Applesauce

Now I know what you’re all thinking.  Really?  Applesauce?  How boring!  How bland and uninteresting!  We want excitement!  Well…applesauce is about the most exciting thing I’ve done in awhile, besides the pumpkin puree, which I already talked about.  Applesauce can be exciting.  And easy.  Honest!

First, buy apples.  I used Royal Gala and Macintosh for mine, I prefer the batch that is royal gala only.  It’s sweeter.  I also used my slowcooker for this, because I’m lazy.

Applesauce

6lbs apples, cored and quartered (leave the peel on!)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 cup water

sugar to taste

1. Put cored and quartered apples into the slowcooker (better be a big one!).  Add the water and lemon juice.  Cover and cook on high 3-4 hours.  Once apples are soft and mushy, puree with an immersion blender.  You could use a regular blender or food processor as well if you like, but an immersion blender is more fun.  Add sugar to taste.

I was lazy this year and froze my applesauce instead of canning it.  You could process jars of applesauce in a hot water bath for 15 minutes before storing in a cool, dry place if you really wanted to, but I decided to freeze it in jars instead.  You could also freeze it in ziploc bags if you wanted.  Unsweetened applesauce is great for baking, you can replace up to 1/2 of the oil or margarine called for in a recipe with applesauce.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

This summer I set quite the goal for myself and I’ve followed through on pretty much everything I wanted to try and some stuff I didn’t know I wanted to try!  I do think I’m done canning and freezing stuff for this winter tho, mostly because I’m getting swamped with school work and trying to make sure I have “me” time.  I’ve got a lot of food put away and I honestly doubt I’ll eat it all before next summer, although I hope I get close so I can make some room for next years canning because otherwise I need to move to have more cupboard space.

The key to making good pumpkin puree is to buy Sugar or Pie Pumpkins.  They’re quite a bit smaller then jack-o-lantern pumpkins, usually about 3-5 lbs is a good size.  You want them this size for a few reasons, the first one is that fitting a 20-30lb pumpkin in your oven is going to be a challenge, and we don’t want a challenge.  Another important reason is because the bigger the pumpkin, the more stringy and tough the pumpkin flesh. 

I’ve realized while writing this, that this isn’t so much of a recipe as it is a process but I’m ok with that, it really is easy.  Preheat your oven to 350 C.  The most difficult part is the first bit.  You need to cut your pumpkin into halves or quarters and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.  You can save the seeds for roasting, but I got frustrated with trying to separate them from the stringy stuff and gave up after about 20 minutes.  Patience I do not have. 

Once you have some nice cleaned pumpkin halves or quarters, place them cut side down in a roasting dish or 9×13″ pan and put about 1″ of water in the bottom.  Roast in the oven until the pumpkin is discoloured and you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.  Let pumpkin cool till you can handle it, then scoop the pumpkin meat into a bowl.

Once you have all your pumpkin meat in a bowl, process it in your food processor (or high powered blender…or regular blender in very small batches) till smooth.  The smoother the better, it will end up looking a lot more like bought canned pumpkin if it’s smooth.  Your pumpkin will be a lot more yellow-orange then canned pumpkin, so don’t think it’s wrong if it looks different!  Once all your pumpkin is nice and smooth, you want to line a collander with cheesecloth and put all your puree in there.  Place the collander in a larger bown to catch the liquid and let it sit, in the fridge, for at least 24 hours. 

Keeping it in the fridge is VERY IMPORTANT so nasty bacterias don’t grow on your pumpkin!  Letting it sit is also rather important, especially if you want your pumpkin to act like canned pumpkin from the store later on.  Normally the pumpkin you buy in cans is “solid pack” pumpkin.  A lot of the moisture has been removed from it, making it more solid.  You’ll probably get quite a bit of pumpkin juice out of your pumpkin, but the overall volume doesn’t decrease that much. 

Once your pumpkin has drained, portion it into ziploc freezer bags, about 2 cups per bag is good and store in the freezer.  Letting them freeze flat works best for easy storage.  Pumpkin will keep about 6-8 months in the freezer, maybe up to a year.  I had 6 Pie pumpkins that I purchased from a local farmer.  I paid about $18 for them and got approximately 20 cups of pumpkin puree from them.  It’s much, much cheaper and most of the prep is waiting! 

