Friday, April 23, 2010

Can Jam April: mint, morels, and mojitos

Once again, I wait until the last minute to actually do the canning for the can jam.
Yesterday at work, I was telling a co-worker I needed to go by the farmer's market to get some mint to make mint jelly for the can jam this month. He told me to stop at his house on the way home instead and he would clean out his herb garden. It's a pretty well-established herb garden, and it has gotten a bit more unruly each year. He has 4 different kinds of mint (peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint and mountain mint) that he needed to clean-up in the bed, and he has a rosemary bush that can only be described as "out of control."

So, yesterday, I left his house with THREE grocery bags of mint and a "branch" of rosemary that would be the size of a large rosemary plant by itself. A lot of the mint he gave me, he pulled up with roots so I could transplant it to my garden. I planted most of it, but still had almost a whole bag left to cook with.

I got home to start making the jelly and open my copy of the Ball Blue Book (The Guide to Home Canning and Freezing, Edition 32) for the mint jelly recipe I saw a few weeks ago. The recipe calls for apple juice? No pectin? This won't do. I tried making marmalade in January, and all the cooking and spoon testing and plate in the freezer led to disaster for me. So I "googled" mint jelly and got a couple recipes for mint jelly on that call for pectin. While I was at it, I found a recipe for rosemary jelly, which sounded awesome. Okay, I'm ready to start now. Wait a minute, I thought I had some pectin in the cabinet...

7:12 p.m. and trip number 1 to the grocery store: 2 boxes of pectin and stop by the liquor store for a bottle of Bacardi. Hey, I've got all this fresh mint, I might as well make some mojitos while I'm canning.

Okay, I definitely ready to start now... Get all my ingredients ready and measured. Wait, I only have 2 cups of sugar? Seriously?

8:15 p.m. and trip number 2 to the grocery store (good thing, it's only about 2 miles away) one 5-lb bag of sugar and a lime (for the mojitos).

Okay, now I am for realz ready.

Here are the recipes:

Mint Jelly (from makes about 2 pints
1 1/2 cups of fresh mint leaves and stems
2 Tbs of lemon juice
2 1/4 cups of boiling water
1 drop green food coloring
3 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 container of liquid pectin (6 oz.)

Rinse mint leaves and place them into a large saucepan. Crush with a potato masher or the bottom of a glass. Add water, and bring the mint to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain and measure out 1 2/3 cup of the mint water.

Place the minty water into a saucepan. Stir in the lemon juice and food coloring. Mix in the sugar, and place the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is boiling, stir in the pectin. Boil the mixture for a full minute while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim foam from top using a large metal spoon. Transfer the mixture to hot sterile jars and seal. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Rosemary Jelly (from makes about 2 pints
1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 Tb minced fresh rosemary
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1 (3 oz.) pouch of liquid fruit pectin
2 drops green food coloring

In a large saucepan, combine boiling water and rosemary. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. If necessary, add water to measure 1 1/4 cups. Return liquid to pan, add sugar and vinegar. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Add pectin, stirring until mixture boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Add food coloring if desired. Pour hot mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust caps. Process 10 mintues in a boiling water canner.

I made the rosemary jelly first, and I was a little skeptical about what it would taste like--but it was lovely! Sweet and sour and savory all at the same time.

Next, I started on the mint jelly. Jeremy was watching tv and yells "Hey, what are you makin'?" Me: "Mint jelly." He yells back "What? Mint juleps?" This gave me a great idea...

No. It wasn't mixing more drinky drinks. What if I substitute a little bourbon for the water in the mint recipe? I started with a couple tablespoons and about 1 cup of water (of the 1 2/3 total minty-water called for). You couldn't really taste it, and it would be even less when I added the rest of the water. So, I upped it to about 1/3 a cup. Perfect. Sweet, minty and slightly bitter from the bourbon.

