Posts Tagged With: food

Basic Tomato Sauce and Condensed Tomato Soup

I’ve been making my own tomato sauce for several years now and have gotten into a certain…rhythm.  It’s not a difficult process, per se, but it is time consuming and extremely messy.  So messy, in fact, that the first time I made tomato sauce as an adult (without the tutelage of my wise mother) I swore I would never put myself through such an ordeal again.   My kitchen was a disaster and my sauce turned out thin and uninspiring.  In fact, I didn’t even use some of the quarts I had canned because looking at them brought back such unpleasant memories!   (Who says cooking isn’t an emotional experience?)

Those days are gone.  I’ve trial-and-error’d tomato sauce to a Chelsea Perfection: a rhythm I am pleased with, and a product I am thrilled with.  There is no need to blanch and peel the tomatoes, and all you need is a food processor and a strainer!

Step 1 – Choosing Tomatoes:  Choose the right kind of tomatoes!  If you can, use at least 50% of your batch with Romas.  They are small but meaty, and will give you the consistency of sauce you desire.  I like to blend 3-4 kinds of tomatoes to get the best flavors.  This year I planted and harvested Romas, 2 kinds of Heirlooms, and Better Boys.  Or Big Boys.  Or Early Girls.  I can’t remember.  I’m not sure it matters.  They’re red and if you let them get very ripe on the vine they have an amazing flavor…or so claims my husband.  I hate raw tomatoes, but adore all tomato products.  I know, I’m weird.

Step 2  – Preparing Tomatoes: Wash the tomatoes, slice in half, and cut out any blemishes, spots, cracks and the cores.  I then quarter them, and throw them all into a stainless steel pot.  According to the Ball Book of Home Preserving, “the acid in tomatoes can react with aluminum, copper, brass, galvanized or iron equipment, creating bitter flavors and undesirable colors”.  Turn the heat on medium, and cook them down into a mush.  Sometimes I even take a potato masher and make sure the chunks are practically liquified.  This isn’t totally necessary, but it does help to speed the process up a little.

Step 3 – Process and Strain: Here comes the messy parts!  I set up a work station like this:

Tomatoes in pot on stove (yes, I realize this is not a stainless steel pot. I’m a rebel.), next is food processor, next is the pot sauce will get strained into, then a waste bowl for the seeds and skins.

Once the tomatoes are completely cooked down, and resemble sauce more than whole tomatoes, break out your food processor.  Ladle a few cups of mush into the food processor and blend for several seconds.  Then transfer the liquid to your strainer.  Jiggle the strainer a bit to get all the juice through, then – with moderate force – bang the strainer down on the edge of the bowl to encourage the sauce through.  This doesn’t take very long, less than a minute.  There is no need to use a spoon to force it through, just do a variety of bang-bang-jiggle-jiggle’s on the side of the bowl.

Bang-Bang-Jiggle-Jiggle!

Once all the sauce is forced through the strainer, all that is left is the skins and seeds!

Step 4 Reduce Sauce:  Once all the mush has been processed and strained, return the pure sauce to the pan.  I usually rinse or wash the pan first, to make sure there aren’t any rogue seeds left in there.  Now assess your sauce.  Is it already the consistency you desire?  If so, you are ready to can, freeze or use it.  If it’s still a little thin then you want to reduce it.  Reduce is a word that the meaning of which eluded me the first time I made sauce.  What reduce means, in the cooking world, is to bring your sauce to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer, and let the sauce simmer for some time until the amount of sauce has decreased.  What happens during this time is that the juice evaporates, and the overall quality of the sauce thickens.  Depending on the type of tomatoes you use, sometimes you need to reduce your sauce by half!  (Meaning, you will get 2 quarts instead of 4!)  Try not to let this discourage you, as it did me at first.  You will be much happier with a thicker sauce when the time comes to use it, and even though it seems frustrating to “lose” half your sauce, you really want a nice, thick sauce in the end.

