Friday, August 13, 2010

Stocking Up

Summer is in full swing now, and while folks living at lower elevations have several weeks (if not a couple of months) of summer left, those of us who hang out in the mountains can already see signs of autumn. There's been a change in cloud patterns, it's getting cooler at night, and the grass has slowed its growth and where it's not irrigated, has turned brown.

I love the fall. It's my favorite season. I like the feeling of stocking up for the cold, snowy weather ahead. I especially feel this way when we've returned from the Boise trip and have stopped at Costco to load up the truck with Stuff.

Putting everything away in the freezer and the pantry occupies much of the next morning and I make note of what we've bought and how much, so I can keep the inventory list up to date.

Blueberries

Blueberries, one of my favorite foods, are now in good supply at Costco and I bought half a dozen boxes. They go right in the freezer without needing any preparation. When I want some, I reach in the plastic container, take out a handful, and pop them in the microwave to defrost. This means my morning cereal will never be without those wonderful, nutritious, blue berries.

Corn

Farmers Markets are full of delicious, homegrown corn now and the price is right. Stock up and when you've eaten your fill, put some by for the winter. Remember that you need to use a pressure canner for canning corn.

While you're at it, why not try some corn relish? You'll find a great recipe in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Preserving Food.

Happy Autumn!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ice Cubes Go Modern

There's a bounty of mint in the garden and aside from adding some to my apple jelly, I thought I'd share another way to use this wonderful herb. Ready? Ice Cubes. Yep. It couldn't be simpler. Select some attractive leaves and drop one or two into your ice cube tray. Fill with water and freeze. When the cubes are solid, pop them out and store them in plastic freezer bags in the freezer.

Jazz up your ice tea or your tonic water with these cubes. They'll not only keep your drink cold, they'll add some color and some nice flavor when they melt.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can You Boil Water?

Mad Science

Before you drag out your canning equipment for the new season, it's a good idea to review some basic information.

Can you boil water?

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes. Actually, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. Here in the western Rocky Mountains, sea level is a long, long way down there. So we must make adjustments in our cooking, if we wish to obtain optimal results. Here, more than anywhere else, good cooking is an art that requires a light touch, a gentle hand, and hard-earned knowledge. So even if you live at a lower elevation, those camping trips to the mountains can result in raw boiled potatoes and tepid hot chocolate, if you don’t take steps to correct for the change in altitude.

Physics

The reason for this is simple physics: As elevation increases, the boiling point of water decreases. At 4,000 feet elevation, water boils at 204 degrees; at 8,000 feet, the boiling point is 197 degrees. The lowered boiling point is 1.9 degrees for each 1,000 feet increase in altitude. This means you must cook your food longer, once it begins to boil, to get it done. In baked goods, decreased pressure causes leavening gases to expand more and moisture to evaporate faster, and because high altitude areas are usually drier than lower elevations, flour may be drier and doughs may require more liquid to reach the proper consistency.

This is important for the home food preserver. If you are using the boiling water bath method, additional processing time is required. If processing time is 20 minutes or less, add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet of elevation above sea level. If processing time is over 20 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation. If using a pressure canner, the processing time will not change, but the pressure needs to increase 1 pound for every 2,000 feet of elevation.

To find your elevation, enter the name of your town or locality into this website: www.topozone.com/findplace. You can also put a pan of water on the stove to boil. Suspend a cooking thermometer in the water, being careful to keep the thermometer from touching the pan sides or bottom. Leave the thermometer in the water for a few minutes after the water starts to boil, to allow the thermometer to reach its maximum temperature.

Mountain Baking Mysteries

Do your cakes tend to fall? Do your brownies stick to the pan? Altitude, not attitude, is the culprit. Most recipes for baked products are geared for sea level bakers. Always grease your baking pans thoroughly, as cakes and breads tend to stick more when they are baked at high altitudes. Using a larger size pan can also help. Above 3,000 feet, decreased atmospheric pressure may cause a cake to rise too quickly, causing its cell structure to overexpand. You want to raise the oven temperature 25 degrees, so the product will bake faster and set the cell structure, so the cake will not fall. Many mixes that require adjustment for high altitudes have specific directions right on the package. Be sure to look for them.

