Monday, July 30, 2012

Preserving ~ Canning Salsa Verde

We are in the thick of summer.  I'm learning that harvesting isn't what takes the majority of the time; it's preserving the harvest that fills our days.  Wanting it to count, I'm preserving things we eat a lot of.

My husband pretty much puts salsa verde on everything.  What I mean by everything is everything.  Well, besides sweets.  That's why part three of this preserving series is all about salsa verde.  We used to buy it at Trader Joe's, but it's not organic and it has "natural flavors" which is code for MSG.  We can't have that, can we?  I was delightfully surprised to find how easy it was to make it.  The most time-consuming part was unwrapping the tomatillos; a job my younger two happily helped with when I told them it's good practice for unwrapping Christmas and birthday presents.  Speaking of presents, having homemade goods on hand can be used as lovely gifts.  I made three batches of this recipe to last us for the year (and maybe share a jar or two, if Jeremy lets me).  This is a hotter recipe than the one at Trader's but I wouldn't classify it as hot.  It's more of a medium salsa.  If you want it hotter, add more chilies.  If you're interested in a fermented version of salsa verde, you might want to try this recipe.  It didn't go over well here and I wanted something to last thru the year so we stuck with canning.

Equipment needed:
Read about canning basics here.  There is an initial investment in canning.  The beauty of it is you get to use it over and over again and if canning is something you love, it's totally worth it.  If you have absolutely no canning equipment, I recommend getting this canning kit.  It has absolutely everything you need besides the jars and the ingredients.  You will also need canning jars; either one flat of 1-pint jars or two flats of half-pint jars.  If you are making this for yourself, I highly recommend also getting these reusable, BPA-free lids and using them instead of the ones that come with the jars.  You can use those later when you make a batch to give away or use as gifts.  You'll also want and immersion blender to purée the salsa.

Prep. time: 1.5 hours, yields about 10 pints
  • 5 pounds tomatillos
  • 9 serrano chilies or jalepeños (we preferred serranos)
  • 2 cups lemon or lime juice, or a mixture of the two
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 onions
  • 16 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
This, my friends, is a bag of gorgeous, organic tomatillos, still wrapped in their husks.

First, remove the husks.  This is a happy job to do with others.

We had one bowl for the husks (that were given to the chickens) and one for the naked tomatillos.  They're sticky once the husks are removed.  Wash them well.  Mine were still a bit sticky even after I soaked them in this produce wash and thoroughly rinsed them.

Husking the tomatillos might take longer than you thought.  It's okay.  They keep really well.  I think mine waited on the countertop a coupe days after husking them before they became salsa.  Poor lil naked guys.  Waiting so long for their home in a jar.

Once you're ready to can, fill the canner to that line you see the water almost touching.

Place your clean jars, seven at a time, into the canner.  Heat on high and bring to a boil.  Drop your lids, seals, and rings (or if you're not using the reusable tops, you'll just have lids and rings) into a pot full of water, bring to a boil, then turn the heat to simmer and let them sit there until you're ready for them.

While you're waiting for the canner to come to a boil, cut the tips off the chilies.  You won't want to touch them.  Trust me on that one.  Unless you enjoy the feeling of throbbing fingers as you fall asleep that night.  I didn't have any gloves except for the ones I clean with (ew) so I used a plastic bag.

Put tomatillos and chilies in a large sauce or stock pot.  No need to seed the chilies.  Nice, right?

Now juice the lemons and/or limes.  It's important to use this much lemon/lime juice to keep the acidity levels safe enough to can the salsa.  Add it to the pot with the tomatillos and chillies and bring it to a boil.

While you're waiting for the mixture to boil, coarsely cut onions and peel garlic.  Peel, pit, and quarter peaches.  Remove cilantro leaves from stems.  If the tomatillos and chilies come to a boil before you're done, turn the heat to a simmer and finish preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Add cilantro, peaches, garlic, onions, salt, and cumin to hot mixture.  Use immersion blender until everything is puréed.

Turn heat to medium/high and bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Boil for about one minute, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Skim off any foam.

Ladle the salsa into the jars using a funnel.  Leave one half inch head space (the space between the surface of the salsa and the top of the jar).

Wipe the rim with a damp towel to ensure proper sealing.

Place the seal on the jar.  Make sure it's centered so it seals properly.

