Canning; or, what I did with 40 lbs of tomatoes

A friend asked me if I’d talk a little about this, so here it goes.

This was my second year canning. Last year I did just salsas. This year? I branched out a little. And scaled up.

Honestly, canning isn’t hard, if you can follow directions. If you like to wing it, or figure it out as you go along, canning likely isn’t for you. Botulism is a real concern for home canners, and you should follow directions carefully. For that reason, I’m not going to write out any recipes here. I can’t add anything to the conversation about how to properly can, so I’m not going to even try.

The only two plants in my garden this year that produced anything were the jalapenos. Everything else was a waste of water. So this means all my hopes of canning my own tomatoes were down the drain.

I started with a shopping bag full of roma tomatoes from a coworker. She had mentioned at some point that they usually get overwhelmed, and I offered to gladly take them off her hands. I added another 25 lbs from the farmers market. This is what 25 lbs of roma tomatoes looks like:

It was pretty easy for me to come up with ideas of what to do with everything. I actually think the hard part was picking which ideas to follow through on.

This is what I ended up with:

So, what did I make?

I honestly don’t remember what the “? salsa” was. Well, I remember it was “leftovers” of at least two salsas, but I think a third recipe might have been in there.

Tomato Salsa-Slicing and the Peach-Apple Salsa are good solid salsa recipes from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Cooperative (pdf warning).

The Sweent n spicy tomato jam recipe came from White on Rice. It’s really tasty, even if I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.

For the diced tomatoes, I followed use real butter’s directions. This was the only recipe I messed up this year. Seriously. And this is probably the easiest recipe out of the lot. It wasn’t until the jars were in the boiling water that I remembered that I didn’t add lemon juice. *sigh* So when they were done and cool enough to handle, I re-canned them in clean jars AND new lids, this time with lemon juice. There will be no dying of botulism in this house!

The plain tomato sauce recipe also came from use real butter. I could have put spices/herbs in it, but we decided against that so that the sauce will be more versatile when we actually go to use it.

The tomato butter recipe is another one that I’m not sure what I’m actually going to do with. But it’s tasty. And I’m glad I made it. This one came from Food in Jars.

The Hot Giardiniera Pickled Peppers was a bitch to make. The recipe, yet again, came from use real butter. I told the ManBeast that I won’t make this again unless he really likes it AND he helps. Too much chopping for something I don’t really eat.

Sadly, you can’t really see the pickled peppers. I followed a general recipe for that, pickling a combination of hot peppers from the farmers market, including my own jalapenos. I frankly don’t remember which exact recipe I followed for this, but the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has a recipe that looks like it’s pretty similar to what ever it was I did.

Somewhere in there, I also made normal pickles:

Half the jars are regular dill pickles. Half the jars got some pepper flakes too. I followed this recipe for refrigerator pickles. Since this recipe is NOT fit for canning, I didn’t can them (duh). But that also means we have 7 quarts of pickles. Oh well.

In the process, I’ve also come to covet these jars. So cute. So tiny!

In hindsight, there are few things I wish I’d done different. I wish I’d caught peach season and made Vanilla Peach Bourbon Jam. I’d kind of still like to make apple butter, but I’m almost out of jars, and I’m not sure I’m in the mood to buy more. I did learn that it’s actually the supermarket that we shop at that locally has the cheapest cases of jars. And Amazon is NOT to be trusted for jar prices. They are incredibly overprices. I’ll keep looking for jars in the thrift store when I go, but sometimes, it’s easier to just buy them new. Oh, and the farm I got my tomatoes from? While they are at our local farmers market, I actually found them on craigslist.

Until next time, I get to figure out how to spend $50 my parents gave me for my birthday for “canning” stuff. I haven’t decided if I want a cookbook or two (the Ball cookbook I’ve used I’ve borrowed from the library for the past two years). I’d also like to buy a pot large enough to fit the quart jars in.

And here’s a picture of Thor and his fascination with the new record player:

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ta da! I finally figured out how to get straight to the ‘make a new post’ box that lets me do html from the beginning. Not the BS that WP seems to think I want.

I made stuffed acorn squash last night. It was great last night. And it was great today as lunch, as I’m sure it will be tomorrow too. Even the ManBeast approved and said I can make this again. You’ll want to do this on a day when you have plenty of time. This is NOT a fast recipe.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

0. Preheat oven to 400F.

1. Split and clean out an acorn squash. In a baking dish, put the cut side down. Put water in the dish to about 1/4″ up the side of the squash. Or some estimation of that, with more being better than less.

