Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lazy-Day Sandwich Bread

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Dear busy bees,

Since life has been a bit frenetic of late (you'll soon be hearing why!), I have been lazy about making bread.  Sadly that means we haven't had bread in a while!  I look forward to the day when I will have a freezer and can bake bread ahead of time ... but until then!!  Today I had just a little time at home in the morning, in between errands and some hospice work, so while I took a shower did my dishes ran the laundry finished some tasks, I made this nice "lazy" loaf of sandwich bread (I doubled it to make two).  I call it lazy because it is a sort of "dump together" recipe, and it is finished in one day; usually, I use the overnight process of bread, which I tend to prefer.  I did make a batch of whole wheat bread dough to stick in the fridge while this was rising, but that is a recipe for another time.

I used all white flour for this bread, but usually we use a mixture of wheat and white, or all wheat.  If you use wheat flour, you will need to add a little extra moisture.

Tip: When using flour, I ALWAYS WEIGH IT to measure.  Sorry to scream. It's just THAT IMPORTANT!!

Lazy-Day Sandwich Bread from Cook's Illustrated The Best American Classics
a single recipe makes one 9-inch loaf

3 1/2 - 3 3/4 cups (17 1/2 to 18 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (plus extra for work surface)
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup warm milk (95 F)
1/3 cup warm water (95 F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey (I used honey & molasses mixed)
 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid-rise or instant yeast
Optional: Add vital wheat gluten and/or dough enhancer, per the measurements on the container

Warm environment: Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain the heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven.
Mixing the dough: Meanwhile, mix flour and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook or paddle.  Mix the milk, water, butter, honey in another bowl - check that temp is about 95 - 110 F.  Sprinkle in yeast and whisk to dissolve.  Turn the machine onto low and slowly add the liquid.  When the dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and satiny, stopping the machine two or three times to scrape the dough from the hook, if necessary, about 10 minutes.  (After 5 minutes of mixing, if the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time and up to 1/4 cup total, until the dough is no longer sticky.) Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to form a smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds (if, like me, your kitchen is in chaos and you don't have time to wipe down and flour a counter, just hold the dough in both hands and knead in the air!  This works about up to a double-batch!).
First rise: Place the dough in a very large lightly oiled mixing bowl, flipping the dough once so it is lightly coated.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven until dough doubles in size, about 45 minutes.
To shape the sandwich loaf: Press the dough into thick rectangle about 1 inch thick, and no longer than 9 inches.  With the long side facing you, roll the dough firmly into a snug cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself.  Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch the seam closed with your fingers.  Place the dough in a greased 9x5x3" loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; set aside in a warm place until dough almost doubles in size, about 25 minutes.
Baking: Keep one oven rack at the lowest position and place the other at the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place an empty loaf pan on the bottom rack (use a metal pan).  Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil and pour into the empty loaf pan in the oven.  Set the bread loaf on the middle rack.  The pan of water will create a steamy environment, giving you a crusty, well, crust!  Bake until an instant-read thermometer stuck to the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 - 50 minutes.

Remove bread from pan and cool on wire rack - or it will be soggy on the bottom!

Yum yum, enjoy!

Here's to our daily bread,

Mrs H
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P.S. If you need a little motivation to start baking your own bread, click here.

Canning: Some Basic Questions

Dear friends,

We've talked a lot about canning, and quite a few lovely ladies have asked me for some basic instructions on canning; so I will provide here a crude primer for the canning essentials, and some tips on where to look for further information.

What is canning? 
It is a simple method of preserving food for a long period of time.  It is a perfect fit for people like me who don't have a lot of freezer room, and need to keep food stored in a cupboard.  The canned food will keep in best condition for about a year, which works perfectly for those of us who can a product when it is in its annual season.  However, the food will still be safe to eat and sometimes you end up with random jars of things that last for a few years.

