Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summer in a Jar

When you think of summer, what fruit comes to mind most often?  Usually it's watermelon.  And what do you do when you find yourself with 3 watermelons that are bigger than your corning ware serving platter?  Especially since they would go sour before you could eat all of them?

Two words.  Watermelon Jam/Jelly.

Now don't look at me like that, it's possible, it's good and I have spent all day working on it!  Since this can be called either jam or jelly I'll let you decide what to call it for yourself, but I will tell you how to make it.

First lets start with the melons.  The obvious question is 'how?".  Actually for me there were a few more colorful explicatives added to that when I was researching how to make this stuff because everything I found started with watermelon cubes that had already been deseeded.  So how did they do that?  I certainly can't even fathom so here's what I did.
Hack melon in half, then into quarters, save out a quarter for eating, then slice as far down as you want so that you can get all the melon off the rind.  I took a nice long knife and sliced the melon right off the rind into a bowl, I didn't make them pretty little squares or anything, just sliced the melon off.  Once the melon is done or the bowl is full, whichever comes first, hack at it a bit with the knife then take a potato masher to the hunks.  This gets the juices going.  I then pulled out my stick blender and finished attacking the contents of the bowl on LOW speed, since at least on my little crappy branded one I know that setting won't actually cut up the seeds.  Pour the slush through a colander to catch anything you missed with the masher or stick blender and the seeds.  You can attack this again with the stick blender to further extract more puree.

Continue this until you get through all of the melon meat.  For these 3 (2.75 actually), I'll say medium sized melons, I ended up with a whopping 4 gallons plus of pureed pulp.  Far more than I expected.  Now at this point you can save the rinds for making pickled watermelon rinds but... I have chickens, I like the fresh flavor of the eggs that goes with feeding them something other than straight feed, so they got all the rinds and trust me, there won't be any sign of them out there tomorrow, heck, maybe not even tonight.

So 4+ gallons of watermelon puree.... great googa-mooga.......

Watermelon Jelly/Jam

4 cups pureed watermelon meat, no seeds please
1/4 cup lemon juice, bottled please
1 package no sugar needed pectin
2 cups sugar

Heat watermelon puree and lemon juice to boiling, yes it smells different nothing to flip out over, add pectin and mix in really well.  Return to boil for 1 minute, add sugar, mix in really well, return to boil for 3 minutes.  Ladle into jars, cap, process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Makes about 6 half pints, about, you might have some left over for taste testing.  This will take about a day to set from what I understand, we'll see.

With as much as I had waiting on me I doubled the batches, yes I know this is a sin to the canning gods and snobs but I did it anyway.  Otherwise I'd sill be working on them!  I stopped after I ran out of sugar and I still had over a gallon of juice left.  I tossed it in the freezer and will attack it again after I go into town and replenish my stock of sugar and pectin.  So far I have ended up with 23 pints and 15 half pints just from 3 gallons of puree:

A time to sew

I bet you've been wondering what I've been doing this week.  Well..... without much coming in to can at the moment I cleared off the table and pulled out the fabric.
First it was finishing a top that has been sitting around for about a year.  It's now finished and waiting at the longarmer I decided to have quilt it for me.  You'll get pics when its done since it's a larger quilt!  I also started and finished another larger top out of a stack of 6.25" squares I found hiding in my stash.  I have NO clue what I had intended them for, they don't exactly go together but there was 117 of them.  Enough for a quilt with a large set of equally non matching borders.  I actually found enough oddball material in the stash bins to make a backing and it has been sent off to the longarmer.  You'll get to see it when it's done as well.
Should be about a month for both.

I also decided to finish off my sunflower tablecloth that has been sitting around for about a year simply because when I took it to the local quilting thing the day I finished it, it was greeted with a shriek from an occasional member who hates sunflowers more than I hate pink.  I brought it home and put it up, hoping I'd get back to it after her few weeks with us were past but.... I forgot about it until I was cleaning out the closet the other day!
Shame on me.  I had everything ready to go on it though so I pulled it back out, ironed it up and started playing with the ditch stitching foot on my machine.  It didn't come out too bad, I did run out of thread though, had to settle for another variegated blend since what I started with is not made in that size spool anymore.  Which is fine really, you can't tell the difference. 
The batting on this, since I didn't want it fluffy or see through flat, is an old thin white cotton tablecloth I picked up at the thrift store for 50 cents.  I have enough left over for place mats if I want to make them.  It's 50" x 50".