I ❤ pumpkin.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

I’ve been so busy with school and work I’ve barely been cooking, let alone making anything worth posting about.  The most I’ve done on the weekends is bake bread, make applesauce, apple butter, and pumpkin puree.  I did pickle some hot peppers and have a bunch of little hot pepper plants growing like weeds under my grow light.  My rosemary is finally growing thanks to a friend’s organic fertilizer (thanks Claude!) and both lemon trees are doing well, although one of them is no longer a resident of my apartment.  I am trying to sprout some apple seeds currently and would totally plant a pumpkin seed when I puree the last 3 pumpkins I have if I wasn’t terrified of it taking over my livingroom.

On non-food related news, I have a real livingroom now!  Claude and Dallas were generous and wonderful enough to give me their entertainment unit and were at my place for about 2 hours on Monday evening helping me move everything around.  My computer desk is now in my bedroom and then tv, ps3 and ps2 are all in the livingroom on the entertainment unit.  I can now look for a coffee table and end tables!  So excited! 

Back to food…I have been searching for months for a salad dressing I love that I can make at home.  I finally found it this weekend.  I made a homemade raspberry vinaigrette for our thanksgiving supper and I adore it.  I’ve never liked storebought raspberry vinaigrettes before so it was surprising.  It’s simple to make and I have all the ingredients at home, amazingly.  It keeps well in the fridge, and just needs a shake or whisk to put it back together for serving. 

Raspberry Vinaigrette

2 tbsp homemade raspberry sauce (basically try to make raspberry jam but don’t add enough sugar or pectin for it to set, lol)

1 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

1 tbsp White Vinegar

1/8 cup Olive Oil

1/8 cup Canola Oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Wisk the raspberry sauce and vinegars together.  Slowly drizzle in the oils, whisking constantly.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stores well in the fridge, just shake or whisk before serving.

Best Relish Ever

This weekend is full of the fall canning I won’t have time for in a few weeks.  It was originally scheduled for September long weekend and wasn’t supposed to be as busy as it’s ended up.  The list for this weekend was supposed to be Spaghetti Sauce (recipe here), Cabbage Borscht (recipe to come), and Dill Pickles (my grandma’s recipe).  The first hurdle we had to jump was that my mom couldn’t FIND my grandma’s pickle recipe.  The second hurdle, which I’m still jumping, is that my mom bought ingredients to also make Salsa and Relish, both of which we made last year and I don’t need any more of.

Now, the thing you must know before I continue is that I don’t like cucumbers.  I don’t like the smell, I don’t like the texture, I don’t really like anything about them.  This dislike extends to pickles and relish.  The only pickles or relish that I eat are my mom’s homemade pickles and relish.  (My mom did a LOT of canning when I was growing up.)  The relish recipe I’m about to share with you is the only relish I enjoy.  We couldn’t find my grandma’s pickle recipe tho, so we found one that my mom thinks was similar and we’ll see how they turn out.

Relish

1 1/2 dozen large cucumbers

4-6 Onions

1 green pepper

2 red peppers

1/2 cup pickling salt

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup flour

1.5 tbsp mustard powder

1 tsp turmeric

2/3 cup pickling vinegar

1. Shred cucumbers, onions, and peppers in a food processor (large shred).  Put in a large bowl and add pickling salt and water.  Let sit for 4 hours.

2. Drain veggies and place in pot.  Add enough pickling vinegar to just cover the veggies.  Add 2 cups of sugar and cook till vegetables are translucent.

3. Make a thin paste of the flour, mustard powder, turmeric and 2/3 cup vinegar.  Add to pot and stir till thickened.

4. Add 3-4 drops of green food colouring (optional, it’s very yellow without it) and put into hot pint jars.  Place new, sterilized seal lid and ring.  It’s safe to let it sit at room temperature unless it doesn’t seal.

Yield – 7-8 pint jars depending on the size of your cucumbers.