So anyway, if you need to reduce your sauce, do it now.  This might take an hour, so be patient.  Keep the heat on simmer and stir occasionally.  I usually need to reduce my sauce by a third, using the 3-4 kinds of tomatoes that I use, and it takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

Your finished product is a pure, no-additives, nice, thick tomato sauce from scratch!  At this point, you can use it, transfer it to freezer-safe jars or bags (you should let it cool first!), or you can can it.

Step 5 – Clean your kitchen!  Messy stuff, eh?

Canning Tomato Sauce

How much sauce you will yield will depend on how many pounds of tomatoes you started with, and how much you needed to reduce your sauce.  It’s highly variable.  I usually get about 3 quarts out of a full large stockpot of quartered tomatoes.  You will really have to play it by ear and hold off on preparing your jars and lids until your sauce is done so you can eyeball it and see how many jars you will need.

See the canning process for a boiling-water canner here, (you can also pressure can tomato sauce…more on that at a later date!) adding these steps:

  • Tomato products need bottled lemon juice added.  Add 1 tablespoon to pints and 2 tablespoons to quarts.
  • Process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes.

Jars acclimating to room temperature

Condensed Tomato Soup

Makes 4 pints.

In my quest to rid my cupboards of Campbell’s (*sniff* I love Campbell’s!), I needed to come up with a condensed tomato soup version.  I could just make a delicious tomato soup and freeze it like a normal person, but normal people think ahead and pull stuff out of the freezer the day before they want it.  I never know I want tomato soup until about 10 minutes before I HAVE to have it, so freezer soup isn’t gonna cut it!  There’s also that tricky problem that you’re not really supposed to can anything with thickeners or dairy due to heat’s inability to penetrate those types of fat for safe consumption.  SO, I’m shooting for a product very similar to Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup.  Open jar, add milk, microwave.  Yum.  Here’s what I came up with, and it’s shockingly easy.

What you need:

  • 8 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • bottled lemon juice

Directions:

1. Bring sauce to a boil, add sugar.  Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint.  Follow these basic steps for canning with a boiling-water canner, and process pints for 35 minutes.

2. When ready to use, open jar and dump into bowl.  Add half a pint (1 cup) of milk, and warm on stove or in microwave.  I usually add shredded cheese to my soup (I like a lot of cheese.  Like, a ridiculous handful.  And I wonder why I’m chubby.)  Serve alone or with grilled cheese sandwiches!  (No, the grilled cheese sandwiches do not always replace the insane amount of cheese I put in my soup.  I have problems.)

The Verdict:

It tastes very similar to Campbell’s!  It’s a little more tangy, which I like.  I am absolutely thrilled to be able to have the convenience of canned soup that tastes almost exactly like the real thing without all the cons – BPA, high fructose corn syrup, etc.  It’s a keeper!

Categories: Canning, Freezing, High-Acid, Soup, Tomatoes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Bacon Jerky, Bacon Bits, Smug Satisfaction

Your mouth just watered, didn’t it?

Saturday, my Dad offered me a piece of store-bought bacon jerky and changed my life.  Bacon, any time of the day?  Bacon you could eat without getting your hands (too) greasy?  Well, okay!

So I immediately went home and took some bacon out of the freezer.  Except I couldn’t wait a whole day for it to thaw, so I defrosted it in the microwave.  It was still partially frozen when I stuck it in the dehydrator…

This bacon came from an impulse buy at the IGA a few months ago.  It was like 14lbs for $10.00, or something ridiculous, and naturally, you get what you pay for.  This is terrible bacon.  I hate cooking it because it makes my house smell like some strange chemical, not delicious bacon.  As you can see from the above picture, it’s also really fatty, and looks more like ham than bacon.

Anyway, I though “Hey!  Maybe it will taste good like this!”  So I trimmed off all the excess fat, and diced all of the smaller pieces into bacon bits.

You’ll need a fruit leather tray for bacon bits, so they won’t fall through the grid.

