Sunday, October 29, 2017

The "Food in Jars" Mastery Challenge - October: Dehydrating and Pressure Canning

The October "Food in Jars" Mastery Challenge was very conveniently for Dehydrating and Pressure Canning, two things that I had to do for the "end of garden" process around here anyway.  Due to the first frosts happening in Southwest Minnesota in October, slowly but surely we had to get everything out of our garden. Unfortunately, the garden had a slow start this year because of a complete lack of rain and was just finally really doing well!  Go figure. Anyway, here is a summary of what we did in October!


Banana Chips - I work at a long-term care facility, and one day on my way out the door the kitchen was getting rid of a box of overripe bananas. I've taken them home before and know that they are really sweet, delicious bananas that are different than what I can buy at our grocery store - so I snagged them, came home and cut them all into slices and put them on my dehydrator trays.  I have an older style Nesco dehydrator and it works fine, but takes things a lot longer to actually dehydrate than what most recipes say. Anyway, I'd say they ended up in the dehydrator for about 24 hours total, with the trays rotated a few times.  When they are done, they are still a little chewy and I worried that there was too much moisture in them for long term storage, so we pretty much just ate them all within a week. A quick tutorial for this process can be found here from The Prairie Homestead blog.

Marinated "Sundried" Tomatoes - My mom had a bunch of volunteer grape (or cherry, I really don't know the difference) tomato plants this year in her garden, and she wasn't going to pick them.  I couldn't leave them there, all lonely and sad, so I picked them and brought them home.

With some of them, I made Marinated "Sundried" Tomatoes and followed Marisa's recipe and process.  They are delicious, and we also used the leftover marinade for several (dinner) things. When they were dried, I did put them in a freezer bag in the freezer for longer term storage.

Herbs - We had a variety of herbs to dry from the garden, including basil, parsley, cilantro, sage and mint (three of which are shown in photo.) I still have quite a bit of sage and mint left from last year, so we will be sharing some of it with our four chickens. I know some people hang it upside down or dehydrate it, but all we do is lay it out on plates or baking sheets and let it air dry. I check on it every few days and move leaves around as needed etc.

Black Beans - Last year for Christmas, I got my husband a pretty cool "Survival Seed Vault" and it had quite a few normal things we always plant in it, but it also had a packet of black beans. We had never planted these before, and did this spring - they grew really well and we currently have a big square window screen of them drying in our office. I think they are about ready to shell.

Smoked and Dehydrated Peppers - We had an awesome crop of serrano peppers this year, which dare I say I think I like better than the beloved jalapeno? Anyway, forgive me for saying this but I just couldn't get as much into canning everything in sight this summer as I normally do, so I came upon this blog about making chipolte chiles and decided it would work for serranos. We LOVE these.  We have done two whole smokers full and have used them in lots of things so far. They rock.

Pressure Canning:

Spaghetti Sauce - We made our annual batch of spaghetti sauce and I pressure canned it. We use tomatoes, yellow onions, green peppers, sugar, fresh garlic, fresh basil, salt and citric acid. I am comfortable with the safety of what we do, but I don't have a recipe to share.

Other Projects:

Tomato Jam - With some more of my mom's cherry/grape tomatoes, I made a batch of Marisa's Tomato Jam. So far, we have turned a jar of it into barbecue sauce and used it on grilled duck. It is delicious!

Green Tomato Bacon Jam - I still had more of the cherry/grape tomatoes from my mom's garden left (and at this point I was wondering why I didn't just leave the dang things there like she was going to.) A member on the Food in Jars Facebook group recommended her recipe for Green Tomato Bacon Jam (a freezer recipe, not a canning recipe) - and I gave it a shot.  So far, I've eaten it on a pork chop and it was AMAZING.  I'm excited about the other four small jars of this that I have in my freezer.

