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Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Salsa

20 Jul

Snack of champions: chips and homemade salsa.

Grace’s hippie sister, Emily, here, surfacing for the first time in months to share a recipe that should come in handy for anybody who has a vegetable garden (or a neighbor with a garden).

That’s right, kids: It’s salsa time.

Use an entire head of garlic. Seriously.

Start by throwing a big handful of cilantro (one bunch from the grocery store or whatever you have in your garden will do) into a food processor and pulsing it until it’s nice and fine and feathery. Next, take a head of garlic, separate and peel the cloves, cut off the ends, and throw ’em into the food processor. Give ’em a good whirl to mince them, then add hot peppers to taste. Four serranos will give you a nice medium-hot salsa; adjust the quantity to suit your taste, and feel free to substitute whatever peppers you prefer (or need to use up).

I like red onions, but red or yellow will work as well.

Next, add three cored, quartered bell peppers in any color and a peeled, quartered onion, processing after each addition. Add the juice of two or three small limes — proportions aren’t critical, but you want to get a little extra acid in there for canning purposes — and process to mix.

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with husks.

If you can put your hands on some tomatillos, peel and core about five of them and add them to the mix at this point. If you can’t, don’t worry about it; they aren’t absolutely necessary, but they do add a nice flavor if you happen to have them. Process, then dump the mixture into a large bowl to make room in the food processor for your tomatoes.

Core and quarter about three pounds of tomatoes (Romas are ideal, but any kind will do; just be aware that the juicier varieties will make a finished product that’s more like picante sauce than salsa) and chop them in the food processor.

Now, here is a neat trick: If you have extra cucumbers that you need to use up, you can add a couple to your salsa at this point, and nobody will be any the wiser. Just chop them finely and stir them in. You’ll never notice them by the time they’ve absorbed the other flavors. You could probably do this with zucchini, too, although I wouldn’t use too much, lest it compromise the texture.

Unless your food processor is huge, you'll have to do half the tomatoes at a time.

Stir everything together in a huge bowl. At this stage, the salsa will probably look kind of bubbly and unappealing. Remedy this by stirring in ground cumin until the froth goes away, then stirring in chili powder until the color looks nice and red.

Salsa cans well in a boiling-water bath.

You can either eat the salsa now or pack it into clean pint jars with an inch of headspace and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Serve nice and cold with plenty of tortilla chips or fresh vegetables for dipping. Makes about three quarts.

I like to bring this salsa to office parties. It always impresses people, and it’s safe for vegetarians, diabetics, and various other dieters, especially if you bring celery sticks and cucumber slices for low-carb dipping.

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Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Applesauce

11 Oct

Homemade applesauce is way easier than it has any right to be.

NOTE: Emily here, invading the Red Kitchen on a dare. When your little sister throws down a gauntlet, you’re pretty much obligated to pick it up … so after Grace suggested, in two separate posts (here and here), that making applesauce from scratch was more difficult/time-consuming/labor-intensive/equipment-intensive/whatever than it was worth, I took that as a challenge and decided to fire up the Crock-Pot now rather than wait for the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog dare.

As I’d suspected, homemade applesauce is way simpler than it has any right to be. Continue reading

Seasonal Recipe: Canned Strawberry Applesauce

23 Sep

 For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Another fun project from the “mostly homemade” files…

My goal for this week was to post something fun, easy and seasonal. The result? Canned Strawberry Applesauce!

This is a lovely recipe that results in a sort of cross between applesauce as we know it and mashed, sugared dessert strawberries like you probably ate on pie crust growing up. My dad spreads this on toast, I like it with whipped cream, yet it’s just as comfortable riding side-saddle with dinner, or with cereal and yogurt for breakfast. Continue reading

Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Vanilla Sugar

24 Nov

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

These make great little holiday gifts and require next to no counterspace or time to prepare!

With the holidays upon us, it’s a great time to take advantage of seasonal sales on items you might not normally find at the grocery store, or at least wouldn’t find at a good price the rest of the year.

One such score is the highly coveted vanilla bean, which is normally $10.99 per bean at my

A vanilla bean straight from the jar.

 local grocery store, but was on sale last week for only $5.99! Red Kitchen Project reader Cheryl reports that her sister recently scored an unheard of TEN FOR $10 sale on vanilla beans at a Costco in Northern Illinois. So the good deals are out there to be had this season!

If you aren’t able to procure one at a discount grocery store (look in seasonal items and special promo aisles), you can

Slice the bean lengthwise and peel away the outer skin.

often get better deals by ordering them online anyway than by going to a regular grocery. (Check out sites like this for deals on many different varieties for as low as $3.75 per 5 beans! Cut down on shipping by finding a friend or two to order with!)

Vanilla beans are usually sold folded up to fit into regular spice jars.

One of the most popular uses for the vanilla bean is vanilla sugar, which can be used in everything from coffee or flavored milk to cookies and other delicious baked goods.