Turn the dehydrator on the hottest setting, and check back in 2-3 hours!

I actually over-dried mine slightly.  I think they would have been a little chewier a half an hour prior to when I remembered them.

The bacon bits turned out really good though.

The Verdict

This is a total game changer!  I can’t believe I never thought to make bacon jerky before!  I’m definitely going to do this again soon with some GOOD bacon, because the underlying chemical taste was still present, unfortunately.  I recommend starting with good bacon, and not cheap discount boxed bacon that you have to sort into 1-lb increments.  Go figure.

I will say that I’m pretty pleased (aka, “smug”) to have made my own bacon bits.  What a money-saver!  I feel like I just freed myself a little from the grocery store.  (Never mind that I still have to get the bacon there…)

And both of my children loved it, so that’s a huge score to have a handy protein snack on hand for them.

Note: While I think it’s probably fine to leave the bacon jerky out on the counter in a baggie or jar since most bacon is cured with preservatives, I have been keeping mine in the refrigerator and it has not affected it’s quality or texture.

 

Categories: Beef, Dehydrating, Leftovers, Venison | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sun-Dried Tomatoes Vs. Dehyrator-Dried Tomatoes

I stumbled upon a book a few weeks ago that immediately intrigued me.  The title alone drew me in:  Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation.  I mean, come on, any book that completely summarizes it’s contents within it’s own title has to be a quick, easy read, right?   As it turned out, most of the recipes in there were a little far-fetched even for me.  It is a pretty interesting book, and I do recommend borrowing a copy from your library.  It’s basically a cookbook with a collection of authors almost exclusively from charming French provinces.  While I can appreciate the nutrients saved by not subjecting foods to extreme heat or cold to preserve, most of the recipes were obscure enough (chestnuts in vinegar and a bucket?) that I simply couldn’t see myself actually consuming the products.  And who has time to put up food they won’t ever eat?  The different methods of preservation NOT involving the ones that are so common and available to us today (canning and freezing) are pretty cool though.  I mean, this is hard-core Prairie Mama stuff, and normally I’d be all over such adventures.  But as I said, I just cannot see my my family passing oil-packed cottage cheese that’s been stored in my basement around the table.  Ick.

There was one recipe I did immediately try, however.  Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.  Easy-peasy, right?

Sigh.

Nothing is ever easy-peasy for this Prairie-Mama-Wannabe.  I probably would have starved my 14 children if their existence depended soley on my food preservation skills.  (That and the fact that my husband wouldn’t shoot a deer if the darn thing was foaming at the mouth.)  Although at least we’d all be skinny…

I digress.  Let’s get to the point of the post, shall we?

Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in oil

What you will need:

  • Small tomatoes, like cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Gauze or cheesecloth (or a old window screen, if you’re a hillbilly)
  • Coarse salt
  • Oil

Directions:

Wash your tomatoes and slice them in half the long way.  I was able to catch my daughter’s nap and prepare mine while watching repeat episodes of “The Nanny”.  I will subject you to Dagny’s perfect baby cuteness now:

Don’t you just want to pinch those sweet chubby thighs?

I placed my halves on one of my dehydrator trays, but any platter will work.  Next, sprinkle the halves liberally with the salt, cover with the cheesecloth and set in the sun.

Yeah, that’s a window screen you are seeing.  I didn’t have any cheesecloth and I live out in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t about to drive 30 minutes just to have a classier picture to post.

Not that I didn’t seriously consider it…

Ok, what really happened was that I assumed I had cheesecloth or at least something that would have worked and went ahead and cut up all the tomatoes and salted them before confirming that fallacy.

Can I get some props for creativity?  It actually worked to my advantage anyway because we had some pretty intense wind the days I had this outside, and I think it would have created a problem with anything lighter than my window screen.