Add the lid and screw on the band until it's snuggly sealed but not too tight.  Air bubbles need room to be let out.

Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  To see my method for water baths and rotating empty and full jars, look through the strawberry jam post.

Set the jars in a draft-free area where they won't be disturbed.  If you're using Tattler lids, unscrew the bands the following day and check to see if they sealed.  Store them in a cool, dry, dark place until you're ready to enjoy.

Cost breakdown:
  • 5 pounds organic tomatillos: $10
  • 12 1-pint jars (mine were given to me so they were free) $9.55 (reusable!)
  • 1 packet Tattler lids: (also given to me so they were free) $12 (don't forget they're reusable too!)
  • Lemons & peaches (given to me from friends' trees): FREE
  • Onions, salt, cumin, cilantro: $2.50
  • Garlic (homegrown): FREE
My total cost: $1.25 per 1-pint jar

Cost to buy NON-organic salsa verde: $5.70

Once we grow our own tomatillos, onions, and cilantro this salsa will practically be free!

Did I think it was worth it?  Definitely.  Preserving salsa verde has been fit into our summer rhythm from here on out.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sumer Real Food Weekly Menu Plan #38

Fresh salsa
With my fellow veggie-eater (AKA Jeremy) gone for most of this week, I'm taking the liberty to create a non-conventional, easy-to-make, no-whine menu to make it easy on myself.

To do:  soak refried beans
Dinner:  Summer Frittata

To do:  make refried beans & baba ghanoush
Lunch:  Quesorritos
Snack:  Bell Pepper Slices with Baba Ghanoush
Dinner:  Irish Nachos

To do: soak chickpeas

To do: cook chickpeas, soak rice
Lunch:  Veggie Slices, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Snack:  Watermelon
Dinner:  Mexican Food Bar

To do:
Dinner:  Oven Omelette

To do: soak German pancakes
Breakfast:  Cottage Cheese with Tomatoes, Basil, & Bell Peppers
Lunch:  Lettuce, Turkey, Tomato Sourdough Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Dinner:  Taco Salad

To do:
Breakfast:  German Pancakes
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off)

I'm sharing this at Real Food Wednesday, Fight Back Friday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Real Food Confessions

Have you ever wondered what really happens over here at the riddlelove kitchen?  What happens when we go on vacation?  Or after the birth of a baby?  I'm getting real with food over at Modern Alternative Kitchen today.  Get the dish and find out what my biggest weakness is, where we compromise, and what we never do without here.  There.  I've been honest.  Now what's your cryptonite?  Spill the beans, people.

I'm sharing this at Monday Mania.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Preserving ~ Strawberry Jam the Real Food Way

Strawberry season is wrapping up here in our neck of the woods, but if you hurry you might be able to snatch a flat or two before it's too late.  Some folks actually prefer waiting for the end of the season to get their strawberries because they believe them to be sweetest, though they are a lot smaller than those big ones harvested at the beginning of the season.

The recipe I use is found in the Pamona's pectin box.  It's simple, amazing, and only uses half the sugar in normal jams.  You also have the option of using honey which allows those on the GAPS diet to enjoy jam so delicious it'll feel like you're cheating.  The honey option also makes it Paleo-friendly.  

I make double batches at once which is technically a no-no because this can make your jam more runny if you're not careful.  I'm not willing to take the time it does to make single batches and I haven't had much trouble with it being runny.  

If you haven't already, I started a preserving series last week where I talked about equipment needed and why I decided to return to my canning roots even after becoming a real foodie.  You can find that post here.  This is a continuation of that discussion in our journey of preserving this summer's harvest.  Let's bring this chat over to my kitchen and start jamming, shall we?

Strawberry jam is our favorite jam, hands-down.  Once you experience the homemade version, you'll never want to buy another jar of it again.  The taste and color absolutely does not compare.  We'll break it down to cost comparison and worth at the end of the post, but for now, let's fill the canner with water up to the indent you see there:

Now we move this beast to the stovetop, place seven clean, empty jars in it to sanitize, put the lid on it, and set it to boil.  Next, we put the lids, seals, and bands into a medium-sized sauce pan, cover it with water, and bring that to a boil.  Once it boils, I set it to simmer.  I am making some for us to keep and some to give away, so there is a mixture of BPA-free, reusable Tattler lids for us and the disposable kind that come with the jars we'll use for the gifts.

