Finally in the zone, the canning comfort zone. Really, for most people isn’t this why they got into canning in the first place? Solanum lycopersicum, the garden tomato. When reading through plant catalogs it is the siren of summer, with her beguiling aliases: Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Cuore Di Bue, Green Zebra … She seduces you into ordering dozens of plants with the anticipation of this very moment, the canning of the tomato.

Was there ever any doubt what this month’s can jam theme would be? It had to be her. And as comforting as this ingredient is to me, it was still hard. Hard to do something other than make sauce. Because I horde sauce. I dream of sauce. I have nightmares about running out of sauce. There can never be enough sauce in my larder to make me think that I have enough.

But sauce is pretty boring, and I wanted to do something a little interesting. Not all like crazy weird I’ll never use the product, but something a little more complex. So I allotted some of my precious tomatoes to this task – and if tasting is any indication it was an acceptable gamble.

Canned Pizza Sauce

The Hardware: see The Canning Thing, 3 – 4 pint jars (or any combination of half pints and pints to hold between 3 & 4 pints), food mill, potato masher and a cheap a$$ serrated knife. Now, I don’t usually spend a great deal of time on hardware, I just assume if you are cooking you know what you like to cook with. But I want to take a moment to talk about cutting tomatoes.

I am a knife snob. Sharp and strong is the way I like them, I don’t have many but the ones I have are choice. All last year during tomato canning I worked with a combination of my Henkel paring and bread knives, using the paring to cut out cores and such then the bread knife for cutting the bad boys into pieces. This year I had a rude awakening. I realized that the cheap block-o-knives steak knives that my hubby brought into our relationship, the ones that were relegated to the gulag of the junk drawer, were the best knives to use for processing my tomatoes. The pointy tip will cut out bad spots and the serrated “never sharpen” edges saw through tomatoes like buttah. I am chagrined.

Cutting up tomatos

Oh the shame.

The Software:
10 lbs Tomatos
4 Cloves Garlic, mashed
2 t Oregano, dried
3/4 t Black Pepper
2 t Italian Seasoning herb mix
3 C Chopped Onions
2 1/2 t Salt
3 T Brown Sugar
1/2 t Garlic/Chili paste
1 T Lemon Juice per pint

Remove cores and bad spots from tomatoes, slice in half or more depending on size, chuck into goodly sized non-reactive pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and squoosh with a potato masher. Bring to a simmer and cook until you can mash the biggest piece on the side of the pot with a spoon. Run through food mill and return to pot. Feed all scraps to chickens.

Add everything else except the lemon juice to the pot and simmer until the onions are soft – run through food mill a second time. (You might want to hold off on the chili paste and add that to taste depending on how spicy you like things.) Return everything to the pot (including the stuff that wouldn’t go through the mill – I like chunkies) and simmer until reduced to desired thickness. You know, pizza sauce thickness ie: thicker than a standard sauce but not paste consistency.

Add 1 T of lemon juice per pint and 1 1/2 t for a half pint – fill using your fancy canning gear and stir up a little to mix the lemon in before you lid up. 1/4 inch head-space, Boiling Water Bath for 35 minutes (sea level) adjust for your altitude.

Am I happy?

Yeah, I am happy I made this. Now I can have instant pizza sauce whenever I desire. It was hard, because for that 10 lbs of tomatoes I could have had 4 – 5 pints of sauce. The reducing kills me, I feel like I am simmering away precious tomato goodness. But I know that is silly.

Unfortunately my tomato plants are not producing as I would like this year. I managed to pull this off with home-grown, but if I am to have a larder that will allow me to sleep at night I might have to resort to the farmer’s markets. Tell me truthfully, for you, how much is enough? Do I have a problem?

ps: If I had known then what I know now, I might have held off on my Salsa Verde post and put it here instead. I am afraid that the tomatillo isn’t going to get the face time it should in this months round-up. The green stuff vs the red stuff is a Sophie’s Choice kind of conundrum for me. So take a moment and give some love to the little green guy.

It has been well over a year since I started this blog and somehow I have managed to keep it completely … shall we say … mundane. I have managed to keep the subject focused on … umm … modern food. You who have been reading this (if this is the only venue by which you know me) have remained blissfully unaware of my … hobby.