This can jam entry is still not without problems, though. I've never made jelly before. Only jam. The jam usually starts setting up before the jars are even filled. The jelly didn't. I had a little bit of the mint jelly left after I filled the jars, so I put it in a bowl and left it on the counter to cool. It set up after about 30 mintues. I processed the jars of jelly and they were still kinda maple syrup consistency, so I thought maybe they just needed to cool to set up. The jars sat on the counter over night, and this morning they were a little closer, but still a little runny. The jars were still slightly warm, though. What's up? At the very least, I think they'll make a good glaze if they don't set up. Either one would be awesome on pork loin, ham or even chicken.

I found a blog entry from Food In Jars about canning mint simple syrup. Since I was making it for mojitos anyway, I canned a pint of that, too. I love mojitos and mint juleps, but I rarely make them. At least this will make it a little easier to whip up a batch since I'll already have this step done.

So, about the morels... My father-in-law gave us a bowl of morels Wednesday. Since I spent all evening running back and forth between the grocery store and canning, I didn't make dinner. At about 10 o'clock, when I was done canning, I realized I was hungry. So, I fried a bunch of the tasty wild mushrooms, dredged ever so lightly in flour, salt and pepper in a little bit of canola oil, while Jeremy mixed mojitos. Maybe not the most nutritous dinner, but it certainly was DELICIOUS!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On nutritional information and "real" food.

I have an iphone. Frankly, I don't know what I did before I had it. It does everything. Seriously.

The app I probably use most is called "Lose It!". It's awesome.

You know how all the articles and advice about losing weight tell you to keep a food diary? That's essentially what this app is. You can set a daily limit, based on your height and current weight, and your goal weight. But, it also has nutritional information for just about any food, even restaurants and grocery store brands. And, you can add in your exercise and it subtracts those calories you burned from your food intake for the day. Super-easy. It only takes a minute if you keep track of your food when you get ready to eat it. It's a bit harder if you wait until the end of the day, plus you're more likely to forget something.

So, for lunch today, I brought some soup that made back in February and had frozen. I am actually really looking forward to it, because this soup is SOOOO good and hearty, and it's filling. It's from my Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life cookbook, which I absolutely love.

Superb Squash Soup with the Best Parmesean Croutons
Makes 8 servings (It really makes 6 Jennelle-size servings)

Olive Oil
16 fresh sage leaves
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 spigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
1/2 fresh red chile, to taste, seeded and finely chopped (I used half of a frozen Hungarian Wax pepper)
sea salt and pepper
4 1/4 pounds of winter squash such as butternut, onion squash or musque de Provence, halved, deseeded
     and cut into chunks (I actually used pumpkin)
2 quarts of good quality chicken stock (I used 1 Qt. chicken and 1 Qt. vegetable stock)
extra virgin olive oil

extra virgin olive oil
16 slices of ciabatta bread
1 chunk of parmesean for grating

Put a large saucepan on medium heat and pour in a couple glugs of olive oil. Add the sage leaves and fry for about 30 seconds or until dark green and crisp. Quickly remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl limed with paper towels. In the pan, you're left with a beautifully flavored oil, so put the pan back onto the heat and add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, chile and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are sweet and soft. Add the squash and the stock to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.

When the soup is cooking, make your croutons. Drizzle a little oil over the ciabatta slives, and press some grated parmesean onto each side. Place in a non-stick pan without any oil and fry until golden on both sides.

When the squash is soft and cooked through, whiz the soup with an immersion blender, or pour it into a traditional blender, 2 cups at a time, and puree. *When blending hot liquids with a traditional blender: remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and fill no more than halfway. Release one corner of the lid of the blender and hold the lid on with a towel. This prevents the vaccum effect that creates heat explosions.

Divide the soup between bowls and place croutons on top of each. Sprinkle with a few of the crispy sage leaves and a drizzle of good-quality extra virgin olive oil.

The croutons were okay. I actually think the soup is better without them.

So, back to the iphone app. I was trying to enter the recipe for the soup so I could get the calories for 1 serving. The main ingredient is pumpkin. When I search pumpkin, all the hits in the app are for canned pumpkin or pumpkin pie filling. No fresh stuff. Okay, sometimes I can't find the food I need in the data base to calculate my calories. This has happened a few times before. No biggie. There is a function for you to create your own food, and you can enter the nutritional information manually. So, I go to a site I like that is maintained by the USDA with extensive nutritional information. Apparently, using fresh pumpkin is a novel idea to them, as well. I got several hits for the canned stuff. So, I google "nutritional information for pumpkin,"  and after the top three or four hits, I FINALLY found what I needed. Ridiculous.