Angel food and sponge cakes present special high altitude problems. The leavening gas for these cakes is largely air. If you beat too much air into the egg whites, the air cells overexpand and collapse, poor dears. Aim for a gentle peak that falls over gracefully, not one that’s stiff and dry. Using less sugar, more flour, and a higher baking temperature also helps strengthen the cell structure of foam-type cakes.

Pound cakes and other rich cakes benefit from reduced amounts of fat.

Yeast bread dough benefits from higher baking temperatures, more liquid, less yeast, and more and shorter rising periods. The dough rises more rapidly and can over-rise easily, so let dough rise for a shorter time. Because flour dries out more quickly, use the minimum amount called for in a recipe, or use 1/4 to 1/2 cup less than the total amount.

Fancy breads contain more sugar, which makes them brown too fast at high temperatures, so they should be baked at 375 degrees.

Boiled candy and cooked frostings (sugar mixtures) become concentrated more rapidly because of the faster evaporation of water. Watch them closely to prevent scorching. Reduce recipe temperature by 2°F for every 1000 feet of elevation.

Cookie recipes often can be improved by a slight increase in baking temperature, a slight decrease in baking powder or soda, fat, and sugar, and/or a slight increase in liquid ingredients and flour. These changes increase the strength of the batter and improve its ability to retain the steam long enough for a crust to form. Many cookie recipes contain a higher proportion of sugar and fat than necessary, even at low altitudes. For more nutritious cookies with fewer calories, up to one-fourth of the sugar called for often can be replaced with nonfat dry milk powder without loss in product quality.

Quick breads vary from muffin-like to cake-like in cell structure. The cell structure of biscuits and muffins or muffin-type quick breads is firm enough to withstand the increased internal pressure at high altitudes quite well without adjustment. However, a bitter or alkaline flavor may result from inadequate neutralization of baking soda or powder. In such cases, a slight decrease in the baking soda or baking powder usually improves results.

Quick breads with a cake-like texture are more delicately balanced and usually benefit from adjustments for altitude. Trouble signs include: a porous, sugary crust; a coarse, gummy, or oily texture; and a low volume in proportion to weight. Try a slight reduction in the proportion of leavening agents, sugar, and fat, and/or a slight increase in the proportion of flour, eggs, and liquid ingredients. Appropriate selection of pan size and baking temperature also are important.

Cooking is definitely an art, but it’s an art that benefits from knowing a bit about chemistry and physics, as well. The Rocky Mountain Cook knows, “It’s not done when the timer goes off. It’s done when it’s done.”

Sources:
www.gofallon.com http://www.bettycrocker.com/baking/basics/high_altitude_baking.aspx
http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/highalt.pdf

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Strawberry Season


Strawberries are cheerful, healthful, and fun to work with. Right now the season is just beginning and soon you'll come across some excellent buys. Farmers markets, the local grocery store, and the big warehouse food places will be bursting at the seams with strawberries. Don't let the season pass you by!


Freezing the Little Darlings


Freezing strawberries is a snap. Don't wash the berries first. Remove the caps and simply place the berries on cookie sheets with enough space between the berries so they don't touch. Pop the cookie sheet into the freezer until the berries are frozen solid. Then use a spatula to loosen them and put the frozen berries in gallon freezer bags and return them to the freezer. They'll keep for about a year, but of course you'll want to use them long before then.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back in the Saddle


Happy almost April to everyone!

I'm back after a several month hiatus dealing with some family health issues. It's good to be back in the preserving kitchen and sharing what I've learned about good food.

It's Asparagus time!

This is the first vegetable of the season and its season is incredibly short for those of us who can't get enough of fresh veggies. You'll find asparagus spears bundled with elastic bands at your local grocers or farmers markets and it's time to stock up. Choose tender, young stalks for the best flavor.

The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board offers the following fun facts about asparagus:

Asparagus is a member of the Lily family.

Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10" in a 24-hour period.

Each crown will send spears up for about 6-7 weeks during the spring and early summer.

An asparagus planting is usually not harvested for the first 3 years after the crowns are planted allowing the crown to develop a strong fibrous root system.
A well cared for asparagus planting will generally produce for about 15 years without being replanted.

The larger the diameter, the better the quality!

Nutritional Info:

Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food which in high in Folic Acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin.
Asparagus has No Fat, contains No Cholesterol and is low in Sodium.

While nothing can beat fresh, asparagus does freeze well and don't forget it makes an excellent addition to your favorite stir fry. That last line leads me to this week's topic: What's Your Favorite Stir Fry Recipe?