Yes, a great deal of ellipses have gone into the crafting of that paragraph – for good reason. This is the equivalent of a foodie skeleton in the closet, or pantry if you will. While I love cooking for my family and finding new and interesting recipes to cook, my true source for passionate inspiration is a wee bit older.

Like 16th century or earlier older.

And those recipes require a great deal more creativity in cooking and interpreting. Which is what makes them so fun. But this weeks inaugural SummerFest subject has brought this dirty little secret out into the light. Because I have a recipe that I must share with you. And you must make it, if you like cucumbers.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad –

An interpretation of a dish described in Salvatore Massonio’s Archidipno overo dell’insalata e dell’vso di essa, published in Venice in 1627. Translation courtesy of  Louise Smithson

In order that cucumbers more easily pass the stomach eat them with the peel rather than without.  Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and make of them pieces moderately thin and dress them with oil, vinegar and salt like other salads.  But the custom one has learned is to add several pieces of raw onion and the leaves or sprouts of green basil.  This is not without foundation in art, perhaps it counteracts the natural coldness of moisture of it and makes the juice less large and less slow.

The Hardware: a knife, but a mandolin is also useful, a bowl, a whisk.

The Software:
1 1/2 English Cucumber
1 of an Onion
6 T Olive Oil
2 T White Wine Vinegar
1 3/4 t Salt
16 Grinds Fresh Pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 t Basil, finely chopped

Combine Olive Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper and Basil and whisk together, set aside. (This also works really well in a glass jar, just dump it all in –  put a lid on it – and shake). Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and then slice in 1/8 in slices. Cut onion in half and slice on Mandolin very thin. At least an hour before you want to eat the salad (and up to 2 hours before) combine the dressing and veggies in a bowl – allow to sit somewhere cold. You know, like a ‘fridge.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad

Blah, Blah, Blah:

This makes a gracious plenty – enough for 12 people. I know that is crazy, but when I cook this style of food I am usually cooking for a minimum of 100 people who are served family style 8 – 12 per table.  This also works beautifully for pot-luck or buffet style service. It can sit for several hours and just get better and better. Save any leftover dressing in your shaking jar in the ‘fridge and you can use it as a base for vinaigrette.

You will notice that there is no mention of olive oil, vinegar, salt or pepper in the original recipe – and that is where the fun of these period recipes come in. You have to read many, many recipes to get a feel for what would have been done. You see, these recipes were not written for the lay person, they were written with the assumption that you are a cook and you know what you are doing already.

With this recipe I had the foundation of having read many vegetable/salad recipes from Bartolomeo Scappi’s 16th century manuscript entitled Opera dell’arte del cucinare.  Based on his description in various recipes I was able to determine that it would have most likely been served in a dressing and how to put that dressing together.

So, do you still love me or do you think I am crazy now?

I asked for it.

In my last Can Jam post for tigress I added a post script, throwing it out there to the canning gods that I would (pretty please with sugar on it) really like for the next jam to include cucumbers. And lo, the canning gods (or at least the goddess over at Laundry Etc) heard my appeal and were generous.

You know what other things in my life were generous – my cucumber vines. They were so crazy that I had a hard time keeping up with their production. Did you know that if you leave a cucumber on the vine long enough it will get gigantic and eventually turn orange? Well, I do now.

Luckily the chickens like overgrown cucumbers – the seedier the better.

To deal with the deluge of cucumbers my mother came over last week and we had our own little pickle jam. It took most of the day but we put up a double batch of Bread & Butter pickles (totaling 12 pints) and a little experiment for me. I only got 6 jars of the B&B’s but all of the experiment, because mom just doesn’t roll that way.

If you want to make the B&B’s check out this previous can jam post on onions. Instead of 16 cups of onions, go with 15 cups of sliced cucumbers and 1 cup of sliced onions. Volia – two for one recipe.

But on to the experiment (I don’t have a picture yet – but tigress asked us to get things up early(er)than we usually do – photo to come done). From my trusty tome on canning The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving I busted out with something I have had bookmarked for quite some time. Actually, I should probably just do away with the bookmarks in this book and just start marking the recipes that I don’t want to do – it would make life easier.

Indian Style Pickle Relish

When you grow your own - they aren't as photogenic.

Indian Style Cucumber Relish (with slight modifications)

The Hardware: see the Canning Thing, slotted spoon, 6 half pint jars (or like I did – 5 half pints and 2 quarter pints).

