Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Attack of the Killer Tomato

So to begin with, I apparently can't grow tomatoes to save my life; with any consistency anyway. I gave up and only grow one or two plants on my deck for fresh eating. I buy my tomatoes for canning at the public market in order to do what needs doing for sauce, salsa, etc.

This year as apparently been a wonderful year for everyone else in the tomato growing farm group. So, never to be accused of being moderate I bought enough tomatoes this year to fell a Clydesdale. And my long suffering assistant has been given an inadvertent manicure, albeit reddish stained. (Catherine is the bomb!)

In fairness, if we all think of the amount of money we spend on products with tomato in them, we would probably be surprised. I was raised in a house where tomatoes were canned up fresh every year and my Mom was the Queen of the crockpot meal, the majority of which had tomatoes in them. Between the sauce, paste, salsa, ketchup, steak sauces, canned soups, you will probably astonished at the amount of tomato in the foods we eat.

Now I don't want to start an argument over GMO (genetically modified organisms) here, but the reality is that the majority of tomato things in our pantries use tomato as a thickener, or other reason than taste. Which is a good thing considering the commercial tomato has damn near no flavor anyway. Ever buy a tomato in January and it is sickly pink instead of red and has no flavor? Yeah, that's it. They are going for size not flavor.

So if you can grow a few plants for fresh eating, for God's sake do it! You can grow them inside all year. (Just ask my mother and the tomato plants that take over her living room in February. I'll have to get a picture one day and show you all. Holy 'maters Batman!)

I should have been better about taking more detailed pictures but I just wanted the invasion to end. To be honest, I know this is only the first wave, there will be more canning of tomatoes coming, only because I made sauce and that takes a HUGE amount of tomatoes to do. Really. 2.5 flats of tomatoes for 6 jars of sauce. REALLY.

 This picture is only 6 jars of sauce when all is said and done.

We begin by cutting the tomato to reveal the snot pockets that contain the seeds. (I said this would be informative, not appetizing)

 If you slip your finger in, you can, for the most part, flick the snot packet out, eliminating the majority of the seeds. I know this takes a while to do, which is why I have help if I can get it, but the seeds and the snot contain the highest quantity of acids in the tomato, which can lead to indigestion and heartburn. Our bodies are not meant to break down the seeds and that can cause problems. I'm all for eating fiber folks, but we are not cows.

Once you do that, you now have some options. The first is just to jar the tomato as is. Layer them in the jar, add water to cover, and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of Lemon Juice or citric acid powder, and process for 25 minutes in a water bath canner. Easy Peasy. You can go one step further:

I use this weird thing called a vidalia wizard to cut the tomato into tiny cubes whilst making a HUGE mess in the process. I then can that for use in recipes. Why? because they incorporate into the dishes very quickly, and that is good especially for picky eaters. I throw in a quart jar of these when I make tacos (Click here for recipe) and the kids have NO IDEA the tomatoes are in there. You will find you will use these a lot for pan sauces with sausages or with fresh herbs to put on fish or chicken. I do impromptu pan sauces all the time.

My salsa is simple too. In a pan I saute onions and garlic until they are soft. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP WITH THE ONIONS!!! If you don't cook them and then try to can them fresh, they off gas in the jar, and the jars will go BOOM. Ok, the top pops off them and the contents spill out over everything, if you're lucky. If you are less lucky, the seal will be compromised, and if you don't notice it, you will open a jar and pass out from the funky rot smell coming from the jar where you swear you put salsa, again if you are lucky. Botulism is an anaerobe, (fancy word for grows in the absence of oxygen) and it has no smell or taste. Totes dangerous. Cook the damn onions.

Add any peppers you like in yours. I do a poblano, and some bell and then the little sweet peppers. I then add the diced tomatoes and cook until hot all the way through. I add some apple cider vinegar, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of pre made fajita spices. Add salt and pepper but be sparing with the salt since you add more in the canning process. You then jar that up, still adding the salt and lemon juice like with the plain tomatoes.