2. Bake squash for 1 hour.

Towards the end of that time, prepare the stuffing.
3. Cook 1/2 lb ground pork sausage. With some crushed red pepper if you like spicy. Set pork aside.

4. In same pan, sautee 1/2 onion, and a few cloves of chopped garlic (I used 4 small ones).

5. When the onions are soft (or done to your liking, this recipe is pretty flexible), add a 1/2 stalk chopped celery, 5 sliced/chopped mushrooms, and a 1/2 peeled/chopped tart apple. The recipe I followed called for 1/2 c pecans, but I forgot them. I’d probably like them, but I’m not sure the ManBeast would.

6. Cook until nice and soft and everything is well cooked. Put in same bowl as pork.

7. “Deglaze” pan with 1/4 c white wine. This didn’t work so well, as our cast iron is now well seasoned, but I did it any way. Reduce wine a bit.

8. Add in pork mixture along with 1 egg, 2 T milk, and a 1/2 c “bread crumbs”. Spice/herb to taste. I added 3 fresh chopped sage leaves, a 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp salt, and some pepper.

9. Hopefully in there somewhere, you took the squash out and let them cool a bit. Flip them over and be careful of any water that has sucked back up into the cavity. You might want to scoop out some of the squash, mix it with the pork mixture. Stuff the cavity with the pork mixture. It will likely mound over a bit. I put some more crushed red pepper over the top.

10. Bake at 375F for 1/2 hour. Top with parmesan cheese.

A word about the “bread crumbs”. You could use actual bread crumbs, or something else bread-ish. I made biscuits the night previous and while they tasted good, they didn’t quite get the fluff I wanted. So I hacked up 3 of those and used them as my “bread crumbs”. You could probably even do this without the bread crumbs.

A word about cost. We get ground pork sausage for $2 a pound (or maybe less, I can’t remember). The acorn squash was $1.50 at the farmers market, and the apples, I paid maybe $1 for two. The celery was a wilting stalk that normally I would have thrown out. The mushrooms were left over from another dish where we didn’t need the whole package. So really, all told, you could probably do this entire dish for well under $10. To me, the pecans would likely be the most expensive, and I’m kind of glad I left them out. I even used one of the cheapest bottles of white wine I could find. This worked out to be four meals for us.

Peach Salsa

I went a salsa canning kick earlier this week. Unlike the 10 lbs of tomatoes I bought 2 weeks ago for $2.50, these 10 lbs (this time for $5) actually got almost all used BEFORE I had to cut off large chunks due to stupid fungus.

I’m going to make these recipes VERY bare bones. If you know how to can, these are all canning safe recipes. If you like fresh salsa, these all work fresh. If you’d like to learn to can, I suggest reading something like this pdf from the University of Wisconsin Extension office. Canning is doable, with patience and the right equipment, but you really need to be prepared. I don’t want anyone blaming me for a case of botulism because they tried canning these recipes and didn’t know what they were doing.

There are three recipes. I’ll post them in order of what I liked best. I also halved all the original recipes, as I wanted variety more than volume. If we weren’t leaving Tuesday, I’d contemplate getting more tomatoes to make of the first of these two salsas.

Peach Apple Salsa
This recipe is also from that pdf I linked above. It’s *almost* like Trader Joe’s peach salsa, which is by far my favorite store bought salsa.

1. You’ll want to make sure your apples and peaches don’t brown. You want to end up with
5 c peeled diced unripe peaches
1 c chopped granny smith apple
Into 8 cups of water, add 1500 mg of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). If you don’t have vitamin C tablets like I don’t, you might be able to find this in pure powder form at your local health foods store (Willy St Coop had it). In that case you’ll use about 1/2 tsp of the powder to the 8 cups of water. Wash and peel your apple(s) (1 large) and peaches (4 for me). Chop them in half and add to the vitamin C water. Soak for 10 minutes.