Why can at all?
There are many reasons, and most people who can draw a little from each reason. Knowing the content of the food you are eating is a big one; I prefer organic, and I enjoy supporting local farmers and knowing that my money is staying in the community, and my food is as fresh as possible because it only traveled a few miles.  Organic produce can be pricey, and especially so in the off-seasons.  It is also difficult to buy local produce over the winter; thus, canning provides me with cost-effective, local, organic produce throughout the year.  Continuing with the cost-effective note, it is often possible when you "know people" to get a lot of produce for free or very cheap.  The farmer I usually buy from will give us culls, leftovers, or produce that is too soft and damaged to sell, and we can turn it into sauce or jelly or some other secondary product.  The number one cost effective method for fresh, local, inexpensive produce is obviously to grow your own crops.  I think this is the ultimate goal for most home canners.  This brings us to the final reason for canning - it's very "green"!  The produce (being local) doesn't increase your carbon footprint by much, and the jars and rings can be re-used for over a century (until they break!).  The only thing that is eventually discarded is the rubber-ringed lid, which cannot reseal once it's been boiled.

What can you can? 
Just about anything, if you have a pressure canner.  Vegetables, fruits, any variation on those as pickles, relishes, jellies, etc; vinegars, beans, seafoods, and meats.  It is not recommended to home-can eggs, which would include egg products such as mayonnaise. Of course, you can also can water, if you wanted to.

How does canning work? 
I'll give you the short version here, but you can read more in-depth about it if you like.  There are two types of canning - water-bath canning, and pressure-canning.  The first method is for high acid foods (with a pH level of 4.6 or less) such as fruits, some tomatoes, and pickled items.  They only need to reach 212 deg. F in order to kill molds, yeasts, and bacteria, and inactivate enzymes to halt the rotting process and essentially "freeze" the product in its current state.  The second method, pressure-canning, is for low-acid foods, such as most vegetables, legumes, grains like corn, meats, and some tomatoes.  These products need to reach the higher temperature of 240 deg. F in order to destroy all of the bacteria, spores, and toxins they produce.  Boiling water doesn't get that hot, and this is where the pressure canner comes in.

Pressure canners are scary! 
Yes they are, if you don't follow the rules.  But modern pressure canners have extremely effective ways of sealing the lid down (they will not blow off) and the only possible danger is if you try to take the lid off before the pressure has completely dissipated.  This would be a little like trying to drink your tea when it was still boiling or sleeping on an anthill; I don't know why you would do it.  Personally, I love my pressure canners (I have four!).

What tools do you need to can? 
Not many, actually; most home canning can be done with home-tools converted to the purpose of canning.  Of course, there are lots of specialty tools you can buy to make it easier, too.  For water-bath canning, you need a pot deep enough to cover the jars by at least an inch of water, and a rack to set the jars on.  Before I had racks specifically made for canning, I just tied a bunch of rings together and made a rack.  The jars shouldn't be touching the bottom of the pot; they might break from the heat!  If you buy a water-bath canner, I recommend buying the largest one you can find.  Currently, the largest latest-and-greatest size holds 9 quart jars, but I don't know where to find those for sale (mine was a gift from my mom-in-law!).  If you want to spend more, you can buy very nice stainless-steel water bath canners.
For pressure canning, I recommend the Presto pressure canner.  It cools down fairly quickly, isn't too heavy, holds 7 quart jars or 15 pint jars, and is easy and straightforward to use.  I own three of these, as well as one smaller pressure cooker that only holds four pints (it is more for food than canning).
You will also need jars, rings, and lids.  Fred Meyer and WalMart have the cheapest prices on these.  To lift the lids from the hot water (they must be heated before putting them on the jars) you can use a fork, your fingers if you're quick, or buy a lid wand (a magnetic wand), or make a wand out of a magnet (Mr H says you can make one out of sticks and dung but I haven't tried that yet).
A jar lifter comes in handy for taking the jars out of the boiling water.
You will also need a towel for setting the jars on (I like to put them into a cardboard box lined with a towel so they don't break in the cold air).  Then there are other tools that may be useful depending on what you are canning, such as cheesecloth, jelly strainers, funnels, and Mr H (who is watching me write this) says most importantly you need a Woman.
If you want to get started canning, you can either find most of these tools at garage sales (the lids you usually have to buy new, although I have found unopened boxes at garage sales before) or buy a kit online or at your local grocery store.  But be warned, most grocery stores are extremely overpriced, and Fred Meyer is usually your best option.

