Friday, July 27, 2012

Canning Crushed Tomatoes (and other tomato reminders)

Do you want a relatively quick and painless canning method for tomatoes?  One that is versatile enough to give you tomatoes for soups, stews, and sauces throughout the year?  Crushed tomatoes is definitely your best bet.  Yes, you still have to peel them (sorry to burst your bubble), but that is really the most time-consuming part of the whole matter.  Once they are peeled they just need to be chopped, heated, and processed.  For a quick tutorial on how to peel tomatoes, check out this post.

If you have a lot of tomatoes and need more ideas, check out the two part tomato post from last year.  Part 1 has Seasoned Tomato Sauce, Garden Tomato Sauce, and Salsa (from a Ball mix).  Part 2 has a fantastic Classic Tomato Soup, Tomato Jam, and Bruschetta.  Also check out the Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce I canned this year.   
Crushed Tomatoes (in their own liquid)makes 9 pints

Fourteen pounds of tomatoes will give you approximately 9 pints, but you don't have to have that many to can crushed tomatoes.  Work with however many pounds you have, but remember to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar (or 2 tablespoons to quarts).  Bottled lemon juice should be used as the acidity of fresh lemons is not always consistent. 

14 pounds tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
9 Tbsp bottled lemon juice

Prepare your canner, lids, and rings (see Canning Basics).

Place your chopped tomatoes in a large nonreactive pot.  Bring the tomatoes to a boil.  Using a wooden spoon, crush some of the tomatoes in the pot while leaving others in larger pieces. 

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar.  Ladle the tomatoes into the jars making sure you get some larger pieces and crushed pieces in each jar.  Leave 1/2 inch headspace at the top of each jar.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars and place sterilized lids and rings on each.  Process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes for pints or 45 minutes for quarts.  Remove jars to a towel to cool 24 hours before checking seals, labeling, and storing for up to one year. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Freezing Corn

I am currently out of town at a fabulous workshop in the Outer Banks, but am stuck inside due to a storm, so I thought this would be a good time to post about a little preserving task I took care of before leaving home.

I'm a little strange.  I admit it.  While others have fun going out to parties and doing things that are supposedly 'normal' for people my age, I find it fun to sit around my kitchen table shucking corn and cutting it off the cob.  Actually, let's rephrase that, I find it fun for a little while.  After a few hours, your back starts to feel like I imagine it would if you were pregnant, the skin on your fingers is imprinted with the pattern from the knife you are using, and when you go to bed, the only thing you can see when you close your eyes are kernels of corn falling into the bowl in front of you.  So, maybe it's not so fun, but it is truly rewarding.  You put in a few hours of effort, and you are rewarded with fresh tasting corn all winter long.  Nothing beats that. 

Corn is one of those vegetables that cannot be canned in a water bath due to its low acidity level.  You can pressure can it (I will be posting more about pressure canning soon), but I much prefer to freeze it.  It is so easy to do, and it can be left on the cob or cut off.  I do a little of both.  Corn on the cob is great for those nights when I am very busy and don't have time for much else, and corn kernels are perfect cooked in a buttered skillet or added to soups, cornbread, salsas, or fritters. 

The process for freezing corn is very similar to the one used for freezing green beans.  First you want to shuck the corn and remove the silks.

You then plunge the ears, as many as you can at a time, into a very large pot of boiling water.  They stay in the water about 5 minutes.  Blanching vegetables before freezing is an important step.  It stops the enzymes in the vegetables that would otherwise cause them to lose flavor, texture, and nutrients in the freezer.  In other words, if you want the quality of your vegetables to withstand freezing, you need to blanch them.

Once blanched, they need to be placed immediately into a large pot of ice water to stop the cooking process.  I use my canning pot for this by filling it halfway with cold water and ice. 

