those of us that don't have a staff to clean up after us.   With regard to Paula. evidently she has long left Manhattan and now runs a restaurant/B&B on Long Island.  Maybe she got tired of the urine smell, too.  

Here's how I made her gingerbread:

1 cup dark beer - I used home brew
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl, set aside.   In the molasses/beer pot, add eggs and whisk.  Add sugars and oil and mix.   Add the wet to the dry.  Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream.  I am going to serve mine with last fall's crab apple butter I preserved....

An update:  This is the best gingerbread I have ever tasted!  It's fantastic....Paula, you are my hero...

Crimson Honey Grapefruit

I signed on to Tigress' Can Jam which is sort of like Daring Bakers, but with canning.   Each month in 2010, a canning challenge is thrown down, and there are 100+ of us signed up to do it.  Check out Tigress's blogs - they are great.  She is an electronic music promoter in NYC, and keeps 2 fantastic canning blogs...Tigress in a Jam and Tigress in a Pickle

The January Can Jam challenge is citrus.   I was in a bind about what to make.   I like chutney, but made some last year that I still haven't finished up.  There's only so much Major Grey's chutney a family can eat. (memo to my fellow Can Jam brothers and sisters: that chutney recipe is a great one if you are at a loss for what to can this month) I like marmalade, but I'd be eating it by myself because no one else in La Maisson du MothersKitchen will eat it.   So, I decided to can grapefruit.   I love it for breakfast, but it is such a pain to section and eat on a work/school day morning.    I found a recipe that inspired me in The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is the book I recommend to anyone that's taking up canning for the first time, or even for canning veterans.  It's got lots of great tips and inspiring recipes. 

One of the goals of the Can Jam is to use local foods when possible.   I look at my kitchen sink window thermometer tells me it's 12 F outside this morning, and we got a little over 3 inches of snow yesterday (not enough to cancel school), so there's not much local food to be found here in Michigan!  However, last fall I bought some honey from Lesser Farm so I used that in this recipe, as well as I used Old Orchard brand cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, which is made in Michigan.   As for the grapefruit, well, it's from Texas.    Here's how I made the made 5 pints.  I got the grapefruit for $3.99, and the cranberry cocktail was $1.73 and the honey probably worked out to be about 50 cents, so this recipe worked out to cost about $1.25 per jar.  Considering that the jarred stuff at the grocery store is $5 per jar, canning it yourself is a great deal!  And I think it tastes better, too. 

Crimson Honey Grapefruit
printer friendly

1 large bag (18lb) grapefruit - I used ruby red grapefruit, but any kind would work
1 large can frozen cranberry cocktail, thawed and undiluted
2/3 c. honey

Peel grapefruit with a knife, removing all the white pith.  Cut each fruit longitudinally (from top to bottom) in half, and with a knife, remove the center membrane and the seeds.   Flip the halves cut side down and slice the halves into 1/4 inch slices.   Measure fruit and juice until there's 16 cups.   Mine came out almost exactly that for an 18 lb bag, but it depends on how big the grapefruits are.  Don't worry too much.  If you end up with more, you could make some more syrup, or less, you can use less.   Note that grapefuit is acidic enough to can on it's own without anything added - the cranberry honey syrup is for color and flavor, so don't worry too much about exact proportions. If you want to make it sweeter, add more honey.

In a large dutch oven (or a big pot), heat up the grapefruit and it's juice, the cranberry cocktail syrup and the honey and heat until the honey dissolves.   Using a slotted spoon, pack hot grapefruit into hot jars (I used pints) until you have 1/2 inch headspace.  Ladle some hot syrup in, leaving a half inch or so, and use a cocktail stirrer or a chop stick to get the air pockets out and add more syrup if you need to.  Wipe rim, put on the lid and band and tighten until fingertip tight.   Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.   Remove canner lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes, then take them out of the canner and let them cool for 24 hours.   If you have extra syrup, save it.  It makes a pretty grapefruit cocktail by shaking it in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and vodka, or you could even drink it with breakfast in the morning without the cocktail, if you are so inclined.

The honey is a great compliment to the grapefruit's tartness, and the cranberry makes the whole thing a pretty pink color.   I really love how this came out.  Here's to winter canning!