2. Combine in a large pan:
3 cups of peeled diced tomatoes (they suggest roma, that isn’t what I had)
1.25 c diced yellow onion
1 c chopped green bell pepper
2T pickling spice (tie into a reusable tea bag, mesh bag, cheese clothe, whatever works for you)
1.5t canning salt
2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1.875 c (so 1.5 c + 1/4 c + 1/8 c) packed light brown sugar
1 1/8 c cider vinegar (must be 5%)
5 c peeled diced unripe peaches (from step 1)
1 c chopped granny smith apple (from step 1)

3. Bring to a boil, stirring, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove spice bag.

5. At this point it is edible. But if you want to can it:
you’ll need to put the solids in first to 1.25 inch headspace, then stop with cooking liquid to 1/2 headspace. Do your canning clean up and process cans for 15 minutes at sea level.

If you really want to can this, and want all the more nitty gritty directions, read the pdf link. Seriously. But if you have experience canning, I don’t imagine this will be difficult at all for you. It’s quite tasty.

Bucky’s Butchery

I hesitate to write this post. Because doing so means the place may get more business. And then I’ll have to share. And I don’t like sharing good bacon. I want it all to myself. But when the bacon email goes out, I get there early and I buy in quantity (probably more next time).

Bucky’s Butchery is a butcher shop on the University of Wisconsin Madison’s campus. Everything associated with the shop is associated with education and students. Just they get to sell the end product. And it is a tasty tasty end product.

Students help raise the animals about 25 miles away from campus. They learn how to grade the animals both before and after butchering. They learn how to do the cuts associated with meat for public sale. They also make special kinds of meats including bacon, different kinds of sausages, braunschweiger, etc. Students also run the shop that sells all this meat. And my experience with these students thus far is that they know what they are talking about; they know all about the cuts they sell and how the cuts are different.

The bacon. I’m not even sure I should tell you about the bacon. The demand for their bacon is so high they can’t keep up. You can sign up to get an email weekly from the Butchery telling you what products they’ll have in the store, and each week they’ll also include whether they have bacon or not. When they do finally get in more bacon, it sells out in a week or two. Keep in mind, the place is only open for five hours on Fridays. Each package of bacon is at least a pound and sells for less than $4. If it were sold in a store, I would imagine it would be labeled as thick cut, but it isn’t as thick as ‘No Name Bacon’. The bacon cooks up fabulously. Maintains a nice crispy yet chewy consistency. And to me, is perfectly flavored. Not too salty, but definitely not bland. I honestly can say its one of the best bacons I’ve ever had.

The only down side to the Butchery is that they don’t sell chicken. So while we do get a fair amount of our meat shopping done there, we can’t do it all. Lamb starts around $4 a pound. Beef around $2.50. I believe the pork starts around $3. Of course prices go up for nicer cuts of meat. We’ve had a few things from them and haven’t been disappointed with any of it. We had lamb shoulder roast for dinner last night (recipe coming) and it was devine. We’ve got a brisket in the fridge from them for tomorrow and some pork sausage for later in the week. We’ve bought ground beef, stew beef, and a few beef roasts from them. We’re just learning about the cuts of lamb, but what we’ve gotten from them thus far has been tasty. We haven’t gotten too much pork from them either, but will likely order a holiday ham from them, as it’s priced reasonably.

The last reason I’ll give you for why I’m in love with this place is my draw of local meat. Yes, we’ve got a number of places in this region of the country that will gladly sell directly to consumers. But they aren’t the cheapest. Some of them I wouldn’t even consider reasonable, especially on a graduate student stipend. Shopping at the butchery allows me to cut down on my carbon footprint for eating meat. The animals are raised 25 miles away. I think the only way I could get more local than that would be to raise them myself (which I’m pretty sure my landlord would NOT okay considering we can’t even have a dog).

Overall, if you’re in the Madison area, it’s a great stop to add to your campus tour. And if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen or grill, pick up something for dinner. You won’t be disappointed. If you already live here, and especially if you work in the middle-ish section of the campus, you definitely want to visit the Butchery. Just don’t buy my bacon.

Montys Blue Plate Diner

We had dinner at Monty’s Blue Plate Dinner last night. The ManBeast was in the mood for “American” food, in other words, a burger. A search on Yelp turned up Monty’s with a few good reviews that their food was actually decent. Add in a gluten free menu (pdf), and we decided to give it a try.

I knew before we even got there that I wanted the BBQ bacon cheddar burger on a gluten free bun. The first disappointment was the fries. I know to ask whether fries are truly gluten free, or if they are fried with other foods in the fryer. As it was Friday, the fries were not actually gluten free, because they also fry their fish fry in the same oil on Fridays. I was a bit disappointed that this was not mentioned on the menu. But as we have a deep fryer at home and the ManBeast has figured out how to make good fries, I wasn’t too bummed.

