Thursday, September 27, 2012

Canning Revisited

 Last year I did a post on canning using traditional metal canning lids.  I mentioned then that there were some reusable lids on the market and I wanted to try them.  My main reason for canning tomatoes is that the regular metal cans in the market have BPA sprayed all over the inside and acidic foods are supposed to be the worst for releasing the toxins.  I haven't been able to find any jarred tomatoes anywhere I normally shop, so I thought it'd be easier and less expensive to can my own.  I canned 20 pounds two years ago, 40 last year, and am shooting for 80 this year.  I... uh...  use a lot of tomatoes...  Imagine my chagrin at finding out that the metal canning lids also have BPA coatings as well!  That clinched it for me to try the new lids.  I have canned pickles, jam, and now tomatoes with Tattler Reusable Canning lids and they are extremely easy to use.  I haven't had them long enough to speak to longevity and food spoilage but strictly from a canning standpoint they are nearly as easy to use as the metal ones and I feel glad I'm producing a safer product for my family.  Plus, they're made in the USA, and who doesn't love that?   

 (I have very patriotic tomatoes)

When it comes to canning recipes, I don't think it gets easier than tomatoes.  Peel them, add lemon juice, put a lid on it.  Pretty simple...  The Tattler lids are safe for both pressure and boiler canning, but tomatoes only require boiling.

These are "sauce" quality tomatoes.  I get them from one of my favorite Farmer's Market vendors, Garden Treasures.  Being sauce quality, they may have bruises or cracks, odd shapes, or may even have a touch of mold.  (Especially when you do like I do and let them sit on the kitchen floor over night...derp)  Since they're not display quality, you can often get them for less.  They still taste great, but usually they're nothing to write home about looks-wise...

After washing the tomatoes, cut out the core, sever any imperfections, and slice an X in the bottom of the tomato.

Pop them in the oven under a broiler.

Meanwhile, begin heating your canner on the stove.  Submerge the jars, lids, and rubber rings and bring them almost to a boil.

When the tomatoes reach this stage, they're ready.

Once they have cooled a little, you can peel the skins off easily.

You can pack them whole or make sauce, but I prefer to chop them quickly and pack them "raw" though they have cooked a bit from the broiling.

 Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to the bottom of each pint jar.  Two for a quart.

 Pack the tomatoes.  You can either use boiling water or juice to fill it in.  The tomatoes produce so much juice, I prefer to use it.

 If you're going to use the juice, you need to process the tomatoes for longer.  (Hot water- Pint 40 minutes, Quart 45 minutes. Tomato juice-85 minutes for both quart and pint.)

 Run a knife down the side of the jar to release any bubbles.  Check head space.  This jar is too full and I pulled a couple of pieces out.

Clean off the edge of the jar.


Up until now, all these steps are what you use to do any canning.  Here is where the difference comes in.

Put the rubber gasket on the edge of the jar.

 Put the lid on the jar.

 Or you can put the gasket on the lid and then put the lid on the jar.

 Then put the metal ring on.  This is the most important step.  Unlike metal lids, you cannot put the ring on too tightly when using the Tattler lids.  I put them on just until it grabs tightly, but not until it's fully tightened. Tattler calls it "fingertip tight" in the instructions.  Another way to try it is to tighten it up completely and then loosen it about a quarter inch.  These lids need some space to vent while processing.

The other big difference between these lids and the metal ones is you don't let them sit in the canner for any length of time.  As soon as the process time is over, pull them out and tighten the rings.  Let them sit on the counter until they cool completely.

Once they've come to room temp, check the seal by removing the metal ring and  trying to pry the top off with your fingers.  It will just come right off if it hasn't sealed.  If this happens, check the jar for cracks and rubber gasket for debris, put the lid back on and process again for the prescribed time.  This happened to me with the jam and pickles on a couple of jars, but all of these tomatoes sealed!  Store with the metal rings on or off.  I like to leave them so I know where they are to keep the lids on when I open jam or pickles for refrigerator storage. 

I'm not gunna lie.  The first time I tried to open one of these, I spilled a hefty amount of tomatoes on the counter.  You are supposed to pry the top off with a butter knife, but you have to be careful and not pinch the rubber gasket because if they rip you can't use them.  It was a sexy thing to do, I know.  They do sell an opener but I'm going to try it again a few times before I add another gadget to my bulging utensil drawer.

The only thing I don't absolutely love about these lids is that it's hard to make them stack totally straight.  This is a little dramatic for photography purposes, but they really don't stack very "firmly."  Other than that, these lids are a breeze.  They come in standard and wide-mouth sizes.  They do not come with the metal rings, but if you're like me, you got rings when you bought your jars.  Otherwise, they are readily available at grocery stores and even hardware stores!

