Sep 23, 2008

Canning Your Crop

Since I am right in the middle of doing so, I thought I would write a little something about canning. There is really nothing to be afraid of when it comes to canning. I am going to talk about what I am currently canning and that is spaghetti sauce and apple sauce. We had a plethora of tomatoes this year, and access to Dave and Chrissy's apple trees. So we have been slicing, dicing, boiling, and pouring over the last week. It is labor intensive, but very rewarding. The best book I have is BALL BLUE BOOK OF PRESERVING. I bought it for $5 at the Utah Agricultural Extension Office in Provo. They have LOTS of great information there. Your city might too - you can always check your city building. If you are in Provo, the Mending Shed in Orem (state st on the way to Walmart) is FABULOUS. Oh and apples are nice because if you live in apple country, you can usually get "drops" for very inexpensive (think .40 a LB) which makes it affordable even if you don't have an apple tree.

What you need to can
jars that are clean and sanitary
lids, the rings can be used again, but the top part that actually seals the can must be new
High Acid foods use a method called hot water bath. The pot is large and there is a rack that fits inside to hold the cans.
funnel with a wide mouth
blender, food processor, or food mill
food thermometer
stock pot
produce and ingredients


2 1/2 - 3 1/2 LBS apples per quart; a mix of types of apples is best but whatever you have works
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Nutmeg (optional)

Scrub apples in soapy water. Peel, core, and chop your apples and put them in the stock pot (may I say an apple peeler, corer, slicer makes this so easy). If you want pink apple sauce, you can leave on the skins of clean, mildly blemished, red apples. But for me, my apples are pretty wild so I removed the skin to remove the blemishes. Turn on the heat to low. Add sugar to taste (2-4 TBS should be fine, but it depends on the apples too. I like brown sugar, but it doesn't matter). If making cinnamon applesauce, add 1-2 cinnamon sticks and some nutmeg (go easy on the nutmeg - it is strong and you can always add more but you can't take it away). Place the lid on and stir occasionally, making sure the apples don't burn on the bottom. It will eventually turn to mush. At this point, let it cool a little bit as to not burn yourself. Then place in a blender, food processor, or food mill and blend until smooth. Follow canning directions at the bottom of this post.

Spaghetti Sauce
So the specific recipe for this uses 45 pounds of tomatoes! So I will tell you what I did since, well, if you have that many tomatoes you probably know how to can.

10 LBS tomatoes (this was 1.5 plastic shopping bags of tomatoes for me)
1 onion chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
seasoning - basil, oregano, bay leaves, whatever you like, to taste.
a little sugar - 1 tsp
salt pepper

Basically you are just making a yummy homemade spaghetti sauce. Don't get too caught up in what should go in - make it so you like it.

Wash tomatoes (hope this is a no brainer). Cut off both ends (stock and bloom) and cut into quarters. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, and everything else. Cover and let simmer about 20-30minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool enough to put into a blender, food processor, or food mill. If the tomato seeds bother you, strain to remove. They don't bother me enough to bother with straining, but to each his own. Place back in the stock pot and simmer until it is reduced by half. Follow canning directions to follow EXCEPT place 1 Tbs for pints and 2 Tbs for quarts of lemon juice in the jars before you fill them.

Canning your product
You want your jars to be warm/hot. I usually dunk mine in hot water and let them dry next to my work station on a clean cloth. The lids (the part that seals) needs to be SIMMERED NOT BOILED (low heat) for 10 minutes - then keep them in the warm water until ready for use. This helps the seal do it's thing. The rings that hold on the top need to also be clean.

Fill your hot water bath half way and set on the stove as high as your heat can go (you want them to be at least 180 by the time you put your jars in, and 212 to process). For me with my low BTU stove, I used two burners.

Remember - hot liquid into hot jars. We don't want anything growing in there. So use your funnel to fill the jar to the 1 inch mark, which is right where the ring part of the lid ends when it is on (the jars usually have a ring around the neck) or you can just measure down from the top before you pour.

Put the two piece top on the jar, making sure the ring of the jar is clear of food particles.

When you have all your jars filled, place them in the hot water bath (they have a utensil that works great for this to keep you far from the hot water). The water needs to cover by 1-2 inches. If needed, pour more boiling water in to cover. The water needs to come to a boil (specifically 212 degrees) to process. Don't start counting until it hits this mark! When they are done, let them cook 5 minutes in the pot. Then take them out and let them rest for 12-14 hours. The lids should seal down so that they don't bubble on the top when pressed down.