While the big canner continues to come up to a boil, we'll start getting the berries ready.  First, I soak them in some produce wash and rinse them off.  While the strawberries continue to drain in the colander, I start taking the stems off, toss the stems into the chicken scrap bowl, and chop the berries into thirds if they're small or sixths if they're large.  The chopped berries go into the eight-cup measuring cup.

We'll need eight cups of mashed berries.  I gave the potato masher to my four-year-old and she became the official strawberry smusher.

While she did that, I measured the organic evaporated cane juice.  I decided to use this sweetener because it's way cheaper than honey and a little of it goes a long way with this kind of pectin.  It's very important to thoroughly mix the pectin in with the sugar or the pectin will glop up and you'll end up with runny jam and globs of pectin.

Next, you mix calcium water (it comes with the pectin as well as instructions on how to use it) with the fruit and bring it to a boil.  Slowly pour in the sugar or honey/pectin mixture and bring to a boil for a minute.  I stir constantly through this whole process.  I highly recommend skimming off that foam.  I didn't and once the jam settled down in the jar, it left a bigger headspace (the space from the jam to the lid) than I wanted.

Your canner should be full of boiling water at this point, so use your jar lifter to take your first empty jar out.  Put the funnel on top of the empty jar and start ladling that strawberry goodness into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  My funnel has a line on it to use as a reference on where to stop filling.

Now get a clean towel (paper or cloth), fold it, and dip it into the scalding water in the canner.  

Use it to wipe the rim clean.

Use tongs to first get a seal out (if you're using the lids that come with the jars, the seal is attached to the lid).

Carefully put the seal on the center of he jar's rim.  If it's off-center if won't seal properly and you'll have to throw the jam out which is a travesty of epic proportion.

Next, center the lid on...

and screw the band on until it's snug but not super tight.  Air bubbles need to be able to escape from the jar during the water bath that's coming up.

In goes the jar of jam to the water bath.  Repeat this until all jars are full.  Put the lid on the canner and allow to sterilize.  This jam is supposed to get a ten-minute water bath, so after the canner is full of filled jars, I set the timer for seven minutes and by the time I get each jar out, they'll have been in there for that long.  Just keep track of which jar goes in first.  I start at the top of the canner and go clock-wise.

Sometimes, you end up with some extra jam.  We call this Mommy's stash, er, cook's jam.  It goes straight in the fridge and is ready to be gobbled up.

While the jam is bathing (tehe), it's time to wash the equipment for round two.  I buy a flat of berries at a time which can make two double batches.

When the jam is ready to come out, I place it carefully on the counter under a dish towel.  You can also put them on cooling racks but I get nervous about them getting knocked off.  Take the jar out that you put in first and replace it with an empty jar for the next batch.  Continue until all the filled jars are out and empty jars have taken their place.  Now we get to do the process all over again!

One of my favorite parts about canning is hearing the rewarding ping! of the seals sealing.  Sadly, Tattler lids are anti-climactic in this way and you aren't able to tell if they have sealed  until the next day when it's safe to move the jars and you unscrew the bands to see if they're sealed shut.  

Now let's break it all down.
In a nutshell, did I think it was worth making strawberry jam?
Yes.  Yes I did.
Like I said, once you experience the superiority of homemade strawberry jam, it's hard to go back to store-bought.  It's downright heavenly.
Here's what it cost me:
  • 1 flat of no-spray strawberries from down the road: $18 (strawberries will be free once we establish our big ol' patch)
  • 1 packet pectin: $3.50
  • 13 1-pint jars (mine were given to me so they were free) $9.55 (reusable!)
  • 1 packet Tattler lids: (also given to me so they were free) $12 (don't forget they're reusable too!)
  • 8 cups organic evaporated cane juice (I buy it in 25-pound bags and also use it for kombucha): $9.60
Total cost for me:  $2.39/1-pint jar.
If I grew my own berries (easy and someday!): $1.07/pint!

A 16-ounce jar of store-bought organic strawberry jam costs $4.00

All the prices referenced were found at Azure Standard.

Not only does it end up being cheaper, it's also about half the cost of store-bought jam and, again, you just can't compare the end result to what you find at a store.  SO GOOD!  It will really be worth it once we grow our own strawberries.  I think they're the easiest berries to grow and my kids love picking them with me; so there's no labor cost and we all get paid with a pantry full of strawberry jammed goodness.

