Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow makes me think of Bob Marley...

I know that makes no sense, but bear with me.  When the white stuff starts falling and it's freezing cold outside, I put on reggae to make the house seem cozier, and then I start canning, because it keeps me busy and less cabin feverish.  "Jammin" by Bob Marley puts me in the mood for, of course, jam, and while it's winter and not the time for most of my favorite jams and jellies, there are a few recipes I make this time of year that satisfy like no other. I don't really count either of these as a jam, but they are mighty tasty.

Lemon-Blueberry Jam

This is a total cheater's jam, because of the ingredients. You'll see.

4 Cups ripe blueberries (you can use frozen, but really, why would you want to?)
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar (I use 2, because the people I give this to like sweeter jam)
1 package (3 oz) lemon gelatin (I use whatever is cheapest, usually the store brand, but if you like Jell-o, go for it!)


In a large saucepan or dutch oven (I go D.O.) crush half of the blueberries.  Add the other half whole, 2 cups sugar, and package of lemon gelatin.  Stir over medium high heat until it comes to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat.  Now at this point you can either jar it, like I did, using a water bath canner and half-pint jars (makes 3-4) for 10 minutes (more if you live higher up the mountain) or you can put this straight into the fridge.  In jars it'll set over night, in the fridge it sets in about 30 minutes, same as jell-o.

Smear on any bread, muffin, biscuit, waffle of choice, and oh LORD is it a happy time in your mouth!

Cinnamon Spice Apple Butter

Is there any more beautiful phrase in the English language?  I don't think so.  Nothing says love to me like waking up on a cold morning with biscuits and apple butter, and maybe a cup of Earl Grey with lemon.  I make this and it disappears in days, thanks to family and friends and their thieving ways.  :)  This is from a recipe that I originally had to cut in half, because I didn't have a kettle large enough to make it (it was designed to cook over an open fire outdoors, can you IMAGINE how good that would smell???)

5 lbs tart apples, cored and thickly sliced (skins on) about 15 cups
2 1/2 cups apple cider (I get mine from a local orchard, but store brand is fine)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 heaping Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground ginger

In the largest pot you have (because this will spatter later) place apple slices and cider.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover, and simmer 30 minutes, until apples are tender.  Press through a food mill, sieve, or toss all in a blender (will take SEVERAL batches in the blender, trust me, if you fill it all the way it'll try to explode out, which is a scalding mess!)

Return to the pot.  Boil it gently (low to medium-low) uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  This is where the bigger the better for your pot, high sides = less spattering on the stove or passers by.  Stir in sugar, corn syrup, cinnamon,  cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.  If the color still looks a little pale (and it will if you use green apples like granny smith) I add a few drops of red food coloring.  I like my apple butter DARK, again like my chocolate (but that's another post.)

Boil gently (again low or medium-low heat) for about 2 hours, stirring frequently to avoid burning on the bottom.  If it starts to scald, lower the heat and stir more frequently, but this does require some watching.

When it looks like butter and tastes like butter and all you want to do is make biscuits by the hundreds (at least, that's what I want to do when it's finished) pour it into half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes (again, longer if you're up higher.) When it cools, HIDE IT IN THE DARKEST RECESSES OF YOUR SHOE CLOSET AND TELL NO ONE IT EXISTS.  Otherwise, be prepared to lose the bulk of your batch.  I'm just saying, people like apple butter.

Keep Eating!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm a bee, I'm a bee, I'm a, I'm a busy bee...

It's snowing!  Since I'm not allowed to shovel on account of the baby, and it's coming down inches upon inches, I thought I'd be productive today and get a few projects done.  Initially these were going to be cleaning projects, but then the belt on the vacuum broke, and I decided that I'd rather spend the day in my kitchen. I was able to get out of the house early this morning before it got really bad, and chose my weapons of destruction.

The stuff on the counter in the foreground is the ingredients for my Great Grandmother's Vegetable Soup (clearly not vegetarian, 3 lbs of beef!) And in the background I have the makings for a LOT of jam and marmalade.  It's been a busy day, and I'm still going (and probably will be until 2 or 3 am!)

Great Grandma Hulsey's Vegetable Soup

This recipe started with my great grandmother, and she and my grandmother fiddled and fussed with it for years until it became the monstrosity of delicious abundance I know today.  I only knew my great grandmother for a few years before she passed away, but I remember sitting in her kitchen (which should have only held two people but we always squeezed six somehow) and listening to her stories as she cooked on the tiniest stove imaginable.  How she made this soup every year in the minuscule kitchen on that doll sized stove is beyond me, but somehow, twice a year, she made enough soup for an army.

