Canned Tomatoes… the painless way!

Two years ago, I canned my first tomato.  I loved it and I could not control myself from ordering an entire bushel of tomatoes thinking it would be a piece of cake to whip through them by myself.  It was not.  From now on, I have vowed to never can tomatoes alone again.  It’s just too much to find yourself in the midst of 50-plus pounds of tomatoes on your first time out of the starting gate.  This year, I gathered some friends to have a canning party.  Our original participants didn’t all make it, so it was mainly Emily and I all day.  And by all day, I mean we managed to can 2.5 bushels of tomatoes, some peaches and a few pounds of green beans in a short 12 hour day.  I can hear you gasping out there at the mention of 12 hours, but I’d like to point out that the first time I canned tomatoes, it took me 12 hours, but I only made it through half a bushel.  So the adage “many hands make light work” stands true, especially when another friend stops in to clean a bushel or so of tomatoes for you.

Traditionally, diced tomatoes should be peeled before they are canned.  I suppose that is really up to you, but if there is anything I hate, it’s finding a tomato skin curled up in my soup.  One year, I grilled my tomatoes and then peeled the skins.  It was torture, and the skins didn’t all come off.  The next year, I tried the blanching method.  Also a miserable experience.  This year, I peeled them with a serrated peeler.  That’s right.  I was sitting in a Pampered Chef party a few weeks ago, looking through their available gadets (and discovered an amazing corn zipper that could have really benefitted me somewhere, oh, 80 ears of corn ago) and saw this peeler.  Since I didn’t have one, I wrote it on my order sheet and planned to use it for peaches.  It was a dream-like experience with the peaches and at some point, I thought to read the package insert before I threw it away and was delighted to realize that a serrated peeler is perfect for tomatoes.  Since we were already going to be dealing with serious poundages of tomatoes, I didn’t figure it would hurt to at least try.  I have to say, that as I sat perched on a stool in the kitchen while Emily checked canning times and filled jars, I was completely content with my tomatoes and my peeler.  We have a great system in place for the years to come.

Canning diced tomatoes is best done with a pressure cooker since it only takes 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.  A water bath takes 85-90 minutes.  It’s not impossible, I’ve done it before, but since having tried it with a pressure cooker, I’m thinking I’ll be purchasing one for next year’s harvest.  Once you have your tomatoes peeled and diced to the size you’d like, the only thing left is to pour some hot tomato juice (either homemade or store bought) over them and start your canning!  Of course, you should first prep your jars, ring and lids.  For instructions on that, see my guest post at the Farmer’s Daughter on Tomato Sauce.
Fill your jars with tomatoes, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.  Then pour in some of your hot tomato juice, filling to 1/4 inch headspace.  Add in 1 Tbsp. lemon juice for pints and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice for quarts.  Wipe your rims, and place the lids and rings on your jars.  Lower them into your pressure cooker and secure the lid.  Process at 11 pounds of pressure for the above listed time respective to the size jar you are using.  Turn off the burner and allow the pressure to drop naturally. If you have an electric stove, you’ll have to actually move the canner to a new burner since the coil stays hot for a long time.  You’ll know its safe to open the canner when the lock drops (check the canner instructions) and no steam escapes when the weight is tilted. This takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Remove your jars and set them aside to cool.

Really, the diced tomatoes are simple.  And to be quite honest, I was thrilled to find that from our day of hard work, I netted enough diced tomatoes to at least get me through the winter and into the spring without having to spend a dime!  Although considering that I canned tomatoes from someone else’s garden and the tomato plants in my own garden are heavy with their slowly ripening fruit, I may just wind up making it through until my next tomato harvest.

Progress

Does anyone else wake up in the morning and think to themselves that they need a new challenge for the day?  Anyone?  Today was one such day.  I woke up and decided that I was going to learn how to can peaches.  And so I did.  I straight to the market and bought 1/2 a bushel which probably won’t really be ripe until Sunday, so I also got a 1/2 peck of ripe ones to learn on.  I netted 6 pints and a lot of self worth.  It was easy as pie and I’m actually looking forward to canning the rest.  I know, pregnancy makes me weird.
This afternoon I then went to pick up my order of 2 bushels of tomatoes for the canning extravaganza tomorrow.  Emily and I plan to get as much canning as can done because the church is willing to let us use their industrial kitchen.  Pretty sweet, huh?  I’ll take photos as the day progresses, I can’t wait to share!

Of course, my excitement over the canning for tomorrow caused me to make a very foolish decision to start hot pepper jelly at 9pm.  I was unaware that it needs to sit overnight so there will be no gratification until the morning.  Bummer.  My recipe calls for 2.5 pounds of peppers, diced.  This task became depressing after about a pound or so, until I realized I could pulse the peppers in the food processor.  Since I have enough peppers to do at least another batch, I am a little less intimidated by the prospect now.  Now then, it is off to bed for me as I will have to finish the jelly in the morning before heading off to the tomatoes.  Sunday is reserved for peaches so that I have the bulk of things done before the week begins and we are back to the chaos that is our current life.