Hot Pepper Mustard - My mother-in-law has always made hot pepper butter (also called hot pepper mustard.) It is one of our favorite things, especially on ham loaf. We were on our last jar, and decided to use the majority of our summer banana pepper crop on a batch of this yummy goodness. Problem being, the original recipe has flour and based on things I learned in the Facebook group this year, I didn't want to use flour. After doing some research, I decided I was comfortable using the original recipe, but swapping the flour for Clear-Jel, which had been done by blogger OneSunnyAcre.  It turned out great! (You can find Clear-Jel on Amazon.)

Green Tomato Salsa Verde - We weren't going to can green tomato salsa this year because we still had a lot left from last year. But, I ran out of things to do with green tomatoes, so I made a small freezer batch. When we make it to can, we follow the Ball Canning recipe Green Tomato Salsa Verde.

I cleaned out my refrigerator today and it makes me so proud to see all of the things in there that we MADE. Many things from products that we GREW or bought from local farmers. How cool. I counted 26 mason jars in my refrigerator of various sizes! Apple butter, cherry rhubarb sauce, green salsa, red salsa, peach/blueberry/strawberry jam, raspberry jam, dill pickles, zucchini relish, hot pepper mustard, pickled green beans, raspberry/rhubarb shrub, salt-preserved lemons and limes, horseradish, ketchup, among other things.  I love that this hobby makes my refrigerator look like that!

Here are some other "end of garden" pictures. We will be working on freezing kale and Swiss chard this coming week, and making some sauerkraut.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - September: Fruit Butter

Well, the September installment of the "Food in Jars Challenge" was for fruit butter. I'm not new to fruit butter, as I grew up helping my grandma pick apples from the loader bucket of my grandpa's tractor so we could take the apples inside and make applesauce and apple butter.  My grandma always made her applesauce kind of chunky, and it's my favorite - the same way I try to do mine when I make it on my own now, though I never can seem to get it quite the right level of chunkiness like she did.

Anyway - I have also made cranberry-apple butter in the past, and last summer I made peach butter.  I am a big fan of the slow cooker method for fruit butter, and love how thick and smooth the end result is.

For this month's challenge, first I was planning to do apple butter - but I checked the "jams and jellies" section of my canning pantry and turns out I don't really need anymore apple butter for right now.  As I was looking, turns out I also have a couple small jars of cranberry-apple butter left and several jars of peach butter. My next thought was plum butter, maybe a small batch recipe, but then I realized that the plum season here was short, and over - so no plums for me!

Finally, took a peek at Marisa's September blog entry about making fruit butter to see what recipes she had gathered for us.  Though it isn't a canning recipe, I settled on the Maple Sweetened Pumpkin Butter recipe, because our garden produced a lot of Cinderella baking pumpkins this year and it seemed like a good way to use a couple of them.

I just cut two of them (gross weight was 5 pounds) in half and removed the seeds. Splashed a touch of olive oil on them, and lightly covered with tinfoil. They baked in the oven at 350 degrees for about 2 hours.

Once they were cool, I removed the skins and put all of the pumpkin into my slow cooker on low, added the other ingredients, and blended it all with my immersion blender (I couldn't live this "I can quite a bit" life without this thing!)

I then put a flour sack towel on top of the slow cooker bowl, and the slow cooker lid on top of that. The towel helps catch the moisture that gathers, instead of letting it drop back into the butter.  (I do this for anything I make in the slow cooker, which really isn't much - but spinach dip, queso, soups - it prevents them from getting runny from the condensation. This is a super cool trick that I read in a cooking magazine once.)

After it cooked for about an hour like this, it was really thick (my pumpkin was actually really thick when I started, we didn't have a lot of rain here this year so I don't know if that is why or if it is just the type of pumpkin.) Anyway, after an hour it seemed to be the proper consistency.

This basically tastes like pumpkin pie filling to me, although very delicious pumpkin pie filling! I froze it in two quart-size Ziploc bags and I think that we are just going to use it to make pumpkin pie. Really delicious pumpkin pie!

In an unrelated to my pumpkin butter note, I saw this recipe today for an "Apple Butter Old Fashioned" drink and I think we are going to use some of that pantry apple butter to try this soon!

Another recipe of Marisa's that was in her September blog post is for "Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter," which I also thought sounded really delicious.  When things slow down a bit around here and it's the middle of winter and I don't have anything else to do, I might give it a go!