When the corn is cool, you can either snap the cobs in half and pack into freezer bags for corn on the cob (very quick and easy) or you can use a sharp knife to slice the kernels from the cobs.  I slice the tops of the kernels off and then use the knife to scrape the cob to remove the corn juices.  This is a messy process (which is why my table is covered in paper bags in the pictures) but it results in a very flavorful, almost creamy corn.  The two bowls in the picture show the corn kernels from a bushel of corn (this was 54 ears). 

The corn kernels can then be placed in freezer bags.  I use pint bags, and this bushel gave me 15 pints of corn. 

I put up another bushel, some on the cob and some off.  For that bushel I cut 20 ears of corn in half to make 40 smaller pieces of corn.  I then bagged them four halves to a quart size freezer bag to give me 10 bags of corn on the cob.  I cut the rest off the cob and got 6 more pints of corn kernels.  This is a lot more corn than I put up last year, but I was able to get a really good deal on it, and since we ran out very early last year, we thought it was worth it.    


Friday, July 20, 2012

Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce

Over the past few canning seasons I've been experimenting with different pasta sauces.  We use a lot of pasta sauce throughout the year, and my goal is to make enough during the summer to get us through.  It is really difficult to make myself go into a grocery store and buy pasta sauce off the shelf when we run out because it is not nearly as good as what we make at home.  The problem with pasta sauce is that it is a bit time consuming as is most everything when it comes to canning tomatoes.  We have experimented with Mrs. Wages Pasta Sauce Mix which is tasty (on par with grocery store sauces) and probably the easiest to make as it just involves a packet and your tomatoes, but it is higher in sodium and has some ingredients that you would'nt add to your sauce at home.  We have also tried a Seasoned Tomato Sauce and a Garden Tomato Sauce, both of which I posted about last year.  Between the two of those, the Garden Tomato Sauce was the easiest to make because it didn't require peeling the tomatoes which, let's face it, is the most time consuming part of the whole sauce-making ordeal.  This year we got 50 pounds of tomatoes and it was a day-long (yet rewarding) process.     

We liked all of these sauces, and we ate them all with no complaints, but this year we wanted to try a new one.  We had a lot of herbs from the garden that needed to be used, and we wanted something more garlicky and a little spicy to go with meatballs, in lasagna, or just mixed with pasta.  We made some of the Seasoned Tomato Sauce because we knew we liked it and made some Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce to try.  Turns out, this new sauce is very tasty with lots of fresh herbs and a mellow garlic flavor.  Very good.  It is also a little sweeter than the Garden Tomato Sauce from last year due to a small amount of brown sugar which I think would make this sauce very kid friendly (minus the pepper flakes if spiciness is not desired). 

It begins with peeling the tomatoes.  If you want to see the step-by-step peeling process, go my post from last year.  While you are peeling the tomatoes, you will want to roast about three small heads (heads, not cloves) of garlic.  Do this by removing any excess papery skin from each head of garlic and cutting the pointed end so that you expose the tops of each clove.  Place the heads of garlic in a baking dish, drizzle each of them with a teaspoon or so of olive oil, and cover the dish with foil. Roast them in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes until the garlic is tender.  Once they are cool enough to touch, you can squeeze the garlic out of each head, and you will have a garlicky paste that looks something like this. 

Once your tomatoes are peeled, they need to be pureed to your liking.  We like our sauce a bit smoother, but you could certainly leave it chunkier if you prefer. 

You will also need to gather some fresh herbs.  You will need about two cups of fresh basil and another cup of mixed herbs (I used parsley and oregano). 

Once all of these ingredients are combined and cooked to a thicker sauce consistency, you will end up with a sauce that looks something like this.

Between the two sauces we made, we ended up with 23 pints which should be enough to get us through the year without having to purchase store-bought sauce.  Last year we only canned about 12 pints and ran out before spring, so we are very excited about the larger quantity this year. 

Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce- makes 6 pints

This recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens Canning magazine.  I added the roasted garlic based on another version from their website.  The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon pepper flakes, but it was plenty spicy with half that amount (which is what I indicated in the recipe below).  If you don't like heat, omit the pepper flakes altogether.  If using the pepper flakes, I suggest adding half of what is in the recipe below and then adding more as you taste.     

