Friday, July 26, 2013

Two Pestos: Basil and Roasted Tomato

Two popular activities around here lately have been roasting tomatoes and making pesto.  Why?  Well, with basil growing in the garden, I needed to preserve it, and there's no better way to do that than to make basil pesto to freeze.  

Enough basil for several batches

You can freeze it in jars, muffin cups, or ice cube trays.  It's great to take some out in the dead of winter to enjoy over pasta or drizzled on top of soups.  It's a little taste of summer all year round.  

Basil pesto on left and roasted tomato pesto on right (ready to go in freezer)

I've also been making quite a bit of roasted tomato pesto since roasting my own tomatoes recently.  This batch was made with cherry tomatoes that were roasted in a 250 degree oven for a couple of hours. 

If making both pestos at the same time, make the basil pesto first.  That way, there is no need to wash the food processor. 

You see, we're a little different from most folks in that we don't really like raw tomatoes that much.  I can eat them on a sandwich or on a salad, but I can never go through a lot of cherry tomatoes on my own.  So, I've been roasting the leftovers and using them, along with basil from the garden, to make roasted tomato pesto. It is delicious tossed with warm pasta or spread on a sandwich, and it is so easy to make.  As we speak, I am about to pop a couple more trays of cherry tomatoes into the oven to roast.  Just halve them, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and roast for 2-3 hours until dry and slightly chewy.  Then use them in pasta, salads, or this pesto.  

Basil pesto cubes ready for freezer

The basil pesto recipe I use can be found at the link at the top of this page or on my Preserving page under Freezing.  The Roasted Tomato Pesto recipe follows.  Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Pesto cubes ready for freezer

Roasted Tomato Pesto- makes approximately 1 1/2 cups or 1 ice cube tray

If you do not wish to use tomatoes you have roasted, you can use sun dried tomatoes from the market. If you use store-bought tomatoes, drain the oil and use it for a portion of the olive oil if desired. When adding the oil, use your judgement.  Quantities of oil can vary from batch to batch depending on the amount of moisture still in your tomatoes.  You want a spreadable pesto but nothing too oily.     

1 cup basil, lightly packed
1 cup roasted tomatoes, can be Romas or cherry tomatoes 
1/4 cup almonds (you can use whatever nut is available or pine nuts)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3-1/2 cup good quality olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon (add if you feel it needs additional acidity...I usually do)

Add your basil, roasted tomatoes, almonds, salt, garlic, and cheese to the processor.  Pulse several times until ingredients are combined.  Slowly drizzle the oil into the food processor via the tube as the processor is running.  Add only as much oil as you need to reach the proper consistency.  Taste the pesto and adjust seasoning.  Add lemon juice if desired for additional acidity. Pulse pesto one last time to combine before scooping the mixture into ice cube trays, muffin cups, or jars to freeze.  Once frozen, the pesto in the ice cube trays and muffin cups can be removed and placed in a freezer bag for storage.  If you want to keep this pesto in the refrigerator for a few days rather than freezing, place the mixture in a jar and pour a little olive oil on top to prevent it from darkening.  

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Weekly Updates and Great Finds

It's been a little busy around here.  Over the course of the week, I put up two bushels of corn (roughly 100 ears)I froze all of it, some off the cob and some on.  In total, we got 29 pints of corn kernels and 20 ears on the cob.  That should be enough to last us until this time next year.  Freezing corn is a messy job, but it helps to set your table up with brown paper or towels to keep it as clean as possible.  It also helps to watch videos while doing it.  Breaking Bad, anyone?

My next project was to put up two bushels (50 pounds) of tomatoes.  I'm not sure exactly what I was thinking when I purchased the corn and tomatoes at the same time, but just let me tell you it wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had.  That being said, in one weekend of work, I basically preserved all the "big stuff" and now don't have it to worry about.  Having decided that we liked it better than all other sauces we have tried, we made four batches of Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce which churned out a grand total of 25 pints of sauce.  This will also get us through until next year.  It's nice not to go to the grocery often during the fall and winter.  It turns all the hard work into something well worth the effort.  Not to mention that what we are eating tastes fresher and is healthier than anything you could purchase.    

I also found some great finds on other blogs which turned out really well.  I won't post the recipes, but the pictures are mine (as poor as they may be...I was working with my phone camera).  Click the links to get the recipes.  They were all really delicious and definite keepers.  