Turns out the ManBeast and I both wanted the same burger. Expect he got his with waffle fries and a regular ‘bun’. I got mine with a gluten free ‘bun’ and cole slaw. We both also had iced teas. After the exchange with the waiter about the fries, I was a bit hesitant about the bun. He went a double checked that they even ‘still have them’ and came back to tell me it was actually rice bread. Now, if you’re gluten free, you probably would have had the same reaction I did, rice BREAD? That’s not a bun! And is it even edible? He informed me that the bread was from a local bakery, the Silly Yak bakery, so I decided to give it a go. Might as well since it didn’t cost me any extra and leaving it off wouldn’t have saved me any money.

I like how Eating in Madison A to Z reviews their burgers, so I’ll do the same here:
* Bun: Not really a bun, actually 2 pieces of thick bread, VERY lightly toasted.
* Meat: Perfectly medium rare, local meat, tasted like quality ground beef.
* Bun/meat ratio: Reasonable, though when the waiter asked me what I thought about the bread, I suggested that it could be toasted a bit more and would likely hold up better that way. However, the whole thing ratio, with the cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato made it a bit overwhelming to pick up and get a good bite of everything all at once.
* Cheese: Supposedly there was cheddar, and I did see it, but I’m not sure I ever actually tasted the cheese.
* Misc.: The bacon and chipotle mayonnaise really made the burger for me and gave it a flavor I really liked. I might even say that the onions added to the flavor in a positive way.
*Gluten: I can only guess everything must have actually been gluten free, as a day later, I have no symptoms of a glutening. I think this might be the first burger I’ve eaten out WITH a ‘bun’.
Overall: 8 out of 10.

Between the two of us, we spent about $23 including tip. I’d give the place a good solid B. I’d definitely be open to going back, but with how many other restaurants there are in Madison, there are plenty of other places that I still want to try too.

Crimini butternut squash risotto

Tonights dinner is Herb rubbed Sirloin Roast with crimini butternut squash risotto. I’d write about the roast, but you wouldn’t honestly get anything more from me than you can with that link (other than to MORE than halve the salt, and if you don’t like spicy, dial back the cayenne, and its perfectly edible if you’re out of paprika).

The risotto recipe though, I felt wasn’t too terribly good in it’s original form, so I took a bunch of comments and mashed them together to get the recipe you see below. It’s quite tasty and I’ve been eating it as I’ve typed up and edited this post.
I’ll probably try this Butternut squash Fry recipe with the rest of the squash I have left.

Crimini butternut squash risotto
I still suggest reading the comments up at the original recipe, as some people had techniques and ideas that I did not put to use in this version that I’m sure are still tasty/helpful.
I’ll write this as I’d suggest actually doing it, not how allrecipes posts their recipes. This is also how the Joy of Cooking writes most of their recipes, and I find it incredibly practical. I think a lot of people who aren’t used to planning out how to actually do recipes could use to have directions written this way.

Cut off the top portion of a medium-large butternut squash.
Chop it into large cubes and if you’re good with the knife, cut off the peel (otherwise, you’ll have to peel after it’s steamed). You should have in the neighborhood of two cups of cubed squash.
Put the cubes into a steamer in a large pan. Fill the bottom with water. Cover the pan. Steam the squash for 10-15 minutes, until the squash can easily be pierced with a fork.

In the mean time:
Set four three cups of stock on the back burner to warm in a sauce pan.

Mince half a small onion and 3 cloves of garlic.
Melt 2 T butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic, maybe 2-3 min.
While that is cooking, chop up two medium handfuls of crimini mushrooms (I think this is half of what I had in the bag, so this would be 8oz, maybe). I probably had close to 2 cups chopped at the end.

To the sauteing onion and garlic, add 1 cup arborio rice, stirring well to make sure every grain of rice is coated in butter.
Add the mushrooms and stir well.
Cook 5 min or so. Or until you think you smell your rice burning even though it hasn’t been anywhere near 5 min.
Add 1/3 c white wine and stir until it has absorbed.
Add 1 c of your warmed stock to your rice mixture and stir well.
I am not of the opinion that risotto needs to be constantly stirred. Stir often, stir well, but don’t be afraid to walk away for a minute or so, or tend to the rest of your dinner. Or change the CD in the player. Or empty the dish washer.