Simplicity at it’s goal setting finest

Elsie at A Beautiful Mess has put forth this challenge of setting and achieving simple goals before the end of 2010.  I found out about it through Farmer’s Daughter when I was reading her goals.  I was inspired. I’ve reached a point in my life where simplicity has taken top priority over my to-do list and my ambitions.  I’m hoping these goals will help me to not only re-center my life, but to relax and enjoy the journey I am currently on.

Here are Elsie’s guidelines:

  • choose simple goals that will make your life richer and happier on a daily basis. choose things you may not otherwise get done, but that are not difficult to accomplish.
  • do not choose result oriented goals, choose activity oriented goals. for example… instead of “lose 10 pounds”, choose something like “eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day”.  positive actions instead of just the end result!
  • choose goals that are personal that you believe will truly make your life richer just by doing them! they can be daily, weekly or one time experiences.
  • choose a reward for each goal as it is accomplished! it can be a small or large reward.
  • blog your goals, each one as you achieve it and a big post when they are all finished before the new year!

Exercise Regularly.  This is big one for me.  When I was pregnant with Liam, I was so miserable the first trimester than any ambitions of moving went out the window.  Looking back, I honestly wish I had done the yoga and the walking.  This time, because Liam is so active, I have no choice but to be so myself, so I am hoping to channel this into constructive times of exercising through play (ie, wrestling, walking, etc.) or restorative exercise (prenatal yoga dvd).  Reward: New yoga pants that are actually flattering, not dumpy!  
The Art of the Handwritten Note.  I used to take the time to write a few friends and relatives on a monthly basis.  Just a note to say that I care and am thinking of them.  In time, I’ve gotten away from it.  Also with this goal, I’d like to start making my cards again.  I love doing it and then being able to send something that I made (not just threw together).  Reward: Getting to pick out fun stamps with which to mail my letters!
My Mastery List.  I had thought I could complete this in 1 year, but have come to the realization that it may take me a smidge longer.  My goal for this is to simply work away at it and enjoy each new skill/recipe.  Reward: Something for the kitchen.  Maybe a mezzaluna?
Post a New Recipe Once a Week.  I’m not sure if this is too ambitious, but I’m going to try anyway.  Perhaps it won’t always be a recipe, maybe it will be a tip I picked up or a skill tutorial.  I’m not sure.  But I do want to make sure that even though I am wrapped up in the house, baby #1 and baby #2, future garden plans and everything else, that I don’t forget to write about the very thing that got me started. Food.  Reward: Personal pleasure.  I love to write about what’s going on in the kitchen and I don’t want to miss any of it!

Minestrone Stuffed Shells

 

When Matt and got married, there were 3 things he refused to eat: Beets, Tofu and Pesto.  The tofu was a man thing I guess, but I honestly didn’t understand what he had against beets and pesto.  Maybe together it would be an issue, but I really can’t see what the problem was with each individual food.  I got tired of him turning up his nose whenever I said there was pesto in something, so one night, I made a pasta with pesto (recipe coming later this week) and served it without saying a word.  He’s been hooked ever since.  As a matter of fact, as I was stirring the pesto into the filling tonight, he kept coming over and commenting on how wonderful it smelled.  These days, he reminds me when the basil is ready to be picked and takes initiative with adding it to recipes.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 4 years, it’s to not make a big deal out of a change.  Just present it and go with the tide.
For tonight’s dinner, I made this recipe from Sweet Pea Chef.  It was a huge hit in our house and even though I made half a recipe, I still had whole other meal’s worth for leftovers.  Considering that I spent a great deal of today making meals for my freezer, this was a welcome result!  The only thing I changed in the recipe is that I used fresh pesto and added Provolone to the top of the shells before baking them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Garden-Fresh Pesto
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried

3 medium cloves of garlic

one small handful of raw pine nuts

roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED

A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

As far as I am concerned, the key to good pesto is to be patient.  Put the pine nuts and the garlic into a food processor and pulse.  Then add in the basil and pulse.  Add the cheese and pulse.  Once it’s paste-like in consistency, stream in the olive oil until you have reached the consistency you desire.   Make sure you taste it to see if it’s salty enough or cheesy enough or basily enough for you.
Considering that our Realtor is making us live out of boxes and pare down all my kitchen utensils for the house showings, I’d have to say that the simple fact that I managed to get enough food for 2 weeks made, packaged, labeled and frozen is no small task. 