12 pounds tomatoes, peeled and pureed to your desired consistency
3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup assorted herbs, chopped (I used 3/4 cup parsley and 1/4 cup oregano)
3 Tbsp roasted garlic (about 3 small heads roasted as indicated in post above)
6 Tbsp lemon juice

Prepare your canner, jars, and lids (see Canning Basics on how to do this). 

Place your tomato puree in a large nonreactive pot.  Add the brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and black pepper (do not add pepper flakes at this point).  Bring to a boil and reduce heat, stirring frequently.  Simmer, uncovered, 70-80 minutes until reduced to a desired sauce consistency.  Remove from the heat.  Add the pepper flakes (if using), herbs, and roasted garlic. 

Spoon 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into each pint jar.  Ladle hot sauce into each jar, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace, and wipe rims.  Place sterilized lids and rings on each jar.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.  Remove to a towel to cool for 24 hours before checking seals, labeling, and storing.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Day at the Farm

While the information in this post is factual to the best of my knowledge, any opinions are completely my own.

This post is a little different from my usual, but I wanted to share pictures from a farm tour I recently went on thanks to a workshop called Ag in the Classroom sponsored by NC Farm Bureau.  I was there Monday and Tuesday, and one of those days was spent at several of NC State University's Animal Science Education Units.  These units are essentially working farms run in cooperation with the University and the Department of Agriculture, and they are open to public tours for the purposes of education.  A lot of college students also work at them as part of the Animal Sciences curriculum.  We visited the dairy, swine, and beef cattle units on our trip.  They also have other units and you can read more about each one on this website.

Taking a visit to a farm is an eye opening experience, and it helps you see what goes into producing the foods we eat.  Our first stop was the dairy farm unit.  This unit had been recently renovated to include newer technologies to make the process of milking faster and more efficient.

The cows at this dairy are milked twice a day, and the technology used is amazing.  When the cow steps up to be milked, the green area on the equipment in the picture reads the cow's number and logs information about the cow including how much milk she is producing at each milking, if all four udders are working properly, and how her milk production for that day compares to other days.  Her milk then flows down to a device in a room underground that takes a sample of the milk and logs more information.

Obviously, with this being a working dairy, one of their primary goals is production.  Because they want the cows' milk to sell, they remove calves from their mothers once they are born.  The calves are housed in individual pens with little 'houses' attached to enable them to get out of the sun.  I understood the reason for this, but part of me also felt bad for the calves who had to stay in these pens alone.  This calf was born the day before we arrived.

Once the calves are old enough, they are housed in a much larger fenced area/barn where they have more room to roam. 

The lactating cows are kept in another barn with an aisle where they can walk and rubber mats topped with bedding.  They do have access to a field behind the barn, but during the summer they rarely choose to go out due to the heat.  The barn where they are kept is cleaned twice a day. 

The milk from these cows goes to a local processing plant and then to the university to be used.  A portion of it also goes into making Howling Cow Ice Cream.  They do give their cows antibiotics if absolutely necessary, but any milk from those cows is stored in another part of the dairy facility and is used to feed the calves rather than going into the milk that is sold and used.

I have been on a working dairy farm before, so nothing I saw surprised me that much, but the swine unit was a little more unnerving for me.  The swine unit is meant to be a farrow to finish unit meaning the pigs are born there and raised to their slaughter weight there.  Due to budget cuts, at this point, they are only raising the pigs until they are old enough to be weaned at which point they are sold to other farms as feeder pigs. 

The sows are kept in a constant state of some form of reproduction.  There are a variety of buildings at this unit and each serves a different purpose.  There is a building where the breeding takes place, one for gestation, one for birthing, and one for holding the sows until the piglets are weaned.  The sows get very little room for movement in these stalls.  As you can see below, the sow remains on her side for a good portion of her time in these stalls so that her pigs can feed.  She is surrounded by metal bars that restrict her movement to a great extent. 