Ash-e Jow (Persian Barley Soup) Recipe

I was all kinds of motivated this weekend and made a new kind of soup.  I did use the lamb called for in the recipe, mostly because I still have most of the lamb I bought last december in my freezer and need to find new ways to use it.  This has really gotten me to try different ethnic food simply because I didn’t grow up with lamb and don’t just want to eat the chops and leave the rest because I don’t know what to do with it.  It’s pretty awesome.  This soup was made in the slow cooker instead of on the stove top.  It’s hearty, but light at the same time.  It doesn’t have much for seasoning or spices, which really allows you to taste the ingredients.  It’s really, really good.  You can leave out the lamb completely for a completely vegan soup, or you can substitute chicken, beef or pork instead of the lamb. 

Ash-e Jow

2-3 tbsp olive oil

1 lamb shank (I used a half leg roast, bone in)

2 onions, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp turmeric

3 quarts stock or water

1 – 15oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 – 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 mixed lentils (can use any lentils you want)

1 cup pot or pearl barley

1 lb spinach (fresh or frozen)

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I forgot this…oops)

1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, brown the lamb shank on all sides.  Put lamb in slow cooker.  Add onions, carrots and turmeric to the skillet, cook till onions are soft (5-7 minutes) and put into the slow cooker.  Add water, let cook on high for up to 3 hours. (my slow cooker cooks very hot)

2. Add the beans and lentils, simmer another 30-45 minutes.  Add the barley and simmer about another 30 minutes.  Take out the lamb shank, remove the meat from the bone and dice.  Add lamb back into the soup along with the spinach and salt/pepper.  Cook till spinach is wilted, stir in sour cream or yogurt (optional) and server. 

Variations:

substitute half the barley for brown rice

change up the types of beans

use pork, beef or chicken instead of lamb (bone in if possible, makes a better stock)

I forgot to add the sour cream, might have been better with it, I’ll have to try adding some to the next bowl I have.   This recipe filled my 6.5 quart slow cooker and gave me 3 quart jars, 4 pint jars and a large ziplock square container of soup.  Unfortunately one of the quart jars and 2 pint jars didn’t seal properly and I will need to throw them out.

Recipe adapted from here.

Lack of Sleep and Jam

This post is being written in a vague attempt to not fall asleep at my desk this afternoon.  It’s only vague because pretty much everything I’ve done all day has been pretty vague.  Vague is also fun to say.  The more I type it out, the weirder it looks so I should maybe stop now.  I feel like I’m at risk of falling asleep on the phone this afternoon because sleep and I were mortal enemies last night, and due to this discrepency in our schedules, I got very little of it.  I already requested some nap time this afternoon but was promptly denied.  Apparently there is no rest for the wicked.  Or the sleep-deprived. 

This weekend was fairly productive.  Laundry and floors were done on Saturday,  along with Rhubarb Jam and canned Peaches in Syrup with help from my dear Mother.  Groceries were picked up as well.  I also have another ice cream pail and a half of frozen rhubarb.  It’s going to be a rhubarb-y winter.  My freezer is becoming a cornucopia of rhubarb.  Good thing I adore rhubarb! 

Rhubarb Jam

2lbs rhubarb

2 cups sugar

1. Chop rhubarb into 1″ pieces.  Put in a medium size bowl and add sugar.  Mix well and cover with a tea towl.  Let the rhubarb macerate in the sugar overnight. 

2. Pour everything from the bowl into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Let boil vigorously for 5 minutes.  You can let it cook longer if you want the rhubarb really broken down, otherwise don’t let it go over the time.  Ladle jam into hot jam jars, place seal on top and tighten the ring.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Let it sit on the counter for 24 hours.  Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

I have a sneaky suspicion that this would be good with cardamom added, but I don’t know why because I’ve never really had a lot of cardamom.

