February Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, Spice Ratchet, and Fermentools

The artisanal pickle selection at the Franklin Building Di Bruno Bros is quite impressive!

Hello friends! So sorry that I dropped off the map this week. I came down with the flu on Friday afternoon and it wasn’t until this morning that I started to feel like a human again. As a result, there has been no new content for the last few days and February’s sponsor spotlight post is a bit late. Please excuse the absence and, if you feel so moved, send healthy thoughts in my direction! 

It’s the beginning of February and that means it is time to highlight the businesses that help make it possible for me to devote so many of my waking hours to this blog! Please do visit them if they offer a product that interests you!

First up is jar accessory maker Cuppow! They are the creator of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. They also sell the Mason Tap, which is an awesome tool for turning a regular mouth mason into a dispenser. To make it totally leak-proof, I pair mine with one of the rubber gaskets designed to work with the Tattler regular mouth lids.

Our friends at Fillmore Container are back this month as well. They’re a family-owned business based in Lancaster, PA and sells all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear.  And if you’re looking for some of the purple heritage jars, they just got a shipment in stock!

Next up is Spice Ratchet. They make the blossom trivet that I use as a canning rack, and last fall they released a line of silicone Blossom uCaps for mason jars. They are available as astorage cap, a sipping cap, and a flower frog. I hear they have new products on the horizon, so stay tuned for more on that!

Last up is Fermentools. They make a brilliant fermentation starter kit that involves a heavy-duty glass pickling weight, an airlock, a lid with a reusable rubber seal, and mineral-rich salt. The pickles I made using their kit turned out deliciously!

If your company or small business is interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more details here. I offer discounts for multiple month purchases and am always happy to work with your budget.

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Preserves in Action: Roasted Tomato and Feta Dip

roasted tomato dip

I am not a sports fan, but I am the daughter of a man who cares deeply about nearly every flavor of mainstream college and professional sports (hockey is the only thing that leaves him cold). Thanks to my dad, I have spent far more hours in stadiums and in front of large television sets watching men run after balls and around bases than I ever would have if left to my own devices.

Despite my disinterest, it never took much to convince me to participate in the watching, because I learned from an early age that snacks were an integral part of being a spectator. And I most definitely wanted in on those snacks.

roasted tomato dip top

This Sunday is the biggest game of them all, and for weeks now, blogs and food websites have been offering up recipes to serve at your party. I typically stay clear of the Game Day Spread topic, but I whirled up a really delicious impromptu dip a few days ago and so it seemed silly not to get it up here in advance of the insanity.

You start with two cups of roasted grape tomatoes (all the better if you added some garlic while roasting). If you have some of these squirreled away in your freezer, you’re halfway there. If not, turn a pint of grocery store grape tomatoes out onto a rimmed cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, add some garlic, and roast hot and fast or low and slow, until the tomatoes have wilted and browned.

tomato dip on a chip

Let the tomatoes cool and then dump them into the bowl of a food processor. Add 8 ounces of cream cheese, 4 ounces of crumbled feta (tangier is better), and 1/2 cup marinated roasted red pepper strips (if your grocery store has a antipasto bar, buy just what you need there instead of opening a jar that you will then have to refrigerate). Process to combine.

Add salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt at first, because feta often has plenty). If it needs a little more acidity, go with a squirt of lemon juice. Refrigerate to firm it up a little and then serve with cut-up veggies or chips of some kind. I’ve been eating it for lunch with celery sticks, or using it as a sandwich spread. Delicious and easy, just the way we like it.

(I realize that I wrote a very similar post to this one three years ago, complete with a recipe for a different tomato dip. Life is cyclical and I’m okay with that.)

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Butternut Squash Soup Concentrate

quart of butternut puree

Back in December, I roasted a butternut squash in order to make pasta sauce. I ended up with far more puree than I needed for the recipe and so stashed the remaining pint in the fridge. A day or two later, my mother-in-law was over and we were hungry for lunch. I went rummaging and found bread, cheese, and that puree.

butternut squash halves

I scraped the puree out into a small saucepan and added some chicken stock, a little lemon juice for brightness, and a some pepper (I use Better than Bouillon, so the chicken stock had plenty of salt). We ate the soup, toast, and cheese for lunch and both marveled at how good it was.