She can stand up in the stall, but she cannot move from left to right.

The piglets have a little more freedom of movement as they are able to roam within the confines of the entire stall, but that is still not much room.  They are kept in this stall continuously until they are old enough to be weaned and removed from their mother.

The sows remain in the stalls or stalls similar to these throughout their lifespans.  The only form of exercise they get is the walk between various buildings as they are moved through the reproduction process.  We were at this farm on Tuesday, and these piglets were scheduled to be weaned on Thursday.  Several days after weaning, the sows will be taken to the breeding barn to begin the process all over again.  There were sows in the building we visited that had given birth to up to ten litters in their lives meaning that they have been years in these stalls doing these same things on a daily basis.

One thing that was stressed to us throughout this trip was that agricultural practices need to be approached from different perspectives.  I realize that we have to produce more food with less land than ever before, and when the demand for a product is as high as it is for meat in this country, practices like this are the most efficient at producing in high quantities, but I can't help but think of the animals and what they should be doing according to nature.  I know I wouldn't want to have the life of the sow remaining in a confined space for years on end.  I would want to move freely, root around in the dirt, and raise my litter as nature intended.  There are many farms out there that allow their pigs to do just that.  Yes, they are usually smaller in scale but they are raising their pigs in a way that makes the pigs comfortable in a more natural setting.  I know we can't rely on small farms to feed us the amounts of meat that we consume in this country, but it makes me realize that I want to consume less in order to consume better.  

We also visited the beef unit, but we were not able to see the steers up close as they were all out in the fields grazing (as they should be).  At the beef unit, the cattle are not fed grains but are raised on acres of pasture where they feed.  At the beef unit, we were given a glimpse of a homemade chicken tractor and rabbit tractor made from chicken wire and pvc pipe.  They would be very easy to make at home for anyone raising chickens or rabbits and are meant to be moved from place to place daily to provide fresh grass for the animals to forage.  

The picture above is of the chickens in their tractor, and the one below is of one of the bunnies hanging out in the rabbit tractor.  Raising rabbits would be very easy to do even for people who cannot own chickens due to city/county laws since rabbits are considered pets rather than livestock in most cities.    

All-in-all, this trip was very informative and made me think even more about the foods I eat.  While the facilities where clean and the animals well taken care of everywhere we went, it did make me think about industrial agricultural practices and what we do to produce food, and I think that is something we all need to be thinking about.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

Everyone is prone to making silly mistakes now and then.  Right?  Well, my silliest mistake of the season was purchasing a tad entirely too many jalapeno peppers.  

This is just a very small portion of the peppers I bought.
As is the case with many mistakes, multiple contributing factors converged to create the big oops.  I could blame it on the fact that I read a recipe from a book in a store very quickly and totally overestimated the quantities needed later on or that I saw an outrageously good deal on jalapenos at the farmer's market, but why overanalyze things?  All that really matters is that the end result was me returning home with a quarter of a bushel box of peppers.  By the way, I am pretty sure that a quarter bushel actually is a peck, so the famous rhyme would be totally appropriate here.  I never thought I would recreate the situation that Peter Piper found himself in so many years ago.  I wonder if his spouse thought him as crazy as mine did!  Anyway...

What to do with a peck of peppers?  I saw lots of out-of-the-box ideas for them, but I wanted to use them in ways that would actually be beneficial to us throughout the year.  We use pickled jalapenos in nachos, salsas, corn, and mexican rice dishes, so I decided to use some of the peppers to make my own. 

This recipe is very simple, uses very few ingredients, and can be made quickly.  Please remember to use caution with the peppers.  They do burn the skin on your hands when you work with them in larger quantities, and the capsaicin remains on your skin for a long time (a peach I ate hours later tasted spicy after I held it with my hand to eat it). 