Recommended Reading
Every canner needs to own the Ball Blue Book (most current version, if you're going to buy one).
I enjoy the recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, many of which are also in the Blue Book.
The Blue Book includes tips on drying and freezing (we will have to save that for another day!), and there are many other books that include make-ahead and preserve-able recipes, such as Preserving Summer's Bounty and Saving the Seasons.

Do you have any other questions about canning, or any tips, books, websites, or suggestions of your own?  We could talk about canning all day, and we would if I had my way - but hopefully this primer was enough to catch your interest!

Happy canning,

Mrs H
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stimulating conversation

Colleagues and collaborators,

Some of you know that I enjoy reading about the brain, admiring the complexity and beauty of that wondrous beast, and studying the physical expression of electrical impulses (that is to say, psychology).

I follow a fascinating blog called Mind Hacks, recommended to me once by my psychology professor (a man fascinated by neurons and synapses and appropriately named Sparks).  The author of Mind Hacks just posted a super sweet link, created by Ohio State University, where you can assist a doctor in performing a deep brain stimulation surgery to set probes for a Parkinsonian patient.

If you have an interest in brains or medicine in general, I recommend the link to you; if you can't even clip your own nails, go read something less intense!

synaptically yours,

Mrs H
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Praise Him, all his heavenly hosts.

Dear devoted readers,

We have just begun another season of choir at our church.  You know that I've written about our choir before; but it is on my heart to reiterate a few things.

It is impossible to say what being part of a ministry does for one.  It takes you to another level in your relationship with Christ; you start committing outwardly, and putting your very real time on the line.  The choir is a unique aspect of ministry - your task is to prepare a place of holiness and a sense of worship, to lead the congregation into the throne room.  You do spiritual warfare during the week, preparing yourself musically and spiritually, and praying over the upcoming service and the people who will be attending.  In fact, the members of the choir are important enough to be listed in their own separate group in a recounting of a group of Israelites (and in other places).

Some people believe that a choir, or a worship team, is up on stage performing before the congregation - just another concert, a chance to show-off.  That may be true in some places; but not here.  Here, the choir and worship team perform their priestly task of worship and thanksgiving with pure attitudes.  Besides creating a spiritual atmosphere, the choir also puts the congregation at ease and enables them to get lost in their own persona worship.  Our worship leader, Andy, spoke to us at our rehearsal the other night.  "The choir being up here has brought us the most energy we've felt in this room for a long time," he said.  "When you are up here singing, you send out a wall of sound.  People don't like to hear themselves singing, but when you're up here clapping and moving and singing, they feel comfortable to join in."

Off-key energy is energy nonetheless, but a tuned and crisp sound - executed to the best of our ability - is that much more beautiful.  We are lifting up our praise to the Lord as an offering of our time, our effort, our varied talents, our desire to serve Him, our desire to bring people to a deeper level in their relationship with Him.  Don't be afraid to join in with the music, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.


Mrs H
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Homemade Bread: An explanation is in order

Dear friends,

In case anybody missed it, my last blog wasn't actually a story about bread.  In fact, it had nothing to do with bread.

Somebody said to me once, "Wow - I never realized you could make bread at home .... I just thought you had to buy it, and it was made by some mysterious, complicated method!"

It occurred to me in that moment that that is exactly what school is like.  Any more these days, nobody thinks you can school a kid at home - because all they've seen is store-bought kids.  Go back and read the blog again.

And, just in case your mouth got all lathered up thinking about homemade bread, I'll put a little bread-topping recipe at the end of this blog for your enjoyment.

Cheers to homeschool on the "rise" ...

Mrs H
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Bread Topping 

Any quantity or variation of mixtures on the following ingredients.  After the bread rises in the loaf pans, and before you put it in the oven, brush with water or a mixture of egg white and water (well beaten until homogeneous).  Then sprinkle or slather on toppings to your heart's content.

sesame seeds - white or black, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, dried fennel seeds, caraway seeds, garlic flakes, coarse sea salt, black pepper, dried shredded parsley, and anything else you have hanging around.  If anybody else has any more topping ideas - please share!  I love topping bread!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Impossible to Bake Bread at Home: This is not a recipe.