top of butternut puree

Since them, I’ve made a point of having a jar of butternut squash puree in the fridge for quick lunches. Over the weekend, I roast a butternut or two (the finished puree freezes nicely, so you can always make extra if you’ve got the space) until tender, and scrape off the skin. The warm squash goes into the blender (a food processor also works) with a little water and I puree it until it’s smooth. Then, I spoon the puree into a jar and pop it in the refrigerator.

butternut soup lunch

When I’m ready for lunch, I measure out a cup of the puree into my smallest pot, add a little bit of the chicken Better than Bouillon and about half a cup of water (there’s wiggle room here, depending on your desired soup consistency and how thick your puree was to start). Some days, I’ll add a little lemon zest and juice. Others, I’ll add freshly grated ginger and a little coconut milk. Yogurt, half and half, or sour cream also make really nice additions. As soon as it is warm, lunch is served.

little pot of butternut soup

Now, you might be wondering why I don’t just make a batch of butternut squash soup instead of this concentrate. It comes down to space, flexibility, and shelf life. I find it easier to make space in my fridge for a quart jar of concentrated puree than a larger jar of finished soup. I like that each day, I can make my soup taste a little different (I can also stir a little of the puree into other dishes, if the moment calls for it). And a puree made with nothing beyond squash and water lasts far longer than a soup that’s already been adjusted with dairy products.

Do you have any make-ahead staples that you’re particularly enjoying these days?

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Sur La Table Stainless Steel Tri-Ply on Sale

sur la table stock pot

Whenever I teach canning classes, someone asks me to recommend a good jam pan. Here’s what I tell them. Every jam maker has their own favorite piece of cookware, so there’s never going to be a single, one-size-fits-all pan for me to name. Some people prefer copper confiture pans. Others like enameled cast iron. And yet, other folks like stainless steel.

I use all three materials, and choose depending on the size of the batch and which pan is clean and readily accessible. However, my default is stainless steel. The reasons for that are practical ones. Because stainless steel isn’t a reactive metal, I can combine my fruit and sugar in the pan directly (with copper, you have to dissolve the sugar into the fruit prior to putting it in the pan, otherwise you can wind up with some metallic flavor leaching).

The second reason is that if I get distracted and accidentally burn my preserve (it happens to the best of us), I can almost always scrub and soak the burnt spot off the bottom of the pan. I’ve learned the hard (painful, in fact) way that it’s much more challenging to recover from a burn on an enameled cast iron pan.

Once I get through those basics, I then name two pots that make really good jam pans. The reasons I like these two are that they are both stainless steel, hold eight quarts and are relatively low and wide (the more surface area, the better your jam will cook).

sur la table mark

The high end pot I recommend is the All-Clad Tri-Ply 8 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot. It’s a great pot but constitutes a serious investment of funds. Depending on where you buy it and what grade you get, you’ll pay between $230 and $600.

On the more affordable end is the Sur La Table-brand Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 8 Quart Stock Pot (it also comes with a strainer insert that I use mostly for steaming). It’s not quite as low and wide as the All-Clad pot, but it is far more affordable and still does a really good job.

And here we get to the reason I’m writing this post. Currently, Sur La Table is having their Once a Year Sale and their tri-ply cookware is heavily discounted. Normally, this pot goes for $169.95. Currently, it is on sale for $101.96. That is a great price for a heavy, durable, workhorse pot. It can even double as a Dutch oven, so you can use it for no-knead bread and any other thing you might want to braise low and slow.

So, if you’re in the market for an affordable, really awesome stainless steel pot, consider yourself duly informed that this is a screaming deal on that very item.

Disclosure: Sur La Table did not ask me to write this post and I am receiving nothing for having done so. I wrote it as a service, because I always appreciate it when people clue me in to useful things at a good price.  

One more thing: The reason that there is such a price differential is that All-Clad is made in the U.S. and the Sur La Table pots are made in China. Global dynamics at work! 

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Canning 101: How Long do Home Canned Foods Really Last?

122 | 365

You hear a lot of differing advice from people on the subject of how long it’s okay to keep your preserved food once you’ve canned it. Some people say that it’s a year to the date that it went into the jars. Others will tell you that they recently ate the last of the tomatoes their grandmother canned in the summer of ’99 (1999, that is). I’m here to tell you that it’s somewhere in between.

If you talk to one of the Master Food Preservers out there or folks from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the answer goes something like this: “For highest quality, properly stored preserved foods are best eaten within a year of canning.” (Here’s exactly what the NCHFP says.)

