Monday, July 30, 2012

Canning Season is here!

Again, since it's summer, I'm taking a break from actual meal planning.  Like, last night we knew we'd make hamburgers, but then we started rummaging around in the fridge and found way too many delicious side dishes -- we ended up with lovely burgers, grilled/roasted potatoes, grilled corn on the cob, salad, and sauteed mushrooms and onions.

You see, I have an inability to limit myself at the farmer's market.  The rest of the year I can go to the grocery store and come out with only the things on my list -- the things I'll need for the next week.  But farmer's markets cause me to react a bit differently.  It might be the limited time -- this stuff won't ALWAYS be available, or the appreciation of the freshness, or the fact that if I buy a dozen ears of corn I can save a buck.  Whatever it is, we tend to have an abundance of produce all summer long.  I just can't say no.

Of course, I love to dabble with ways to preserve and save some of the good stuff.  So a few years ago I started exploring canning, and I try to branch out to a few new recipes each year.

Canning season has officially started in the Allmen household.  We started yesterday with corn relish, from the plain old Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  Here's what it looked like today after I cleaned up the jars and got them ready to store:

How could you NOT love a hobby that makes beautiful things like this?  And now we'll have an excuse for crab cakes all winter long...

Here's the recipe:

9 c corn kernels (I blanched 11 good-sized ears to get 9 cups.  Actually, I blanched 12, but only needed 11, so we finished the last one on the grill)
3 c finely chopped cabbage
1 c finely chopped onion
1 c finely chopped red bell pepper
4 c white vinegar
3 c granulated sugar (upon tasting this, it's a big sweet for me, but I know there are rules about changing ingredients when you're canning, so I'm not sure if I can add less sugar.  I'll try to investigate.)
1 c water
2 tbsp dry mustard
1 tbsp celery seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground turmeric

1.  Combine all ingredients in large stainless steel saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes or until liquid is reduced and veggies are tender-crisp.
2.  Prep canning jars (simmer in water in the canner).  Prep closures.
3.  Fill jars (1/2 inch headspace), put on lids and bands, and return to canner.  Make sure there's at least an inch of water over the top of the jars.
4.  Bring water to a full boil.  When it gets there, start timing:  boil for 15 minutes, then remove lid and turn off heat, letting jars sit for 5 more minutes.  Take them out and put them somewhere they can sit undisturbed for 24 hours.

The recipe said it would make about 5 pint jars, but I got 7 out of it.  Plus a little extra to use with the burger extravaganza last night.

Next up:  Zesty Zucchini Relish (with horseradish in it -- looks good!)

Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mint, mint, mint

So, with the crazy heat of this rainless July, my garden is limping along, in most cases.  We're coaxing enough cucumbers from it to keep us happy, but the zucchini seems to be shutting down.  We're trying to baby our tomato plants to keep them going -- can't wait to see this month's water bill.

One plant that needs no help at all is our mint.  We have the mint planted in its own little confined area, because it spreads like crazy, but the plants were growing so big they were shading the beds on either side of it.  So on Sunday, I cut down some of the longer branches that were leaning into the tomatoes and the beans.  Here's what I cut:

I couldn't just throw it out, but a girl can only drink so many mojitos...  so what else could we do with it?  We had two ideas:

Mint pesto!  Did you know you could make pesto from mint leaves?  We make a huge batch with basil each fall, and freeze it in ice cube trays and then use it all year long in soup and pasta and stews, but as soon as we heard about mint pesto, we began imagining it in marinades for pork and lamb, or maybe in risotto with peas.  So we read a few recipes online (they varied SO widely) and then came up with this one.  It was a matter of starting with a few ingredients, and then tasting again and again as we added more things:

In the food processor:
*  a bunch of mint leaves.  A whole bunch.  Like, most of the bowl of the processor (I think ours is a 7 cup one).
*  a handful of almonds (we used roasted and salted, because that's all we had)
*  a drizzle of olive oil

We blended this, then started adding more:
* a few cloves of garlic
*  red pepper flakes
*  lemon juice
*  a little more olive oil
*  salt and pepper
*  a little water to help with the consistency

This made enough to fill one ice cube tray, plus a little left over for the fridge to try on something in the next few days.

We also tried one more experiment.  We're steeping mint leaves in a jar of white rum -- thinking that some mint-flavored rum might enhance the aforementioned mojitos.

This is what it looks like after two days:

We'll probably let it steep for a few weeks before we give it a go.  I'll be sure to let you know if it works!

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