For those of you who missed my Canning Primer last year or who would like a little refresher on the tools and the types of canners, here's a link!

PS, Tattler has not paid me for this endorsement.  They don't know me from Adam.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Avengers Assemble!

     Once upon a time there was a nerdy guy who wanted to join the armed services.  And no one would take him because he was a tiny little nerdy little guy.  Then he got hooked up with some super crazy secret military project and got massively hot and buff and hot and became Captain America!  And he still let his freak flag fly with that nerdy hat.  Wings?  Really?  That's what the movie said anyway.  My impression of him growing up was mostly, "Hey, that guy's name is Captain America.  He's not as cool as Superman, but not as scary as the Hulk.  I wonder if he dates Wonder Woman?"  Yeah, now I know that would be a pretty hardcore Romeo and Juliet type story being from separate publishers and all, but I think we can all agree how awesome that would be. 

     When I first envisioned this soup, I thought I'd make the white ring with sour cream.  However, one of my little nerdy guys has recently developed some stomach "things" and I've taken him off dairy of any kind for a while.  So I made a turnip and cauliflower puree for the ring.  It is fantastic, but if you'd like to save yourself some time and have a bit more of a dramatic look, I think sour cream is the way to go!

Captain America Red White and Blue Soup
5 C quartered Tomatoes (yield about 5 C tomato purée) (use peeled fresh or canned tomatoes)
4 C Turnips*
1/2 Cauliflower (about 3 Cups florets)
2 Cups sliced Leeks (white parts only)
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Purple Potatoes
Bread or White Cheese (mozzarella, white cheddar, muenster, or maybe even Swiss)
butter or margarine
milk (or milk alternative)

If you are using fresh tomatoes (6 or 7 pounds), the quickest way to peel them is to cut the core out, slice an X in the other end and broil them on a baking sheet with the X side up.  You can broil them quickly till the skin peels off or keep them in a little longer until they are almost cooked.  When the skin has started to pull back, take them out of the oven and allow them to cool enough to touch them.  Peel them and quarter them.  If you are using canned, I'd say two of those big 28 oz cans would probably get you pretty close.  Maybe buy an extra small can just to be sure...

While you are broiling your tomatoes, set 1 pound of purple potatoes on to boil in their skins.  Boil until potatoes are tender to the center when pierced with a fork.  Drain and allow to cool until you can remove their skins.  Make mashed potatoes with a little milk and butter, salt and pepper, making substitutions as your diet requires.  You want the consistency to be smooth, but not gluey.  These got gluey on me pretty quickly, so watch out.  Set aside.

Place tomatoes in a large pot.  Drain canned tomatoes, or for homemade tomatoes, don't add the extra juice that has cooked out.  Heat tomatoes until boiling, salt and pepper as desired.  Put in a blender or use an immersion blender until it has reached a smooth consistency.   Set aside.

To make the white circle, steam cauliflower and turnips together until tender about 15-30 minutes.  Cook the leeks in a frying pan with little olive oil until they have softened and browned slightly.  Reserve some of the steaming liquid when vegetables are done.  Place cauliflower, turnips, leeks, and garlic cloves into a pan and buzz with the immersion blender or give them a good spin in a blender or food processor.  Use the reserved steaming liquid to thin it up as necessary.  *If you're not a fan of the bitterness of turnips, you can use parsnips or even just the rest of the cauliflower head.

Cut cheese or bread into a star shape.  I actually used one of the glow-in-the-dark stars from the kid's bedroom ceiling as a template since I didn't have a cutter small enough!

Pour  tomato soup into the bowl.  You can make the circles any order you want, but I made the blue one first to help find the center.  I used plastic baggies with the tips cut out as piping bags.  The thinner and more consistent you can make the purées the better this should work (all the more reason to use sour cream, really).  Pipe the blue circle, then pipe the white circle, making sure to leave an outer ring of red showing.  Place the star on the blue!

     When all is said and done and the initial "oohing and ahhing" is over with, you may want to add another dollop or two of the potatoes to this soup once you've tucked into it.  Additional crusty bread on the side is a nice touch, too!  I served sourdough.