Dear fellow loaves,

Did you know you can't make bread at home any more?  That's right; it all has to be store-bought now.  Back in the day, people made bread at home pretty much every darn day, and it was downright good bread, too.  Ma knew exactly what ingredients she was mixing into the bowl and feeding to her family.  She knew where the ingredients came from, how healthy they were, how much they really cost, and what they looked like.  And better yet, the kids loved the bread - they didn't have to be forced to eat "healthy" stuff, no, they had to be begged to stop gobbling it all down without sharing. 

Ma was no real expert on bread-making when she started, but she kept at it until she had it down "pat".  After all, bread-making was invented in the home.  Somebody realized they needed something to spread their fruit jam on, and the universal loaf was invented.  It satisfied a need.  It was real, and it was good.

Sadly, those days are gone.  As many of you know, it's virtually impossible to make bread at home now.  Why is that, you ask?  Well, the most important reason is - nobody else does it.  Honestly, who wants to deviate from the norm... And storebought bread, made with flour stripped of the original complex nutrients, is niacin enriched - how could you deprive your kids of niacin enriched bread by making homemade crap and not buying a plastic wrapped loaf at the store?  Please, just do the right thing for your kids.

All of the neighbor kids have cool sandwiches - when you take a bite, the bread sticks to the top of your mouth like a dental mold, and you can almost smell the rich, earthy scent of mono and di-glycerides - which brings us to the other amazing feature of storebought bread!  You can buy a loaf and leave it on your counter for, well gosh, a few weeks.  You can completely ignore it, forget about it, and pick it up later when you are ready to enjoy it.  That homemade stuff?  It takes constant care - has to be baked weekly, or it goes bad. 

Yeah, and did I mention how long it takes to make bread?  You have to mix ingredients, let it sit, shape it, let it rise, bake it - in other words, no rest for the weary!  Why not just go to the store, throw some money down, and get a loaf baked by somebody else?

The FDA is a fantastic government organization that ensures the safety and quality of the average loaf of bread -  if you make bread at home, you'll have to research ingredients, nutrients, carbohydrates, procedures, even bakeware.  If you buy storebought bread, then snap, all of those decisions are taken care of, and you rest in the capable and sure hands of the government. 

Don't worry, though.  Storebought bread isn't 100% compulsory - not yet.  But we can see to it that it becomes that way - save the ignorant people from making their own decisions, if we at all can.  Relieve them of the burden of using their minds.


A homebaked loaf

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Thinking you might have missed the point?  Read the explanation of this allegory here.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Infamous Coveted Quiche Recipe

Dear queenly cooks,

When I was little, my Mom would occasionally make spinach quiche - one of my favorite dinners, and I especially loved the tender flaky crust.  For years (we won't say how many) I thought she was saying "Keith", and always associated the green spinach-y quiche with Keith Green.

Well, live and learn to spell, right?

The following recipe is so excessively simple you almost feel stupid making it.  It has endless options for variation and can be modified to fit any taste/leftovers in the fridge.  It is also exceedingly popular - I've made it for a few events and the guests always come to me and ask for the recipe - or, they just eat every quiche on the platter and thereby cast their silent vote of approval.

I pulled the original recipe from the 2002 Taste of Home Annual Cookbook (a $0.50 find at an estate sale!).  I'll post it in the original form, in case it was a lost favorite of yours, and include my tweaks in italics.

Mini Mexican Quiches

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 oz) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or any cheese, really)
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies, drained (I opened 1 pint of halved poblano chilies that I canned in vinegar, and minced them for filling. You can use any chilies or peppers you like, but for large crowds I keep the filling mild since in general crowds won't eat spicy foods.)
2 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Other filling ideas: bacon, sausage, chicken, ham etc cooked and minced small.  Chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, various cheeses, olives - black or stuffed ... obviously, the possibilities are endless.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese (I use a stand mixer for easier mixing). Add flour; beat until will blended.  Shape into 24 balls (each ball will weigh 13 grams); cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Press balls onto the bottom and up the sides of GREASED mini muffin tins.  Sprinkle a rounded teaspoonful (a generous pinch) or cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of chilies/various fillings into each shell.  In a bowl, beat eggs, cream, salt and pepper (I do this while the dough is chilling).  Spoon into shells. Bake at 350F for 30 - 35 minutes or until golden brown.  Let stand for 5 minutes before removing from tins.  Serve hot or cold.  Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 2 dozen.
Enjoy your "keith"!

