Saturday, August 18, 2012

What We Made Yesterday

I've been in a regular canning frenzy lately, trying recipes to justify spending $9.99 on this "special interest publication," a recent impulse buy at the market.
Day before yesterday I made two batches of the Lemon-Honey Jelly, which turned out to be delicious  and lovely to look at. Like my grandmother, I like to set up jars in the window and enjoy the way the light, even on an overcast day, comes through them, as through a stained glass window.
You can see thin strips of lemon zest floating in the jars; the recipe said to strain them out but I like the way it looks - and tastes. I made 2 batches, 10 jars. Here's the recipe:

Lemon-Honey Jelly (makes 5 half-pints)
2 to 3 medium lemons
1 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup honey
1/2 of a 6-ounce package (1 foil pouch) liquid fruit pectin

1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the colored part of the peel from one of the lemons. (Avoid removing the bitter white portion.) Cut the peel into thin strips; set aside. Cut the remaining lemons in half; squeeze lemons for juice. Measure 1/2 cup lemon juice. (Reserve any remaining juice for another use.)
2. In a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot, combine the lemon peel strips, the 1/2 cup lemon juice, water, and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in honey. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Quickly stir in the pectin. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Quickly skim off the foam with a metal spoon. Use spoon to remove lemon peel strips and discard peel strips.
3. Ladle hot jelly into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
4. Process filled jars in a boiling-water bath canner for 5 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks.
Per Tablespoon: 44 cal., 12 g carb., 0 g anything else.
Note (i.e., what I did differently): You really don't need more than one lemon if you have good bottled lemon juice, like the organic Italian Volcano lemon juice they sell at Costco. I have a citrus zester that gives lovely thin shreds without messing with the vegetable peeler, but I think that if you're going to leave the peel strips in the jelly as I did, you could also grate it directly using the fine-shred side of a box grater, to save an extra step.

     Yesterday, however, was spent in a much more ambitious undertaking, the Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce on page 32. Roma tomatoes were on sale for 3 pounds for 99¢ last week so I bought 18 pounds and spread them out on one end of the long dining room table to ripen. Well, they didn't, not really, not the way we hope tomatoes will ripen, gently and predictably, but by yesterday they were probably as good as they were going to get, and since it seems like tomatoes, Romas especially, can go from ripening to softening and rotting almost overnight (as Shakespeare says, ". . . from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then from hour to hour, we rot and rot; and thereby hangs a tale"), it was time to put up the sauce.
     If Joe hadn't helped me peel the @#$%^ things I might still be standing at the sink, sweating and swearing. Those skins just didn't want to come off, no matter how long we left them in the blanching kettle. The TV was on - it was Globe Trekker, visiting east Texas, and as we peeled we listened to Zai's interview with a former warden of the state prison at Hunstville, talking about the executions he'd overseen. It seemed somehow grimly appropriate, since standing there trying to peel those stubborn tomatoes was beginning to feel like a prison sentence.
     I love our food processor, which made quick work of chopping everything and finally getting it into the biggest kettle we own, which almost wasn't big enough, since I'd decided to make 1 and 1/2 times the recipe to make use of some 24-ounce canning jars that originally had Classico brand pasta sauce in them. They're marked "Mason" as well as Atlas brand. Don't try canning in jars that aren't clearly marked as canning jars. You won't want to clean up the mess that can ensue. I like the 24-ounce size, though if you're going to buy Ball or Kerr jars you won't find them. Standard jars come in 8, 16, and 32 ounce sizes. Each of these recycled 24 ounce jars holds enough for at least 2 meals for the two of us or one meal when we have a few guests. Here's what we wound up with:
Because Romas are meatier and less watery than other tomatoes, we lost less in the more-than-an-hour-long cooking process (the recipe said we'd only get 6 jars but we got 7) and had enough left over for dinner last night and something, maybe some bruschetta, today. Here's what it looked like on the dinner pasta,
and here's the original recipe:

Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce (makes 6 pints)
6 bulbs garlic
3 T. olive oil
4 medium bell peppers, any color (I used a combination of red and green), halved and seeded
12 pounds ripe tomatoes, blanched and peeled
3 T. packed brown sugar
2 T. kosher salt or 4 tsp. regular (non-iodized) salt
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, snipped
1 cup lightly packed assorted fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme, Italian flat-leaf parsley, and/or more basil), snipped
6 T. lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400. Peel away the dry outer layers of skin from garlic bulbs, leaving other skin and bulbs intact. Cut about 1/2" (or maybe less) off the pointed top portions, leaving bulbs intact but exposing the individual cloves. Place the garlic bulbs, cut sides up, in a 1- to 1 1/2 quart casserole. Drizzle with 1 T. of the oil. Cover casserole. Arrange peppers, cut sides down, on a foil-lined baking sheet; brush with remaining oil.
2. Roast garlic and peppers for 40 to 50 minutes or until pepper halves are charred and garlic cloves are soft. Cool garlic on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Pull up sides of foil and pinch together to fully enclose peppers. Let peppers stand 15 to 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle; peel off skins and discard. Chop peppers; set aside.
3. Remove garlic cloves from paper skins by squeezing the bottoms of the bulbs. Place garlic cloves in a food processor. Cut tomatoes into chunks; add some of the chunks to the garlic in the food processor. Cover and process until chopped.
4. Transfer chopped garlic garlic and tomatoes to a 7- to 8-quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot. Repeat chopping the remaining tomatoes, in batches, in the food processor. Add all the tomatoes to the pot.
5. Add brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and black pepper to the tomato mixture. Bring to boiling (stir often). Boil steadily, uncovered, for 50 minutes, stirring often. Add chopped peppers to tomato mixture. Boil 10 to 20 minutes more or until mixture is reduced to about 11 cups and reaches desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in basil and assorted herbs.
6. Spoon 1 T. lemon juice into each of six hot, sterilized pint canning jars. Ladle hot sauce into jars with lemon juice, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
7. Process filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 35 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks.
Per 1/2 cup: 87 cal., 2 g. fat, 0 mg chol., 497 mg. sodium, 16 g carb., 3 g. fiber, 3 g. protein

We peeled the tomatoes over a couple of large kettles so we wouldn't lose any juices, and I saved that juice just in case I needed to add more liquid to the sauce as it cooked, but as it turns out, I didn't, so now I have this nice jar of juice to use as liquid in soup, or any number of other possible cooking projects.
     I'm a total believer in recycling and repurposing, for example, saving jars for storage, like these on the shelf above our kitchen window. I can tell at a glance if I have rice or raisins or lentils or oat bran, for example, and I like the way they look - I guess it appeals to my inner hippie and I know that looking up there makes me happy.
So there you have it, the fruits of our labors, which were (except maybe for peeling the tomatoes) also pleasure, and which will give pleasure in the weeks and months to come. I know I'll be making more recipes from "Canning," since everything I've tried so far has turned out very well.

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