The boys knew who this was right away, though my youngest apparently thinks his name is "Captain American."  They weren't terribly crazy about it.  Particularly my picky one, but once we added a little more potato, my eldest decided it was darn near edible.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Summer School

     I alluded to this post a while back and am finally putting it up!  A couple of weeks ago our family went to see the King Tut exhibit in Seattle.  It's the last stop on the tour before the artifacts go back to Egypt.  I really wanted the boys to learn a little about Egypt and pyramids and mummies and all that since most of what they knew before came from Phineas and Ferb.   I wanted them to understand some of what they might see before we went in hopes of them remembering it for a while before that part of their brains get sucked up by Angry Bird scores.  

     I checked out books from the library, found some general themes and read pieces of them at a time to the boys.  We did studies on beards, pyramids, religious beliefs, animal mummies, hieroglyphics... Anything I thought the boys might find interesting.  Turns out that no matter how much you learn ahead of time, looking at a hundred old statues in the dark just isn't that interesting to a 4 year old...

A statue of King Tut.
(This one is blurry because my youngest was ramming me like a rhinoceros...)

Here he is studying a projection of texture on a wall.  Yep.  That's my boy!

The death mask of someone who's name I didn't write down.  I wasn't familiar with it.  And I was getting rammed by a 4 year old rhinoceros.

King Tut's canopic jar.  This one held his stomach.

My eldest was slightly more interested in the exhibit and clearly learned how all good pharaohs are laid to rest.

The boy's favorite piece of antiquity?  The toilet seat.  I didn't get a good picture, but you can see what one looked like here.  Proof that Everyone Everywhere for All Time has Always Pooped.

Here are the books I checked out from the library for our study.  I had originally checked out more, but I didn't use all the books because the boys were a little freaked out by the ones with graphic pictures of mummies (some are babies with their eyes missing and such...).

For Our Study:
Tut's Deadly Tomb by Natalie Lunis (My eldest like this one since it looked so spooky, but was a little disappointed that it debunked all the rumors...)
Tutankhamun by Demi (A very good early introduction to King Tut's life and family history)
The Everything Kid's Mummies, Pharohs, and Pyramids: Puzzle and Activity Book: Discover the Mysterious Secrets of Ancient Egypt by Beth L. Blair (A fantastic little book with mazes and word puzzles, each page also contains a mini history lesson.  I used this book for worksheets for the boys.)
Mummies and Pyramids by Sam Taplin. (This one and the next one are the two I used the most, quick little lessons without too many graphic pictures that were short enough for my boy's attention spans.)
How People Lived in Ancient Egypt by Jane Bingham

Other Resources:

The Crafts and Culture of the Ancient Egyptians by Joann Jovinelly
Ancient Egypt: a First Look at People of the Nile by Bruce Stachan
Cat Mummies by Kelly Trumble

Also, I bought these little aids from Amazon:

Lift the Lid on Mummies. A mummy kit that contains a body, organs, canopic jars, wrapping... all the stuff you need to make your own mummy.  The boy's favorite by far.

Safari Limited Ancient Egypt Toob.  They lost all the pieces to this almost immediately, but there were several times my youngest saw things in the exhibit and said, "Hey!  We have the toy of that!"

Stories from Ancient Egypt. We read a few stories each night before bed.  The stories are quick and engaging and apparently stories that were actually part of the oral tradition in ancient Egypt.

Supplemental just for fun:
Skippy John Jones In Mummy Trouble by Judy Schachner
10 Little Mummies by Philip Yates

I broke it down like this:
Day 1: Overview
Day 2: Beards!
Day 3: Animal mummies
Day 4: Mummy Model
Day 5: Gods
Day 6: Burial and Afterlife
Day 7: Pyramids
Day 8: Food
Day 9: King Tut
Day 10: Hieroglyphics
Day 11: Review
Day 12: Exhibit!

Each little "day" took about 15-20 minutes depending on how long they spent on the worksheets and/or in the bathroom... Some of the early ones were pretty short just to grab their attention and get them into the swing of "school" again.

See there how Day 8 was Food day?  The books I checked out from the library didn't say much about what the average citizen ate.  It seems it was mostly beer, wild game and fish, and barley.  The wealthy had infinitely more options, of course.  I learned at my local farmer's market that Kamut is an ancient Egyptian form of wheat as I was forking over some serious bread for a bag full.  My other resource was a cook book (one of my favorites) called The Good Book Cook Book.  It's got recipes from the Bible or inspired by certain verses as well as a menu section in the back.  One of the menus it has is an Egyptian Banquet.  Visions of sourdough danced in my head.  It didn't work out...  It formed bacteria but not yeast.  Yum.  Also, the kamut breads (pictured) I had planned as a back up flopped.  Well, they didn't "flop" so much as become rock hard and inedible.  I'm sure this is entirely my fault and not the recipe.  I found the recipe at Our Daily Salt, perhaps you will have better luck than I did...