Pickled Jalapeno Slices- makes 4 to 5 pint jars

This recipe comes from Canning for a New Generation.  I have not changed it much except to use one of the book's secondary recommendations to use honey rather than sugar to add some sweetness.  I also went with the headspace recommendations from National Center for Home Food Preservation because the book's 1 inch headspace seemed like a lot and did not correspond to any other pickled pepper recipes I saw.  The recipe makes 4-5 pints depending upon how well you pack the jalapenos into the jars.  They are a little tricky to get in there snugly without breaking the rings.  A chopstick worked well to move them around in the jar. 

2 1/2 pounds jalapenos, cut in 1/8 in rounds and rinsed to remove loose seeds
4 cups apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
4-5 garlic cloves (one for each jar)

Prepare your canner, jars, and lids. 

In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, honey, and salt until boiling.  Pack the pepper slices into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Fill each jar with the hot vinegar mixture, and place a garlic clove into each jar.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars, and place a sterilized lid and ring on top of each one.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Two Days of Pickles: Part 2

Pickle Number Two:  Quick Dill Pickles with Garlic and Chiles

I always make two kinds of pickles-  a sweet one and a dill.  I also enjoy making fermented pickles although I have not made them this year and am not sure if I will (we still have a few left from last summer).  I particularly like making the sweet pickles and dill pickles because while the sweet one takes a week to complete, the dill is quick.  They kind of balance each other out.  The cucumbers for the dills are packed raw into jars and processed the same day.  They don't have the depth of flavor that fermented pickles have, but they are delicious nonetheless, and they take about an hour to make start to finish. 

In the past I have made them with only dill seeds, but this year we decided to change them up a bit and add chiles and garlic.  We love these pickles with just about anything.  We also like to use them to make sweet and sour pickles which is an idea given to me by an older lady that I know who has done her fair share of canning over the years.  She told me to drain the liquid from a jar of dill pickles and add 1/3 cup sugar to the jar.  The sugar draws liquid from the pickle chips to make a syrup and makes the pickles crispier in the process.  Once our sweet pickles are gone and we want more, this is what we do.  They are absolutely delicious this way! 

I do add Ball Pickle Crisp Granules to the jars to help the pickles remain a little firmer.  I don't know how much it actually helps as I have never made them without the granules (sounds like a good experiment, doesn't it?).  You will definitely want to choose cucumbers that are smaller in diameter and as crisp as possible at the time of purchase (or pick your own- even better!).

One more note on processing pickles...boiling jars of cucumber pickles in a water bath always decreases their crispness to some degree.  You can, of course, boil the jars as indicated in the recipe, but you can also use the low temperature pasteurization method in which the jars are held in water of about 180 degrees for 30 minutes.  This lower temperature also helps pickles remain a little firmer.  Either way works.  Can you tell I am a little obsessed with getting the firmest pickle possible? 

Quick Dill Pickles with Garlic and Chiles-  makes approximately 6 pints

This recipe is based on one from a Better Homes and Gardens Canning magazine.  The only change I made was to use dried hot chiles rather than fresh since that is what I had on hand.  If you want to make the a dill pickle without the garlic and chiles, simply omit them and change the vinegar to white vinegar.

3 pounds small pickling cucumbers
4 cups water
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt
6 Tbsp dill seeds
12 cloves garlic
6 to 12 dried hot chiles (use only 1 per jar for mild heat and 2 per jar for more)

Scrub the cucumbers.  Remove the blossom end of each cucumber.  Slice each cucumber into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices (I went a little less than 1/2 inch).  Set the cucumbers aside. 

Prepare your canner and sterilize your jars and lids.  In a large nonreactive pot, heat the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. 

Pack the cucumber slices into hot sterilized jars along with 2 cloves of garlic per jar and 1 or 2 chiles per jar.  Add 1 tablespoon dill seeds to each jar.  Fill each jar with the vinegar mixture leaving 1/2 headspace.  Using a chopstick or other tool, remove the air bubbles from the jars.  Adjust the headspace in each jar, wipe the rims, and top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring. 