Send in your best one and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Preserving Food!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pickling Season

In a Pickle

Pickling season is here and the house will soon be filled with the heady mix of vinegar, sugar, and spices. Pickling is the term used for preserving a food with acid and salt. Sometimes pickles are produced by letting them ferment in a salt water solution. During this fermentation period, lactic acid is produced. Sauerkraut and some dill and sweet pickles are produced by this method. A more common method of making pickles at home is the quick-pack method, where vinegar/water/salt brine is added to cucumbers or other vegetables or fruits.

Quick-process pickles can be cured in a salt solution for several hours or directly combined with boiling hot vinegar, spices, and seasonings. They are easy to prepare and have a tart flavor. Acetic acid in vinegar lowers the pH of pickled vegetables below 4.0 and acts as a preservative. The acidity of vinegar, therefore, must be five percent to ensure making a safe and standardized pickle recipe. Do not vary the amount of vinegar called for in the recipe.

Quick Tips

Fruits and vegetables should be fresh, tender, crisp, and free of blemishes.

1. Use cucumbers that are a recommended pickling variety. Do not expect good quality pickles if immature or “slicing” variety pickles are used.
2. Use unwaxed cucumbers. The pickling liquid cannot penetrate waxed cukes.
3. Prepare fruits and veggies within 24 hours of picking.
4. Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly in cold water. Remove all blossoms from cucumbers, as the blossoms may be a source of enzymes responsible for soft pickles.
5. Do not use any produce that shows even the slightest evidence of mold.
6. Either white granulated sugar or brown sugar may be used. Brown sugar will add color and flavor to the pickles.
7. Pure granulated salt, sold as “pickling” or “canning” salt should be used. Kosher salt may also be used. These salts do not contain anti-caking agents. Iodized salt contains iodine and anti-caking materials that may interfere with fermentation and make the brine cloudy.
8. Use cider or white vinegar of 5 percent acidity.

Watermelon Pickles
These are yummy and go well as a side dish. Give them a try.

8 cups prepared watermelon rind
one-half cup pickling salt
4 cups cold water
4 teaspoons whole cloves
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water

Choose thick rind. Trim from it all dark skin and remains of pink; cut in one inch cubes. Dissolve salt in cold water, pour over rind cubes to cover (add more water if needed); let stand 5 to 6 hours. Drain, rinse well. Cover with fresh water and cook until barely tender-no more than 10 minutes (err on the side of crispness); drain. Combine sugar, vinegar, and water, add cloves tied in a cloth bag, and bring to boiling; reduce hear and simmer 5 minutes. Pour over rind cubes, let stand overnight. In the morning, bring all to boiling and cook until rind is translucent but not mushy-about 10 minutes. Remove spice bag, pack cubes in hot sterilized pint jars; add boiling syrup, leaving one half inch headroom; adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes to ensure seal. Remove jars. Makes about 4 pints.
(Recipe taken from Ruth Hertzberg’s 1973 edition of Putting Food By- an oldie but goodie.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ranch Chores

It's been a very hectic couple of weeks, but now it's time to come up for air. The cattle have all trucked off north to warmer grazing, and it was a very busy few days getting all the cows and calves sorted out and loaded up. We had two newborn calves, of course, that decided to be born the day before shipping so they had to be sent special delivery. The driver put all the babies in the front compartment and the moms and Brutus the Bull in the other compartments, so the little ones wouldn't get stepped on during the short drive north.

Newborn anythings are cute, with the possible exception of fledgling turkey vultures, although I must admit not having seen any of these recently. We do have turkeys, about 40 of them, and yesterday morning they were all roosting on the top rail of the south pasture fence. Rather an intimidating sight. Our neighbor used to feed them, but I'm not sure he does any longer. Tough pickings for them in the winter.

Then the rains came and that means the potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips are still in the ground, although now they're in mud, which doesn't dig well. Hopefully things will dry out so we can dig before the mud freezes and snow falls.

With the early hard frost we lost most of the foliage, so up until now it's been a dull fall. The Tamaracks are beginning to turn, however, so there's color in the forest finally, even if it is a rather anemic shade of yellow. Some years it's spectacular and some years it's a bust. This year ranked about a 2 on the bust-o-meter.

Working on some low cholesterol recipes right now and hope to get them up before too long. Looking at some pumpkins with an eye towards souffle, pie, and pudding.

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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!