Processing times: tomato sauce 35 minutes for pints, 40 minutes for quarts (don't forget your lemon juice!). Applesauce is 20 minutes for both size jars.

Now go take a nap, you deserve it.

Sep 18, 2008

BBQ Chicken Pizza... on the Grill?

So I decided to do this post because Tuesday night Eric came home and I wanted to make a nice dinner. Well, one problem I faced was that our oven was (is) broken. It broils, it boils, but it doesn't bake. So until we decide to either fix the dinosaur or find a new one, creative cooking is on the loose!

BBQ Chicken Pizza on the Grill

1 breast chicken, cut into small strips
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove of garlic
1-2 cups shredded Colbt & Monterey Jack cheese
Bulls Eye (or your favorite) Hickory BBQ sauce
1 pre-made pizza dough ball (you can find these is the supper market - they are wonderful to have on hand!)
olive oil
tin foil

On your stove top (we'll get to the grill in a minute, be patient!) heat 1-2 TBS olive oil in a skillet. Add chicken strips. Cook until start to brown - 3-4 minutes depending on their size - and flip. Add in red onion and garlic. Cook until they begin to caramelize (that is, turn a little brown). This can take a little bit, maybe 10 minutes, depending on how much liquid came out of the onions and chicken. When the mixture is done, turn it out onto a plate and cover with plastic, or a lid of whatever (to keep the bug off when you are outside).

Take out your pizza dough. Dust it with flour on both sides. Take into account how big your grill is. You might want to shape the dough into more of a rectangle, or two small circles. Keep in mind you are going to have to flip the dough on the grill. A tip on shaping your dough - warm or room temp is better than cold. An easy way I have learned to stretch the dough is to put your fists together and in front of you (like put up your dukes!) with the dough resting on top (where your rings sit). Rock and pull your fists outward to stretch the dough, rotating as you go. The dough should not be sticky. Add more flour if it is. Place your dough on a cookie sheet to bring outside.

Take to the grill the dough, chicken/onion mixture, BBQ sauce, olive oil, tin foil, large spatula, and brushes or spoons to spread sauce & oil. Heat the grill to medium or medium high heat (depending on the SHEER POWER of your grill :^) Brush the dough with olive oil. Place that side down on the grill. Close the grill for a few minutes. Open, brush top with oil, and flip. Acting quickly, spread a layer of BBQ sauce, chicken/onion mixture, and cheese. FYI if your crust is thin it will cook VERY quickly.

Close grill for a few minutes. Open again and check on the bottom. For me and my little grill, the dough cooks very quickly, so I will often slip some foil under the dough to prevent burning while the cheese continues to melt. Grill marks are good, charred is bad.

Yum yum. You could do this with any kind of pizza you want really. Once you get the hang of it, you'll love it (I burned my first crust, don't get discouraged - it can scrape off ;^)

I will also post a link to my friend's blog where she did a Cooking 101 on Grilled Pizza with pictures that might help too.

Sep 13, 2008

Rachael's Chicken and Vegetable Soup

This soup is so yummy. I eat a bit of Progresso, but when I am in the mood for a soul soothing soup that doesn't take me all day, this is what I make. My ULTRA picky nieces and nephew even like it (but of course without the noodles... Which was funny because I thought that would be the only thing they would eat the first time I made it for them).

Rachael's Chicken and Vegetable Soup
(serves 4)

1 breast of chicken, cut into 3 large chunks
6 cups chicken broth (I use bullion cubes because they are inexpensive. my favorite bullion is the BJ's Whole Sale brand, which of course you buy at BJ's. you could also use canned broth)
1 can cream of chicken OR celery soup
1 10oz bag frozen veggies, your choice. mixed veggies are nice, or just peas and carrots
your choice of seasoning if you want - like a bay leaf (which you take out before you eat remember), dried parsley, pepper

In a 5QT stock pot (larger if you are doubling it), place your broth. Turn the heat to medium to medium high. You are looking for a low boil. Place your chicken chunks in the low-boiling broth. Let them cook until they are cooked through (about 7-8 minutes depending on the size of your chunks). Check to make sure there isn't any more pink, but try to not over cook them. Take them out and let them cool on a plate.