The Software:
6 C Cucumber (diced, seeded & peeled)
2 C Onions, thinly sliced
1 T Salt, pickling
2 C White Vinegar
1/2 C Sugar
1 T Cumin Seeds
2 t each Brown & Yellow Mustard Seeds
Big pinch whole peppercorns

Put your chopped/sliced veggies in a big bowl and sprinkle with salt – allow to stand for 4 hours (the original recipe said stirring occasionally, I totally forgot this step because I was canning the B&B’s).  Drain, rinse and drain some more. Combine everything else in large, non-reactive, saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add veggies and return to a boil – hold at boil for 30 seconds.

Using a slotted spoon, pack veggie into jars and then ladle liquid over the relish to head-space of 1/2 inch. Boiling water bath for 10 minutes (half pints) 15 minutes (pints) adjust for altitude.

Conclusion:

The reason that I was so excited about this recipe is not exactly about it’s use as a relish – the book suggests it “peps up” meat dishes – but because of another suggestion the authors make. They say you can mix this stuff with yogurt and poof! instant raita. Instant anything from a canned item makes me oh, so happy. And this has given me another idea – can I make a cucumber relish that has all of the flavors of tzatziki so that I can have that creamy deliciousness on demand? Anyone got a recipe close enough so we can tweak it?

Either Doris or Jilly has a mean streak. I don’t know which one is responsible, but Carrots? Really? Yes indeed. The theme foodstuff for this month’s installment of the tigress can jam is carrots.

A vegetable.

A low acid vegetable.

This is haaaaaaard. OK, quitcha bitchin girl and get a grip. Truthfully I found myself not particularly inspired by this theme, but I guess that is why this is a challenge eh? I spent a goodly amount of time poking around books and the intarweb to try and figure out what to do. I explored carrot jams, carrot chutneys, carrot slaw like applications … and carrot pickles.

I procrastinated. I waited until the week of and went through the entire list of participants on tigress’s blog to see what the early birds were posting. Finally I girded my loins and did what I do best.

Deferred the decision. Since I would more than likely not be eating any carrot based item I canned – I asked my hubby what he would prefer. Would he like something sweet or savory? The decisive answer was savory. Would he want something slaw-like or a pickle? Again, a decisive decision in the pickle direction. So now I had somewhere to start! Yay!

I settled on a recipe in what is probably my favorite canning book: The Complete Book of Year-round Small Batch Preserving.

Floaters - how do you avoid floaters?

She has a recipe that uses those little lathed out mini-carrots that you can buy anywhere anytime. So I got to pickling.

Not one to leave well enough alone – I tinkered with the recipe. I didn’t want to mess with the acidity so I looked at the constituent parts. The original recipe called for fresh oregano, I figured I could substitute any fresh herb in similar quantities. The original called for chopped bell peppers in two colors, again, if I maintained ratios any pepper should do. And if I add more acid that can’t hurt right?

So here it is, it’ll take a month for my hubby to let me know if they are any good.

Spicy Thai Basil Carrot Pickles

The Hardware: standard canning stuff see The Canning Thing this will make 2 pint jars. Wide mouthed is best. A vegetable peeler and a pair of chopsticks will be handy also.

The Software:
4 medium leaves fresh Basil
2 Limes
1 lb peeled “Baby” carrots
6 Thai chili peppers
2 cloves Garlic
1 1/2 C White Vinegar
1/2 C Sugar
1 t Pickling Salt

Wash all of your produce and then nuke your limes for about 20 seconds on high. Using a vegetable peeler, remove two 1/2 inch wide strips of zest from tip to tail on your best looking lime. Cut limes in half and juice into a liquid measure (if you are like me – cuss because you didn’t realize you had several small cuts on the ends of your fingers), if necessary add water until the quantity reaches a total of 1/3 C.

Put lime juice, vinegar, sugar and salt into a small saucepan over medium heat and start on it’s way to a boil. Peel your garlic cloves and start two little piles. Add two clean basil leaves to each garlic clove and be happy that your piles are growing. Take the two strips of lime zest and cut them into thinner strips – divide between the piles.

Wearing at least one glove, use a sharp knife and cut the stem ends off of the peppers and then cut a small slit in the length of each chili – add three chilies to each pile. If you haven’t figured it out yet – each pile is going to go into one of the two pint jars that you have hanging out in your BWB.