#1 Roasted Tomatoes- 
I found these tomatoes over at Thy Hand Hath Provided (one of my favorite blogs) and she had gotten the recipe/technique over at Mama's Minutia.  These tomatoes taste like they are sun dried, but they are instead roasted overnight in a low and slow oven.  They are rich and chewy with a deep tomato flavor.  I made one batch which found its way into the freezer along with another batch of cherry tomatoes roasted the same way (but for only a couple of hours) which made its way into roasted tomato pesto (I will share soon).  I will definitely be making these again as soon as I can get my hands on more Roma tomatoes.  Unfortunately I did not grow Romas this year which I now regret after trying this recipe.     


#2 Spaghetti with Garlic Gravy, Lemon Chicken, and Cherry Tomatoes-
This recipe came from Goddess of Scrumptiousness and turned out to really be scrumptious.  My picture is nowhere near Jeannie's in quality, but I include it here just to show that I did actually make it and it worked.  The only change I made was to add cherry tomatoes that had been roasted in the oven for 20 minutes or so until they softened (my husband is not fond of raw tomato).  The garlic gravy in this dish is amaaaazing!  It coats the pasta perfectly and tastes rich and creamy.  I did cut back on the oil and butter a bit, but it didn't affect the end product.  I generally dislike leftovers, but I ate this pasta two days in a row for lunch and felt a little disappointed when it was gone.  It was that good. 

#3 Russian Fruit Compote-
My last find of the week hails from The Girls' Guide to Guns and Butter, and it turns out that this drink is the perfect way to use up fruit you may have around that is a bit past its prime (maybe shriveled a bit) but still usable.  You just boil whatever fruit you have with water and sugar to make a delicious and refreshing summer beverage.  I used blackberries in the picture shown, but Sofya used currants.  The compote is as beautiful to look at as it is to drink, and I am enjoying every sip.  

Next time I post I will tell you about the pesto I made with the roasted tomatoes.  Until then, keep canning and give these recipes a shot.     


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Green Beans: A Love-Hate Relationship

Alright, folks, even though my canning season was a little slow to start this year, it has officially begun and is moving at top speed.  Among the many things coming in right now both from my yard and the market are green beans. I love 'em.  What's not to love, right?  Green beans are easily preserved in a variety of ways, and yet they are equally delicious and easy to prepare fresh (as long as you get a stringless variety).  They are also prolific growers which is where the love-hate relationship begins.  While it is wonderful to go to your backyard and pick fresh green beans for dinner, it gets a little old (not to mention back-breaking) when you are picking bowls full every few days. 

Freshly picked green beans
There have been times (right now included) when I have so many green beans in the fridge that I feel a little overwhelmed.  My poor husband, who eats most anything I put in front of him, was surprised a few nights ago when we had a meal that did not include green beans or cucumbers (another prolific garden addition).  We eat as many as we can in as many ways as we can, but there comes a point when you just have to preserve them.  When that time comes, I usually purchase several pounds of additional beans (when overrun with beans, you should purchase more, right?!) so that I have enough to really make it worth my preserving efforts.

So, with garden beans and farmers market beans in tow, I spent a good part of a day preserving them in a variety of ways.  Remember, variety is the spice of life.  Here is what I did with them.  
First I spent some quality time snapping most of them into 1-inch lengths while watching an episode of an old TV series Christy during which time my husband asked how much crap a person could watch at one time.  In case you can't tell, he's not really into the whole mushy-gushy love story thing. 
Green beans after trimming ends and snapping
After snapping most of them, I proceeded by blanching and freezing some, making dilly beans with others, and pressure canning the rest.  

I froze less this year because we didn't quite use all I froze last year and we wanted to try pressure canning some for even quicker use this time around.  I ended up freezing 6 bags (3 cups each) as opposed to 11 bags last year.  I will still freeze more as the green beans keep coming in.  I have picked green beans four times at this point (getting roughly 2-3 pounds each time), and there are still more out there.  For a step-by-step guide to freezing green beans check out my post from last year.   

Green beans, blanched, cooled, and ready for the freezer

I then used about 3 pounds to make 6 pints of Dilly Beans with Garlic and Chiles.  These are delicious as a snack, tossed with potatoes, served with heavier items in winter like roasted meats and stews, or even eaten as a side dish (we often open pickled beets and dilly beans when we are too pressed for time to do a proper side dish).  If you are someone who enjoys a drink every now and then, they would make a great addition to a Bloody Mary. For the recipe for Dilly Beans with Garlic and Chiles see last year's post
Dilly beans- this picture is from last year
This was my first year pressure canning green beans.  We decided to try them this way because I figured they would be quicker on a weeknight and give us some variety.  Frozen beans are great braised with a little bacon or in soups and stews, but canned beans can be popped open and eaten as is seasoned with a little garlic, salt, and pepper.  We canned 8 pints this way this year to try them.  