Sick of this shit yet? No? Well, this next recipe is missing some of the great procedural photographs. For that I apologize. But if you do attempt this one, be ready for a multi day process. However it doesn't need to be done right this very second, so it is a little more flexible than the others I suppose since the texture is not important here. But once you start something, you gotta finish it.

Put your tomatoes in freezer bags and freeze them solid.

Once they are frozen and you are sure you have a couple days to watch them, take them out and add to the crockpot on low. You will end up using probably 5 or 6 gallon freezer bags full for 6 quarts of sauce. Start with one, until the water from the tomatoes separates and rises to the top. Skim off as much as you can and dump it. Then add another frozen bag and repeat the process. The more water you skim off the less time you need to watch it cook to thicken it. I make my sauce to almost paste consistency because I can always add water later when I use it, so it takes up less space. If you skip the freezing step, you will be at this for a month. Freezing causes the water in the cells to expand, making them explode, releasing the water in the tomato as it thaws. Same thing for other fruits and such. (Technically the tomato is a fruit according to horticultural rules) The freezing makes this go a million times faster. 

This will take a couple days to accomplish. I don't advise it being done on the stove. No one has that amount of attention to do, but if you must try it, don't blame me when you burn the damn house down. 

Once you have gotten as much water as you can out of the tomatoes and they are FINALLY all in the crockpot, hit this hot mess with a stick blender. If you don't have one, scoop out the tomato smutz and use a regular blender.  Then add anything you like to make sauce. You can just finish here and add when you plan to serve, or do it now so it is pre made. Totally up to you.

Again, if you plan to use onions, either cook them first, or be sure they cook down in the sauce until translucent or you will have explosions and spoilage. I saute onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers in a couple tablespoons olive oil until soft and then add them. I grew fresh basil and oregano this year so that went in too. This doesn't have to be perfect. You can always doctor it later when you serve it. Also remember that processing the jars and letting them sit intensifies and melds the flavors. It will taste slightly different when you eat it later than when you jarred it up. Add salt and pepper to taste but be sparing with the salt since you add before you process the jars. (1/2 tsp each of salt and lemon juice or citric acid per quart jar, 1/4 tsp each for Pints) You want to process for 45-50 minutes given the density of this. Remember to start the timer when the water is boiling not before.

Then you end up with this. And really soft hands. And red finger nails. And although you are not sure you want to eat any tomatoes right now as you will probably want to hurl at the thought, you have to admit the sense of pride seeing it all done. Not to mention the whole "IN YOUR FACE Rachel Ray!!" when you crack this open in January while she shows people how to cook with aluminum cans of commercial tomatoes with no effing flavor. To me, it's worth it.

Credit http://tarynsgate.deviantart.com/art/Killer-Tomato-128711634

Monday, August 5, 2013

Yeah I know, I'm lazy...but I went shopping and I MADE JAM!

First of all I know I have neglected all of you. Miss me? I missed you....

Anyway, back at the ranch...

I have been busy as hell given the time of the year with catching up with friends, family, and generally getting things done. My husband and I had a very productive Sunday yesterday so I decided to keep the momentum rolling, and actually write a blog post. 0.0

Before I go into the Jam I made, I had a wonderful shopping experience today that I wanted to tell you all about.

I like consignment stores. Like, I LOVE THEM!!! However I am also running at only 50% capacity of the brain most days as the other 50% has decided to go on a perseveration vacation, so I am mentally obsessing over crap I can't control. So I forget to go to them for shopping until my kids come to me, usually after a major bill is paid, to tell me their shoes/pants/underwear doesn't fit.

Did I tell you about the time my son came to be complaining his stomach hurt really bad? Here I am freaking out because I think he has some sort of stomach bug or is developing IBS or something. Nope, he'd grown out of his underwear...and I mean he needed a Large and was squeezing into a Small, and it was pinching his middle. I never thought to check his undies, as most kids would have come to tell their parents they needed new underwear. But I digress....