Monday, September 18, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - August: I Missed It!

Well, as many of you have been seeing, I have been participating in the 2017 "Food in Jars" Mastery Challenge.  For each month in 2017, cookbook author Marisa McClellan selected a category for participants and provides tips, podcasts, recipes and more about that category to the participants for that month.

So far this year, I had participated in every single month, sometimes on the last day but I got it done!  But, when we got to August, I just kind of missed it.  The category for August was low-temperature pasteurization.  From what I read about this, the short version seems to be that it allows you to can things (mostly pickled) at a lower temperature for a longer period of time and results in a crispier pickle.  It uses equipment like a steam canner and/or immersion cooker, neither of which I own nor wanted to purchase at this time.  I have been wanting to make some homemade yogurt, and at some point asked on our Facebook group if this qualified for the low-temperature pasteurization category and the consensus seemed to be no.  Anyway - I skipped the August challenge.  I am kind of disappointed that I did, but ... life goes on!

What I DID do in August was:

1) I made a double batch of Zesty Peach BBQ Sauce. I followed the Fresh Preserving website's recipe except I used 2 jalapenos for the heat instead of red pepper flakes (safety gurus don't worry, I used that much less sweet pepper so it's all good.)  The peaches I bought came in a 15-pound box and I only used 6 pounds for my sauce, so my husband started a batch of peach raspberry wine with the rest!  (Raspberries from our freezer from our patch.)

2) I made a batch of garden zucchini relish and a batch of dill pickles.

3) I entered 9 jars of "Food in Jars" in the Murray County Fair and brought home 8 ribbons!  My goal for this year was a blue one, so I was excited by the outcome!  Left to right: confetti pepper jelly, zesty peach BBQ sauce, dill pickles, spicy dilly beans, garden/zucchini relish, ketchup, orange marmalade, and raspberry jam.  Not pictured is my entry for low-sugar strawberry jam, which didn't get a ribbon because it has "poor eye appeal" because my "fruit is floating." Gives me something to do better next time, I suppose.

So, here's to next year's fair and packing the pickles tighter, making the fruit not float, and aiming for one of those coveted fancy purple ribbons. And to next month's (which is actually this month already) September challenge for fruit butter.  Onward and upward, my friends!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - July: Hot Pack Preserving

For the July version of the "Food in Jars" challenge, the category was "Hot Pack Preserving." We don't have air conditioning in our home, and our garden had a late start this year due to the crazy weather in southwest Minnesota - so I'm cutting it close here with the deadline (it's 10:42pm on July 31.)  However, I didn't want to just make something to make something, and I was holding out for something to be ready from the garden.  That didn't happen, and we were about out of our homemade ketchup anyway (which I make with crushed tomatoes from the grocery store) - so ketchup it was!

Tonight, I used 4 26-ounce cans of the "Happy Harvest" crushed tomatoes from Aldi, and 1 14.5-ounce can of "Hunt's" diced tomatoes.  The crushed tomatoes are perfect, the diced have seeds (so I was glad I only was using one can of those.)  The total amount of tomatoes I used was equal to 1 gallon, and I used 2.5 cups of vinegar. I ended up with 8 pints!I use a slightly adapted recipe from an old version of Ball canning, and due to the fact that it technically isn't a 'current' recipe, I'm not going to share it here for this purpose.
While I completely agree that you need to follow canning recipes closely and it's nothing to mess around with, I also know how to do math and look at one safe recipe and its ingredients and adjust another recipe accordingly to suit our tastes while making sure it's still safe.  I don't do it often, but in the case of how I make my ketchup, I do it slightly. The other ingredients include sugar, diced onion, celery seed, mustard seed, kosher salt, white pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.  It is a perfectly safe recipe with plenty of vinegar to the ratio of tomatoes, not to mention the canned tomatoes from the store already have citric acid in them. 