Raw packing green beans into hot jars

Green beans ready for the pressure canner

One jar didn't seal so we were able to give them a try a few days after canning them.  They were so much better than store-bought canned beans.  They were cooked yet still retained a distinct green bean taste and were not at all mushy.  We will definitely be adding these to our yearly repertoire and maybe replacing more of our frozen stock with this.  I pressure canned about 8 pounds of green beans giving me 8 pints. 

Green beans just out of the pressure canner
On a side note...when pressure canning vegetables, often you can choose between packing them hot or raw.  I chose, for ease and because I wanted a firmer end product, to raw pack mine.  If you prefer to pack them hot, you will need to boil your snapped beans for 4-5 minutes before packing them into jars.  The following directions are for the raw pack method.   

Green Beans in the Pressure Canner

According to National Center for Home Food Preservation, one pound of beans makes about one pint canned, so you can choose how much you preserve.  In my opinion, it makes sense to can as much as will fit in your pressure canner if you are going to take the time to run it. If you are unfamiliar with pressure canning, make sure to follow the steps on your canner carefully to ensure a safe canning experience.   

Green beans, about one pound (before trimming) for every pint, ends removed and snapped into 1 inch lengths
Kosher salt or canning salt (do not use table salt)
Boiling water

Sterilize your jars, lids, and rings.  Follow the steps for using your pressure canner and Pressure Canning 101 for pressure canning procedures. 

Bring a large stockpot of boiling water to a boil.  Place about 3 quarts of water in your pressure canner (or the amount indicated by the manufacturer) and heat it up as you pack your hot jars.  Place raw green beans in hot, sterilized jars, filling them tightly (if using hot pack method, pack loosely), leaving 1 inch headspace.  Place 1/2 tsp salt in each pint jar.  Fill each jar with boiling water, leaving 1 inch headspace.  Using a bubble remover or plastic chopstick, remove air bubbles from each jar.  Readjust headspace, and top each jar with a lid and ring.  Place jars in pressure canner and follow manufacturer's directions and Pressure Canning 101 to continue processing.  Process pint jars at 11 pounds of pressure for dial-gauge canners (for people at or below 2,000 feet) for 20 minutes.  If processing quarts, process at 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes.  Make sure to adjust pounds of pressure according to altitude.  Once processing time is complete, follow pressure canner directions to reduce pressure safely and completely before removing the lid and jars.      

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why Did My Canning Jar Break?

I recently had a canning jar break during processing, and while this is a rare event, it still caught me off-guard and disappointed me a little.  I was canning Quick Dills with Garlic and Chiles and had placed my filled jars into the canner minutes earlier only to hear the tell-tale pop of a pint jar breaking in the canner.  Since I was in the middle of this canning operation, I left the jar in the canner and continued to process the remaining jars.  Once the processing time was over, however, I removed the broken jar, and this is what I found.  

Jar with bottom broken off

So, why did this happen?  Well, for anyone getting into canning and even for those with experience, this can seem like a set-back.  In actuality, it is not that big a deal although it can be messy, and it obviously means you have lost the ingredients from that particular jar to the garbage.  For the most part, this problem can be easily avoided, though.  Here are some reasons why a canning jar may break before, during, or after processing.  

  • The number one thing to remember is to use jars meant for canning today.  That means no use of mayo jars or jars that once held store-bought jelly.  Those jars are meant for commercial canning which is different from canning at home.  That also means no canning in vintage jars.  I know those old blue Ball jars are pretty, but they are best kept for dry ingredients such as beans, rice, and pasta.
  • We may not realize it, but each time we pack a jar or remove its contents, we are possibly scratching the insides of the jar, particularly if you are using metal utensils.  Make sure to inspect your jars thoroughly before using them to make sure there are no cracks or chips anywhere, even on the rim (which can prevent proper sealing).  To prevent cracks or chips, use plastic utensils to pack jars and remove air bubbles. I find that a plastic chopstick works great for removing bubbles in a safe manner.  
  • The leading cause of jar breakage is probably a temperature difference in the jar and its surroundings.  When I was a kid, I filled a glass with ice and put it in the freezer until the tea had been made.  Once the tea was finished, I poured the hot tea over the ice in the frozen glass, and guess what?  The glass cracked.  Same thing goes for canning jars.  Packing hot food into a cooler jar, putting a cooler jar into your boiling water bath, or placing your hot jar on a cool surface after processing can all lead to breakage.  The tricky thing is that sometimes it take a little longer to pack your jars correctly before they cool down.  In that case, make sure you are packing as quickly as possible and keeping all other jars warm as you do so. 
  • The last factor for jar breakage can be the age of the jar.  Although jars last years (some say as long as ten), they will eventually need to be replaced.  
I feel pretty certain that my jar cracked because it was too cool when I put it into the boiling water.  Even though it had been sterilized in boiling water and was filled with boiling vinegar before being placed into the bath, I think the jar had been too cool when the vinegar was poured in and it weakened it causing it to break in the canner.  