Summer Chicken Burgers

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind.  We’ve been working on the house, trying to get things in order as far as legal and financial things go, I’m swimming in vegetables as I am trying to get as many things put up for the winter as possible, oh, and we found out we’re expecting another baby in April 2011 (hence the cute little fruit ticker on the side).  Needless to say, I’m a little breathless from it all!  Excited, but breathless.  Prior to all this, Matt and I had been working on a few grilling recipes that I just never got around to posting.  Today’s recipe was so good that we made it 3 times in one week, making sure it was just right of course.  To be honest, I loved the flavor of the toasted ciabatta bread with the burger, but it was a huge mess to eat.  Challah rolls might be the answer to this conundrum.  However, I do not have a good recipe for them.  Therefore, if you do let me know!
Since I grew up vegetarian, I do like to fall back on lighter meats, especially in the summer.  For Christmas, my grandmother gifted us with the meat grinder attachment for our Kitchen aid and I’ve been chomping at the bit for the perfect use for it.  Turns out that the chicken came through it beautifully.  Matt didn’t use the finest setting, but went for a middle of the road size for the meat.  We’ve done this both with meat we ground and meat the butcher had done herself and both ways it was wonderful.  This recipe is quick and can be prepared in advance only to be pulled out and grilled just prior to serving.  But be forewarned: everyone ate at least 2 burgers so have extras!
Summer Chicken Burgers
  • 1/2 Tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
  • 1 cup Panko or plain bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • salt and pepper
Mix the herbs, mustard powder, salt, pepper and Panko together thoroughly before incorporating into the chicken.  Depending on how fresh your chicken is, you may need more bread crumbs to help it bind.  Divide the chicken into 3-4 ounce patties and chill for half an hour before grilling.  Grill until done, about 5 minutes.  Serve with Balsamic Caramelized Onions and Jazzed up Mayo on the bread of your choice.
Balsamic Caramelized Onions
  • 2 large Sweet Onions
  • 2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
Thinly slice the onions and saute in a shallow pan with the butter until they are tender.  Lower the heat to about a simmer and add the vinegar.  Stirring frequently to keep from sticking, cook the onions until they are dark and melded together into a caramelized heap in your pan.  Serve on top of the chicken burgers or eat straight out of the pan as a snack.
Jazzed up Mayo
  • 2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
(I truly do prefer fresh parsley to the dried version, but the day before I went to make this, I saw several green caterpillars on my parsley plants.  When I went out to cut some parsley, it was all gone.  Greedy little buggers.) Whisk the ingredients together and use in place of your usual condiments on sandwiches.  This is an excellent way to introduce the sharper flavor of Dijon to children, too!

**Notes for feeding the cheflets: If you have a baby who is now at the stage where they can eat the pureed meats, this is perfect.  Grill up the burgers and then break off portions and smash them with a fork to make them easy for your little one.  If your children are older, you may want to just serve these burgers with regular wheat (or white in the case of the picky child whose serving was photographed above). 

Symon on Saturday

Yesterday was my birthday and in the fashion of our pre-child life, Matt and I went out to a nice dinner.  He surprised me with reservations at Michael Symon’s restaurant, Lola in Cleveland!  It was amazing and I now have a whole new appreciation for rosemary.  We decided to really enjoy ourselves, so we tried and split the Lola fries and the Bibb and Watercress salad.  I need to grow watercress.  And I need to learn the recipe for the salad dressing.  Matt gave me Michael’s cookbook, Live to Cook, but it’s a new recipe so I will have to suffer without it, I guess.  However, it does include the recipe for the awesome ketchup they serve the Lola fries with, so I will just thrill my taste buds with that instead.
For supper, Matt ordered the Hangar Steak with the pickle and chili sauce.  It was divine and that’s a big statement coming from someone who is picky about steak.  I was thrilled to find the recipe for it in my new cookbook!  I ordered the duck.  It was a new item on the menu and I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven when I took my first bite.  I’ve had duck in a few different places and twice at the same one.  This was by far, the absolute best I’ve ever had.  It was served on a bed of couscous and it was so perfectly seasoned… oh!  So good!
 The obligatory cheesy photo with my new book!
We did finish up with dessert.  We had planned to be home about the time we were ordering dessert so we decided to make the best of it and have the 6am Special.  Matt and I had a little trouble with the GPS since we were coming in via Amish Country instead of 71 as we had orginally planned.  Long story short, we were 45 minutes late for our reservation and I felt terrible.  I called when it was apparent that we would be late and the hostess assured me that we were fine.  We arrived in Cleveland with a little time to spare, but then proceeded to get as lost as one can possibly get in the underbelly of the city.  When we finally found 4th street, we realized there was a reason for the valet that the website offers.  We found a parking garage not too far away and parked there.  Triumphant, we headed for the elevator and to our dinner.  However, as we entered the elevator where few of the buttons worked and it smelled like dead bodies, I became concerned that we were going to become fodder for one of my beloved crime shows’ story lines.  I was never so relieved to be out in a crowded street!  In light of that, I felt that I deserved dessert.  I ordered the 6 am Special since it featured Maple ice cream with BACON in it!  Hello!  Michael Symon is all about the pork, so I had to try it.  I wasn’t really a fan.  Matt on the other hand, loved it.
We had such a wonderful time and I can’t wait to get a chance to try Lolita now!  I am also anxious to work my way through the cookbook and try some new things.  Oh but the ketchup… that’s first on my list!