Anyway - I brought the tomatoes, onion and spices to a boil for about 30 minutes, then I hit it with an immersion blender to grind all of the onion pieces up and blend it.  Then, I added the vinegar and cooked it on low simmer for about an hour.  Last time I made ketchup, it didn't get thick enough so I wanted to make sure and cook it long enough this time for it to thicken up.

Once it was thick and I had my jars sterilized and my hot water bath ready to go, I filled 8 pint jars and put them in the boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
While I was waiting for them to process, I quartered 2 pounds of limes and got them salt preserving in a widemouth quart jar.  I did this with key limes in February for the Salt Preserving challenge and we loved them in margaritas and on fish tacos, and we ate them all and need more.  Yum!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - June: Jam Making

Hi everyone! The June version of the "Food in Jars Challenge" introduced jam to its participants.  I am no professional at jam making, considering to date I think I have made more batches of 'syrup' than 'jam.' 

My most recent 'syrup' experience happened last spring and it was cherry-rhubarb syrup. I purchased several pounds of beautiful sweet cherries from Washington State, brought to me for a fair price in Minnesota by The Fruit Club, and had rhubarb that we hand-picked from a friend's yard on a hot day.  After all of the cherries were pitted and the rhubarb was cut, imagine my disappointment when after the water bath process I discovered 14 jars of syrup.  If I wanted cherry-rhubarb syrup, that is what I would have made!  

Anyway - for a time after that, I had sworn off jam and jelly making and decided I would just buy it at a Farmer's Market or something. My friend nearby at Gramma's Kitchen makes delicious jams and jellies for sale (and sells produce including garlic and dried beans, and makes awesome homemade soap), so I had a source. But then, I also thought - if she can do it, why can't I? I'm a capable person, why can't I get this stupid fruit and sugar to turn into a gel form of jam?  I Googled it, and I asked fellow jam-makers (including my mother-in-law.) Her answer was simple:  "You need to bring it to a boil that you can't stir out. If you don't boil it enough, the pectin won't work."  In all of the recipes I had followed and read, it talked about a rolling boil - but it also talked about NOT boiling it for too long.  Both things are correct - but what I was doing was NOT letting it come to a strong enough boil, because I was afraid of boiling it too long.  That, and at that point in my life last year, I hadn't yet discovered the awesomeness of Pomona's Pectin. (I know some people use a thermometer for this science of 'not long enough, not too long' mess, in fact that's probably recommended. I don't have patience for that.)

I'm not sure if I can credit my recent successful jam and jelly batches to the "boil it long enough but not too long" advice, or the discovery of Pomona's, but in the past few months I have successfully made orange marmalade, confetti pepper jelly, raspberry jam (made in March from frozen raspberries from our bushes last summer but not featured in the blog), and now for this month's challenge - strawberry jam.

Earlier in June, I talked to my husband about what to make for the "Jam Challenge," and knowing that we have several fruit jams and jellies (and sauces and syrups) in our pantry already, I was wanting to try something different while still participating in the challenge.  I suggested Marisa's Tomato Jam recipe, because its ingredients reminded me of the homemade ketchup that we make, and I said, "Oh this will be just like chunky sweet ketchup, let's try this." His (ever so) realist and honest answer was, "Why don't we just eat ketchup?"

About that time, I was notified on Facebook that it was the local berry farm's opening week - a pick-your-own for $2 per pound deal at Schumacher's Berry Farm about 40 miles from where we live (bonus that there is a dam that is home to some fish to catch in between here and there!)  Anyway - we grabbed two ice cream buckets and two bowls and went out there the Saturday after they opened, and proceeded to pick 15 pounds of strawberries to fill our containers before we even knew what happened. 

As we came home with our 15 pounds of berries, it was kind of a no-brainer that we just make some strawberry jam (in addition to freezing some for smoothies, eating some with cake and ice cream, and having some margaritas of course.) I mentioned that we already had strawberry jam left from last year's batch (which I am proud to admit was jam, not syrup) - but we decided we will just eat more jam. Problem solved!

There were some variations on strawberry jam I had been reading about (including Marisa's Small Batch Strawberry Balsalmic recipe), but quite honestly my husband and I share the opinion that you just can't beat plain old strawberry jam, so that's what we made.