Getting your feet wet is the hardest part of canning.  Once you do it, you might find yourself looking for things to can just to have an excuse to do it.  It's kinda addicting and very rewarding.  Now go get some strawberries before the season is over and let me know what you think!

I'm sharing this at Seasonal Roundup, Real Food Wednesday, Fight Back Friday.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Real Food Weekly Menu Plan #37

Sourdough Crepé Suzette
You might notice several repeat recipes from last week that got carried over to this week.  I am fine-tuning our summer menu and once we hit a dish we all enjoy, it comes back weekly until we get sick of it.  It simplifies life, you know?

To do:
Breakfast:  Cottage Cheese with Tomato Slices & Basil Leaves
Dinner:  Pan Seared Rib-Eye Steaks & Grilled Summer Squash (recipe coming soon)

To do: marinade fish tacos for dinner
Lunch:  Quesorritos & Plum Slices
Snack:  Bell Pepper Slices with Baba Ghanoush
Dinner:  Fish Tacos & Corn on the Cob

To do:
Breakfast:  Sourdough Bagels with Cream Cheese & Berries
Snack:  Watermelon
Dinner:  Mexican Food Bar (concept coming soon) with fresh salsa

To do: soak porridge, thaw steaks for Saturday night
Breakfast:  Cheesy Eggs with avocado slices & Cherry Tomatoes
Lunch:  Simple Taco Salad using leftover steak meat from Monday night

To do: soak German pancakes
Breakfast:  Porridge & Eggs
Lunch:  Sourdough Grilled Turkey & Cheese Sandwiches & Peach Slices

Breakfast:  German Pancakes
Lunch:  Irish Nachos

To do: menu plan
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off).

I'm sharing this at Monday Mania, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter.

Friday, July 20, 2012


The first half of this month has been swirling with activity, to say the least.  With a two-week school he taught at and trips on every weekend, the kids and I didn't see much of Jeremy.  It is safe to say that we just weathered a rough patch of lonliness for me, social exhaustion for him, and high demands on us both.  The kids and I missed daddy greatly.  It was time for our little brood to regroup.  There is only one place we like to go during a heat wave, and that's anywhere cooler than the valley.  Thankfully for our car-hating baby, it only takes one hour to reach a number of alpine getaways.  We loaded the van with lunch and all things summery and drove to our favorite peek.

The drive was pleasant and gorgeous.  Everyone cheered as we watched the temperature relax to a more comfortable number.  Before we knew it the van was parked and unloaded.  Everyone hurried up to relax.  Coconut water was sipped, ice chest opened, lunches enjoyed.  It wasn't hard to find a smiley face already.

On went the life vests and out went the older two on a little kayak for most of the day.

The more careful of us watched from the shore, shouting words of caution.

Others made their own kayak and soaked up the not-too-hot sun.

Everyone stopped in at one point get some sweet baby lovin' for a moment.

It looked, smelled, felt, sounded, and tasted like a beautiful day.

There was laughter, affection, memories made, and a quietness that rests over a family when it feels united again.

We were only there for the day, and it was definitely hard to load back up into the van and face the heat of our valley, but we took time to cool down, refocus, hold each other, and remember that we're in this together; this wonderful, sometimes demanding thing called life.  The crazy season ain't over yet, but we'll always have the oneness regained during our mountain day by a little lake.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

Preserving: I Can Because I Can & Love Canning (& Saving Money)

That is definitely the most confusing title ever to be seen on this blog. 

Strawberry jam made with half the sugar.
The first time I ever poured sizzling strawberry jam into a jar and gave it a hot water bath was at eleven years old with my mom.  The whole house smelled like a sweetness that made everyone happy about the activity going on in the kitchen.  Memories of learning a new homemaking art with my mom, hearing the rewarding pop of the lids sealing, and scraping the jam bowl clean of all leftovers warm my heart.

Once I learned the ways of real food, I couldn't justify using sixteen cups of white sugar to fourteen cups of already sweet fruit to make the stuff, no matter how tasty it was.  Besides, the jams were heated so much that many of the nutrients were lost in the process.  I began dehydrating, freezing, and fermenting more.  Forsaking my canner made me a little sad.  I missed the feeling of accomplishment it brought to line my pantry shelves with jars filled with beautiful homemade sweet and savory preserves to last throughout the year and use as gifts.