Anyway, this is the tricky part of drying foods in the sun:  They actually need to BE IN THE SUN.  Not the dark, not the rain, and definitely not the hail.  Seems pretty common sense, but common sense and Chelsea Daniels have very little in, well, common.

The directions say to turn the tomatoes twice a day and to bring them in at night ‘lest the dew undo the day’s drying.

The first flip

You know what else completely undoes a day of drying?  A storm.  A big, country-style, tornado-looking storm, complete with hail.

That’s right.  I thought to take pictures of The Storm, but didn’t think to Bring In The Tomatoes.  Doh!

It’s okay, the next day was sunny and warm.  I was kind of starting from scratch again, but by the end of the day they were shriveling nicely.

At the start of Day 3, I left to go grocery shopping, remembered my tomatoes and texted my husband (at the store, not on the road 🙂 ) to please set them out in the sun for me.

At the start of Day 4, I remembered my tomatoes and realized they spent the night outside.  In the dew.  Oh, and the rain.  Of course.

Let’s just skip forward to the “done” part.  What should have taken 2, maybe 3 days of attentiveness took ME 7 days.  But sun-dry they did finally do, and NOW we get to the true easy-peasy-ness of this recipe.

Slap those time-sucking shells of what once ’twere tomatoes into a mason jar, fill it to within 3/8 inch headspace with olive oil, screw the lid on, set it in your pantry and stop wasting any more time on them!

Except I couldn’t quit thinking about them.  I was irritated that they had proved to be such a task for me, and I was irritated with myself for being irritated.  I decided to see if there was any true benefit to sun-drying them as opposed to sticking them in the dehydrator.  Do they taste better from the sun?  Sun tea does have a slight advantage over stove tea.  Suntans have a serious advantage over tanning bed tans.  Surely true sun-dried tomatoes have a magic in them that the dried bits from my dehydrator cannot match.

Of course I tested this theory:

Dehydrated Tomatoes

The brand name is kind of ironic, since I used these in the dehydrator…

What you will need:

  • Small tomatoes
  • A Dehydrator
  • Coarse salt (optional, but recommended)

Directions:

This truly is easy-peasy.  Slice up the tomatoes, lay them on the dehydrator tray, (I only used one tray because we just don’t consume many dried tomatoes) salt them, turn it on the “fruits and vegetables” setting, and in about 6 hours (depending on how packed your dehydrator is) you’ll have dried tomatoes!  Pack them in a glass jar with oil to 3/8″ headspace, seal them with a lid tightly, and store in a cool place.

The Verdict

If you aren’t as flighty as I am, sun-dried is the way to go.  The sun-dried tomatoes had a richer, fuller-bodied flavor than the dehydrated tomatoes.  I actually forgot to salt the dehydrated tomatoes (I said I was flighty!), too, and the salt on the sun-dried ones was really a nice touch.  If you are prone to forgetfulness like someone else I know, the good news is that the dehydrated tomatoes are still quite tasty, and absolutely worth it.  I was pleased to discover that I really liked the oil-packed tomatoes, and can envision myself wrapping them in basil leaves for a snack, or scattering them over a fresh salad.  I will be making these again, and I will most definitely be using my ditz-proof dehydrator!

Even Dagny wants to try one!

 

*Note* This recipe did not say how long these tomatoes will last.  Use your discretion and inspect the tomatoes for any spoilage before consuming.

Categories: Dehydrating, Fruit, High-Acid, Leftovers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Steak Bites

This isn’t necessarily “preserving” food, but using up leftovers rather than wasting them is related to food preservation, right?.