I try to cut sugar in everything we make, especially since I discovered Pomona's Pectin which makes it so easy to do so, and we followed their recipe (2 1/4 pounds strawberries, 2 teaspoons calcium water, 1 cup sugar and 2 tsp. Pomona's pectin powder.) I made a double batch, which basically ends up being a ratio of 8 cups strawberries to 2 cups sugar - where traditional jam is usually equal parts fruit and sugar (depending on recipe) - so this ratio of 4:1 makes me much happier!

A few notes about my photos:

  • My jam was foamy and I didn't skim it off before I put it in jars. I could have, but I didn't.
  • I didn't put butter in it to help with the foam, because I didn't.
  • My fruit set to the top a little and I think it's probably because I didn't skim the foam or put any butter in it.
  • Some people talk about letting the fruit sit in the fridge with sugar on it to macerate for a day or two first. I think this is probably a good idea, but I didn't do that, either.
  • I either eat this myself or I give it to family members, and we don't care about these imperfections. It doesn't affect the safety of it and it's delicious anyway!
One additional note about this is that when you make low/lower-sugar recipes of jam and jelly, they DO NOT last as long in the fridge as traditional recipes.  Please don't open a jar of this handmade goodness, put it in your fridge and forget about it. It WILL go bad and you will have to throw it away.  Trust me when I tell you that too much work and love goes into the making of this - please don't let that happen.

One good tip is if you don't eat a lot of jam, once the jar is open throw it in the freezer. It doesn't normally freeze completely and is easy enough to pull out when you need it.  I had to throw away 1/4 of a jelly jar of orange marmalade last month and it HURT. It was seriously probably 3 tablespoons at the most, but it HURT!  Open it and eat it, or freeze it. 

Oh, and did I mention peanut butter? Like, put some on bread with this jam? Like, now?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - May: Cold Pack Canning

Well, it is finally (sort of) spring around here, and in my "no air conditioning because I live in an 1880 Victorian home and it's only hot enough to need it a few months out of the year in Minnesota and it's not worth the expense of installing it" world, that means these past few months of canning when it's cold outside and enjoying the heat from the stove is about over.  However, lucky for me (I guess), it has been unusually cold this past week even though it's May, and I decided this past weekend was a good time to cross the May "Cold Pack Canning" challenge off my list.

Speaking of canning in the cooler months, before I start talking about the May challenge, I want to do a quick recap of what I've done so far this year:

January - For the January 'Marmalade' challenge, I stayed traditional and made orange marmalade! Not only was this the first time I made marmalade, this also is the month I discovered Pomona's Pectin, which has been awesome because this pectin rocks for those of us who are low-sugar gals (and guys.) Since I made the marmalade, we have enjoyed it on toast and bagels and hope to try it soon on some chicken.  I currently have four lonely, tired oranges in my fridge and am trying to resist the temptation to make some more marmalade.

This is Bill. He's mentioned later.
February - For the February 'Salt Preserving' challenge, I went all out and made gravalax/lox, preserved key limes, preserved Meyer lemons, and preserved egg yolks.  Let me be clear: we loved ALL of this stuff.  We ate the salmon right away and didn't share with the dogs.  The egg yolks are delicious grated over salad and I would do this again!  The lemons and limes are my favorite from this month. We have had a couple (or a few) margaritas with the limes and some awesome guacamole, and also a few cocktails with the lemons in addition to a delicious meal of chicken piccata. When these are gone, we will be making more.  (Shout out to Lemon Ladies Orchard for the amazing Meyer lemons, too.)

March - In March, we had a dual challenge of 'Shrubs and Jellies.'  I had never heard of a shrub and had to Google it before the challenge.  I ended up making raspberry/rhubarb shrub and while it seems to have some detoxifying qualities, I really can't say I love the it. I actually don't really like it at all.  Maybe I'm not mixing it right or maybe it's an acquired taste, but almost all of what I made is sitting in the back part of the bottom shelf of our fridge.  We did however mix it with some BBQ sauce and basted on some smoked chicken, so I suppose that is how we will use it.  For the other part of this challenge, I made confetti pepper jelly (again with less sugar thanks to Pomona's Pectin)  and for the first few weeks after it was done, I ate it on everything.  Now that I'm typing this, I am reminded that I need to open a new jar.  My favorite use of this was as the spicy sauce part of a Cuban sandwich.  This, we will be making again.