Your squash will likely finish sometime in here. Pull it out of the pan and set aside in a bowl. When it’s cool enough to get near, mash it with a fork. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon.

When the first cup of stock is absorbed, add another, and repeat stirring/absorbing.
Stir in the squash. Things will get messy and stickier to deal with.
Stir in the last cup of stock.
If you think you’ll need more to finish cooking your rice, add it. I used four for my first version and it was too much. I probably could have stopped at 3.
When your last cup has absorbed, or you’re just tired and hungry and want to eat, add 1/4 c parmesan cheese. You might want a bit more, taste it and decide. I ended up adding another 2T or so of cheese.

Hints and tidbits:
To my taste buds, this doesn’t need any more salt than is already provided by the stock.
If you want to make it vegetarian, use veggie stock.
Want to make it a full omnivore meal? Add chicken or shrimp.

While it’s all great and wonderful to always have homemade stock on hand, this isn’t always a reality. I usually buy chicken Better than Bouillon for my general stock making needs. Make sure you read the label carefully if you are gluten free. Not all versions of all flavors are gluten free and it can be tricky to make sure you have the right one (we’ve got an evil beef version in the fridge because the Man Beast isn’t quite as good at double checking labels).

Mushrooms: I knew that crimini mushrooms were simply younger portabello mushrooms. What I didn’t know, as that those two and button mushrooms are all the same thing. The youngest version is the button (white) mushroom. As it ages, it gets a bit darker and is called a crimini mushroom. Let it mature further and open up and you have a portabello mushroom. So buy what you feel like buying here. Or what looks good or is on sale. The criminis were a fabulous price at the farmer’s market this weekend, hence why I had them. To me, there is a taste difference between the criminis and buttons mushrooms, but I’m sure either would work fine.

Dinner, now with pictures!

This time, I actually remembered to try to take pictures both before AND after cooking my dinner!
I was on my own for dinner tonight, so I decided to embellish a little bit and make myself something nice.

Here’s what I started with (ok, well, most of the ingredients):

I picked up a 0.8 lb top sirloin at the Coop after I picked up my last CSA of the season.
The CSA box had the sweet potatoes I used.
The beets were from a CSA box a month ago.
The tomato I grew myself.
The back left lettuce mix is also from today’s CSA box.
The back right lettuce is generic Dole green leaf lettuce from Woodmans.
I also had a pomegranate (very not local!) and feta.
And a topped off bottle of homemade dressing.
Other not pictured ingredients included Kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, butter, and bacon fat.

Here’s what I ended up with:

In order, to get this to be all ready at about the same time:
Assuming your beets are huge like mine, start a large pot of water boiling. You need enough water in the pot to cover the beets when you add them.
Finish cleaning the kitchen up so you’ll have ample clean counter space.
Once the water is boiling, put the beets in, keep the heat on medium-ish and cover the pot.
Preheat your oven to 500.
Slice the tomato and put it into a salad/large bowl.
Rinse and slice the sweet potatoes so that each wedge is about a half inch or so thick. Coat lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and rosemary.
Put the lettuce in a colander and rinse it, setting it aside to let it drain and dry a bit.
If your oven is preheated, slide the potatoes in and roast for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put your meat on a plate and season both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Melt some bacon fat in a skillet, I prefer to use my cast iron.
Put the meat in with the heat on medium high.
Continue working on the salad by cutting up the feta.
Seed your pomegranate.
If your meat has been in the skillet for about 4 minutes, turn it over.
Finish seeding the pomegranate and add it and the greens to the salad bowl. Mix everything about.
Check the beets for doneness (this was about a half hour for mine, and they weren’t done).
Pull the potatoes out of the oven and set aside (make sure they are soft when stabbed with a fork).
Check the meat. Is it done to your liking? I like mine medium rare, so I pulled it off the stove and set it aside on a plate to rest. Otherwise you might want to keep cooking yours.
At this point my beets were done enough. Put them in a colander and rinse liberally with cold water. When they are cool-ish enough to handle, peel off the skins. If they are indeed done, the skins should slip right off under running water, though they might need a little help.
Slice the beets to the thickness of your liking, topping with butter and salt to taste.
Plate everything and enjoy!

The only changes I would make would be to spice my meat a bit more and add more salt to the beets. By the time I was eating I was too lazy to get back up and get salt.