Canapolooza 2016

One might call it a Labor Day tradition: a gathering of many hands, a pitcher of sangria, and an unreasonably large quantity of tomatoes in a Rogers Park kitchen for the annual Canapolooza. In case you missed it, this is what happened:

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Canapolooza 2013

My friend Ann can can.

She might be able to can can too, but trust me, Ann can definitely can.

When I picked up my 40 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun last Sunday for her Labor Day canning party (thinking, “wow, this is a s*#$ ton of tomatoes“), Ann said, “I think we may have different expectations about canning day.”

When two crafty ladies get together with cocktails and 100 pounds of tomatoes, it’s kind of amazing. Aside from the 19 jars of marinara sauce now sit in my pantry ready for the pizza I might make next February, here are some photographic highlights of the day:

Salsa!
Salsa! and, Ann’s extremely enormous pot.
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste

Tomatillo Overload!

tumblr_mrsalwwBTk1qmywbko1_500The canning begins…

Just as I’m preparing to go back to school for another semester we are reaching a critical point in the season in which Lauren buys a ridiculous amount of produce in an effort to overstock her pantry with Ball jars full of food for the winter.

It’s about to get crazy in that little kitchen in the city.

On a whim, I bought six quarts of tomatillos at the Andersonville Farmers Market from my friends at Midnight Sun and decided it would be a good idea to have enough salsa verde around to withstand the apocalypse…. this is how I did it:

Tomatillo Salsa

(recipe courtesy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

Ingredients:

  • 5-1/2 cups chopped, cored, husked tomatillos
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped seeded green peppers (your choice of heat… I used a bunch of banana peppers and one jalapeno with a few of the seeds for the whole batch, because I’m not a “burn your face off salsa” kind of  girl.
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 4 tsp lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 TB finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

tumblr_mrsg0rifqb1qmywbko1_500Prepare your canner, jars and lids.*

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until semi-smooth.

Ladle or pour hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace in the jars. Gently remove air bubbles by poking into the jar with a knife and adding salsa as needed. Wipe rim, center seal on jar, and screw band down until fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid, wait 5 min, then remove jars, cool, and store.

*You’ll need a big soup pot that’s deep enough to submerge your jars in water. Place empty jars in pot and fill with water until jars are covered. Heat over med-high heat while you prepare salsa. This will sterilize the jars and heat them (hot salsa into hot jars to process).  Bands and seals should be gently heated in a small saucepan until ready to use.

Makes about two pint jars.  I, of course, quadrupled the recipe to get the haul you see here…

You Can Can Cranberry Juice!

CranberriesOn the road toward self-sufficiency in the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, I’ve managed to can and preserve tomatoes, beets, and cucumbers, but I imagine no apocalypse is complete without a Vodka cocktail.

This is one of three reasons I decided to try my hand at making cranberry juice on the 4th or July.

The other two reasons? I had three bags of cranberries in the freezer leftover from a 10 for $10 sale at the grocery store about 10 years ago, and, they’re red.  You know… 4th of July.  I can be patriotic sometimes too.

This recipe comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has become a dog-earred crusty staple in my household.  The description even mentions the inevitability of adding this juice to cocktails, and after this I may never see another bottle of Ocean Spray.

Cranberry Juice

  • tumblr_mpgss81P2L1qmywbko1_500Cranberries (fresh of frozen)
  • Water
  • Granulated Sugar (to taste*, optional)

Directions:

In a large, deep saucepan, combine equal parts cranberries and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to boil gently for about 5 minutes (the berries will burst open… don’t be alarmed).

Transfer to a strainer lined with a few layers of damp cheesecloth.  Let drip, undisturbed, for about two hours.**

In a clean pan, combine juice with sugar, if desired.* Heat to 190-F and hold at 190 for 5 minutes, without letting it boil.

Ladle hot juice into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ headspace (2.5 bags of cranberries made about 2 quarts of juice). Center the lid and screw band down fingertip-tight. Place in canner completely covered by water and bring to a boil.  Process for 15 minutes. Remove lid and turn heat off, and wait 5 minutes before removing from the canner.  Cool on the counter and store.

* To put your portions into perspective, I used about 1 C. of sugar for my 2.5 bags of cranberries, and it’s a little too sweet for my taste. 

** This is Ball talking and I didn’t have 2 hours to let the juice drain naturally. Though it’s probably the best practice and I’d never dispute the canning Bible, let’s face it, I let it sit about 30 minutes, squeezed a bunch out manually, and everything seemed to turn out fine.