April - In April, the challenge was 'Quick Pickles.'  I made a medley of peppers, onion, radishes and carrots and we ate almost all of it within two weeks.  I like the idea of throwing some random leftover veggies from the fridge in some vinegar brine and having 'pickles' that are pretty darn good. We hate throwing food away, so I will be using the 'quick pickle' idea more this summer when we tend to end up with more vegetables from the garden than we can eat but not quite enough of anything to can.  Also in April I tried a small jar of pickled ginger. This was a no.  I don't even like pickled ginger from actual good restaurants that serve it, but my husband does ... and he didn't think this was very good.  The good news was that it was made with ginger that was on its last leg in the fridge anyway, so tossing it out wasn't a big disappointment.

This now brings us to May!  The May challenge is "Cold Pack Canning." This is something that I normally do quite a bit of in a regular season.  We make dill pickles, halved pears, halved peaches - all cold packed and hot water bathed.  We make green beans, potatoes, beets - all cold packed and pressure canned.  Since nothing is in season from our garden yet, nor is any fruit in season yet in Minnesota, I wanted to do something small because I didn't want to just skip a month in the challenge.  So - I went to Marisa's website in search of an idea, and there it was - Spicy Pickled Green Beans.  These are something that neither my husband or I have ever tried, and I've wanted to try them every summer since I started canning a few years ago.  However, when you have 10-15 pounds green beans sitting in front of you on the counter from the garden and you don't know if you even like them, you end up just pressure canning them regular to eat (because if you didn't know, there is absolutely nothing better than fresh garden beans that have been pressure canned. We could eat them cold out of the jar.)

Anyway - this was a great opportunity for me to go to the store, buy a small amount of green beans, and give this Spicy Pickled Green Beans business a shot!

I love this vegetable strainer. 
The only green beans that our store had were in a 12-ounce package and they were the long, skinny French green beans like what you put on vegetable trays.  They were perfect.  I had two of those annoying pint-and-a-half jars in my stash that are bigger than pints but smaller than quarts, and I decided they would work well for this. So, I made two of those and one pint (to equal the 4 pints in Marisa's recipe.)  I bought two of the 12-ounce bags, so I was 1/2 pound short of the two pounds, but they were already all trimmed and ready to go, so all I had to do was rinse them off.

Seriously. Hot. Pepper Flakes.
I followed Marisa's recipe almost exactly, except I used half apple cider vinegar and half white vinegar. We always do this in our canning, we think white vinegar is too strong and apple cider vinegar is too sweet.  For us, the combination is perfect - and the two types of vinegar are the same acidity level so it doesn't make a difference recipe-wise.  The only other things I did differently are: 1) I apparently am out of pickling salt so I used kosher salt, and 2) our red chili flakes are some I dehydrated and ground from some seriously hot garden peppers last year. I mean it. Seriously. Hot.

And please people, make sure your garlic isn't grown in China.  No offense to China intended, but please Google it if you aren't sure why. We buy ours from a local Minnesota gal who does organic gardening, and I don't buy it from anywhere else.  I buy a bunch from her in the summer and toss the whole bulbs in the freezer, and we have delicious garlic all year.  She also makes amazing homemade soap, among other things. Check her out on Facebook if you'd like, she's Gramma's Kitchen and Farmer's Market.

Before their hot bath.
Once I had the spices in the jars, I packed the green beans in the jars pretty tight and still had a few leftover to feed my "there isn't a vegetable I won't eat" puppy Bill, so it was the perfect amount (even though I was 1/2 pound short from the recipe.)