In our house, leftover steak is about as rare as leftover wine, but occasionally both those things happen.  (You know, once a decade or so).  More frequently, we have cuts of meat that aren’t super tender or perhaps were accidentally overcooked.  What to do with these bits?  You could make them into stew, where the rich, thick texture of the broth and the tenderness of the vegetables would probably mask the chewy-ness of the steak, OR you could make a meal that will encourage you to restrain from eating a whole steak just to be able to make steak bites!  I first stumbled upon this recipe when trying to learn how to cook cube steaks.  We started buying bulk beef when we moved out to the country 2 years ago, and among the cuts from the mixed quarter I was familiar with, were several I was not.  What’s a London Broil?  What’s an arm roast?  What’s a cube steak?  I think before getting this beef I must have imagined cows were only made into ground beef, ribeye, filets, porterhouses, and strip steaks.  My eyes have been opened to this amazing world of flavor and variety, and my keyboard is beginning to fade from searching for new recipes!

This one is a keeper.  I would also go as far to say that probably anything Ree, the Pioneer Woman comes up with is a keeper.  (In fact, just in the time it took me to find this link amongst all her delicious recipes I got sidetracked and planned out half of next week’s menu…) But this for sure is one of the most delicious meals to grace my kitchen, and is oh-so-easy to make!  For the full recipe using cube steaks, check out this blog.

This is my slightly modified version that I use for a quickie fix for leftover steak.

Steak Bites

What You Will Need:

  • Leftover steak, sliced thin against the grain
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Butter (Yes, I admit to using light butter.  Ree would probably kill me, but it’s a trade-off.  With real butter I can’t eat as many of these bites and still fit into my jeans.)

Directions:

You want about equal parts Worcestershire and butter, and enough of both of those things to make a decent amount of sauce to saute your steak pieces in.  You’ll have to eyeball it depending on how much steak you have.  First step: melt the butter in the pan.  Once it’s melted, toss your steak in there and add the Worcestershire.

(I had some raw steak that I threw in there first to cook it up before adding the leftover steak that was already cooked.  I also didn’t melt the butter first because I was too hungry impatient.  It still turned out awesome.)

Flip it around a bit until the steak is warm, (warm, not burnt to a crisp!  It’s ok if there’s still some pink!  Pink is good!) then enjoy!  These are great just as they are (even cold!) or are also great made into a sandwich on buttered toasted rolls.  If you’re an onion-lover, you could also caramelize some in the butter before adding the steak, too.

Go make it, then come back and rave!

Categories: Beef, Leftovers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Canning Dried Beans

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So eat your beans at every meal!

Any post with the word “toot” in it has to be a good one, right?  I for one, love beans.  I would work them into every meal if my husband would allow it, but alas, beans are permitted only once a week or so.  Regardless, I buy a lot of beans.  I eat chickpeas in my salads, sneak white kidney beans into soups and pride myself on my bean-packed homemade chili.  (“Homemade” = opening cans of tomato sauce, beans, and a spice packet.  Yeah, I’m amazing.)  Well, recently I have become aware of the existence of BPA in canned foods, and am working towards eliminating canned foods in our home.  I took a “before” picture of my pantry, and I’m hoping that by this time next year, my “after” picture will contain only canned-in-jars food!  Beans is a big step towards that, since one whole shelf is dedicated to them!

I chose to can red kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas this time around.  I’ll hit up some other varieties at a later date.  The process is the same for any dried variety, so feel free to shake it up!

Canning Dried Beans

What You Will Need:

  • 4 lbs Dried Beans = 13 Pints
  • Pressure Canner (beans are a low-acid food and MUST be pressure canned.)
  • Canning tools
  • Canning salt – optional.  I did not use any, but I will tell you how to use it if you choose to.

Directions:

Wash and sort your beans.  Discard any discolored or diseased-looking beans.

Place beans in a large pot, fill with water and bring to a boil.  Boil 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and let soak while you wash your jars and sterilize them.

How to sterilize jars:  In a 20-qt pot or your pressure canner, sink your jars in enough water to completely cover them.  Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes.  Let the jars sit in the hot water to keep them hot until you are ready to fill them, one at a time.  

If you have a dishwasher, just run the dishwasher to clean and sterilize them and leave them in your dishwasher until you are ready to fill them.