So here it is, covering the laundry pile from view:

Now as for what to do on the weekend...... I landed 3 free watermelons!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sriracha sauce.  Or otherwise known by the logo picture as "Rooster Sauce".  It's a spicy chili garlic sauce found on the table at most Chinese restaurants.  It's easy to make.  Really!

What you need:
  • Jar, whatever size you want, I used a half gallon jar since I planned on making a lot (next time it will be a gallon).  You might want to start with a pint jar.
  • Peeled garlic cloves.  Note, if you use a metal utensil to help you peel them, they will turn blue during the vinegar phase of this recipe, it's ok, still edible!
  • Dried chili peppers, half serrano and half chili de arbol or dried cayenne (note, I could not find serranos so I used equal portions of dried new mexico chilies, chili de arbol and dried 'asian hot pepper' (according to the package), omitted the habanero)
  • 2 habaneros
  • White vinegar
  • Pickling salt
Fill jar half full with garlic cloves.  Remove stems from chilies and discard but do not dump out seeds.  Add chilies to fill completely full, you may have to cut a few down to fit them in.  Add salt, I used a tbsp for a half gallon but we don't use a lot of salt so thinking a tsp for a pint should be more than enough for most people's tastes.  Slowly add vinegar to the jar, filling the voids and making sure to jiggle any air bubbles loose.  Fill to top of rim, cap with a tight fitting lid and let sit 3 or 4 days.  Check it every once in a while, topping off the vinegar if needed.
Once the chilies have rehydrated fairly decent, pour it all into a blender or food processor and puree away!  Just don't lean too close and inhale the fumes.  If you want it thinner, add more vinegar.
If you've made a small batch pour it back into the jar and just refrigerate it, otherwise pour it into a stock pot and boil for 5 minutes.  Again, avoid inhaling the fumes if you can.  Ladle into jars with about 1/2 inch head space and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Of course, my jar was actually a half gallon so I got 4 pints:

Teriyaki Sauce

I decided to add this sauce in though we've already been making it for well over a year and it's refrigerated instead of canned.  Not sure I'd refer to it as teriyaki though, tastes far different! 
I was roaming along in a thrift store one day last summer, looking for interesting cookbooks and read the following title, "Make Your Own Groceries".  Looked interesting, was a whopping 25 cents so I grabbed it.  Once I got home I did some research and boy was that an eye popping experience.  Apparently this book goes for $33 just for the paperback version, I've found prices up to $116 for the hardback version which is what I have.  Published in 1979, ISBN 0672526719.  After reading through it, I like it, it has a lot of cool ideas for sauces, mixes, etc.  If you can lay your hands on a copy it would be great for reference!

On page 78 there is a recipe for teriyaki sauce, I decided to try it, since the book is hard to find and out of print I'm tentatively posting the recipe:

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark rum
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger, or 1/4 tsp dried

Combine all ingredients in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid.  Let stand at room temp for 2 to 3 weeks.  Pour into a clean bottle, seal well and store at room temp.

Now, we did this and have to note that the 2 to 3 weeks is for a light fermentation.  It tasted great, though watered down a bit.  Was a great addition to steamed rice and fried rice.  But... well we wanted more flavor and larger volume so we started tweaking this a bit and after a year have finally settled on a recipe we like enough to keep a jar on hand all the time.  In fact we save our soy sauce bottles for holding this!

1 10 oz or so bottle of your favorite soy sauce (ours is San J low sodium tamari)
1/2 of a 750 ml bottle sake, we use Gekkeikan, sometimes we use 3/4 of the bottle if we are using regular sodium soy sauce
1 large head of garlic, peeled
1 hand of ginger, about the size of your hand
1 cup Allegro marinade (if you can find it, otherwise a 1/2 cup of worcestershire should be fine)
1/4 cup sugar

Hack up the ginger into slices, chunks whatever.  Do the same with the garlic.  Combine everything into a decent sized jar with at least 2 inches room at the top and a tight fitting lid.  Make sure the sugar has completely dissolved into the liquids.  Let sit for at least a month in a cool dark spot.
Strain out the garlic and ginger, though you do want to squeeze out the remaining liquid and add to the rest, pour into bottles and toss in the fridge.
Here's what we have left until I can get into town and buy another bottle of sake:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Plum Sauce

So, continuing with the Chinese dipping sauces, today we attacked Plum Sauce.  It's really almost a barbecue type sauce.  I searched the web and found several recipes that sounded decent like this one  But as usual I did a bit of tweaking to accommodate my ingredients on hand

