Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Store Home Canned Goods

When I grow up, I want to have a cellar. It will be the perfect place to have stainless steel shelves (like from a professional kitchen) full of home canned goods- cool, dry, and dark. I'll also fill it with root vegetables and apples in the fall to use during the winter.

But until then, where do I keep my canned goods in my 500 square foot apartment?

The ideal place to store your canned goods is one that is cool (50-70 degrees F), dark, and dry. This time of year in Maine, I feel I can safely say that we've passed our 70 plus degree days (booo).

So, I keep my jars in my kitchen cabinets. The kitchen might be a little warmer than some other spots in my apartment, but I want my canned goods to be accessible. The whole point of canning is to preserve stuff you can eat, so I need to have them in the kitchen where they'll be in my mind during menu-planning and snack time (I'm looking at you, dilly beans).

While it may be tempting to line your canned goods up in the window to show off the jewel-like colors of your jams and the beautiful heads of dill in your pickles, please resist the urge. The heat from the sun will break down vitamins and nutrients in your food and can even cause them to spoil.

Most canners don't know that it's recommended to store your canned goods without the screwbands. (Wha???) After your jars have cooled and the seals have fully formed, the screwband is no longer serving any purpose. The vacuum seal is holding the lid firmly onto the jar, not the screwband!

Leaving the screwband on can actually harm the seal over time, by trapping moisture. This moisture will expand and contract with temperature fluctuations and can cause your seals to fail. The bands can also rust onto the lids, which is just a pain. So take the screwbands off after the seals have formed and store them seperately.

A great tip for storing and using your canned goods is to keep an inventory list. I'm really jealous of Putting By's canning pantry and all the beautiful things in it. She puts my little Ball boxes to shame. But her list (blog, really) helps her to know what she has and when it's time to start thinking about using it. I made a list, but then, who knows if I'll even look at it again! But it was fun to do it.

Happy canning!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chiang Mai Two Review

Ed. note: Chain Mai has closed.

Chiang Mai Two has moved to a new location on Washington Avenue. I'd never been to the old Chiang Mai (One?), so I didn't have any expectations going into Round 11 of Thai-o-rama. (For those of you moved to lie in the fetal position and whimper, "No more Thai reviews," first, think of how I feel, and second, there are only two more, so husshup.)

The decor in the new Chiang Mai is typical Thai restaurant, but with a lot more flash. Everything's so... shiny. They do not yet have a liquor license, so we're told we can bring in our own beer. M quickly runs across the street to the 7-11 for a 6-pack of Geary's. We (M and I and the Appetite Portland couple) begin by ordering a crapton of food: pork/shrimp dumplings, fresh veggie spring rolls, Thom Kha Gai soup, and beef salad.

The dumplings are pretty mundane, but disappear quickly. They have what seems to be pot pie vegetables inside of them (a cubed carrot and one pea). Odd.

I like the spring rolls, fresh with a syrupy sweet dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. I'm into sweet Thai food, but I can see where the sauce might be too much for some.

The soup is very good. It's not too thin, full of flavor, but has the requisite dry, overcooked chicken in it. Why is this something I just have to accept when it comes to Thai food?

The best appetizer, was the beef salad. Our waitress recommended it as her favorite salad, and it quickly became mine too.

There's lots of fresh mint and cilantro leaves, plenty of spice (2 stars is pretty hot at this place!), juicy dressing, and non-dry beef. I would return to have this salad for lunch.

I ordered pork Panang curry (2 stars) for my entree. As I was perusing the curry section of the menu, I was intrigued by the curry that has baby marrow as an ingredient. Is that legal?? I'm sure it's delicious, nonetheless.

I should have ordered the baby marrow, since my curry was terrible. (I'm thinking to myself, 'do I really want to go that far?' and deciding that yes, yes I do. Terrible.) It was like when I used to make curry at home and didn't know how to make it good. Pasty, thick, too spicy, and not enough coconut milk to open up the curry flavors.

And I'm not entirely sure that the meat was actually pork. It had too many 'the other white meat,' characteristics for me to be sure it was derived from swine.

Dawn's pad thai was nothing special, other than in its quantity. Adam was excited that it came with lime, but not even a squirt of its juice could save it.

The most entertaining dish of the evening, was M's. 'bird's nest.' He attempted to ask the kitchen to create a specialty dish, something the cooks would eat themselves (don't hate us, it was super slow in there). They tried to get more information out of him as to his preferences, but he really wanted to leave everything to them.

Et voila, the bird's nest. We found fried tofu, chicken, shrimp, assorted veggies, fried lo mein noodles, and some plum dipping sauce. Not the most congruous dish any of us had had, but we appreciated the willingness to humor us. (Or maybe they were just messing with him?)

