Monday, September 24, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part II

I know, I have been anxiously awaiting this post.  Well, let me tell you, I have been busy...CANNING!

Now that you have all the items you need - except, my apologies, you also need bottled lemon juice (I forgot to put it on the list). Here's what you need to know to can diced (raw-packed) and pureed tomatoes.  I recommend doing one thing at a time.  The first time that I tried canning I attempted to multi-task and it took much longer.

For your diced tomatoes, you will need 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds per quart.  For pureed tomatoes you will need 3 to 3 1/2 pounds per quart.

Gather all your supplies!

Step #1:  Review your recipe.  I used the general guidelines in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Step #2:  CLEAN your kitchen!  Use a safe disinfectant spray (I do like Seventh Generation) to clean all your counters and inside your sink.

Step #3:  Get a large pot of  water ready for boiling.  This is for blanching the tomatoes (coming up).  Also get ready a large bowl to put ice and cold water into.

Step #4:  Clean all of your jars, lids, and bands in hot and soapy water.  Make sure that you inspect all of the glass jars to make sure there aren't any cracks in the glass.  Place the jars in a pot of simmering water (not boiling - 180 deg F).  I recommend putting the jars into the pot and then pouring the water over top (I used a pitcher, because frankly this huge pot would have been way too heavy to move once it was full of water).  You can just use your canning pot for this if you don't have a second large pot.  This will keep the jars sterilized while you prepare everything, and you will already have nice hot water ready for canning.  Also place the lids in a smaller pot of water, again to 180 Deg F, to keep them also sterile.

Sterilizing the Jars.

Sterilizing the Lids.

Step #5:  Wash all of your tomatoes. I measured them with my food scale as I went to make sure I had enough for my recipe.  Then what I did was scrub them with my veggie scrubber to get the dirt off, rinsed them, and then I put them in a mixture of approximately  half vinegar and half hot water in the sink.  Then I scrubbed the tomatoes with a clean cloth and rinsed them again, and placed them on a clean towel to dry.

~ 4 tomatoes to a pound

Step #6:  Remove the core and score all of the tomatoes with an "X" on the blossom end.  This will help with the peeling process coming up soon.

Step #7:  Blanche the tomatoes.  Put several tomatoes into the pot of boiling water you've already prepared and cook for 30-60 seconds, just until the skin begins peeling.  While it's cooking, fill your bowl with ice and cold water.  Once the tomatoes have cooked, put them into the cold water to stop cooking (for about a minute).  Then transfer to another bowl.  Repeat the process until all tomatoes have been blanched, but make sure the water returns to a boil before you put in the next batch of tomatoes. 

Boil for 30-60 seconds.
Place in ice water.

Step #8:  Peel all of the tomatoes.  You can use a peeling knife to pull the skin off, but honestly it comes off super easily.  Discard the skins or use them for composting.

The skins are ready to be peeled off!
Step #9:  Dice all of the tomatoes and put them into a large bowl.  A cutting board with wells is very helpful, because these tomatoes will be juicy!

All diced - ready to get into the jars!
Step #10:  Using your jar lifter, remove one jar at a time from the pot which has been keeping them sterilized and carefully pour the water from the jar back into the pot.  I will demonstrate the correct and incorrect way to use the jar lifter in a bit, haha!

Step #11:  Put 2 tbsp of lemon juice into the jar if it is quart size, and 1 tbsp of lemon juice if it is pint size.  Put the funnel in the jar and fill the jar, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  You can add salt at this point if desired (1 tsp/quart or 1/2 tsp/pint).  Push the tomatoes down with a spatula and run a thin spatula along the edges to prevent any air bubbles.  FYI, we are packing the tomatoes in their own juice.

These tomatoes are so juicy!!
Step #12:  Wipe the rim with a clean damp towel.  You don't want any food particles on the top of the jar because this can interfere with proper sealing.  Use your lid lifter to take a lid out of its pot and place onto the jar.  Put the band on and tighten so that it is finger tight.  Return the filled jar into the canner pot.  Repeat steps #10-12 for remaining jars.  