1.5 pounds dried pitted prunes (really, dried plums is all they are)
3 tbsp dried minced onion
2 cups water/fruit juice (or enough to cover the prunes if 2 cups is not enough), I used a combination of apple and white grape
4 tbsp powdered ginger
4 tbsp minced garlic, I buy it in the big jars and keep handy for just such occasions
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rice vinegar or 1 cup cider vinegar or like I did, a combination of both
2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice Powder (or equal portions of ginger, clove, cinnamon, anise, cassia buds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I'm leaving this on as optional, add as much as you like, within reason)

In large heavy saucepan, bring prunes, onions, water/juice, ginger, 5 spice and garlic to boil over medium heat; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until prunes and onions are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Buzz with stick blender until smooth and all prunes have been thoroughly pureed; stir in sugar, vinegar, salt, soy sauce. Bring to boil, stirring; reduce heat to low and simmer for another 20 minutes.  At this point, taste test it, check for seasoning.  If it seems too thick thin down a little with equal portions of vinegar and fruit juice.  You want it pourable/dip-able, not pasty.

Fill and seal jars; process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

Makes about 4 pints.  More or less, depending on how thin you make it and how much you taste test it.... and how much hubby eats while you aren't watching.

Next attempt at sauces.... Sriracha.  I already have it started, have to wait a few days for the finished product but... want a sneak peak while it's marinating??? 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Duck Sauce

You've seen them, the little packets of orange colored sauce you get with your Chinese take out.  Well, I got to visit a newer Chinese restaurant about a half hour drive from here last week.  There is only one other in a 40 mile radius and it's not that great.  This one though, was FABULOUS!!!!!  I'm now craving good Chinese food again but as usual for living in a rural bit of nowhere, the condiments are hard to find to say the least.  So... I made my own duck sauce today.  I combined a couple of different recipes and came up with something pretty close to my favorite store bought duck sauce I can get in the big city.

Canned Duck Sauce

1.5 pounds dried apricots
4 cups water (or fruit juice like apple, white grape, pineapple)
2 cups sugar
1.5 cups good rice wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
4 Tbsp powdered ginger
1 Tbsp dried onion flakes
2 Tbsp soy sauce
Optional 2 Tbsp red pepper flakes.

Pulse dried apricots in processor until fairly fine.  Bring apricots, water and onion to a boil and reduce to a simmer for an hour, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or scalding.  Once mostly rehydrated and mushy add sugar, vinegar, ginger and soy sauce, bring to a boil for 2 minutes, ladle into jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes on half pints and 15 minutes for pints.  Makes 8 half pints.

Notes for this:
This is a thick sauce, you can water it down a bit with fruit juice if you want after you open a jar.
Taste it, adjust heat to your tastes, I can't have the peppers so I add a lot of ginger instead.
You can also make this from fresh apricots or plums, just pit and cook down into mush without the water.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A lesson in penny pinching

Lets lay it all out here, I have to be cheap, it's how we are able to eat right now.  In addition to all these things I'm canning for later use I also have a fairly full chest freezer, and 2 fridge freezers full.  And a fairly decent pantry of store bought goods.  I'm guessing we could eat for 3 months before we run out.  Right now we don't have much disposable income, and what we do have goes into food for us, the necessities and animal feed.
You are probably asking how I can buy and keep this much food, right?
Lets start with the basics.  Meats and Produce.  Those are your largest ticket items for the most part.  There are store sales if you can catch them and there are what I call the used meat bin and the scratch and dent produce cart.  I can usually snag the nice expensive hormone free grass fed beef for half price or lower in the "reduced for quick sale" bin.  Those meats which are expiring that day.  I pick through, look for the best deals, and either toss them directly in the freezer or cook them that day.  Same goes for produce that doesn't look perfect, and if you've ever had a garden you know that produce isn't perfect.  Bananas can go directly in the freezer and be thawed out for use later.  Most everything else will need a little bit of prep before freezing, say chopping/blanching but they can still be tossed in the freezer.  Or you can can them in some form or eat right away.
Our little bitty local store also will mark down damaged goods to half price or lower.  Torn 5 lb bag of sugar?  99 cents.  Tortillas that have been crinkled on one side?  99 cents.  Etc.  Those deals I am always on the look out for.  Staples like flour, dried beans, rice, etc I buy in bulk.  Saves money and road trips to the store.  I also take full advantage of BOGOF sales.  I rarely cut coupons since I can almost always get the generic store brand for cheaper.  I don't make a large circuit of shopping places each week either, I live in the middle of nowhere and that is just not economically feasible.  Instead I keep a list of things for each place where I've found it cheapest and stock up when I'm ever in that area.