So I would return to Chiang Mai Two for lunch, specifically for the beef salad. I would order it with 2 stars of heat to get my blood moving. It seems to be the most (only?) vibrant dish coming out of the new kitchen on the block.

Chiang Mai on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Common Ground Fair Eats

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)'s Common Ground Fair was this past weekend, and it was a celebration of all things local, organic, crafty, and, of course, smelly and unshaven. The weather on Saturday was beautiful- a little warm by Maine standards, I'm sure, but a perfect day for watching sheep dog herding demonstrations, buying local, organic Slim Jims, and cooing over dwarf bunnies.

But really I went for the fried food. After all, what's a fair without some fried? Even if it is local and organic, it can still be bad for you! Finest Fried Maine Seafood strikes again. 'Cuz really the best preparation for seafood is to fry it.

And some local Aroostook County fried potatoes to finish the day off. Thanks for another year of great fried food Common Ground Fair! Uh, I mean, for showcasing all the great local food and crafts of Maine. Riiiight.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Micucci's Sicilian Slab

Much has been written about the 'Sicilian Slab' or the pizza that comes out of the back room bakery at Mucucci's Grocery Co. on India St. in Portland. I've heard so much about this mythical slab, that on Thursday I decided enough is enough. I read all the articles and reviews and marched myself down there at 11:30am to try to get my hands on some slab for lunch.

But on the way down, my determined resolved became tinged with anxiety. Would there be a line? (There wasn't.) Would the bakers be mean to me? (They didn't even look at me.) Would I have to wander around awkwardly inspecting 10 cans of tomato paste while I waited for a batch? (No, there were 5 slices waiting on the shelf.) And most importantly, would I get some slab?? (Uh, yes.)

When I came into the back room that is the bakery/cafe area, I saw about 5 slices of slab sitting on the stainless steel shelving. A hand written sign said 'Slab $4.50.' Some early lunchers sat at the small tables cutting up their slabs with a knife and fork. I casually took a slice of slab, and walked up to the register, thinking, 'that's it? I just take one?' And the woman at the register was, as always, very nice to me. It was a little anti-climatic, to say the least.

Except for when I got home and sat down to take that first much-awaited bite of slab. Insert hyperbole here! Angels sang, trumpets played, rainbows squirted across the sky!

Yeah, it's that good. I thought, bready pizza? Ew. But it's like brioche bread. Thick, but crispy out the outside, very tender, not tough at all. Plenty of well-seasoned sauce, flavorful cheese (when often the cheese flavor gets lost on pizza).

So, try the slab at Micucci's, but you probably already know that.

Micucci's Italian Grocery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fennel Arugula Parm Salad

Look, Ma, no tomatoes! You may have noticed my last three posts were about stemming the tide of tomatoes that is flowing this summer. Again, there are worse problems to have! But now, back to our regularly scheduled programming of delicious food (of the non-tomato-type).

I had this Fennel, Arugula, and Parmesan Cheese salad at my friends A&R's housewarming party. Since it was a potluck and there were a lot of people there, I didn't bother to hunt down the salad bringer and ask for the recipe. It was simple enough that I thought I could recreate it on my own.

Turns out that fennel and arugula are a popular combination! While I looked at this Bon Appetit recipe as a starting point, I just improvised with arugula, thinly sliced fennel, and shaved Parmesan.

Fennel Arugula Parm Salad

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 cups of baby arugula
4 oz. of Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced
Juice of half of one lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Optional add ins: anchovy paste (to the dressing), thinly sliced sweet onion, and black olives

Combine fennel and arugula in a large bowl. Squeeze lemon over veggies and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Liberally garnish with curls of fresh Parmesan (pre-grated will not do!).

And for those of you who think you don't like fennel, believe me, I feel ya- all things fennel or liquorish scented or flavored gross me out. But the strange thing about fennel is that is smells more fennel-ly than it tastes. Once you trim the frondy green bits, the bulb part is more like celery. It adds a nice crunch and a subtle flavor, but nothing like the liquorish smell you get when you're cutting it up.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

A lot of bloggers have written about how to slow-roast tomatoes and raved about them each time. And it's true: slow roasting them caramelizes and intensifies the great summer tomato flavor. It's also wicked easy.

Cut them babies up and place them on a lined (foil or parchment paper) baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some fresh herbs. Bake in a 225 degree oven for about 3 hours.

The tomatoes are done when they, well, look like sun-dried tomatoes.

Let the tomatoes cool, and then, to store them, pack them in canning jars and cover with oil. Refrigerate them, and I'm sure they'll be good for a couple of months. I'm thinking of adding them to pasta dishes, of course, but also in salads, chopped with grilled meats and fish, and well, as a snack, because they're delicious!

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes Smitten Kitchen and Pinch My Salt

And I'll write about something other than tomatoes now, I promise!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tomato Peach Apple Salsa

Well here's a great thing to use all of those extra tomatoes: Peach Apple Salsa! I had a small canning class last night, so I thought I would make a special recipe, hoping it would be a winner.

You see, I'm having a bit of a salsa problem. I haven't found a great tomato salsa recipe among those available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The Green Tomato Salsa turned out kind of blah (although the Tomatillo version is good), and the Tomato Green Chili Salsa is watery and too acidic for my tastes. I hear the Spicy Cranberry Salsa is good, and I have a jar leftover from a demonstration, but I want something with (red) tomatoes that you can eat with corn chips. So I turned to the Peach Apple Salsa.

And I love it! It's sweet, spicy, tart, and best of all, has all of the salsa veggies we love: tomatoes, onions, and peppers. I really like fruit salsa, but if you don't, then I guess you'll be back at the drawing board (but please let me know your favorite salsa recipe for canning!). I'm also looking forward to using this salsa in fall dishes, like with brined pork or grilled meats.

Peach Apple Salsa
From the National Center for Home Food Preservation

6 cups (2 1/2 pounds) chopped Roma tomatoes (about 3 pounds tomatoes as purchased)
2 1/2 cups diced yellow onions (about 1 pound or 2 large as purchased)
2 cups chopped green bell peppers (about 1 1/2 large peppers as purchased)
10 cups (3 1/2 pounds) chopped hard, unripe peaches (about 9 medium peaches or 4½ pounds as purchased peaches)
2 cups chopped Granny Smith apples (about 2 large apples as purchased)
4 tablespoons mixed pickling spice
1 tablespoon canning salt
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
3 3/4 cups (1 1/4 pound) packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups cider vinegar (5%)

Wash and rinse pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Simmer flat part of lids in a small pot of water.

Place pickling spice on a clean, double-layered, 6-inch-square piece of 100% cheesecloth. Bring corners together and tie with a clean string. (Or use a purchased muslin spice bag).

Wash and peel tomatoes (place washed tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute, immediately place in cold water, and slip off skins). Note: I skip this step when making salsa, because the skins in the final product do not bother me. If they bother you, peel your tomatoes! Chop into ½-inch pieces. Peel, wash and dice onions into ¼-inch pieces. Wash, core, and seed bell peppers; chop into ¼-inch pieces. Combine chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers in an 8- or 10- quart Dutch oven or saucepot.

Wash, peel and pit peaches; cut into halves and keep in ascorbic acid solution (1500 mg in half gallon water) while you work. Wash, peel and core apples; cut into halves and keep in ascorbic acid solution. Quickly chop peaches and apples into ½-inch cubes to prevent browning. Add chopped peaches and apples to the saucepot with the vegetables.

Add the pickling spice bag to the saucepot; stir in the salt, red pepper flakes, brown sugar and vinegar. Note: I added 2 cups of sugar and tasted the salsa after it boiled. It tasted great then, so I didn't add the remaining sugar. Bring to boiling, stirring gently to mix ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove spice bag from pan and discard.

With a slotted spoon, fill salsa solids into hot, clean pint jars, leaving 1 1/4-inch headspace (about 3/4 pound solids in each jar). Cover with cooking liquid, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yields about 7 pints.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tomato Glut

I have about 15 pounds of tomatoes at home, different sizes and all red. Since fall apparently came over the weekend, my mind has gone from cold gazpacho to warm tomato basil soup. M. suggested chili.

Am also thinking of slow roasting the small ones and packing them in oil. Pinch My Salt does a great job of describing how to slow roast tomatoes, as well as a link round-up of blogs featuring them.

Oh, too many tomatoes. Isn't that a great problem to have?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Canning Crushed Tomatoes

The list must be working! Two days after I wrote my Canning To-Do list, and I've already completed two items from it. First, I had to give canning tomatoes a try. The tomatoes at the Snell Family Farm stand were so beautiful, even though they were seconds- hard to believe! At $10 for 10 lbs. of slicing tomatoes, I thought that was a good deal for canning.

Add in another $0.83 per jar (for the cost of the jar itself), and each jar of crushed tomatoes cost me $2.25, about twice as expensive as jar at the store. So monetarily, these may not be worth the work. However, there are other valuable reasons for canning, such as taste, control over added ingredients (or lack thereof!), and a reduced environmental impact. The process was a lot of work, but not any more so than any other canning recipe (it took me about 2.5 hours).