Step #13:  Once all the jars are filled and put into the canner pot, make sure there is 1-2 inches of water above the jars.  Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, set your timer for 1 hour and 25 minutes (this is kinda long, but we are doing a raw pack here; if we cooked the diced tomatoes first, the processing time would be a less).  The water should boil gently but steady, not an extreme rolling boil.

Step #14:  I know you're tired at this point, but if you have some energy left, use it for cleaning up the inevitable mess that was made in the kitchen.  Or, put your feet up and watch a movie!

Step #15:  Once time is up, turn off the burner and take off the lid.  Let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Then remove with the jar lifter and place onto hot pads or towels, a couple inches in between each jar.  DO NOT MOVE FOR 12-24 HOURS to allow for proper sealing.

INCORRECT TECHNIQUE - HA!  I totally did this.  
Because the tomatoes are so juicy, the water and tomatoes may separate. Once you have waited 24 hours, you can tip the jar and mix it back up.

Step #16:  ENJOY your preserved bounty!!


Steps #1-5:  This is the same as above, but you can skip #3.

Step #6: Cut off the core and blossom ends of the cleaned tomatoes, quarter them and put them into a large bowl.  

Step #7:  Place the quartered tomatoes into a large cooking pot.  Cook them until they are nice and soft, maybe about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Step #8:  Crank your tomatoes through a tomato press or food mill.  Alternately (I have not tried this), you can puree them in a food processor and press the mixture through a sieve to separate the skins/seeds from the tomatoes.  Alternative #2, which again, I have not tried, you could blanch and peel the tomatoes as we did for the diced tomatoes and then put them in the food processor (this would leave the seeds in the puree, though).  You'll need one bowl to collect the puree, and one bowl to collect the skins and seeds.  Pour the puree into another bowl.

Tomato Press, graciously lent to me by my Mother-in-law.

Step #9:  Place the pureed tomatoes into a large stockpot and heat it to 190 deg F.  NOTE:  I felt that my puree was very watery, and when I do this again, I plan to boil the puree in order to boil off some of the extra water so that it's more thick.  

Step #10:  Fill your jars with the puree, lifting the jars carefully with the jar lifter, putting the lemon juice in first (1 tbsp/pint, 2 tbsp/quart), using the funnel to prevent food particles from dripping on the rim.  Leave 1/4 inch headspace.

Step #11:  Clean the rims, put on the lids, and tighten the bands and fill up your water bath canner as you did for the diced tomatoes.  Again, make sure there is 1-2 inches of water above the jars.  

Step #12:  Put the lid on the canner and bring to a boil.  Process 35 minutes for pints, and 40 minutes for quarts.

Step #13:  Once time is up, turn off the burner and take off the lid.  Let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Then remove with the jar lifter and place onto hot pads or towels, a couple inches in between each jar.  DO NOT MOVE FOR 12-24 HOURS to allow for proper sealing.


Well, there you go!  Now be warned, this is a rather time consuming project, so make sure you don't have anywhere you need to be.  Make sure you keep things clean as you go - lots of hand washing!  You can treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure later :-).  This process would go faster and probably be more enjoyable if you do it with a friend, too.

Here is what I ended up with:  

6 quarts & 17 pints diced tomatoes,  7 pints pureed tomatoes, 12 pints salsa, 4 quarts & 9 Pint and a Half jars of Sauce (minus what I have already used).

Coming up in part III will be how to make salsa and sauce.  FYI, I have been using everything and it is totally delicious!  It was a long time in the making, but I feel very accomplished and have a very happy tummy :-).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part I!

OK, so with much ado, I better get going with my promise to post about my recent experience with canning, specifically of tomatoes.  Let's just say that I got a little carried away...and am getting carried away again and have picked even more tomatoes.  