Add cream of chicken or celery soup. Whisk to incorporate.

Add in your frozen veggies. Your mixture of course will be cooled, and it will take a little bit for it to return to the low boil.

So in the mean time, shred the chicken chunks, being careful not to burn yourself if the chicken is still hot. Your hands are the best tool for this. You will notice that the chicken will pull apart along the grain of the meat. This is what you want. On a side note, I once asked Eric to shred my chicken for me while I was making the sauce for BBQ chicken sandwiches (which will come later). He used two forks and it ended up being the consistency of meat-sawdust. So again, make sure your pieces are decent sizes, not shredded to a pulp. If this seems to intimidating to some, you can always just use a knife and cut the meat into smaller chunks.

Add your chicken back to the pot. Add whatever seasoning you want. At this point you can do one of two things. You can put the top on the pot and let it simmer and blend for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Or you can eat it if everyone is hungry NOW.

I personally like my soup with a nice buttered roll to dip. Or served over mashed potatoes which makes it creamy and delicious. Or you can cook your favorite noodles to add in for chicken-noodle soup.

I hope you will try to make your own soup if you never have. I promise it isn't hard, only hard to mess up! Soups are very forgiving. And even though I like canned soups when I'm in the mood 5 minutes before lunch, but really there is NOTHING like homemade soup. Did I mention this can take less than an hour to make? So really, this is an easy, healthy, and quick dinner everyone will enjoy on a cool fall or winter day.

Sep 9, 2008

Beginner’s Sheppard's Pie

This is a whip-together Rachael recipe that is very simple. It doesn't even really need a recipe. Once you make it a time or two, you can whip it up with whatever you have on hand - most veggies work, different flavored potatoes (garlic and herb was good)- you get the idea. Believe me, anyone can make this.

Sheppard's Pie

1 LBS ground beef
1 package instant potato (Idaho Potatoes are good)(I sometimes use more - it depends on what you like)
1 10oz bag of frozen veggies, your choice (peas, carrots, corn, green beans, a mix)
OR 1-2 cans veggies (how thick you veggie layer is a personal preference. I personally like it just thick enough to cover the beef)

Preheat oven to 350. Brown beef in large skillet. While the meat is cooking, microwave veggies according to package directions. Make potatoes according to directions. Drain the beef when all the pink is gone and all the beef is cooked through. Place drained beef in a 8X8 pan. Top with veggies, then potatoes. Bake 20-30minutes until hot. Turn oven up to broil for a few minutes to slightly brown the top (if desired).

Sep 8, 2008

To My Fledgling Foodie Readers

For those of you who are beginning cooks or those of you who don’t view yourself as being able to make toast without burning it, you have come to the right place. Thanks to my friend Kate and her comment on Face Book, I have decided to add this section for all of those who are like her and look at a frying pan like a flying saucer.

1. Read the WHOLE recipe carefully before you start.
Sometimes I’ll even read it through a few times to get it in my mind what I need to be doing. You can make almost ANY recipe, I promise, if you trust the recipe.

2. Do your prep work before you fire the flame.
Before you start heating up your oil (if applicable), make sure your ingredients are chopped and or ready near by, and have your utensils ready. If you have cans that need to be opened, open them. What you want to avoid is: needing to do two things at once – i.e: your chicken is cooking quicker than you thought and you need to add the liquid but alas the can isn’t open yet! AHHH stress! You see?

3. If you have a question, ASK.
Ask me by leaving a post or an email ( or look online. Yahoo/Google are great resources. So are some great web site I have links to on the blog.

4. Don’t be intimidated by a long list of ingredients or instructions.
For example, the Lady’s and Son’s Lasagna post looks really hard. The list of ingredients is long, and it takes a long time to make. However, it really is simple. You don’t need any special skills to put it all together. It is a really fun dish to make with a friend, loved one, or significant other because you can do the work together (it is labor intensive – that means it take a long time to make, it doesn’t mean it is difficult :^).

5. Be confident.
Even really great cooks make things that taste awful sometimes. Or recipes don’t always taste as good as they look. Once you get comfortable with some basics, you’ll take off – trust me!

I have decided I will post a few more very simple recipes that will also teach techniques needed for basic cooking. I hope you all enjoy!