Regard your carrots. If any of them seem to be a bit chunky for the “Baby” moniker – cut them in half lengthwise. It is a harsh diet – but it has to happen. Once your pickling liquid is almost to a boil, remove the jars from the hot water. Place the basil leaves neatly covering the bottom of each jar – I use chopsticks to futz with them because HEY THESE JARS ARE HOT.

Once you have the basil the way you want it, add the lime zest and garlic. Then start arranging “Baby” carrots. I found it easier to lay the jars on their side and stack the little impudent buggers in there. When I got to halfway full on the first layer I put two of the chilies in vertically on opposite sides from one another. Then I finished filling in carrots. I took the third chili and put it in the second layer of carrots.

Repeat process with second jar. Sit upright and fill with the boiling liquid – leave 1/2 inch head-space. Put on lids and rings and then lower into BWB. Begin timing after you have regained a full boil – process for 15 minutes (Sea Level) I did 20 minutes because I am over 1K feet. You can do your own math for wherever you live.

All that futzin with the chopsticks?

Not a good look for garlic.

Pointless. As usual with raw pack things – it all floated up to the top and shifted and stuff. My carefully arranged vegetable masterpieces look like a 5 year old did them. One of these days I will learn the secret of  packing jars so that they don’t end up floaters – but it wasn’t this day.

Also – did you know that garlic turns a fairly icky blue/green color when it is pickled? Not nice. Not nice at all. And basil? Not lovely. It looks kinda kelpy and possibly slimy. Did I mention that I will so not be eating these?

I am looking forward to next month – when my hubby will let me know if these are edible. Until then – I recommend that you bookmark this page and wait and see before you try this yourself.

Desperation makes you do funny things. My particular issue right now is the E-man’s refusal to eat vegetables. If it isn’t in the shape of a fry then he doesn’t want it in his mouth. Actually, that is not true. He will squash mashed potatoes in sometimes, others it is a tool of the devil. There was a short period of time where he would eat mashed sweet potatoes. No longer. Potatoes are also acceptable in chip shape – but the sweet potato chips received the cold shoulder. But like a mule I keep on trying.

For inspiration I frequently look to the blog Chow Mama because it is awesome. For the first time in my life I brought home kale from the Farmer’s Market and I made the much raved about Kale Chips. When they were done I  handed himself one and said “Chip” he took it dubliously and regarded it as if I had just handed him a deep fried roach to partake of. He nibbled off a small piece and promptly handed it back to me, no amount of entreaty would entice him into taking another one from my hand.

The implements of destruction

The implements of destruction

I had great hopes for Beet Chips. I worked hard on them. Busted out the fancy pants mandolin and made the most god-awful mess of my kitchen. Really, I expected to see Grissom walking through my door with his little briefcase (of course I would prefer Warrick or Nick, or both. Did you see the one episode where the body was in a pool and they did “odds ‘n evens” to see who had to go into the pool. My thought was whomever goes into the pool in their t-shirt I WIN!!!)

I sliced them as thin as possible – but apparently not thin enough. I tossed them lightly in olive oil – but apparently not lightly enough. Sprinkled lovingly with Kosher salt – but not … well you get the picture. I cooked them at the lowest my oven would go for about, oh, three days. Sorry, I exaggerate, but I cooked them for a long da@n time. Eventually I declared them done and yanked them out of the oven. After a more thorough search of the intarweb I found one person who helpfully noted that they do not harden up until they cool. WELL that would have been USEFUL about 3 hours ago …

Not being a big beet fan, I was skeptical – but they were pretty darn tasty. The few slices that I managed to get paper thin were bordering on delicious. Did the E-man like them?

Not a chance in H-E double hockey-sticks!

As with the Kale chips he dutifully sampled a molecule of one, and returned them to my hand. I packed them in lunches to play dates and he refused to eat them. The other children at the play dates LOVED them. I think I am giving up on veggie chips for awhile.

For the last year or so my toddler has eaten French Toast every morning for breakfast, his Daddy makes it for him. One egg makes 2 pieces of French Toast, so Daddy eats a piece with the E-man, and this has lead to the evolution of a ridiculously cute ritual. The slices are put on two separate plates and both are cut up in bite-sized pieces. Both get butter and syrup, one gets a big boy fork and the other a plastic toddler fork. Daddy sits down at the table and places the plate with the plastic fork in front of the E-man and the other in front of himself. The E-man evaluates the situation and reaches over to snatch the plate with the big boy fork. He proceeds to eat all but the edge pieces of the Toast and then switches the plates back so he can have a go at the middle pieces of his Daddy’s piece. Daddy ends up eating all of the edges and whatever is leftover from the second piece.