1 Large Soup Bone
2-3 lbs. Beef Cubes
2 Large Cans V8
1 Large Can Tomato Sauce
1 Bunch Celery
5-6 Onions
2 Large or 3 Small Bags Frozen Mixed Vegetables
1 Medium Head Cabbage
8 Russet Potatoes

Now, I've omitted the soup bone, because they can be tricky to find, and honestly, it's not entirely necessary.  My grandmother has been making her mother in law's soup for the last 25 years without one, and it's still delicious.  A word on the vegetables:  I live in Hanover, the town where many frozen vegetable processing are located, and our large bags of vegetables are 3 lbs.  Don't get 3lb bags.  I made that mistake today, and now my vegetable soup is very vegetably.  Now, I like it like this, and I wound up omitting the potatoes because of this snafu (you'll see in the pictures) but it's really up to the cook to make the soup to their liking.

I also tweaked the recipe slightly, adding the following ingredients:

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Tsp Paprika
1/8 Tsp Tumeric
1/8 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder

I mixed these ingredients in a Ziploc bag and added my beef cubes, tossing to coat.  I then heated 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil in a LARGE stock pot (I use a crab pot, and it barely works) and then added the beef, turning to brown, but not to cook through.

The onions and celery got a dice (oh the humanity! Five large onions!) and then added to the beef to sauté briefly.

After that, the V8, Tomato Sauce, and cabbage go into the pot.  Add one Tomato Sauce can full of water, and one and a half V8 cans of water to the mix (if that makes any sense.)  This delightful mixture gets simmered for at least 3 hours, and stirred occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom.  I went for 4, since I was mid other projects when the three hour mark came and went.

After 3-4 hours go by, add the mixed veggies and, if you have the room in the pot, the potatoes.  My two bags of veggies equaled six lbs, so I had NO ROOM in the pot after that, but the soup was a chunky masterpiece.

This now gets simmered another hour, and it's ready for eating!  Or in my case, it gets simmered almost three hours because of the apple butter (bottom right corner of the picture above) taking FOREVER to thicken properly and then to can it.  I know my stove is twice the size of Grandma Hulsey's, and I STILL ran out of room!  I think I need two stove tops to keep up with canning, I really do.
Quite some time later, seven quarts of my soup made there way into my pressure cooker for processing (75 minutes due to the beef, 10 lbs pressure at sea level - 1,000 ft, 15 lbs above 1,000 ft if you're using a weighted cooker like mine.) Hours later (because these things take a while to decompress) I took off the lid and saw my labor of love preserved for me.
And I realized I'd forgotten to add vinegar to my water before closing the lid on the cooker.  It keeps white splotches from forming on jars and lids.  I know it's just mineral deposits from the steam, but still, I know better.  Still, my jars of soup look pretty good!


Keep Eating!

Monday, January 24, 2011


Completely forgot to mention it in the last post, but I'm expecting!  This has certainly flavored my world in unexpected and excited ways, no more so than in what I can and cannot eat and drink. Besides the obvious avoidance of all things alcoholic, I also have to curb my cravings for caffeine, cook my meat to a crisp, and the ever changing rules on what is and is not an acceptable fish leave me shuddering at the sight of seafood.

I love tea.  I also hate segues.

Iced tea is one of my favorite beverages, and being on the banned list due to caffeine and sugar content, I had to find a way to enjoy my favorite drink without guilt or fetal distress.  Enter the decaf tea bag.

Now, as a general rule, I loathe all things decaffeinated.  I mean, why take all the joy out of something by overly processing it?  Besides, I make my tea the old fashioned way, from loose tea, whenever possible.  Decaf tea in a prepackaged tea bag?  The sacrifices one makes for ones children...

Now sugar poses something of a problem.  I can't abide the taste of artificial sweeteners, even Splenda gives me a case of the ickies.  So instead of my usual two cups to a 4 quart pitcher (I love southern style sweet tea) I'm cutting back to 3/4 of a cup and using raw sugar instead of processed refined white.  The taste is different, almost a thicker taste with the raw sugar, but it's starting to grow on me.  But this concoction of eight tea bags plus 3/4 cups of sugar and lots of water isn't satisfying by a long shot.  Enter the fruit.

I'm on a constant quest for more fruit these days; I can't seem to get enough of it, which my doctor says is fantastic, keep it up, only good things for the baby.  My mother makes a delightfully sinful pot of orange tea in the summer time (tea + sugar + water + orange slices = heaven) and since citrus is in season, or at least all over my grocery store right now, I decided to take a cue from Mom's summertime treat and get creative with my tea.