Some people might read that statement and think that it means that they have exactly a year to eat through every last jar. The real answer is a bit more nuanced. You will get the very best flavor and quality from a jar that is in its first year, but there’s no internal self destruct devise inside the jar that goes off on day 366 or 367. Preserves older than a year are still safe for consumption.

Home preserved foods remain safe for eating far longer than their first year, but their quality does decline the longer the jars remain on the shelf (or in my case, under the couch). This means that the jam you made two or three years ago is probably still just fine to eat but it may not taste quite as good as did on that summer afternoon when you first put it in the jars. Chances are good, though, that it will still be more delicious than anything you’re able to buy at the grocery store.

If you have some elderly high acid preserves that you’d like to eat up but are making you nervous, here’s what to do. Pull one off the shelf and take a good look at it. In the case of jams, jellies, butters, and other spreads, look to see if it changed colors radically (a little surface discoloration is normal, but total color alternation or loss is suspect). For pickles, relishes, and whole preserved fruit, look at the quality of the brine or syrup. Has it gotten muddy or opaque? Has the liquid level dropped significantly?

If you don’t see any major change, open up the jar. Look at the surface. Has any mold or scum developed? Give it a good sniff. Does it smells funky, dirty, or boozy (do check to see if you added alcohol to the starting preserve, as then it won’t be a useful symptom of spoilage).

Once you’ve determined that all is well, give it a taste (for spreads that have darkened slightly on the surface, feel free to scrape away that top half inch). If you like how it tastes, dig in and include it in your rotation of open jars. Repeat these steps for each older jar you have in your stash.

Sometimes, long storage will rob a preserve of its flavor, particularly if it was sweetened lightly, or with honey or a sugar substitute. If it doesn’t taste like a whole lot, it may not be appropriate for spreading on toast, stirring into yogurt or serving with cheese, but you can always use up those less delicious jars in quick breads or as part of a braising liquid.

All that said, if you feel at all uncomfortable about something you canned, it is still always better to toss it than eat something that gives you pause. If you cringe every time you reach for a particular jar, it’s time to empty it out and move on.

Additionally, sometimes people try new recipes and then determine later on that they just don’t like them (not every recipe is for every person). If you made something and you just don’t like it, either give those jars away to someone who will appreciate it or dump the jars. There’s no reason to torture yourself with something you just don’t like.

 

 

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Tiny White Turnips, Fermented

baby white turnips

The Saturday before last, I didn’t manage to get over to the farmers market until 20 minutes before closing. By that point, the pickings were very slim. I had been hoping for some kale, or a head of frost-sweetened cabbage, but the only produce on offer was a few crates of apples, fresh mushrooms hauled in from Kennett Square (the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world), and a single pint of tiny, white turnips without their greens.

I had stocked up on apples the previous week and still had plenty left. While I love mushrooms, Scott is entirely turned off by their texture, and so I buy them rarely. But the turnips, they gave me plenty of ideas and so I traded a couple crinkled singles for that lonely pint. I’d forgotten to bring any small produce bags, and so the vendor decanted them into the only bag she had, an enormous plastic shopper, best suited for carrying two pillows or a down comforter.

In the past, I have happily made quick vinegar pickles from little turnips such as these (in fact, there a recipe for exactly that in Preserving by the Pint). However, I’ve been feeling increasingly excited about fermented lately (and by lately, I mean the last six or so months), and so wanted to treat these little guys to a salt brine process.

fermenting white turnips

I spent a meditative 15 minutes at the sink, rinsing off the dirt and trimming away the skinny roots and the remains of the leaves. It was quick, satisfying work and reminded me of why I like little batches so much. You can work slowly and carefully, and still have the bottom of the colander appear in no time flat. If I’d bought any more turnips, I might have started to resent them before I came to the end of the prep. And nothing spoils my enjoyment of a preserve faster than resentment.

The washed, trimmed, and quartered turnips went into a squeaky clean pint and a half jar. I covered them with salt brine (made earlier in the day by dissolving 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt in two cups of boiling water and then letting it cool to room temperature). Then I sat a quarter pint jar in on top of the veg and filled it up with brine, so that it could serve as a weight and keep the turnips fully submerged.

I’ll confess right now that these pickles aren’t quite done yet. The turnips spent a few days in the fridge between the time I brought them home and the moment I was able to get them into the brine. But I know that in another day or two, they will be crunchy, tangy, and perfect eaten on avocado toast, or alongside roasted root vegetables (it’s always nice to have a crisp, punchy counterpoint to sweet, soft, warm foods).

What are you bringing home from the farmers market these days?

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