The menu in The Good Book Cookbook is as follows:
Three Bean Soup
Cornish Game Hens with Nuts
Duck in Grape Juice
Fried Fish in Radish Sauce
Whole Baked Garlic
Fig and Grape Salad
Cucumbers Stuffed with Barley and Raisins
Sabbath Bread or Challah
Sourdough Fig Roll

What we had:
Three Bean Soup (Ran out of time)
Fig and Grape Salad (Figs are not in season here yet)
Cornish Game Hens
Cucumbers Stuffed with Barley and Raisins (revised)
Sourdough Fig Roll (Had to throw out the dough)
Kamut Egyptian Flat Bread (Turned into hockey pucks)

Yeah...It got... scaled back a bit...

Cornish Game Hens
2 Cornish Game Hens, thawed
4 medium Scallions
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.  Rinse and pat hens dry.  Peel and quarter scallions and place two scallions in each cavity.  Place birds into a heavy cast iron enameled pot.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake for about an hour until internal temp reaches 165°.

Cucumbers Stuffed with Barley and Raisins
The original recipe calls for this to all be boiled in a large pot for 35 minutes, but it was hot and I was tired and cooked cucumbers sounded gross to me so I served it as a cold dish instead!

6 cucumbers
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 C cooked barley
1 C raisins, soaked for 1 hour in water and drained
1 Tbs vinegar
2 Tbs fresh mint or 2 tsp dried
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Salt and Pepper to taste
7 Tbs Garlic Mint Relish (optional)

Halve the cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds, forming pockets.  Peel cucumbers only if they are waxed.  Set aside.  Saute onion in oil until golden.  Add barley, soaked raisins, vinegar, mint, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stuff cucumber pockets with barley raisin mixture and refrigerate until chilled.

Garlic Mint Relish
3 cloves garlic
4 Tbs fresh mint or 4 tsp dried
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs vinegar

Crush garlic, mint, and salt with a mortar and pestle or in a small bowl with the back of a fork.  Add vinegar.  Sprinkle over stuffed vegetables before serving.

I used white vinegar in the relish.  It was really strong.  I think next time I may try red wine, cider, or maybe even balsamic instead.  Whoof!

The boys loved the game hens.  They did not love the cucumbers.  My youngest took out all the filling and ate the cucumber and my eldest actually wanted it to be hot.  Oh well.  And of course I couldn't keep them out of the dates.  I only had stuffed cucumbers for dinner since nothing else on the menu worked out.  So there you go.  We would have starved as ancient Egyptians...  But for the record, my husband loved all of it!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Year is Round...

     It's not Fall yet, but my garden is officially in "Fall" mode.  The temp hasn't gone much past 60 in the last few days.  My eldest has been complaining of the cold.  Poor kid really seems to be affected by the seasons here.  But more than the cold, my garden is now shaded all day.  All Day.  I was hoping the very edge would get a few more rays, since that's where my tomatoes are, but it just isn't going to happen.  So I'll be eating some green tomato food, I guess.  Whatever that ends up being.  I'm thinking fried and/or chutney...

The Bad:
  • The birds ate all the slug bait out of my garden (twice) and with it all my carrot seed (twice).  I read in a couple of places that August was still not too late to replant with seed for an Autumn harvest.  So I did.  But I'm thinking there won't be enough sun to produce anything of consequence.
  • I got a grand total of three large tomatoes to ripen, one of which was hollowed out by a slug and another was recently eaten by a deer.  
 This is where my deer eaten tomato used to live... =(

  •  He also ate half of two green tomatoes...

Didn't learn from the first one, apparently...

  • and then he danced in my carrot seedlings...

All those round divot marks are deer tracks!

  • The 6 beets that grew out of the million or so I planted (birds again) are the size of golf balls.  
  • The basil got devoured by slugs the instant I planted it and the parsley went to seed (shouldn't until the second year, shame on me for buying old plants).  
  •  The garlic disappeared, I have no idea what happened to it.
  •  I'm pretty sure some of my beans interbred.  I was supposed to have two beans with purple pods.  Out of four different kinds of beans, three had purple pods... Hmmm... This is only a "bad" thing because I plant heirlooms and now I don't know what this means for next year's beans... Probably nothing...  Except, you know, mutant beans. o.O
  •  Neither of my pea plants made more than 6 peas.

The Good:
  • I got a handful or two of cherry tomatoes this year which beats the zero I got last year.