I don’t think I need to go into how happy it makes me to peek into the kitchen and see my boys, the big one eating with a plastic fork that barely protrudes from his hand and the small one with a fork as long as the diameter of his head. Of course things have changed, the Daddy has had to take work out of state and I am now in charge of breakfast. In charge of everything in fact.

I have been wanting to change up the E-man’s breakfast with different foods, but have been reluctant to disrupt the ritual. Now, all bets are off, and frankly I have been trying to lose weight. French Toast with maple syrup every morning is not going to assist in that endeavor. Also on the agenda is to get more veggies into the E-man. So I started poking around for a Pumpkin pancake recipe.

I couldn’t find one that made me particularly happy so I ended up making up my own. One of the primary requirements was that I wanted to be able to make the batter up last night so that all I had to do this morning was cook the durn things. They came out pretty well:

Magical floaty pancakes

Magical floaty pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes

The Hardware:

Non-stick skillett or griddle, spatula, lidded mixing bowl.

The Software:

A-Team
1 C AP Flour
1/4 t Salt (kosher)
1 T Baking Powder (can be cut back to 2 t to reduce saltiness)
1 T Brown Sugar
1/2 t Cinnamon
Pinch Allspice

B-Team
1/2 C Milk
1/2 C Pumpkin (canned)
1 Egg
2 T Veg. Oil
1t Vanilla Extract

Butter & Syrup

1) Look through your pantry and realize that the can of Pumpkin that you thought you had in there has magically turned into Butternut Squash. Decide there really isn’t much of a difference and proceed.

2) Combine Team A in a seal-able bowl that you can put in the ‘fridge.  I used a whisk to get some good faux-sifting done.

3) Combine Team B in something else. I used a liquid measure because it makes it easy to, well, measure. To stir I used the same whisk as used previously, because I don’t like to wash dishes.

4) Add Team B to Team A and stir gently to combine, just until you have made sure the flour is worked in. Do not over-stir and do not worry about lumps. The overnight thing will take care of them. Cover and put in ‘fridge overnight.

5) Place skillet/griddle over medium heat and allow to get hot. Once hot, reduce flame (or fancy pants electricity) to low. Take a stick of butter and run the square face of it around the pan, just to get a light coating of butter. Add pancake batter to make 2 – 3 inch diameter pancakes. Don’t poke them. Let them sit there until you start to see bubbles coming up through the batter and the surface starts to get a kinda “skin”. Scoot your spatula under and see if it looks done. If so, flip gently. The second side will not take as long as the first side. Peek with your spatula to make sure it doesn’t burn. Repeat until all batter is used up. I got 9 small pancakes.

6) Serve with butter and REAL Maple Syrup. Yes, I am a snob.

Hacks:

I have 3 pancakes in the ‘fridge and 4 in the freezer as we speak (the E-Man ate one and one had to be for quality control so no, my math doesn’t suck) (well, actually my math does suck the vast majority of the time, but not in this particular instance). I will keep the internet posted as to how the different cooling approaches work out. I think they will be fine. The plan is to warm up a Pancake each morning, this way I have to cook once a week as opposed to every morning. YAY lazy!

I am pretty sure you could double the recipe with very little problems and of course you could use pumpkin if you were so inclined. I also think it would be tasty with sweet potatoes, mmmm.

Update 2/12/11!

We have been using this recipe now for, WOW, almost a year and a half. It has performed admirably. My son is bigger now and he has matching appetite. We now double the recipe (with the reduced Baking powder) and make more pancakes to get us through the week. I lay them out on a cookie cooling rack and then put them in the freezer flat on a cutting board. Once frozen we pack into an airtight container.

Reheating usually involves a short stint in the microwave @ 50% power and then a quick jaunt through the toaster to crisp them up. Served with maple syrup they are quite tasty. The most common flavor we use is pumpkin, but when pumpkin is not available sometimes pureed sweet potatoes pinch hit.

On occasion, when I am feeling especially virtuous, I substitute white whole wheat flour for half of the flour and it works fine.

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