Quick Chicken Cacciatore

This is a Pampered Chef recipe, but I had a request for some deliciously simple recipes and this is one of my favorites. Once you get the hang of it, you can switch it up to make it your own (I use fresh breaded chicken now). But for beginners, this is pretty easy.

Quick Chicken Cacciatore

1 package (10.5 oz) frozen breaded chicken breast (Tyson is a good brand to try or even if you have chicken nuggets strips in the freezer)
1 medium green bell pepper
4 oz mushrooms, sliced (we leave these out because Eric doesn't like mushrooms)
1 small onion, shopped (about 3/4 cup but don't stress over exactness)
8 oz (1/2 1LB package) linguine
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 garlic cloves, pressed (or chopped, or you can use pre-chopped garlic you get at the grocery store)
Grated Parmesan Cheese

1. To partially thaw chicken patties, follow package microwave heating directions (safety) except microwave on HIGH 1 minutes only. Cut chicken patties into 3/4 inch strips and bell peppers into thin strips. Slice mushrooms. Chop onion.

2. Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Lightly spray with olive oil. Add chicken patty strips; cook 5 minutes, turning frequently with spatula.

4. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, mushrooms, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil; cover. Reduce heat; simmer 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve over hot linguine. Sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

Menu Suggestion
Serve this one-dish meal with refrigerated garlic bread sticks.

How I make this recipe

Instead of bothering with breaded chicken, I cut up 1 large breast into strips. I place them in a hot pot with some olive oil (about 1-2 TBS over med-high heat) and let them get a little brown. I then add the onions, let them cook a minute, add the garlic, let it get slightly brown, and then add the rest of the ingredients (peppers, tomatoes). I will add a little bit of water (about 1/2 can that used to hold the tomatoes), and about 1/2 cup bread crumbs (seasoned bread crumbs are nice because you don't have to add any Italian Seasoning). Believe me, the bread crumb taste adds a wonderful flavor. I then let it simmer for an hour or more (I learned that because I prefer to cook it longer, my breadcrumbs fell off my chicken anyway, that is how I came up with this method). It becomes more sauce like, and less chunky, but I like it that way! I also add Italian spice blend - BUT ONLY - if I use plain bread crumbs and non-seasoned tomatoes. Stir it often to make sure nothing sticks and burns on the bottom. Enjoy over your linguine. Oh and by the way, your house will smell so delicious!

Sep 6, 2008

Late Summer Special - Tomatoes

This recipe is a no brainer. It isn't so much the recipe I wanted to share, but my favorite late summer sandwich. Home grown tomatoes make amazing tomato sandwiches (or BLTs, Eric's favorite). Our tomato crop was plentiful this year, despite the late start (June 10th or so). We had an abundance of rain this year which caused some of my plants to rot in some spots. But it also meant I only had to water my plants twice this whole summer! Thank you Mother Nature.

If you have never tasted a tomato that turned ripe on the vine, you are in for a treat. Store bought tomatoes have no taste really. They are picked green and ripen while shipping. DO NOT try to make a sandwich from those - you will be sorely disappointed. If you have the room, try planting a tomato plant or two next summer. You can really be low maintenance (like myself) and still enjoy red deliciousness come late summer.

There are so many different kinds. In 2007 I planted an heirloom variety that did not produce a lot of fruit, but when it did oh my! They were almost purple the red was so dark. Yum. This year we planted just regular Big Boys I believe. They are pretty good, but others are better. We were limited because of our late start. I do suggest when you plant your tomatoes, bury them until you see only a few inches left sticking out of the ground. This ensures VERY deep roots, which means you'll get fruit earlier in the season. I also suggest planting in early May, depending on your location. In the "Nor-East" we aren't usually free from frost until then, which is what you want to be careful of. If a late frost threatens your green beauties, cover them in plastic for the night. So I hope you were inspired to plant a tomato plant next year. And for the grand finally...

The Simple Summer Tomato Sandwich

Two pieces of toasted whole wheat bread (the real stuff - no colored white bread here)
1 tomato sliced thickly
MAYO a-plenty (or Miracle Whip I guess... If you like that sort of thing)

Generously spread Mayo on toast. Top with as much tomato as you think you can politely get into your mouth. Enjoy... Yum...
Oh yes, repeat every day at lunch until you can't look at a tomato until next year's crop.