Let's start at the beginning...why spend the time canning?  These were a few reasons I had:

1.) To save some moolah (of course, there is an initial investment in your tools and jars - but that is really a one-time thing, then you only need to re-purchase lids and maybe bands.  Since I had to invest in the jars this year, I borrowed my Mother-in-law's canner; next year I plan to invest in my own canner since I won't have the expense of the jars).
2.) To have (presently) fresh food stored up for months to come when said foods are no longer in season.
3.) To learn a useful skill.
4.) To avoid BPA leaching into my tomatoes and getting into my body!  See this interesting article from Wake Up World.  Apparently most canned products contain BPA in their resin linings, and because tomatoes are very acidic, the BPA leaches more into the food.
5.) To feel like "susie-homemaker" (haha).

There are other reasons you may have, but those were a few main ones I had.  It was also very gratifying once I completed to see my delicious bounty that I had worked so hard to create :-)...and even more gratifying when I used it in one of my fav recipes - Greek Bolognese from my Pampered Chef 29 Minutes to Dinner Cookbook (Vol 2)!

The most fun part of my journey was when I went tomato picking with my friend, Emily.  Because I am convicted that organic is better (I don't want to consume pesticides or any genetically modified "food"), I checked online to see if there was an organic farm in my area where I could pick lots o' tomats (because I wanted lots!).  I discovered Thorpe's Organic Family Farm, right outside of East Aurora and no more than a 20 minute drive from my house.  Perfect!  Local AND organic!  Their tomatoes were $7.50 per half-bushel, pick your own.  They also have a Community Supported Agriculture Program (but more on that in a future post...I am giving it a try for the first time and will fill you in later!).

Emily is the sweetest, and offered to drive.  We had no trouble finding the farm.  So far, so good.  They also had a great stand where you could buy produce that was already picked - peppers and garlic and herbs and potatoes and apples and grapes, oh my!

Emily at the Produce Stand with our loads of other goodies - yay for corn!

The lady at the stand was very nice and helpful, and showed us on a hand-drawn map where the tomatoes were and how they want everyone to drive all in the same direction.  Got it.  She gave us a few baskets to borrow, and off we started driving to the tomato area.  Now, it's single lane, this "road", and it gets tight when there are other cars that park along the road (or the roads running perpendicular in between the different plants).  And our map, remember, is hand-drawn and not to scale.  We pass the first tomatoes (beef-steak or something, we wanted the plum), but then by the plum tomatoes someone else was parked so we had to drive past.  

And then we got confused, and obviously were no longer on the "road for cars", but the "road for tractors":

We were "lost" for a little while...and those plants in the middle were high!  Poor Emily's car was getting some nice exfoliation for its underbelly!*  We were laughing so hard and really hoping that no one was watching us, and we were really glad that we were together - because had either of us gone alone, we are certain we would have done the same thing, but been all alone!  We were hoping if we got to the end of this stretch the "road" would turn and we could drive along the other side of the fields - uh, nope.  And with it being single lane, and not being sure if the plants to our right were weeds or good plants, and a ditch on the other side - we couldn't really turn around.  So...into reverse Emily went!  I was impressed, because she drives a standard, too - a skill I have yet to master although my husband has been driving a manual vehicle for over 2 years.  Very slowly and carefully we drove backwards until there was a reasonable area to turn around without smushing plants.  Whew!  And we finally found the tomato patch!

There were lots of tomatoes just ripe for the picking!  Some were tough to get to, because they didn't have those nice supportive wires like we may use in our gardens.  And our hands and shoes got really dirty - should have brought gloves, but hey, we were first-timers!  After a little bit of time, we had successfully gathered 3 half-bushels of beautiful tomatoes!

All in all it was a successful day!  Sunny and Funny!  And I had plenty o' tomats for my plans...mouah-ha-ha-ha...diced and pureed (which has since become plans for sauce and salsa, too).