Well, then I remembered that I can get good clothing cheap if I consignment shop. I always feel so proud of myself for remembering. (It's the little things, ya know?) So I go through the kids closets, and weed out stuff that is too small and such, and take it to my local consignment shop drop off. There are tons of them out there depending on where you are in the world. In my town there are at least 5 different kinds, each with several locations. The one I go to, is Savers in Henrietta. You can check their website here. I donated a bag of clothing, and got a coupon for 20% off my entire purchase. I didn't end up using it though because I happened to go on a Monday where everything is 25% off just because it is Monday. That makes the Mama happy, let me tell you!

Now get this...I got pants, jammie pants, a robe, and some other cool clothes for my son, a bunch of cute skirts (with shorts underneath as in my house if a skirt is above the knee, you need shorts under it.) and a couple of sweaters, 2 sets of sheets and a comforter for my son's new bed and two pairs of jeans for me. Total retail cost new? Over $700.00. What did I pay? $98.50.  That is DAMN good. So I skipped out of there very happy.

The thing is that these clothes are usually of good quality and are name brands. They are only put on the shelf if they are in good shape and not torn, damaged or stained. (This might not be the case all the time, at every place but the majority of major consignment shops have a certain standard they keep) The way kids grow out of things, it makes no sense to buy new if you can help it.

In stores like this, there are usually limited quantities of young girls and boys clothing that are in good shape. You can look and you might get lucky, but the bigger the store, the bigger the selection usually. If you are looking for any of the following, you could get very lucky, as I did. Small womens and Small mens sizes are usually in abundance. Baby clothes are a HUGE one and you can get the majority of the stuff still brand new with tags on it. There are usually tons of dishes so if you need a set of something, you might want to check it out. Depending on the place you go, linens are great, and if you buy a comforter you can always get a duvet cover for it much cheaper than buying new.

And as a bottom line it is a good thing to do for your community, the environment and yourself. :)


We went blueberry picking on Sunday, and I made some jam from the fresh berries. I realized that morning that I was completely out of jam. I mean, NO JAM was in my house. Very sad. So I had to make more.

First thing, get your berries together. I used fresh but frozen works too, just don't add any liquid. When the berries thaw, they will have enough. If using fresh I add, per quart of blueberries, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and 3 cups of sugar. Put that in the pot and mash over low heat. They don't have to be obliterated or anything, you are just trying to extract juice. 

Once you go a good "mash" going, you can add your pectin, if you use it. I don't for this recipe. Blueberries have a naturally high pectin content and I don't find it necessary to add any. This is personal preference. If you do use it, follow the recipes that come with it, in order to be sure you use it properly. I use commercial pectins in my rose petal jelly and green tea jelly. They need it for obvious reasons. If you want t go totally hippie mom natural, boil a cup of apple peelings in 1 1/2 cups water, until the skins are soft and mushy and then remove the peelings and throw them out (compost of course), strain the juice and you now have a dilute liquid pectin. Voila!

Bring you blueberry mash to  a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. That means when you stir it, it doesn't deflate the boiling. Turn off the heat at that point. Be sure you are stirring and standing over this because you can go from jam to burn horse shit really quickly if you are not careful. 

Prepare your jars according to the proper procedure. In this case, we can water bath process this. Wash jars and lids, and then boil them as you cook the jam. Remove them from the boiling water, fill with jam, wipe the rims and apply lids and bands. Place in water bath canner, and process for 20 minutes for 1/2 pints, 30 minutes for pints. Start timing after the water in the canning pot is boiling. 

 Remove jars and let cool on a towel on the counter. You should start hearing the "POP" as they seal as they cool. If after 12 hours, there are still some with the buttons on the lids still up, that means they didn't seal. This doesn't mean they are bad, by any means. They are just not shelf stable. Put them in the fridge and keep them there for up to 6 months. Once you open one, however, use it within a week or so. If you see mold or they smell off in anyway, dump it. No need taking chances.

Gorgeous, right?

So nice to be back, y'all. I look forward to many more posts soon.