Once I finally got enough boiling water in my water bath canner (which took 3 tries because I am NOT used to canning only three jars of something, and less jars = more water needed), they processed for 15 minutes (because of the larger pint-and-a-half jars I used) and they were done.

After they cooled, I put one jar in the fridge and we tried them today (three days after canning.)  I was planning to share with my grandparents because they appreciate and enjoy the stuff I can AND give my jars back to me - but I forgot to leave the hot pepper flakes out of one jar.

Did I mention they are HOT?  With the next batch I make, I will remember to leave some without the hot pepper so I can share.  In the meantime, we are going to eat and enjoy these!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - April: Quick Pickles

The April challenge in the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was for Quick Pickles. To be honest, I had a bit of trouble getting interested in this one.  I like pickles just as much as the next gal, but have several kinds of pickles and pickled peppers already in my refrigerator and pantry.  Also, I was wanting to do something different, something 'challenging,' something I hadn't done before.

A couple summers ago, I ran across this recipe for Taco Pickles (recipe is at the bottom of page at that link.)  I thought they sounded good and made them and we ate them with shredded pork tacos and some other things.

I thought about making them again for the April challenge, but in the spirit of 'something different,' I instead used this recipe for Quick Pickled Vegetables. Using it as a guide, I used 4 cups of diced vegetables, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup white vinegar, 3 teaspoons sugar and 3 teaspoons salt.  In most things that my husband and I pickle, we use a combination of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar because we like the flavor combination.  Using all apple cider vinegar makes it too sweet, all white vinegar too bitter. Just our opinion and preference!

For the vegetables, I used carrots, radishes, sweet peppers, jalapenos, red onion, and garlic cloves (not pictured because I almost forgot them, they were added after photos were taken.)

Next time, I think I will add some cucumber too. Problem being the more vegetable types you add, the harder it is to make a small enough amount to fit in one jar, which was my goal here.

When I had all of the vegetables ready to go, I put them in the jar (this is about a quart or so, I believe it's a 1.3-liter jar.  It was the second one I had to sterilize, because the first one I had out to use was smaller and was not large enough.)  Once this larger jar was ready, everything I had diced fit into it except about 10 pieces of carrots.  My brittany spaniel Bill was happy to have an afternoon snack - the dogs don't usually get their carrots cut all fancy.  Once the vegetables were in the jar, I poured the warm vinegar/salt/sugar mixture over them to an inch or so within the top.

This happened on Saturday and then, these beauties sat in the fridge for a day before we tried them.  We had a bit of a smoked meat extravaganza on Sunday to get some food ready to go for the week that included pork shoulder, chicken and brats - and I am happy to report that these quick 'pickles' are awesome with all of these things.  It's now Tuesday and the jar is almost half gone.

As I was looking at "Quick Pickle" recipes to decide what to make for the April challenge, I also found a recipe for pickled ginger.  I had a chunk of ginger root in the fridge that was getting pretty tired, so I decided to give this a try too.

I peeled the ginger root and then sliced it as thin as I could without cutting off my finger. Then, I put it in a bowl, sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt on it and let it sit for about an hour.

Once it was done relaxing in the salt, I put it into a 4-ounce (sterilized) jelly jar. I topped it off with a liquid mixture of 1/2 cup of hot rice vinegar and 1/8 cup sugar (dissolved.) Then, I put it in the fridge.  We haven't tried any of it yet, and the recipe says it stays good in the fridge for up to one week.  Guess we better try some soon!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - March: Shrubs and Jellies

Well, the March edition of the "Food in Jars" 2017 challenge is due today, so here we go!

The category for March was Jellies and Shrubs.  I've attempted to make plenty of jelly in the past, but always had trouble with it setting properly.  Family members of mine have received many jars of "syrup" that I hope was enjoyed over pancakes and ice cream.  Last fall, I learned from my wise mother-in-law that I was not letting my jam and jelly come to a full enough boil for long enough, so I was (finally) able to make some successful jam.

Then in January, as I was preparing for the marmalade challenge, some of my wise new friends in the "Food in Jars" group on Facebook told me about Pomona's Pectin and I am in love. I have always hated how much sugar goes into traditional jam and jelly recipes, and try to cut it down and in the past had used the Ball low sugar pectin.  And while it works fine after you learn that a "boil that doesn't stir out" means a really hot full boil that really actually doesn't stir out - I am now a Pomona's Pectin die hard. This stuff rocks.  My marmalade from January was amazing (if I can so modestly say), and in February I made some raspberry jam with some freezer raspberries we couldn't keep up with from our bushes last summer - also amazing (compared to the raspberry syrup I made during a prior attempt.)  It's so nice to be able to make things with less sugar and actually taste the fruit, while having it still be jel-ly as it should be.

This brings me to part #1 of 2 of the March challenge - the jelly. Since last summer, I'd been wanting to make some jalapeno jelly. One of my aunts had told me about her friend's jalapeno jelly and how they eat it on crackers with cream cheese and it's delicious.  Since we can quite a bit in the summer of the necessities like green beans, pickles, spaghetti sauce, salsa and more - and don't have air conditioning - the jalapeno jelly was dropped off my priority list.  Until the March challenge, that is!

For my March jelly project, I chose to make Pomona's Pectin recipe for "Jalapeno-Confetti Jelly."  I purchased the Kindle version of the Pomona's cookbook and I can't find the recipe on the Pomona's website, so I'm not sure if I should share it here. Basically it's a combination of sweet bell and jalapeno peppers, red wine vinegar, lime juice, sugar, tequila and Pomona's pectin.

While the peppers were cooking with the other ingredients, I made myself a margarita with some of my salt-preserved key limes from the February challenge.
It was dee-licous.

The jelly set really well, and since it was made in the middle of March I have used it as sauce on some Cuban pork sandwiches, a dipping sauce for some egg rolls, and just this week a dipping sauce for some pan-seared goose breast steaks that my husband made for us.  This stuff rocks, I could eat it on just about anything.

For part #2 of the challenge ... the shrubs. In February when I was first reading about the March challenge, I had to Google 'shrubs' because I didn't know what they were. They are otherwise called 'drinking vinegar,' and basically a 'sharp, tangy infusion of fruit, vinegar and sugar.' I wasn't too sure about it, but in the spirit of this challenge I decided to make something with raspberries (because even though I made jam in February, we still have a bunch more raspberries in our freezer from last summer.)  I also read about using champagne vinegar, which sounded good to me. What I ended up finding out is that champagne vinegar is not only hard to find, but expensive.  So, I settled on using a white prosecco vinegar I found on, and some raspberries and rhubarb from the freezer.

I used Marisa's recipe for Black Raspberry Shrub as a guide.  I mixed about 5 cups of fruit with 4 cups of sugar, and mashed it all together and let it sit in the fridge for 3-4 days.  Then, I took it and put it through my grandma's applesauce masher thing.  I don't really know what it is called, but I know I used it with her when I was a little girl and we made applesauce.

I strained it all through here (see left), and unfortunately most of the raspberry seeds snuck through the holes. So, then I got out this small mesh strainer and strained it all through again (see below right.)

When this was done, I put the juice in a half-gallon mason jar, and added 3 cups of the prosecco white wine vinegar and about 1/2 cup of regular white wine vinegar and shook it all up.  I haven't actually had a drink yet with sparkling water and ice (and possibly vodka?) - but I tasted some with a spoon and am so pleasantly surprised at how good this tastes.

I will be honest, as I had my liquid gold mixture of strained raspberry/rhubarb/sugar juice, it was very hard for me to mix it with vinegar.  All I could think was that I was taking perfectly delicious fruit juice and mixing it with vinegar - and then I'm supposed to drink it?  But, there must be something about the combination ... because yum.  I think I will let it hang out fruit juice + vinegar for a couple days and mellow a bit, and then I will give it a real try.

Bonus to this challenge? I couldn't for the life of me find my half-gallon mason jar, so I ended up in the attic of my garage sorting through and organizing all of my empty mason jars and wine bottles.  Not only did I find a jar to use for my shrub, but all of my jars are now organized and ready for the upcoming canning season!