Here are the tools & supplies you will need to get started on your own canning adventures:

  • Water Bath Canner or Pressure Canner
  • Basic Canning Tools - i.e. funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter, tongs, jar wrench
  • Canning Jars or lids and bands if you already have jars
  • Small pot for keeping lids sterilized
  • Several kitchen and dish towels, and hotpads/trivets
  • A kitchen scale - optional, but I like to be precise in measuring how many pounds of tomatoes specific to my recipe
  • Veggie scrubber
  • Vinegar (I used for washing my tomats)
  • Large pot for blanching your produce
  • Large bowl for your ice-bath
  • Colander(s
  • Large cutting board - I used one with a juice well, because my tomatoes were extra juicy!
  • Sharp utility knife and paring knife- a good ergonomical one so that your hand doesn't fatigue
  • Large trivet (or cutting board) for putting the hot jars onto before filling them
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Salt (optional)
  • Good scraper - one for pressing the tomatoes and a skinny one to slide along the jar to let out air bubbles
  • Ladle for scooping tomatoes into jars
  • Large bowl or two putting diced (or pureed) tomatoes into
  • Tomato Press, Food Mill, or Sieve (for pureeing the tomatoes and separating skins/seeds)
  • And a day with no place else to be, preferably a rainy one, as you just can't rush the process :-)
Now take some time to gather up your supplies, and be ready for Part II where I will get down to the nitty-gritty of canning!  Woot Woot!  

*Please Note:  No vehicles were harmed in the making of this adventure.  Though a little something came loose, Emily's highly skilled hubby was able to fix this no problem.  We do not advise taking a car onto a road intended only for tractors.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Few Make-Up Options for my Ladies

While I was hoping for my next post to be about my tomato canning project, I sort of picked, um, 80 to 100 POUNDS of tomatoes.  And needless to say, the project is taking its good ole time.  On top of that I have been inspired to try pasta sauce and salsa beyond my original plan to only can diced and pureed tomatoes.  So as not to keep you waiting on that topic, in the meantime I thought I would share a few suggestions for make-up (sorry guys!), as I have had a few ladies asking what alternatives I have used for make-up.

This was definitely a lot of trial and error for me, and of course a lot of checking things with Skin Deep.  Ladies I know you feel me here - we find our favorite mascara or lip gloss or whatever, and it is difficult to give that up.  But with a little digging, there are some goodies out there!  And some places will sell smaller samples of items, so that you can try out their products without a huge financial commitment.

The first company I purchased from was Maia's Minerals.  They have a GIGANTIC selection of products - mineral eye shadows, mascara, blush, foundation, lip gloss, lipstick, eyeliner, lip liner, brow pencils, skin care, hair care, bronzer, etc.  Overall, their prices are reasonable and of good quality, plus they all rate excellently on Skin Deep at 0-1 out of 10 only!!!  I really liked that they sell samples for their foundation, lip color, blush, and eye shadow for $1.50-$3.00.  I don't wear a ton of make-up, so I am still using the samples of the eye shadows that I purchased over a year ago - which is a stellar deal for me!  Their mascara was the first I tried, and I found it to smudge easily without me even touching my eyes.  HOWEVER, they have changed their formula  and the reviews on their site are positive.  They also have 3 colors to choose from , which is another plus.  I use their powder foundation which gives a nice matte finish and good coverage.  I also use their blush in Delicious Peach and Sweet Pink, their mineral glow in Divine, and their lip gloss in Purity and Mauve Touch.  The mineral colors are beautiful and reflective. The lip glosses go on super smooth!  I also really like the homemade feel of their products and the very reasonable shipping prices.  And the owner usually adds a little personal note and a free sample to try, too :-).  The only product I really didn't like was their eyeliner - the colors and choice of colors was great, but I found the application to not be very smooth, and it didn't last very long.