Out of my 4 burners, only my two little ones and one of the big ones works, so I had to sterilize my jars on the burner that worked before I could start heating up my canner.  If all 4 of your burners work, add an inch of water to your pressure canner and start heating it up.  Once your jars are sterilized and you begin to fill them, you can use the hot water from that to add to your pressure canner so you have 3-4 inches of water.

Meanwhile, get a kettle of water boiling in your teapot or another pan.  You will need this to fill your jars.

If you are as slow as I am, or as distracted by children as I am, this has probably taken you a good hour to get your jars ready.  That is good timing, because your beans should be pretty well soaked by now!  Drain your beans, rinse them one more time and set near your filling station. (A towel on the counter next to your pressure canner.  Keep all your tools handy on the towel.)

One at a time, gripping your jar firmly with the jar lifter, remove the jar from the sterilizing water, dump the hot water into your pressure canner, and set the empty hot jar on a towel.  Ladle beans into the jar.  You’ll probably want to use a funnel to keep the beans from making a mess.  Or maybe you are more coordinated than I am…  I needed the funnel.

If you want to add canning salt, this is the time to do it.  1/2 teaspoon to each pint (1 tsp to quarts).

Fill the jars with hot water from your teapot to a 1″ headspace.

With a plastic knife or tool, carefully stir the beans to make sure any trapped air bubbles get released.

WIPE YOUR RIMS.  Don’t forget this very important step!  If you don’t wipe your rims, and somehow a particle of bean is left on the rim, your lids will not seal correctly and you will have a jar of rotten beans!

In a small pan, bring your lids and some water to an ALMOST boil.  Just so the water is hot, not quite boiling.  It’s ok if you are just now doing this step, your bean-filled jars will stay hot while you do this.  Once your lids are hot, use your magnetic lid-lifter to lift them out of the water, place them on your jars and screw the bands on.  Fill your pressure cooker AFTER making sure you have at least 3 inches of water!  (I played it safe and put in 4″)  If you have a pressure cooker like mine, you can do 2 layers of pint jars.  I have been dying to try this out!  I think it’s the coolest thing ever.

At this point, I was completely ready to lock my canner and crank up the heat, but I still had a ton of beans left!  (I had only started with 9 pint jars)  So I found 4 more pint jars and quickly washed and sterilized them (while keeping the other jars hot with the lid on the canner)

Anyway, YOU won’t do that, because YOU are learning from my mistakes.  4lbs = roughly 13 pint jars.  Obviously the teeny tiny black beans won’t take as many jars as the big kidney or chickpeas will.  Next time I will just wash and sterilize 14 pint jars, which is all that will fit in my canner anyway.  If I don’t use some, no big deal.  At least I won’t have to scramble at the last minute like I did this time!

Processing Dried Beans

(Yes, I am boiling more eggs!  Those pickled eggs were awesome!)

On medium-high heat, allow the canner to vent for 10 minutes.  Process pint jars 75 minutes at 10lbs psi, and quart jars 90 minutes at 10lbs.  Allow gauge to return to zero, (this could take an hour.  Be patient) then wait 10 minutes, remove weight, then remove the lid.  Place jars back on the towel and allow to cool.  Stick around to listen for the “pop”!  Once the jars are cool (at least an hour later), remove the rings and test the seals.  Just use your fingers and apply medium pressure.  They should not budge.  If any failed to seal, refrigerate the beans and use in the next few days.  You *can* reprocess them, but it’s not recommended because it alters the flavor.

I have to tell you, my jars of beans have been sitting on my counter for three days now because I’m so satisfied with myself and I just like looking at them.  I’m no longer dependent on canned beans!  I don’t have to try to remember to soak beans the night before!  Muwahahaha!  I feel powerful, which is a little ironic since my actions are actually a regression from technology and convenience.  But that’s okay.  My homemade canned beans cost about a third of store-bought canned beans and I’m not getting any nasty toxins.  It’s worth it to regress!

Categories: Beans, Canning, Low-Acid | Tags: , , , , ,

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