  • The chard went crazy this year.  I had one plant last year survive, but I got an entire row this year.
  • The kale did beautifully this year, too.
  • I got purslane to grow, finally!  (OK, I bought starts from the farmer's market, but hopefully it'll seed itself for next year.)
  • I think one salsify plant survived.  If it is salsify and not grass, it should grow and spread on its own.
  • The beans did pretty well considering they were under supported and got shaded out early by the tomatoes because I overestimated how fast the beans would grow and underestimated how fast the tomatoes would grow.

(These are supposed to be purple...)

  • I had a volunteer tomato pop up and has even produced a few tomatoes.  They will never ever, ever ripen, but I admire its grit.  
  • Ditto the volunteer vined thing that will never produce fruit big enough to tell whether it is a cucumber or a pumpkin or a squash.  I'm just happy it happened.
  • I have a darling, beautiful, sweet little volunteer sunflower that bloomed this week.  I am in love with it. 

Hope springs eternal

Additional Conclusion:
If a deer eats this, I'm buying a pellet gun.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Soupy Senses are Tingling...

     We had our first "feels like Fall" day here in the Pacific Northwest this weekend and my thoughts turned toward the warm and comforting soups ahead but before Summer slips away entirely, I wanted to set the next Souperhero loose upon the masses!

     This one is another fruit soup.  There was a bit of controversy about Wonder Woman and whether watermelon soup was really "soup" or not.   Watermelon soup is a real thing.  Google it if you don't believe me.  Go ahead.  I'll wait...

     See?  Tol'ja.  And strawberry soup is a thing, too.  But as far as I can tell, this, my friends, is the world's first Spider-Man Strawberry Soup!

Spider-Man Strawberry Soup
Yields: 2-4 Servings
2-4 pints Strawberries
1 pint Blueberries
1/4-1/2 C Vanilla Yogurt

Blend strawberries in blender and fill bowls.  Clean blender and blend blueberries until skin is completely disintegrated (or as close as you can get it), set aside.

You don't need to be bitten by a radioactive spider to make the web on Spidey's face.  This is all you need:
Well, Spider-Man thought it was cool anyway...

I found the best way to draw the face was first to draw a small circle either dead center or slightly below center.  Then the eyes in yogurt.  Then outline the eyes with blueberries and draw the straight lines.  Finally, connect with curved lines and do any touch ups to the eyes as needed.  If you want to be quicker about it, you could try the old "drag a toothpick through a spiral" trick used in cookie making, but I haven't done it.  I don't see why it wouldn't work though and then you could put the eyes on after...?

  • Never knew this before making Spidey, but pulverized blueberries congeal!  They get pretty hard (almost as thick as Jell-o!), so you need to work rather quickly.  I liked them once the gelling process had just begun.  Once they set up they were hard to squeeze out of the bottle.  Within an hour or so the liquid separated completely and become a little gross.
  • I used homemade yogurt sweetened with agave and added vanilla so it was pretty thin.  You may need to thin store-bought with a little milk so it fills in without lumps.
     I probably don't really need to review this, do I?  They loved it. =)  Whether your kids eat this with a spoon or a straw, you'll have happy little spider-fans!

Monday, September 3, 2012

First Day of School...

Today is the first day of schooling for my kids, though we have been working our way back into it with a Summer study on King Tut which I had planned to post about today.

Yesterday was my super awesome farmer's market that I love.  My favorite farmer who runs Garden Treasures informed me that not only did he have a quarter of my tomato order, he also had pickling cukes.  Last week, I bought 20 lbs of cucumbers from another stall, half went bad before I could get to them and the rest of them are currently trying to ferment in my first 3 week pickle fermentation project.  So far, I don't know what's going on.  They seem to be soaking up the brine, but I can't say what it's supposed to look like...  So anyway, long story short, I went home with 20 lbs of tomatoes to can and 10 pounds of cucumbers to make "just in case the fermentation doesn't work pickles" on top of the 4 pounds of blackberries I've got sitting in the fridge for making jam.  And even longer story short it all fell to today.  So instead of telling you all about our fabulous King Tut/Ancient Egypt homeschool lesson (including a recipe for Egyptian cucumbers and Cornish game hens) I am going to give you my sob story and show you a cute picture of my kids and some pictures of my cucumbers.  Maybe you can tell me how it's going?

It's not slimy or smelly, but it's also not scummy like the book says it's supposed to be and it's also not bubbly like it's supposed to be.  And I've had to chuck out two pickles that started to get moldy.  Anybody out there ever make fermented pickles?

I promise to try to get the Egypt post up this week!  But it won't happen today.  Did I mention I'm also trying to make kefir?  I need more counter space.
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