Mrs H
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Punchy flavor?

Dear party-goers, 

This recipe comes from my mom, Leslie.  I use it whenever I am serving at a party or some shower or event.  It's super easy, flexible, and - most importantly - simple and straightforward to maintain, even with a large crowd guzzling down punch!  All of the ingredients are completely interchangeable based on your taste preference and the prices at the grocery store.  

Leslie's Party Punch 
Quantities depend on the size of your crowd, but I'll give the approximate measurements for the average punchbowl. 

1 frozen drink concentrate (any fruity flavor that sounds good)
1 liter ginger-ale, or citrus-soda, 7-up, club soda, home-carbonated water, etc
Pineapple rings (optional)
1 quart frozen sorbet or sherbet or both - preferably homemade! (Use sorbet for vegan punch)
Ice-cold water 

Dump the concentrate, soda, pineapple rings (if using), and sorbet/sherbet into the punchbowl.  Top off with water - if you wish, you can use 1/2 liter soda and more ice-water.  It just depends on how many guests you have, supplies you have, how fizzy you like it, etc.  Adjust quantities based on your taste - it is VERY flexible! 

During the party, just keep dumping random quantities of these ingredients into the bowl.  Take it upon yourself to taste several cups, in the best interest of your guests, of course! 

When I make this at a party (if I am not hosting at my home) I bring a cooler with a few tubs of sherbet or sorbet, a few liters soda, some frozen concentrates, and a water jug of ice-water.  

Happy party-hosting! 

Mrs H
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Tart, Fresh Lemony Goodness

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Dear zesty readers,

The following recipes are based on the fresh, summery taste of the sprightly lemon.  Only use organic lemons for the following recipes, even if you aren't an "organic produce" fan; the peel of the lemon goes into these recipes and you don't want to know what is sprayed onto that peel.

To wash the lemons: scrub thoroughly with a veggie scrubber in a mixture of white vinegar and water,( and, if you have it, veggie wash).

The sorbet/sherbet recipes are drawn from "The Perfect Scoop", my favorite frozen treat cookbook.

Lemon Sorbet
Makes about 1 quart (1 liter)
This recipe would qualify as both vegan and gluten-free

2 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar (you can add more if you like it sweeter)
2 lemons, organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons) or bottled (if you squeeze it yourself, pick the seeds out of the pulp and include the pulp with the juice.  Sometimes I use a mixture of fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice.)

In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, mix 1/2 cup of the water and the sugar.  Grate the zest of the 2 lemons directly into the saucepan.  Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 cups water (if you're in a hurry, make this water be ice-water or at least ice-cold!), then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
Stir the lemon juice into the sugar syrup, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers directions.

Lemon Sherbet
Makes about 1 quart
This recipe would qualify as being vegetarian (but not vegan) and gluten-free

3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 lemon, organic
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 - 3 lemons)

In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, mix 1 cup of the milk with the sugar.  Grate the zest of the lemon directly into the saucepan.  Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved.  remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 cups milk, then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
Stir the lemon juice into the milk mixture.  If it curdles a bit, whisk it vigorously to make it smooth again.  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.

Tips on ice-cream making: I have the Cuisinart ice-cream maker and it works excellently, is easy to use and clean, and I use it often!  Store the churn piece in your freezer so that it is always ready for use.  If this is the mixer you have, assemble for use and start the churn spinning, and then pour the liquid through the hole in the top.  If it is spinning before you pour, the ice-cream doesn't stick to the sides as much.  Then, cover the churn with plastic and swaddle in a bath towel.  This insulates it and speeds up the process.  On average, churning the ice-cream custards and sherbet/sorbets takes about 30 minutes.  The recipes about take 20 - 30 minutes to thicken up.  When the frozen treat is thickened, scoop it out and put it in a tub and store in the freezer to firm up.  If your churn is not completely rock-solid frozen before you start churning, your ice-cream will churn forever and never get thick.

Happy churning!

Mrs H
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Thursday, September 9, 2010

willful waste makes woeful want

Dear wandering wonderers,

The above quote is dated from 1576, and is a precursor to the later 1772 version of "waste not, want not".  Who knows when the quotes were actually coined; these are just the earliest dates we have them recorded.  However, the concept is ageless and contains more than a morsel of truth.