The main thing to remember is that this doesn't happen often and is not a disaster when it does.  If you have already begun processing, don't stop your timing just to remove the broken jar.  Yes, you may have a bit of a mess to clean up afterwards in your canner, but you don't want to stop processing and then have to start it all over again just for one jar.  That could result in a loss of quality in your other jars as well (think softer pickles if they have been partially processed and then reprocessed).  If you jar is holding something like jelly or jam, make sure you thoroughly clean the other jars before storing them.  If, on the other hand, the breakage occurs before your processing time has officially begun, by all means remove the broken jar from the water before continuing.  If for some reason, a jar breaks during pressure canning (I will be posting soon about pressure canning green beans), continue processing as usual.  Do not open the pressure canner until all the proper steps have been taken and you are sure the pressure in the canner is zero.  Usually when a jar breaks it breaks into large pieces rather than shards, so it is easy to locate all the pieces and remove them safely.  Most importantly, if this happens, keep calm and can on!   

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Brandied Blackberry Jam

Canning can sometimes be a bit unpredictable.  Sure, you follow the steps and recipes, try to be as orderly and organized as possible, and do your research before beginning a project, but still, sometimes life throws you curve balls.  And that's okay.  

Finished Jam

Case in point...late last week I officially began my 'canning season' with a brandied blackberry jam, followed by my pickles for the year (during which time one of my jars broke on me...more on that later).  Having never tried brandied blackberry jam, I did a little research about when to actually add the brandy, and it seemed as though most recipes (even those from very reliable sources) called for adding 2-3 tablespoons at the very end.  Doable enough, right?  Well, what resulted was a slightly thinner jam.  Still jelled, but less firm than most powdered pectin jams.  

Crushed berries and pectin coming to a boil
At first I was a little annoyed because the jam was too firm to reprocess with more pectin and sugar as I did last year with the Two Peach Jam, but it was also a little thinner than what a jam really should be.  Wondering what to do, I left it on the counter for several days (during which time it did become a little thicker), and then I tried it on toast and was pleasantly surprised.  You see, sometimes I don't like jams made with powdered pectin because they are too firm, but this jam is still perfect for spreading on toast while also being a little more versatile.  This jam will be lovely spooned over ice cream, into plain yogurt, used in lieu of syrup on pancakes, or used in blackberry jam cake (which is on the menu very soon).  

Three tablespoons of brandy (this is the cheap stuff)
So, I am choosing to do nothing to alter this jam.  That being said, the next time I make it, I will either increase the pectin a bit, decrease the brandy by one tablespoon, or increase the brandy and add it to the crushed berries before cooking.  I haven't decided which to try, but I will let you know how it goes when I do. 

Foam removed from jam-  don't throw this away; have a piece of toast instead!
With all of that out of the way, let me tell you a bit about this jam.  It is a basic blackberry jam made with powdered pectin, but 3 tablespoons of brandy were added at the end.  The brandy gives this jam an interesting and delicious flavor.  One tasting it would not be able to point out that brandy was involved (unless you know your brandy very well) but it would be clear that it had something that most blackberry jams don't.  I really like it, and it makes a delicious, if ever so slightly more grown up,  peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I did choose to leave the seeds in the jam because I am not bothered by them, but if your berries are excessively seedy or you just don't like the seeds, you can press your crushed berries through a sieve before beginning the jam.  You can also completely omit the brandy if you prefer a basic blackberry jam (the jam will be thicker this way).  

Brandied Blackberry Jam- makes approximately 8 half-pint jars

8 cups fresh blackberries, crushed (will measure 5 cups crushed)
1 box (1.75 oz) powdered fruit pectin
7 cups sugar
3 Tbsp brandy

Prepare your water bath canner and at least 8 half-pint jars, lids, and rings.  Place your cleaned, crushed berries into a large (6-8 quart) pot.  Stir the pectin into the berries, and bring the mixture to a rapid boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Once at a full boil, quickly add the sugar and stir to combine.  Stir constantly until the jam comes to a rolling boil.  Once boiling, boil for exactly 1 minute.  Remove jam from the heat and quickly stir in the brandy (it will foam up, just make sure it is off the heat).  Using a clean spoon, skim the foam off the top of the jam.  Ladle jam into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe the jar rims to remove any residue.  Top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring.  Process jars in boiling water bath for 5 minutes (alter time based on altitude as needed).  Remove jars from canner and place on a clean towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store.

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