It's like those 6-year olds on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution that couldn't identify common vegetables. I'm sure every kd knows what a pumpkin looks like because of Halloween. But has it ever occured to them (or even some adults) that you can actually eat those Halloween pumpkins? I didn't think about that too much either, before last year. The pumpkin in my soup is one I grew last summer. It was actually a volunteer from the year before. The crusty old farmer at the farmers market that I talked to last fall about how to cook blue hubbard said most people who buy those, and the other pumpkins and squash they sell in the fall there, just put them out on the porch for decoration.

It reminds me of something I heard last fall. Apparently, there was a pumpkin shortage last year leading up to Thanksgiving. The canned stuff was in short supply at the grocery store. But it was a banner year at the Farmer's Market here in Charleston for the pumpkin crop.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Food, Inc. is going to be on PBS Wesdnesday at 9pm

If you have not watched Food, Inc. yet, YOU MUST!

And, now you have no excuse, as just about everyone gets PBS.

You can watch the trailer to whet your appetite (or maybe not). No pun intended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An assessment of my larder.

The farmers market is slowly getting up to full tilt again. Just in time, too. If I have to eat another sweet potato or winter squash, I might scream.

It's been roughly a year since I started trying to eat locally. Late last spring, I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and decided I could do that, too, just not to the extent as she did. I some form of a backyard garden on and off over the years, and remembered helping my mom can when I was younger. So, I dove right in last summer.

In preparing for my upcoming "delicious potager," I took stock of what I have in the freezer and what I have left that I canned last year.

Here's what I know. I need to put up more:
spaghetti sauce and salsa - I only made a few experimental quarts and pints last summer. But they went fast.
apple sauce - I took the apple sauce in my lunch from December through February after I ran out of fresh apples. I need it to last a couple more months.
bell peppers - I used most of what I grew last year fresh. I am going to freeze A LOT more diced peppers this year.
tomatoes - I still have about 5 pints left and 1 quart, but that won't last me until fresh ones come on.
basil - I couldn't seem to keep enough around for pesto last year. I put basil in everythying. I only froze a couple cups of pesto last year.

I still have WAY TOO MUCH:
pickles - actually, I have way too many quarts of dill pickles left. I probably won't even can any this summer. I only have 1 quart of bread and butter left, and that's what we eat more of. I might can more of those. I remember last summer thinking I was canning too much, but what else is there to do when you have cucumbers coming out your ears? The funny thing is, I planted a hill of cucumbers, which produced a good amount, but I got the bulk of my crop from a volunteer vine of "straight 8's" that I'd planted the year before. I didn't get many at all of that vine the year I planted it.
yellow squash - still have several bags of sliced squash in the freezer. I'm having a hard time using it, since it is a bit mushy after its frozen.
canned deer meat - I probably have 12 quarts of deer meat that Jeremy's mom canned. Don't get me wrong, I like it, but I don't have a lot of recipies to use it in. Right now, I use it for BBQs. It tastes a lot like beef BBQ when you put BBQ sauce on it with some slaw on a bun. I need to find other ways to use it. I also have about 18-1.5 to 2 lb packages of ground deer burger in the freezer, but I don't think I'll end up with too much of that, since it has to last me until November or December, and I use it in place of ground beef for pretty much everything except actual hamburgers.

So, what's that mean? Well, this year, I bought several varieties of tomato seeds. Some for eating fresh like Mountain Princess and Pineapple, and some for canning like Romas. I've also got several types of sweet peppers started, with an eye toward Cal Wonders so I can freeze them to use for reicpes throughout the year. And, now that I'm getting the hang of canning (and got my own canners for Christmas) I'm going to can a lot more--apples, tomatoes, jams and jellies. As for the stuff I have left over, I need to find some recipes to finish this stuff off--or find someone who really likes dill pickles...