Thinking Ahead to Winter Pt2 – Canning

This is the 2nd part of what is going to end up being more than 2 parts all about preparing items for the winter ahead.  The key to all of this is to get as fresh and local as you can find or afford.  While traditionally Canning is thought of as a fall activity, there are many things in season now that can be prepared.  If you do things as the fruit or vegetable comes into season, you’ll be doing a bunch of little projects as you go instead of trying to attempt one big marathon session of canning, the thought of which makes my feet hurt already! 

Canning involves a lot more preparation then freezing does.  If you want to be able to keep the items you make, safely, in your cupboards or root cellar, they have to be processed in a water bath before putting them away.  The main items you’ll need to successfully can your own jam, pickles, spaghetti sauce, or whatever else you can think of are the following:

– Large, Heavy bottomed pot for cooking sauces or jams in. 

– Jars.  My favorite sizes are jam jars, pint jars (2 cups or 500ml), and quart jars (4 cups or 1000ml)  Jars can be bought at Canadian tire for a decent price or you can search kijiji or MCC/Value Village for cans.

-Lids.  Canning lids come in 2 parts.  There’s a metal ring that screws on and a metal snap lid with a rubber seal on the bottom.  If you buy your jars brand new, they will come with both parts.  Otherwise, both the metal rings and snap lids can be bought at Canadian tire, sometimes dollar stores.  It’s best to replace snap lids after one use, although if I’m just canning soup without processing it and am keeping it in the fridge I will re-use them.

– Tongs.  Metal tongs will help you lift the hot jars in and out of the water bath before and after processing.  It also helps you grab the lids and rings from the hot water before putting them on the jars.

– Funnel.  Really handy if you don’t want to make a huge mess when trying to ladle your hot jam/sauce into the jars!

– Cookie Sheet.  Makes moving the jars in and out of the oven that much easier…and we like easy.

– Canner.  A canner is a large pot used to process jars in.  It usually comes with a rack and is cheaper to buy then a stock pot.  Although I suppose Alton Brown would be upset with me for buying an item that isn’t very multipurpose.  Oh well.

The general steps to canning involve heating (read, sterilizing) your jars in a 200 degree oven, heating (sterilizing) your lids and rings in a small sauce pan of boiling water, cooking your jam/sauce as per the recipe, ladling it into the hot jars, wiping off the edges, placing the lids and rings on the jar and then processing it in a canner filled with boiling water for the recommended time.  The jars are usually left in the water for about 5-10 minutes after you’ve removed it from the heat and then removed to the side.  Let the jars sit on the counter for about 24 hours, check the seals to make sure it’s sealed properly and then store in a dark, cool place for about 1 year.  I find it very simple, the most tedious part of the entire thing is preparing your fruit or veggies for cooking. 

The first item I canned was a batch of cherry preserves.  I’ve never had cherry preserves or used cherry preserves but it sounded like a good idea at the time and bing cherries were on sale for under $2/lb.  I brought 4lbs home with me and proceeded to de-step and pit all 4 lbs of cherries.  It took me about an hour by myself.  Two days later and my fingers are still stained.  (!)  3lbs of cherries were turned into preserve and the other lb were frozen for use in the winter, probably for smoothies.  Since I had already removed the pits, I didn’t want to just eat them.  I ended up with about 3 pint jars of preserves.  I don’t think I let them cook down far enough, cause they seem fairly runny in the jars but I don’t have any fruit float and you can see cherries throughout the syrup.  Although since I’ve never HAD cherry preserves, I don’t know how thick it’s supposed to be!

Simple Cherry Preserves

3 lbs sweet or sour cherries, stems and pits removed

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

1. Place the cherries in a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Add a splash of water and bring to a boil.  Crush cherries to release the juice. 

2. Add sugar and mix to dissolve.  Then add lemon juice and stir.  Bring to a nice boil and let it go for about 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired gel is reached.  Turn off heat and let fruit sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release any trapped air (helps prevent fruit from floating to the top of the jars).  Skim off any foam.

3.  Ladle into hot pint jars.  Wipe the edges clean and place a new seal lid on top.  Screw the ring down until just tight.  Process in water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove lid and remove pot from heat, let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove jars from pot, let sit on the counter for 24 hours. Check seals and store in dark cool place for about a year.

It really is that easy!