Just to give you an idea of how this helps lets examine dinner for tonight.  Beef and barley stew.
1 pound stew meat, or whatever you can lay your hands on cheaply, tonight was the hormone free large chunks of stew meat cut into small pieces, cost $2.50
1.5 cups dried beans, my choice tonight was half pinto and half red kidney beans, bought in bulk on sale, so maybe 20 cents total
1 cup pearled barley, I got a good deal on the organic stuff but maybe $1
1 cup frozen baby lima beans, 25 cents possibly
1 tbsp dried onions, it was a free-be with another purchase but the container is normally $2, so lets say 10 cents
1 tsp dry cilantro, dry ginger, dry oregano, salt, I buy all this in bulk maybe 20 cents total
Beef bullion to taste, but a cube or 2 cost 5 cents each
2 bay leaves, 2 cents?
Water, gallon to a gallon and a half, have no idea on cost since it's tap water.
Cook this in a crock pot for 6 to 8 hours

Overall price, not including water or electricity?  $5.27, and that's using a more expensive cut of meat and organic barley.  This amount of stew will give you at least 8 servings, so around 66 cents per bowl.
For us that's dinner tonight and lunch for the next few days.  Add a loaf of day old french bread at 90 cents and you have a really good meal on the cheap.

This was just a lesson in food, imagine the savings and deals I find at thrift stores and yard sales and clearance racks! 
The key is to be flexible and think ahead, way ahead if needed!

Canned Bruschetta

Kinda weird you think?  That's what I thought when I found the "Bruschetta in a Jar" recipe in the Ball Complete book.  But I decided to try it with a few extra tomatoes I had gleaned out of the scratch and dent produce bin this week.  Go buy the book or borrow it from the library to get the recipe!
Smells great though it's not on my list of edibles because in addition to the pepper allergy, I have issues with tomatoes, just not as bad.  So I ended up with 3 pints and 1 half pint:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An apple a day

Or somewhere around 20 pounds.  Again, another deal from the scratch and dent produce cart.  4 bags at .99 a bag.  Pretty sweet deal!  So what to do with the gala, granny smith and red delicious finds?  Well, hang on to your seats, it's been a loooooong day.
(BTW, save your peels and cores for the last recipe in this post)

First up was Caramel Apple Jam

6 cups peeled, cored chopped apples, gala works good (I took a stick blender to them in the pot after they cooked a bit)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups white sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Heat the apples, water, lemon and cinnamon on medium heat about 20 minutes or until soft. Add pectin bring to a boil, add sugar and bring back to a boil for 1 minute.  Ladle into sterilized jars and water bath for 15 minutes on pints.

I made a few batches and ended up with 9 pints, 1 half pint

 Then I tried an 'Apple Pie in a Jar' recipe but I tweaked it a bit and call it Apple Pie Jam, it's already a HUGE hit just from what didn't make it into a jar.

Apple Pie Jam

1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries (or all 3) pulsed fine in processor
12 cups peeled, cored chopped apples (granny smith is best, though I did toss in the very few red delicous that I had)
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 pkg low sugar pectin
4.5 cups sugar

In large stockpot combine apples, lemon, apple juice and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and boil on low until the apples begin to soften, this is where I pull out the stick blender and chop them down a bit.  Stir in dry fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg and make sure to mix well.  Add pectin, bring to boil for 1 minute.  Add sugar, boil 3 minutes.  Ladle into jars, water bath for 10 minutes on half pints, 15 minutes on pints.
I made two batches, netting 10 pints and 3 half pints, plus enough saved out to taste test for another pint.

Now... why did I save the peels and cores?  Well to make apple juice from them of course.  Call it thrifty  Toss them in a stock pot, add a cup or so of water, slap a lid on it and bring to a boil.  Once everything is sufficiently mushy, pour into a jelly strainer and drain, or you can do like I do and drain through a large cotton napkin set in a colander over another pot.  If you don't get enough juice for the recipe, no problem, just add a little unsweeted store bought apple juice to even things out.  And what to do with the spent peels and cores?  Keep the basset out of them while you're working and give them to the chickens when they cool off!
Then you can make jelly, or more specifically....

Candy Apple Jelly

4 cups apple juice
1/2 cup red-hot candies
1 (1.75 oz) package powdered pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar

Bring juice and red hots to full rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly until most of the red hots have dissolved. Add pectin, boil 1 minute. Stir in sugar; return to full rolling boil. Boil for 2 minutes, continue stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; skim off any foam and remove any undissolved candies. Pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust caps and process for 5 minutes in boiling water bath.

I made 2 batches and ended up with 11 half pints, plus another we tossed in the fridge for taste testing.