Summery Citrus Tea:

8 tea bags (I'm using decaf for obvious reasons)
3/4 cup of raw sugar (or more/less to taste, but again, I have to be restrictive)
1/4 of an orange (I used a very pretty, perfectly ripe navel, but I imagine this would be good with other varieties)
1/4 of a large lemon
4 quarts of water (give or take the filling of the tea pitcher)

Steep tea bags in 1 quart of water over the stove.  Don't let the tea actually boil, since the tea will then taste burnt, just bring to a simmer and then turn it off.  Let it stand 15-30 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.  I go for 30, because I like it dark, like my chocolate (again another post.)

In the mean time, wash the lemon and orange.  I actually use dish soap on mine, because it's not going to penetrate the rind, but I AM keeping the rind on my slices, so I don't want any germs or pesticides that might be lingering on the fruit to gain access to my tea. Cut 1/4 of each fruit into thin slices, rind and all.  Remove seeds as they appear, seeds are not good in a glass of tea.

Once tea has finished steeping, stir into sugar, add fruit, and remaining water in a pitcher.  Refrigerate over night, then serve in a chilly glass for all day refreshment.  Mmmmm, summer time.

Blueberry Lemon Tea:

8 tea bags
3/4 cup of raw sugar
1/4 of a lemon
1/2 cup blueberries

Steep tea as outlined above.  Slice lemons in the same fashion.  Now for the blueberries, I use a paring knife and cut them not quite in half.  This saves me from choking on them later if they make their way into my glass (since they're easier to spot) but still allows a lot of blueberry flavor to seep into the tea.  Mix the tea as outlined above, adding the sliced fruity goodness, and chill over night.  This was incredible in the afternoon, sweet but not too sweet, and the fruit really made up for the lack of extra sugar I usually use.

I imagine both of these would be great with fresh herbs like lemon verbena or mint, but since it's January and I hate buying expensive mass production herbs from the grocery store, I'm going to have to wait until the summer to experiment with those.  I briefly considered dried herbs, since I have those a plenty, but opted out since I really don't care for flakes of mint in my teeth while drinking, and I was too lazy to infuse via cheesecloth :)

Keep eating (and in this case, drinking!)

I don't like to make resolutions...

Especially not on New Year's Day.  It takes me the better part of the month of January just to come off my Christmas-Cookie induced sugar coma, much less get my house in order, gym membership updated, and make any real plans for the future.

That being said, I've come up with a resolution I think I can stick to.  I think.  At least, there will be sticky results on occasion.  Bear with me, this will make sense, I promise.

I am an internet foodie, a canning blog addict, crazy for all things crafty that I can accomplish in or out of my kitchen. This isn't new information for people who know me IRL, I'm constantly in a state of flux between knitting projects, quilts that I swear I'll some day finish, and releasing anxiety through baked goods (too the detriment of my ever expanding waistline.)  And while all this manic activity in my house is well and good, I don't feel that I accomplish much with it (other that the aforementioned excess weight that I RESOLVE to lose every year, and then decide come March that I'll just buy bigger pants.)

Hence the blog.

I eat.  I eat a LOT.  Not all in one sitting, contrary to my pants size, but many times throughout the day I'm consuming some form of sustenance or another.  I'm a grazer, and I like to graze on tasty nibbles rather than garbage.  Not gonna lie, I go through drive-thru lines far more frequently than I should, but not nearly as often as I did in college, thank goodness.  I prefer the taste of my own cooking, and have discovered over the years that so do a lot of my friends.  At least, that's what they lead me to believe, whether or not I cook as well as I think, that's kind of the point of this.

Friends and coworkers ask me for recipes all the time, recipes for "the sauce" (which I probably won't post out of respect for my grandfather, R.I.P) recipes for various baked goods, recipes for preserves and above all, the salsa recipe.  The problem is I never write any of this stuff down!  I don't record most of what I'm doing, and I tweak as I go along.  So I've come up with a resolution I can actually stick to, recording some of my culinary adventures here for my friends and fellow foodies to follow.  Maybe I can finally figure out just how much cilantro I use in that salsa recipe instead of saying, "oh, you know, about two fist fulls, maybe a little more?"

We shall see.

First up on my menu, chicken soup.  And since the husband bought me a brand new pressure cooker for Christmas this year (yay!) I'll be canning some as well.  But more on that in the next post.

Keep eating!