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (or use the low temperature method by holding jars in 180 degree water for 30 minutes).  Remove jars from the canner to a towel to cool for 24 hours before checking seals, labeling, and storing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Two Days of Pickles: Part 1

Pickles are fabulous!  Sour or sweet, they go with almost everything.  We eat them alongside many of our meals, and we use them instead of relish in chicken salad, potato salad, and on hamburgers and hotdogs.  There is nothing like the sweet tang of crunchy pickle chips tucked inside grilled cheese sandwiches made with sharp cheddar or a few eaten as a snack with a wedge of cheese and some crackers.

Pickle Number One:  Seven Day Sweet Pickle Chips

I have spent the past few weeks making two kinds of pickles.  The first you may recognize if you follow Cathy over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen (which by the way is a fantastic blog with lots of canning and preserving ideas).  It is a great pickle recipe for those who don't want to deal with a water bath canner since these pickles are refrigerated rather than being processed.  If you don't know about these pickles I strongly urge you to hop over to her blog and check them out for yourself.  I am so glad I came across them several years ago!  They have become one of my go-to pickle recipes.   

These Seven Day Pickle Chips are tangy, sweet, spicy, and oh-so-crisp.  They are a quicker version of a fourteen day pickle made by a friend of mine, and Cathy recently posted about them again.  They are the best straight from the fridge and are excellent chopped into salads.  Here is a run-down of the steps, but you will want to go to her blog for more detailed info, pictures, and steps written in recipe form.

They begin with small pickling cucumbers often referred to as Kirby cucumbers.  The smaller in diameter you can get them the better.  Smaller cucks yield crisper pickles with less seeds.  Unfortunately, the ones available when I made these were a little larger than I would have liked.  They still produced a tasty, crisp pickle, though.  Here is what the ideal pickling cucumber should look like.  I always use 10 pounds which gives me 10-12 pints of finished pickles.   

On day one, you wash the cucumbers and cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices.  I have done these in two large bowls in years past, but I found last year that a five gallon glass jar works wonders.  Once they are in the jar, they are covered with a gallon of boiling water and left to sit for 24 hours.  I place a bag of water on top to keep them submerged as I find this cuts down on the amount of scum that forms.  I also cover them each day with the jar lid which I failed to show in these pictures.   

On day two, you drain the cucumbers and replace the liquid with a gallon of boiling water that contains 1/4 cup kosher salt.  This sits for one day also.

On day three, you drain and replace the liquid with another gallon of boiling water that contains 3 tablespoons of alum.  I have done these before with less alum (I only had 1 1/2 tablespoons one year) and it does make a difference.  Use the full amount for the crispest pickle.  Alum is aluminum potassium sulfate, a naturally occuring substance that makes the pickles crisp.  Modern canning resources say that alum does not work on quick process pickles, but it works here because these pickles are not processed in a water bath (more on that further down). 

On day four, the cucumbers are drained (but not rinsed) and covered with a gallon of boiling apple cider vinegar along with 1/4 cup pickling spices.  Cathy places her spices in cheesecloth.  I am often lazy and just dump mine into the jar loose.  Most of the spices settle and hardly any end up in the finished product.  The pickles remain in the vinegar, covered by a lid, throughout days five, six, and seven.  

At the end of day seven (or the beginning of day eight as it usually happens for me), the pickles are drained but some of the vinegar is reserved.  The pickles are layered in the jar with 4 cups granulated sugar.  The sugar begins to draw the liquid from the pickles.  The chips are then packed into sterilized jars of your choosing.  These chips don't get processed in a water bath, so you do not have to use canning jars.  Once in the jars, I allow them to sit for a day or so to let the sugar draw the liquid from the pickles to make syrup.  After a day or so of sitting, if the pickles are not covered completely by the syrup, you can either add a little more sugar or add some of the vinegar mixture until they are covered.  You will want to turn the jars over every day so that the sugar dissolves.   

In a previous post about these pickles, Cathy explains that she has always left them in her pantry and has never had a problem.  I keep mine on the bottom shelf in my refrigerator where they are not in the way.  This also means that they are always cold when I want them.     