Vanilla sugar is also a cinch to prepare and can be done in just a few minutes. I actually prepared mine last night during the commerical breaks while I was watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS. 🙂

There’s really no comparison to baking with real vanilla sugar, and one bean will make several cups of flavored sugar, so the cost really isn’t that high at all in the end for making your own, particularly if you are packaging it as stocking stuffers or other small gifts during the holiday season.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

Begin by harvesting the raw vanilla. This is done by slicing the bean lengthwise, unrolling the sides, and scraping the inside matter out with a short, serrated knife.

The inside of a good vanilla bean should be very oily and gritty as you harvest it. It smells very strong, kind of like booze, but in a yummy way. The vanilla will probably stick to your knife as you scrape, or make your fingertips greasy at the very least.

Place 4 or 4-1/2 cups granulated sugar in a bowl large enough to stir in.

After scraping the bean, the vanilla will probably still be in small chunks. That’s okay, because it will disperse into tiny bits once it’s put into the granulated sugar.

It's okay if a few larger "flecks" of vanilla remain.

Pour 4 to 4-1/2 cups granulated white sugar into a large measuring cup or lipped bowl. Add the vanilla scrapings to the sugar. If any tidbits are sticking to your knife, you can easily dip the knife into the sugar and out again to remove them.

Once all of the vanilla has been transferred to the sugar, it won’t look like much at first. That’s okay. You can either mix it well with a spoon, or place the sugar mixture into a blender and turn it on to create a finer sugar blend. Make sure any little chunks of bean skin are removed.

If a pocket of vanilla doesn’t blend out completely, you can use your fingers to crush it into the sugar. It’s okay if a few small bits don’t break down all the way, as long as they won’t be a problem in whatever you’re making out of the sugar later.

Once the vanilla has been incorporated into the sugar, you can either pour the sugar into a large canister to store (in which case you can always throw the whole vanilla rind on top to add extra flavor during the “curing” period), or divide the sugar into smaller Mason jars. I used 4 half-pint (8-ounce) glass jars to store mine. A jar funnel was

Fill the Mason jars all the way up to the top rim, as settling will occur over time.

 particularly handy in keeping my counter clear of all those stray granules, but you can also just use a curled piece of paper with some Scotch tape as a funnel if you don’t already have a wide-mouth funnel on hand.

If using small jars, make sure to tap down the sugar as you transfer it to reduce the amount of settling that will occur during the curing process.

Tightly cover each container. Allow to cure by storing undisturbed for at least 2 weeks before opening or using.

Caution: If you "gift" these, be prepared for repeat requests every Christmas!

Cheap Recipe: Homemade Canned Apple Butter

25 Aug

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Who wants store-bought when this version is so easy?

Who wants store-bought when this version is so easy?

Last weekend, I decided to try my hand at something completely foreign to me: canning.

When I saw giant 50-ounce jars of applesauce for $1.77 at the store, I figured I could start with something simple (apple butter) and just see what this method is all about.

I could have made my own applesauce before I made the apple butter, but I really just wanted to see if I get the jars to seal properly and make that satisfying “plink” when they’re cooling. After all, why go to the extra trouble of making your own applesauce from scratch when you don’t even know if you can preserve it properly when it’s done?

Well, suffice to say, my worries were allayed when I whipped up a batch of this apple butter and took my canning kit for its first spin. And maybe I didn’t make the applesauce it started with, but man was this some good apple butter! I don’t even know if I’ll bother with making my own sauce in the future. This seems to work pretty well as it is, and I have no problem claiming it as homemade after it spends eighteen hours in my slowcooker!

Leave about an inch at the top of the slow cooker so you have room for sugar and spice.

Leave about an inch at the top of the slow cooker so you have room for sugar and spice.

1. Prepare the recipe.

Start by filling your Crock Pot with applesauce (homemade or store-bought). I just bought plain old regular, sweetened sauce from the store. You can use unsweetened, but remember that you may have to tinker with the sugar amounts later.

5 cans (50 ounces each) was enough applesauce for me to make two rounds of apple butter in my 4-quart Crock Pot. (I did this over a weekend. Next time, I think I’ll just borrow someone else’s slow cooker so I can do two batches at once.)

Add 3 cups white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar; stir. Mix in: 3 tablespoons

The sugar and spices will fill up the rest of the pot, so only fill with applesauce to within 1" of top.

The sugar and spices will fill up the rest of the pot, so only fill with applesauce to within 1" of top.

 cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir well until the mixture turns a light brown color.

2. Cook the apple butter.

Cover the slow cooker, leaving lid a small bit ajar for steam to escape. Unlike cooking stews and roasts when you want to keep the moisture in, you actually want the excess liquid to evaporate from the apple butter. That’s how it will thicken to the right consistency.

Depending on your Crock Pot (size, heat factor, age, etc.) you may need the low setting, the high setting, or a combination of the two. Of my two batches, the one that worked best (made thicker apple butter) was the batch I started on high for a few hours, and then kicked back to low before I went to bed. I let my batches each go about 18 hours in the Crock Pot. It could have gone longer, but I was a bit anxious to start canning, so if it’s a little on the thin side, that’s why. But it looked pretty good to me. 🙂

Check the Crock Pot during any waking hours that it’s running and stir it when you think of it (every hour or two). Don’t worry so much about it while you’re sleeping; just make sure the steam is escaping and all will be well. I wake up a few times in the night most nights anyway, so I peeked in on it a couple of times and mine was doing fine.