The second company I purchased from was Rejuva Minerals.  Their products also have a good safety rating, 0-1 out of 10, on Skin Deep.  They offer a variety of make-up and skin care products. Everything I have tried I have been happy with, but I have not tried many of their products as they do not have as wide a color selection, and they do not offer samples.  I have really enjoyed their mascara.  It is available only in black, but stays on without smudging (unless of course you physically rub your eyes) and is nice and smooth, no clumps!  Their lip gloss is equally beautiful and smooth in its application.  I have additionally tried their Ultra Hydration Moisturizer, and was very happy with it.  

I recently discovered another site called Saffron Rouge.  They have a big selection because they sell products from multiple companies, like  Living Nature, Inika, Badger, Dr. Bronner's, MOOM, and many others that I have not yet tried.  They have face care, skin care, make-up, body, bath, hair, baby,  men, and aromatherapy products.  Some of the products are a little upper-end in price, but I found the shipping to be very reasonable, and I got to choose some free samples at check-out.  They also list all the ingredients for you to look at for each product. I ordered Living Nature's Illuminating Tint and Inika's eyeliner.  I took a chance on the Inika eyeliner as I could not find it on Skin Deep; most of the ingredients were organic and some I didn't recognize - but I was desperate for finding an eyeliner again, so I have been giving it a try.  The ingredients I could find on Skin Deep didn't rate higher than a 3 out of 10.  Anyway, I like the way it applies, but I am still looking for an eyeliner to use on a more permanent basis (something that I have more data to go on).  The Living Nature illuminating tint is really great and I love the way it smells (it has Manuka Honey in it from New Zealand, which has a special place in my heart because I volunteered/traveled there for a month back in 2004).  It gives light coverage and a nice glow to your skin.  The price was fair ($37), which isn't too much more of what you might pay for something like Clinique or Estee Lauder or something along those lines.  The illuminating tint wasn't on Skin Deep, but other Living Nature products were, and they were all rated between 0-3.  Plus I was pretty familiar with the ingredient list, so I felt comfortable buying this product.  If you use this site, please double check the products or ingredients on Skin Deep!

Mostly I buy my make-up online.  In the grocery store I have purchased Badger products (hand cream and lip glass) and some Kiss my Face tinted lip gloss.  With anything, it is good to check the products (or ingredients) on Skin Deep.  While one product from a company may be great, some of their other products may be not so safe.  So just be careful.  For example, Kiss My Face products range 0-8 in safety, and Burt's Bees range 0-7 in safety - as you can see, the range is pretty broad.

The last company I want to share with you is a little harder to find, and definitely a splurge:  Terre D'Oc.  This company offers certified organic products and is based in France; there is also a store in New York City. I stumbled upon this during a weekend in the city with my Mom and my Aunts, and was so excited to find an actual store in which to buy some good make-up!  They totally lured me in with a sample and I ended up splurging on their Anti-pollution Foundation (~ $50) which naturally blended so nicely with my complexion and gave my skin a beautiful glow.  I also love their Nourishing Hand Cream with Shea Butter.  They gave me a sample of the Radiant Face Scrub made from pomegranates (~ $30) - it was gentle and smooth and exfoliating all at the same time!  Unfortunately you cannot order online, and prices are not listed (their NY site is under construction right now, too, so you have to get the info about the products from the French site).  But you can call the store and they will ship to you (but the shipping costs are high).  Their telephone number is 347-380-7482 and they are located at 55 West 49th St, New York, NY, 10112 (in Rockefeller Center).  If you are in the city, definitely go check them out!  They have teas and home fragrances in addition to their make-up, face/skin-care, and body care products.  Totally worth at least a visit!

OK, ladies!  I hope that this information is helpful for you to get started on finding some safer alternatives for your usual make-up products!  Good luck, and please share the knowledge if you try anything I have not!  I would love to hear your thoughts!

UPDATE, 10/22/12:  So I was recently in NYC and the Terre D'Oc store has closed, MAJOR BUMMER!  I am in process of getting in touch with distributors to find a way to purchase and have items shipped in the US.  Will update this information as soon as I get it!!