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dilly Beans with Garlic and Hot Chiles

Beans are trickier than some vegetables when it comes to preserving.  They can be frozen successfully although their texture does change some in the process making them best suited for soups and longer cooking preparations.  The can be pressure canned to produce a green bean that tastes similar to one from a can at the grocery store, but they tend to become very soft and sometimes mushy in the process.  Which brings us to the water bath canner.  The only way beans can be safely canned in a water bath is if acid is added to them.  In other words, they must be pickled in some way. 

Here is where the dilly bean comes in.  Dilly beans are preserved in a vinegar solution much like a cucumber pickle would be, and there are numerous ways to flavor them.  We like them with chile and garlic which adds a nice spicy heat.  They are great eaten as a snack, served alongside meals where traditional pickles would go, in salads, on hotdogs, or as garnishes in tomato based drinks.  They are also extremely easy to make and take very little time in comparison to other similar canning projects.  

The recipe below can be altered to fit your personal heat preference.  If you like things on the spicier side, use two dried chiles and one teaspoon pepper flakes per jar.  I tend to go on the milder side of things because the older I get the wimpier I get when it comes to heat. 

Dilly Beans with Garlic and Hot Chilesmakes 5 pints
(you can also use the taller 12 oz jars if they are available)

This recipe comes from Canning for a New Generation which is an excellent canning resource with lots of interesting recipes for modern day canners.  I have only altered the recipe slightly to fit my heat preference.  If you want things spicier, double the chiles and pepper flakes that go into each jar.  One thing I find is that if small, slender beans are used they tend to shrivel over time.  This does not affect their flavor.  If you want to prevent this, use sturdier green beans for this recipe. 

4 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
3 Tbsp kosher salt
5 fresh dill sprigs
5 cloves garlic, left whole
5 dried hot red chiles
2 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed to fit in pint jars

Prepare a water bath canner along with five pint jars, lids, and rings.  In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and salt and bring to a boil. 

Place one dill sprig, one garlic clove, one chile, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes into each pint jar.  Pack the beans into each jar.  Ladle the vinegar mixture into the jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove the air bubbles from the jars and adjust the headspace accordingly.  Wipe the rims of the jars and top with sterilized lids and rings. 

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove to a towel to rest for 24 hours before checking seals, labeling, and storing.  Allow the pickles to cure at least one week before opening. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Corn Ice Cream with Salted Nuts

Happy Fourth of July!  Today is the day for cookouts and homemade ice cream.  If you are looking for a new recipe for your holiday party, corn ice cream could be the answer.  The recipe begins with a cooked custard base that is cooled before making the ice cream giving you a perfectly creamy, scoopable treat.  The ice cream itself tastes similar to vanilla but with a subtle corn flavor.  Studded with kernels of corn and salted nuts, it is unique enough to attract those looking for something new yet familiar enough to make the traditionalists in your family happy (it tastes a little like Butter Pecan). 

Corn Ice Cream with Salted Nuts-  makes 3 1/2 cups

My mom gave me this recipe from a set of recipes found at a yard sale.  The recipe can be doubled or tripled if needed. 

1 ear corn
1 cup whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped salted walnuts or pecans

Scrap the corn kernels into a pot. Place the cob in the pot along with 1 cup milk.  Cook on low heat 30 minutes.  Discard the corn cob.  Add the half and half and sugars to the corn mixture.  Cook on low, stirring frequently, until it comes to a simmer.  Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding 1/2 cup of the corn mixture to the yolks while whisking vigorously.  Then slowly add the tempered yolks to the corn mixture in the pot, whiskly as you do so to prevent the eggs from cooking.  Cook on medium until slightly thickened.  Remove from the heat. Add the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into a separate bowl to cool.  Place it in the refrigerator until completely cool.  This mixture can be made a day ahead, if desired.

Process the mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's directions.  When almost finished, add the nuts and finish processing until firm.  Enjoy as a soft serve ice cream straight from the machine or place the ice cream in the freezer for a few hours for a firmer set.