The color will darken as the hours go by. Don’t be discouraged if two hours into the cooktime you haven’t noticed any darkening. Making apple butter IS easy, but it still takes time!

3. Blend the apple butter.

An immersion blender will bring your apple butter to a perfect canning consistency. I bought mine for $14.95.

An immersion blender will bring your apple butter to a perfect canning consistency. Don't break the bank on one, though--the cheap model I have hasn't given me any trouble.

After apple butter has achieved desired thickness and color, it’s a good idea to blend it before canning. Unless you like chunky apple butter, of course.

Rather than scooping lava-hot sticky apple butter into a blender a little at a time, I just submerged my cheap immersion blender and kicked it up to high for a few five-to-ten second intervals.

In no time, you’ve got perfectly even consistency and texture. This is when your creation really finally resembles the apple butter you’re used to buying at the store.

Now your apple butter is ready to be eaten or canned.

4. Can the apple butter.

Because apples are high acidity, you don’t need to mess with a pressure canner; a simple water bath will preserve and seal your jars. If you have an official water bath pot already, you probably know how to do this part and don’t need my instruction. If you’re like me, and just starting out learning to can, you can make do with any old stock pot (as long as it’s deep) and wait until you know canning is for you before you spend real money on canning equipment.

I used a regular tall kitchen stock pot and put a jar rack in the bottom. If you don’t have a jar rack, you can use

My jar rack holds five jars at a time. If you don't have one, just use rags to separate the jars and keep them packed in where they should be.

My jar rack holds five jars at a time. If you don't have one, just use rags to separate the jars and keep them packed in where they should be.

 dishrags or whatever else in the bottom of the pot. The main point is to keep the jars from scooting around and knocking into each other while they’re processing.

Now it’s time to fill the jars. Wash and dry all pieces well. If you’re using a dishwasher, you can start filling as soon as the cycle is done and they will already be sanitized and heated.

If you’re a poor schmuck like me who doesn’t own a dishwasher, you can handwash all parts and then sanitize them on the stove. It’s a good idea to let the jars go about ten minutes (empty and lidless) in some boiling water (not a fast boil, just enough to sanitize and heat) up to about 1″ of the jar tops. Meanwhile, place the flat jar lids in a shallow saucepan and boil in water about 5-10 minutes as well.

Once the jars are heated, begin filling them up to within 1/4″ of the top of the jar. (Leave your slow cooker plugged in and on high while waiting for the jars to heat and sanitize–the goal is to keep everything heated well together so no jars bust or crack when you fill them with hot apple butter of a different temperature than the glasses.) A jar funnel is super handy in this task, but not necessary. If you don’t have one, keep a couple of clean, damp paper towels nearby to wipe the outsides of the jars down after filling.

Make sure jars aren't sticking up over the boiling water. If your stockpot isn't super tall, you might consider buying half-pint jars for your first project.

Make sure jars aren't sticking up over the boiling water. If your stockpot isn't super tall, you might consider buying half-pint jars for your first project.

Place the hot lids on top of the jars and screw the jar rings in place. (I didn’t bother with boiling the rings. It made no difference.) Don’t overscrew the rings too tightly; just make sure they’ll stay in place.

Submerge the covered jars in the water and make sure you have a good inch or two of water covering the tops of the jars. (So make sure before you start that the size jars you want to use will work in the stock pot you’ve got.) Bring the water to a low boil and allow jars to process for about fifteen minutes.♥ (High altitudes might want to go 20 minutes.)

Chef’s Note: I used 12-ounce jars for my apple butter. Half-pints seemed kind of shabby and pint-sized seemed awfully big. Fifteen minutes should be plenty for pint-sized jars as well, though.

After fifteen minutes, remove the jars (a jar lifter looks like tongs and can be bought for very little $) and set on a dry dishtowel spaced apart to cool. You can remove the rings during this stage if you want. I just left mine on since it didn’t look like any leaks or seepage had occured. You’ll notice the rings are much looser now that the heated metal has expanded. This is normal.

Over the next few hours of cooling, you should hear an occasional “PLINK!” as the flat lids begin to seal themselves. You can tell which ones have already sealed by pressing down on the center “button” of the lid. If it pops up and down, the jar has not yet sealed. Sealed jar buttons will stay down, just like the jars of food you buy at the store. (The ones wiht the warning that reads, “If button has popped up, do not purchase this jar” and the like.)

After several hours, the lids should all have sealed themselves. If one or two have not, don’ t worry–the contents inside haven’t been infected or anything; you’ll just have to stick those jars in the fridge and eat them soon after. Don’t give those jars away as gifts–just let them be your fridge sample jars!

And that’s all you need to know about making apple butter! Oh, and a good rule of thumb I used was this: For every 125 ounces of applesauce I used, I got about seven 12-ounce jars of finished, thickened apple butter.

Enjoy your canning!