I learned some clever tips for wasting not from some more experienced canning friends, and since they are such beautiful ways of using what would otherwise be food refuse, I want to share them with you.

In a previous post I mentioned that blending tomato peels makes an excellent tomato paste; in this post, I willl show you what to do with the peels and cores of fruit. 

The other evening I made a batch of sweetened, spiced pear-sauce using about 20 pounds of organic red bartlett pears.  The sauce was delicious, and simple: peeled, cored, chopped pears, cooked soft, mashed with a potato masher, and just a hint of cinnamon, allspice, clove, and ginger thrown in.  Put into pint jars, process for 15 minutes like applesauce.  But what to do with the leftover pile of peels and cores?  Waste not!  Depending on the tools available for your use, there are two ways of going about this.  I'll give you the optimal method first.

Taking my cue from Miz Carmen, I borrowed her steamer-juicer and set it up on my stove while I made the pear-sauce.  I piled the peels and cores in the top, put boiling water in the bottom, and let it percolate for an hour or two.  The juice that steamed out of the peels I reserved in a half-gallon jar, and then boiled with a little sugar and a bit of lemon juice.  I added two boxes of no-sugar pectin, and jarred it in 4-oz and half-pint containers.  Voila - pear jelly!  And the heap of hot, steamed peels with all of the flavor and goodness extracted were still good for composting.  Waste not! 

If you don't have access to a steamer-juicer, here is the second option:  Put the peels and cored in a saucepan with a little water; let them simmer and bubble for a while.  Pour into a mesh strainer over a bowl and mash out any juice.  Then, make into jelly per the instructions in the pectin box or as directed above.

Off to enjoy some jelly on my toast! 

Wasting not,

Mrs H
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'maters 'n katchup 'n blisters

Dear fellow food-enthusiasts,

Last Friday Mr. H and I took my brother's truck and picked up a round 410 lbs of tomatoes (the next day this was supplemented by an additional 40 lb box from the same farmer). Needless to say, the last week has been spent sorting, washing, coring peeling choppingblendingandotherthings. My friend Miz Carmen and I placed the bulk of the order together, although smaller portions went to a few friends; she and I have spent many late nights bent over the pressure canners!

We read some very useful tomato tips from another home-canner's blog; after blending tomatoes for sauce, let them sit in the refrigerator overnight to separate the majority of the water from the tomato. The water settles to the bottom of the container, leaving the thicker tomato on top. This saves a lot of time when cooking the tomato down to reduce to sauce. However, there is one caveat to this tip: as we learned towards the end of our tomato sprint, the tomatoes need to be blended fairly fine in order for this to work. At first we thought our tomatoes weren't separating because they were romas, and more meatier than beefsteak; but we found eventually that the more finely blended romas separated just fine overnight. You can remove the water by pouring off the tomato and leaving the water in the container, siphoning out the water from the bottom, or using a turkey baster. We used clear containers for our tomatoes so it was easy to see the water level.

After separation: Tomato sauce on the left, water on the right.
Every year while canning, it is customary for me to sustain at least one scar-worthy injury. Last year, I reached behind a canning pot to grab a pear that fell on the stove, and got a harsh steam burn on my forearm that left a nice purple scar. This year, the Accident happened while canning tomatoes. I had boiled a large pot of sauced tomatoes until they reduced to about half, and added a generous mix of spices and onions and shredded horseradish root to make seafood cocktail sauce. After boiling, I was going to blend the sauce in cupfuls, as I had already blended two previous pots of ketchup, and return the blended sauce to the cookpot and then can in half-pints. I poured a cupful in the blender, clamped on the lid, cranked up the speed to 3, and in a hissing, steaming burst of red not unlike a catsup hand grenade, boiling tomatoes exploded all over the deck, the table, and me. I reached into the fiery inferno to shut off the blender and went into the house to lick my wounds and survey the damage. Overall, it wasn't too bad; my apron over my clothes had protected me with a double-layer of cloth, and most of the splatters on my arms were too small to cause much damage; however, my right hand had been the closest to the eruption by dint of the fact that it was the tool with which I had turned on the blender. It had a thick coating of tomato sauce and shredded horseradish, and when I rinsed it under cold water I could see the bubbling red tomato sauce would soon give way to bubbling red skin.

Scene of the crime, post clean-up
It is still blistered and bubbled, but surprisingly it never really hurt too bad. I did manage to burn the same hand twice more the following day - once on the thumb, and then across the palm when I grabbed a hot pan - but I don't think those mionor aftershocks will leave any permanent damage.

All things considered, the cocktail sauce turned out spicy and delicious, and I can't wait to enjoy it with home made fries and Mr. H's fresh-caught seafood.

Fresh peels in a bucket on the right, blended peels on the left

A last Useful Tip on tomatoes comes from a combination of lessons learned from pears and peaches, and the timeless Waste not Want not adage. I'll share the lesson about the pears and peaches in a subsequent blog, but for now I will share with you a jewel of a tip from tomatoes. Save aside the 10+ pounds of skins from blanching/shocking all of your whole and diced canned tomatoes in a bucket or something. Set up a blender and squeeze some of the water out of a handful or so at a time; blend for several minutes per handful, and cook the resulting sauce for a little (depending on how much water you squeezed out) to reduce to a thick, nutritious tomato paste.

We had been planning to sauce a batch of tomatoes and cook them down for a billion hours to reduce to tomato paste, but this method works so well, uses the skins in a pertinent way, and saves time and money. Miz Carmen froze some of her tomato paste in ice-cube trays to freeze and vacuum seal later; not having the luxury of a spare freezer, I am pressure-canning my paste in 4-oz jars.

Happy tomato canning!
Be sure to leave a comment or click the "getting in touch" tab above if you have any fabulous tips or links to share.


Mrs H
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rhubarb for Bakers

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Dear querying fans,

I realize that not all of you can, or are interested in canning, but many of you enjoy baking.  The following recipes call for rhubarb and are enormously delightful.  Both receive rave reviews every time I make them, and the plates are wiped clean!

This recipe was given to me by my mother-in-law - the original Mrs. H!  She found it and tweaked it last summer, and it's a family classic now.

Joan's Rhubarb Custard Pie
Best served slightly cooled
2 cups diced rhubarb (when it's out of season, I use two pints, drained, of canned rhubarb)
2 teaspoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cream (2% milk works as well)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 egg yolks, beaten until thick (save the great whites - see below)

1 8" pie shell, baked and cooled

2 egg whites for meringue (I don't know how you make your meringue but I follow the Cook's Illustrated instructions.  I've included those directions below but feel free to do it however you like.)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, butter, and sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until rhubarb is soft (keep an eye on it.  You don't want it to stick, but at the same time if you overstir the rhubarb will get tough.)  Beat together cream, cornstarch, and beaten egg yolks.  Slowly pour into hot rhubarb mixture in a thin stream, mixing quickly and thoroughly.  Pour into pie shell while still hot.

Meringue:  Mix cornstarch with water in small saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at beginning and more frequently as mixture thickens.  THIS HAPPENS FAST!  When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat.  Let cool while beating egg whites (instructions below).
Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix cream of tartar and sugar together.  Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy.  Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Add cornstarch mixture (globs),  1 tablespoon at a time; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks.

Spread meringue over pie filling with a spatula, making sure to "glue" it to the crust of the pie so that it does not shrink away during baking.  Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, until meringue is browned.

 Buttermilk-Rhubarb Cake with Vanilla Sauce
from Taste of Home 2002 cookbook
buttermilk-rhubarb cake 5.10 (2).JPGBatter:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (powdered works fine)
2 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb thawed,
or 2 pints canned rhubarb or rhubarb-strawberry pie filling, drained

Streusel Topping:
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Vanilla Sauce:
½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar; beat in egg.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating just until moistened.  Fold in rhubarb.  Pour into greased 9x9” square pan (I made 9x9” cake and 9 muffins). 
I promise you ... it's delicious.
In another bowl, blend topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter.  Bake muffins for approximately 20 minutes, and cake for approximately 40 – 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  (Be gentle when removing cupcakes; the rhubarb makes the cake tend to fall apart deliciously!)
For sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add sugar and evaporated milk.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook and stir for 2 – 3 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla.  Drizzle hot over cake when you serve.  

Happy baking! 


Mrs H
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