Honey-Sweetened Apricot Jam
The problem I faced with only dehydrating, freezing, and fermenting was space and spoilage.  The freezer can only hold so much, and it costs money to keep it running.  Once my ferments are done culturing, they need to be stored in the fridge, where I also began to run into space issues.  Dehydrating made the most sense.  Sucking all the water out of fruits, berries, and veggies enabled me to store a lot of produce in little space.  We dehydrate puréed fruit into leathers, berries to be put in breads and as ice cream toppings, and summer squash as chips and to be rehydrated in soups.  However, my family really missed having jam around the house.

When I learned about Pamona's Pectin and the ability to use half the sugar, or even honey to sweeten and thicken the jam, my heart began to warm back up to the thought of canning again.  I started to re-asses my stance on it.  Keeping the food we eat as nutritionally dense as possible is very important to me.  But there are also logistics I had to look at, like fridge and freezer space, the time and cost of preparing and preserving food, and how long the food can stay safe to eat.  Fermented food only stays good for two to six months in the refrigerator.  Like canning, frozen and dehydrated foods can last for a year if done properly.  We have a huge supply of berries, nuts, meat, pesto, enchilada saucealmond flour and almond butter filling our chest freezer, not to mention any leftovers to pull out when needed.  There is just no room for freezer jam.  Also, I was hoping to freeze some salsa but read it doesn't thaw well.  I began to see the need for shelf-stable preserves.

Salsa Verde
It was time to look at some important logistics: time, cost, and quality.  Is it worth it?  The short answer is, in my opinion, yes.  The quality in taste and color when it comes to home canned preserves is simply superior to anything store-bought.  The added bonus I enjoy is the process.  I find canning to be very theraputic: the chopping, mashing, stirring, pouring, and of course the fragrance.  It's a peaceful experience alone and very enjoyable with friends and older children.

There is an up-front investment that can be greatly decreased to almost nothing.  Here are some necessities to get started:
  • Canner kit.  Sometimes it's nice to start off with an all-new set.  Or, you can piece your own together by garage sailing or asking friends and family if they have any canning equipment they'd like to loan or give you.  My mom gave me all her equipment.  I hope to can with her again someday soon, but in the meantime, it's being put to good use.
  • Pamons's Pectin.  If you want to use half the sweetener that normal pectins require, or desire to use honey or juice instead of sugar, you must use this pectin.  Reducing sugar or using anything besides white sugar with any other boxed pectin will result in runny jam.
  • Jars.  I like to use 1-pint sized to 1-quart sized for our family's jam and salsa stash (there are seven of us so we go through things pretty quickly) and half-pint jars to use as gifts.  This is another item you can ask friends and family for or find at garage sales.  My grandma has a stash waiting for me (I can't wait!) and I've found gorgeous jars at garage sales for $2 a dozen.  Be sure to check for chips though.  Any chips on the top will result in poor sealing.
  • Tattler Lids.  These are BPA-Free, reusable lids and seals that I use for our family's stash.  I use the lids that come with the jars for the ones I plan to give as gifts.  The bands that come with the jars are used to keep the seal on while the preserves are given their water baths and then can be removed and used for the gift jars.
  • Plastic lids.  These are used when you're ready to pry open your Tattler-topped jars.  Remove the reusable lids, wash, and store for the next canning session.  Place these handy lids on your opened jars and it's ready for the fridge.  I also use these lids for ferments, kefir, creme fraiche, and spices I store in jars.
  • Preserving with Friends DVD.  This isn't a must-have, but if you don't know anyone who can teach you how to can, this will be very helpful.  The sweet ladies also show you how to ferment and includes print out recipes and instructions.
Other ways to cut down the cost is buying bulk sugar or honey and growing your own produce.  Even better, ask friends or family with gardens and fruit trees if you can pick some of their harvest.  Return the favor by sharing some of your preserves.

Throughout the summer, I'll be sharing my canning adventures, along with what I end up freezing, dehydrating, and fermenting.  I'll try to include details on cost, time, yield, and if I thought it was worth it.  Join me in preserving the harvest!

What would you like to learn to preserve?  If you already do, what's your favorite thing to put by?

A gift basket of homemade strawberry jam, yellow plum & strawberry jam, & salsa verde


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