All right, let's get into it. First, I peeled the tomatoes. Wash your tomatoes, and mark an 'X' in the bottom of the tomato. (Is the top and bottom of a tomato universally recognized? The bottom is the non-stem end.) Drop the tomato into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, and then place in ice water to cool. The skins should slip off easily when cooled- and this time I mean it, this is not a should, like beet skins!

I left my tomatoes in the boiling water for while I peeled and cored the ones I'd just taken out. So 1st batch of tomatoes in, wait, tomatoes out, 2nd batch tomatoes in, peel and core the 1st batch of tomatoes, 2nd batch of tomatoes out, 3rd batch in, etc.

Now this is where you decide what kind of tomatoes you want. Whole in water? Halves in water? Crushed in their own juices? If you are going halves or crushed, cut up the tomatoes. For crush, quarter them and place some (approx. 1/6th- how much is that!??) in a stockpot on medium-high heat. Mash the tomatoes with your spoon or a potato masher. Heat the small amount of tomatoes to a boil, and gradually add the remaining quarters, stirring frequently. Return to a boil.

If you are canning halves or whole tomatoes, add the pieces to a sterilized jar and cover with boiling water, leaving 1/2" headspace. Tada! This sounds like the easiest process, but I wanted to try crushed first.

For crushed, boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes. You do not need to mash the remaining tomatoes; they will soften and break down during the boiling process.

Your sauce will now look liked crushed tomatoes!

Now, let's talk acid. No, not THAT kind. Because tomatoes have a pH that puts them on the border of high-acid and low-acid foods, you need to add acid to make them safe for home canning. This applies whether you are boiling water bath canning or pressure canning them. Add one tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint jar of tomatoes, two tablespoons per quart jar.

The USDA calls for bottled lemon juice, since it will have a consistent pH, unlike fresh lemon juice. This is a safety issue people, so please, do as you're told, like good little canners.

If you want to avoid the lemon juice flavor, you can use 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid per pint or 1/2 teaspoon per quart jar. Citric acid is available from Mrs. Wages or New England Cheesemaking Supply.

You can add the juice directly to your sterilized jars, before you fill them with tomatoes.

And then ladle away! Leave 1/2" headspace, wipe jar rims, apply headed lids and then screwbands. Process crushed tomatoes in a boiling water bath canner for 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. To pressure can, process for 15 minutes (pints or quarts) at 11 pounds in a dial gauge canner and 10 pounds in a weighted gauge canner. To find processing times for high altitudes or for whole or halves tomatoes, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation's page on how to can tomatoes.

After 35 minutes is up, pat yourself on the back, because you just made homemade crushed tomatoes! Awesome! Like I said, I got 7 jars from 10 lbs. of tomatoes, but you can start with as many or as few tomatoes as you'd like. You'll get about 1 quart jar per 2.5-3.5 lbs. of tomatoes.

Now I'm going to go admire the FRUITS of my labor, ha. Here's hoping you find yourself up to your eyes in tomatoes soon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Canning To-Do List

People make lists for all different kinds of reasons; the biggest one for me- so that I don't forget to do things. But now I'm interested in the 'power of positive thinking' variety of list, like a bucket list. If you don't write it down, it might never happen. Do you think that's true? Should I make a list of concrete dreams, for fear of them never coming true if I don't? Scary stuff. (List item #1: Own a house with a pool!)

We can at least see if it's true on a smaller scale. The produce season is becoming woefully short in Maine. Like Karen oven at Mignardise so succinctly put it: this time of year the Farmers' Market induces panic and trepidation that your favorite fruits and vegetables might not make another appearance at this week's market. So we'd better put this down in no uncertian terms to ensure that I get a chance to can everything I want this summer.

High Priority:
1) Sauerkraut
2) Tomatoes
3) Peach Champagne Jam
4) Pickled Peppers

Lower Priority:
1) Blackberry jam
2) Peaches in syrup
3) More Dilly Beans
4) Applesauce
5) Pickled beets

Quite the list, huh? We'll see if this helps. What do you feel the pressing need to can before cold temps descend on our lovely gardens? And do you can tomatoes? Do you feel it's worth it when good canned tomatoes are so inexpensive? My boyfriend says no, but I feel it's worth it for the local reason... Discuss?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

BBF Travels: Outer Banks

Well, I WAS on vacation at the beach, but the hurricane is chasing me back to Portland. I'll be back in a few days, maybe with some pictures of high, wispy clouds and rough, pounding surf.