Thirty pounds of tomatoes was not nearly enough

As I climbed the step stool and stored jar after jar of tomato sauce on top of the cupboards in my tiny kitchen, I gave myself a serious pat on the back:

Well, Warnecke, you’ve done it.  You preserved enough tomatoes to make it through the winter, and next spring too.  Well. done.

Not really.

A pasta dish and a couple of homemade pizzas later and I’m about half way through my stash before the first snow.  I’ve been yearning for the full experience of eating and living seasonally, and seriously want to make a pizza in February without buying a mealy tomato from Mexico.  I thought this might be my year, but, alas, it seems not.

I realize that my quest to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder is somewhat impeded by living in a twenty-first century metropolis with 8 cubic feet of outdoor space…

It’s a process, but I’m determined to do it, and this year is apparently part of the learning process in what I actually need to do to get through a winter sans the produce aisle.

Next year I’ll be upping my game.  I’m thinking, instead of thirty, I should really be canning more like 130 pounds of tomatoes.

The Crock Pot (a.k.a. “Old Faithful”) makes tomato sauce

“Old Faithful”

I pseudo inherited my crock pot from my mother while foraging her basement on a Sunday trip to the suburbs.  This 1975 Sears “Crock Watcher” is older than me, but undoubtedly in better condition.

If the 70’s got anything right, it’s the slow cooker.  The idea that I can stick something in there at 6am before I leave for work, cover it  with liquid, and come home to a good smelling house AND dinner still boggles my mind, and I do it about every other week…. sometimes more, sometimes less.

Lately Old Faithful has been working overtime cranking out tomato sauce to stock up for the winter.  I bought 30 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun Farm over the course of three weeks and have made tomato processing an obsession.

After an epic fail on the stove of sauce that was way more juicy than saucy, I revamped my approach.  Ok, it wasn’t entirely a fail, just a misunderstanding between me and the tomatoes, really.  After consulting mom (my go-to for kitchen mishaps) and my friend and fellow canning-enthusiast Toni Camphouse, I opted to try the slow cooker approach, and I’m never turning back.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes (duh)
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice
  • Canning jars and lids

Core and quarter tomatoes and fill your slow cooker.  Prop the lid open with a spoon and cook all day on low.

The great tomato stock-up begins…

Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the tomatoes until smooth.  Pre-fill canning jars with salt and lemon juice.  For quart jars, use 2TB lemon juice and 1 tsp. salt*.  Half those if using pint jars.  Add sauce to jars and fill to 1/2″ from the top.  Cover with lid and band, twisting until hand tight.

Add jars to water bath (making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch). Once water is boiling, reduce heat to a rolling boil and set time for 30-40 minutes (30 for pint jars, 40 for quart).  Remove from water bath and set on a level surface to cool (don’t shake the jars).  Store for as long as you like, or about a year, whichever comes first.

* You can add seasoning to your sauce before you jar it, but I prefer to do it once I open the jar so the herbs and spices are fresher.

Summer draws to a close

Fall 2011 at Portage Park Farmer’s Market | Photo by Kelly Rose

We’re on the heels of my favorite season.  The mornings now have a bite in the air, fashion scarves and sweaters are becoming imperative, and everything around me is turning into orange-y and amber hues.  Though I’m a California girl at heart, I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost 25 years.  The one thing about living here that has kept me from continually accosting my parents for moving us across the country is the leaves.  Well, they have leaves in California, but they don’t turn orange and gold and burgundy.

Some people live life with rose-colored glasses; my glasses are burgundy.

Plus, the idea of not sweating profusely every time I go somewhere is highly appealing to me.

The farmer’s market is becoming particularly bountiful, and though it’s sad to see summer squash and tomatoes go out of my life, the beginning of fall means it’s “squirrel time”.  What I mean is, I’m trying to make time to take everything that still just barely at it’s peak of freshness and dry it, freeze it or can it for the winter.

I’ve always wanted to make an attempt to preserve enough produce to make it through the winter without buying a shriveled up zucchini that was grown in the middle of Mexico and shipped to my local store on a refrigerator truck.

Wishful thinking…

I know that this isn’t the year for me to make this happen full stop, but nonetheless I’ve managed to buy and can or freeze 25 pounds of  tomatoes, pickle a bunch of beets, blanch and freeze broccoli, eggplant, and green beans, and there is a batch of crispy squash chips in the oven as I type.  I got a really big squash in my CSA box last week, was told it would be the last one, and, having eaten one squash too many, this is what I chose to do with it:

Squash Chips

Ingredients:

  • Zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (spraying it with cooking spray works fine too).  Arrange the squash slices in a single layer and coat with olive oil using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle with a modest amount of salt and bake at 275-F for a LONG time (several hours).  When they are firm and crispy, they’re done.

A great substitute for potato chips, use these chips up in about three days, stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel