Preserving – Apple Butter

William and I picking our apples.

When I was a little girl, I saw a cartoon about Johnny Appleseed and spent the next several months “planting” the seeds of every apple I ate.  Apparently one took, and my sharp-eyed farmer grandfather spotted it in one of my mom’s flower beds.

He transplanted it to a more reasonable area, and to my family’s suprise it grew!  It has produced apples for the last 15 or more years, but they are usually inedible.

The earliest ones were rock hard and tasteless, probably due to not having any cross-pollination with other apple trees.

Recently they have become more crisp than hard, and gained some sweetness as well. They are still quite sharp tasting, but I thought they might be good for preserves.

We cleaned, peeled and cored the apples using an apple peeler gadget and ended up with one and a half large zip lock bags each of apple pieces, and cores with peels which we stored in the freezer.

I’m planning on making apple jelly from the cores and peels in the future.

This smell of this recipe simmering away will have your neighbours and family convinced you on a 10 hour apple pie baking binge.

Apple Butter
1 1/2 large zip lock bags of frozen apple pieces – I’m hoping that’s about 5 pounds
2 cups apple cider
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoon cinnamon
1 bundle of cloves, about 8 wrapped in gauze and tied up

Apple butter ingredients.

Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours.

Apple butter ingredients in the cooker.

Stir well and and cook for 2 hours on high.

Apple butter after 2 hours on high.

Stir and set time to low for 7 hours.  Prop open the lid a bit with a wooden skewer or chopstick, so the butter can evaporate and thicken.  You can stir periodically – I can’t resist checking on it often.

Apple butter after 3 more hours at low.

Overall, the original sliced apples reduced in volume from having the crock filled to the brim at the start, to filling the crock about 3/4 full.

Fully cooked apple butter!

I went against a lot of the advice in the books I’ve read and did what I describe as “jazz canning” (as in most of it was improvised).  I’m not ready to invest in equipment yet, though canning doesn’t require a huge investment.  This month, given our recent (successful but pricey) visits to the vet for our cat Smokey, we weren’t ready to make canning purchases!

Canning rack fabricated by my canning assistant.

I didn’t even have canning tongs (forget to borrow my father’s set) but I have a sturdy canning assistant, a few sets of tongs and determination.  I figure if our great-grandmothers canned without specialized equiment and lived to tell about it, I could try to do the same.

Filling jars with improvised canning funnel.

Fill your jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  If you don’t know how to do this, you certainly don’t need me to tell you how after my vast experience of doing it once – I would recommend any good basic canning book, or Canning 101 on Simple Bites for help.

Completed jars, cooling happily!

The moral of the story – never let finances, a lack of proper equipment, or regard for safety standards prevent you from doing what you want with food!

I also found the cutest site for customizing your own jam labels – you add your info and save as a .jpg or print – from JamLabelizer!  Here is mine:

Preserving – Purple Sauerkraut

I’ve been reading up on preserving and canning and am very intrigued by the non-heat processed methods of preserving.   Having recently discovered that I really like sauerkraut, and learning how it was made I couldn’t resist trying it out.  This post will take a while to complete and I’ll update it as the days go by  because it looks like sauerkraut takes more than a week to ferment.

I gathered information from many websites and several books including a saurekraut recipe on learningherbs.com and the book Put ’em up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

I used purple cabbage because I love the look and taste – a lot of people seem to call it red cabbage, but we always called it purple.  And I used the equipment I had on hand so I had to improvise a bit.  I considered using the food processor to slice it but a lot of sources seem to frown on that, so I sliced thinly by hand.

Purple Sauerkraut:
1 large head or 2 small heads purple cabbage (about 5 pounds)
5 tablespoons kosher salt

Day 1:  Remove outer leaves from one head of purple cabbage and set aside.  Quarter and then thinly slice the cabbage.  I saved the thick inner core for roasting or stir-frying later.

Place handfulls of sliced cabbage into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Continue adding slat and cabbage, mixing thoroughly.

Finally a use for the most useless potato masher ever – it traps about two potatoes between its teeth, but it seems to bruise cabbage pretty well.

Some recipes recommended this step, others didn’t mention it but I’m giving it a go – bruise the cabbage and salt with something like a large pestle, baseball bat, meat tenderizer, etc.  This is starting to sound rather violent.  Some liquid should come out and the cabbage should start to look transparent.

Sliced, salted cabbage packed into the glass jar, weighted down with a jar of my dad’s Cucumber pickles.

Pack the sliced, salted, bruised cabbage tightly into a glass or ceramic container.  Cover the cabbage with one of the reserved (cleaned, washed) outer cabbage leaves.  Place a lid or plate that is slightly smaller than the crock on top of the cabbage, and then weigh down this lid.

Cover the whole thing with a tea towel or cloth and secure with an elastic.  Let is sit on the counter for 24 hours – the cabbage should be covered in its own brine by then.  If not, you can add brine.  I’ll see how mine works out and post a new picture and results tomorrow!

Day 2:  I’ve added 1 cup of water as the brine did not quite cover the cabbage after sitting for 24 hours.  After reviewing several recipes I thought I might have used too much salt, so rather than topping up with brine, I used plain water.  The brine is a pretty purple colour, but there are no other changes so far.

Day 3:  Temp. 24.5’F, with a few bubbles surfacing occasionally.  Smells like vinegar coleslaw.

Slow Cooker Green Chili

This is my version of a green chili – here in Nova Scotia, Canada, I’ve never seen things like fresh tomatillos or many of the Mexican ingredients I’ve seen on food tv or in cookbooks.  They may be around somewhere, but I can’t find them!  So I make do with what we do have, and this is what I’ve come up with.  Stephanie O’Dea has several great non-tomato chilis on her site as well, White Chili, Creamy White Chili with Apple and Chili Verde, which is what inspired me to try this version with my ingredients.

You could omit the beef or use any leftover meat you have, such as chicken, turkey, or pork.  You can also do all of the prep the night before, and simply take the ceramic insert out of the fridge when you wake up, allow to warm to room temperature (a cold insert can crack if heated right out of the fridge) and set to cook when you leave in the morning.

Green chili freezes beautifully and the leftovers can be used in several other dishes, such as tortilla pie or tortilla bake – maybe I’ll do an entry for one later in the week!

Roasted Corn:  In my last post, I used roasted corn that I did in the oven – this time I did it much more quickly and simply by dry-frying it in a medium high skillet – I would recommend squeezing any water out of thawed frozen corn in a tea towel before trying it!

Pan roasted corn – easier than the oven.

Green Chili
palmful of cumin seed
1 teaspoon of white peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground coriander
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup packed arugula or spinach
1 cup broth or water
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 1/2 cups cooked beans (roman – a white bean with red speckles, which turns pink when cooked, also called cranberry beans)
2 cups roasted corn
1 bottle (455 ml/ 16 oz.) “Green Mexican Sauce” by La Costa – any green Mexican tomatillo based sauce or salsa would work, I’ve used a few different kinds.
2 carrots, finely diced
2 onions, diced
chopped tomato (1 and 3/4 of two dodgy tomatoes from the fridge)
1 small can stewed tomatoes (14 oz/ 398ml)

Peel the garlic and leave it whole.  Heat a dry skillet over medium high heat and dry roast the garlic til it is a bit cooked and brown. Add the cumin, coriander and peppercorns and toast until they are fragrant.

Put the arugula in a small food processor, then add the toasted garlic, spices, and the dried herbs.  Add 1/2 cup of broth or water and process until smooth.

Sadly this lovely bright green colour disappears with the slow cooking.

Put beans, corn, green sauce, and processed arugula herb mixture into slow cooker.  Meanwhile, sprinkle chili powder over the beef and brown in a medium high skillet.  Drain the beef and add to slow cooker, saving enough fat to brown onions and carrots.  Once the vegetables are browned, add them to the slow cooker with the canned and fresh tomatoes.

This is the cooker loaded up, with the green sauce I used.

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.  Taste during cooking to adjust seasoning and add salt or more seasoning if necessary.


Result:
  It is quite spicy and hot, but we love that – it would depend on your green sauce how hot it got I think. I added some chopped arugula just at the end, and served it with some greek yogurt mixed with cucumber and garlic paste, and yesterday’s corn muffins.  It was delicious and very filling!

Roasted Corn Muffins

I am making these today to serve with tomorrow’s planned Green Chili.  I’ve seen roasted corn mentioned a lot – some people mention buying it frozen from the grocery store, but I thought I’d try making it myself from regular frozen corn – I’m sure it would be much better on the cob, but I’m using what I have.  I roasted extra to use in tomorrow’s Green Chili as well.

To Roasted Corn
– spread thawed kernels on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400’F.

Roasted Corn Muffins
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup roasted corn
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped greens (arugula, spinach, parsley, etc.) – optional!
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup water or milk to thin yogurt
2 eggs or 2 flax eggs (1 tablespoon flax meal plus 3 tablespoons water)
1/2 cup cooked beans (I used romano as I was cooking these for the chili anyway)

Combine yogurt, milk/water, egg (or flax egg), beans in a large mixing bowl.  Blend with an immersion blender til smooth (or use food processor).  Add baking soda and mix.  I used the cooking water from the beans – some people say using it gives you gas especially if you don’t eat them often, but we eat them often and I don’t like throwing out the liquid which is full of flavour and probably nutrients!

Whisk or sift together flour, cornmeal, and baking soda.  Mix in roasted corn, red pepper flakes, and greens so they get coated in the flour (this works for anything chunky you put in muffins like berries – it coats them so they are separate and don’t clump together).

Gently fold the wet and dry mix together until just combined.

Bake in greased muffin tins at 450’F for 20 minutes.

Result:  These muffins were nice and chewy and the roasted corn really increased the overall flavour!  Next time I’d fill my pans a bit more or make a double batch as they were a bit small – I got 9 small muffins and 6 large from the mix.

Tangy Lemon Chicken from A Year of Slow Cooking

Only Stephanie O’Dea could make me regret having given away the only box of jello in my pantry, or have me say the sentence “Could you please get me a packet of Jell-o when you go out today?” – such is the influence this woman has over me.

When I saw her latest post “Tangy Lemon Chicken” it looked so simple, so improbable and so good that I had to try it.  I’m also trying out cooking from frozen as I find my cooker is too hot and cooks about 2 hours faster than most recipes.  I added some garlic to her recipe as well.  This is Stephanie’s recipe with the changes I made – does anyone else suffer from a pathological inability to leave recipes alone, but must instead meddle with them in some small or large way?

Tangy Lemon Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken pieces(no idea of the weight of my parts – my chicken parts I mean!)
2 cups cooked chick peas, optional(because those chicken thighs just looked too lonely…)
1 (6-ounce) box Lemon Jello powder
3 tablespoons melted margarine
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard (I used more than Stephanie, I love it!)
2 onions finely chopped
4 large cloves chopped garlic (because I seem entirely unable to cook without it…)
1 generous teaspoon or to taste of chili flakes

I melted the margarine/butter in a skillet and carmelized the onions and garlic at medium low heat for about 20 minutes.

Onions and garlic ready to go in the slow cooker.

If you don’t have time you could certainly skip this.  I did it the day before while I watched Dr. Oz tell me how to get more magnesium into my diet.  I renewed my commitment totaking my multi-vitamin as well.

Onions, garlic, dijon, and jello powder — before I decided it needed chilli flakes – Additional lemon juice made this more liquid than Steph’s original recipe.

Combine the jello powder, melted butter, dijon mustard, lemon juice, onion and garlic, and chili flakes in the slow cooker.  Stir together to make a paste.

Put the chicken (and chick peas, if you too find that your chicken is looking lonely) in the cooker and mix it with the paste til it is coated.  My addition of lemon juice was to cut the sweetness a bit – I’m not a “sweet” person – more of a “salt or spice” person.

Chicken and sauce, lonely and without chickpeas.

I used frozen chicken as Stephanie often does, as I figured this would be a good way of slowing down my too hot slow cooker – it tends to cook foods one or two hours faster than most recipes.  This also extended the cook time as I knew I’d be out for a lot of the day.  I would definitely do this again – cooking from frozen.

The most recent slow cookers cook too hot in my opinion, or at least mine does! I usually defrost as I try to brown everything that goes into the slow cooker for flavour – please note, I would not do this if I had work which kept me away from home – the flavour improvement is perceptible but the result isinsignificant if you can provide a family with a home-cooked meal while working away yourself.

Final product -note the chicken browning – poorly plated, we are currently dealing with both a sick cat and false fire alarms in our building so quality control went out the window!

Result:  A pleasantly sweet and tangy chicken, and the chick peas followed right along getting a nice carmelized glaze as well.  The added lemon juice and chili flakes gave it some bite and spice that we loved but if you had non-spicy people or kids these could be left out.  Never thought I’d find a use for jello powder!  It was the secret I believe, in how the skinless chicken achieved such an attractive golden brown colour- I think it was the carmelization of the sugar- as I did not brown the chicken!  I served it with leftover vegetable stir-fried rice…

Asian Bean Cakes

Based on the success of my Spaghetti Squash Pancakes I decided to follow up with a bean cake that would use up some leftovers, and use some of my favourite flavors.  You could make this mix and keep it in the fridge then fry as needed, freeze the mix, or freeze the cakes after they are cooked if you aren’t going to be eating them all at once!

Asian Bean Cakes
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 heaping tablespoons ground flax seed
Sesame oil blend for frying pan
2 carrots cut into chunks
2 onions cut into chunks
6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
1 inch chunk ginger, cut into thick slices
2 cups cooked white beans or 1 large can white beans
1 tsp sambal oelek (chili garlic paste) to taste
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Mix the fish and soy sauce with the flax meal in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil over medium high heat and saute carrots, garlic, onion and ginger until browned.  Splash a bit of water in the pan and scrape up any brown bits.  Let this mixture cool and then process it in a small food processor until finely minced.  If you are pressed for time, you could skip the saute step and just process the raw vegetables.

With a potato masher or insturment you prefer, mash the beans into this mixture and then season with sambal oelek and ground coriander.  Sprinkle the flour and baking powder over top and mix in.

Drop 1/4 cup measures or heaping spoonfuls into frying pan (with sesame oil) at medium high heat.  Flatten the blops until they are cake shaped.

Fry until golden on each side.  Or burn them a bit if you are frying them without help, like I did!

Result:  These were quite good, and I’m sure will be even better when fried by my taste-tester and fry cook, not me!  I served them with leftover brown rice which I stir-fried with cauliflower, peas, carrots, and garlic.

Slightly burnt bean cakes with fried rice and vegetables.

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes

I decided to try this with the leftover spaghetti squash from last night, and after browsing around different recipes came up with this:

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes
8 slices bacon (optional)
2 cups leftover cooked spaghetti squash
1/2 cup thawed corn
2 eggs (you could try flax eggs if you are brave)
1/2 cup flour (or more!)
2 cloves garlic
1 onion
1 peeled carrot
salt, pepper, and seasoning mix or dried herbs (I used McCormick’s Cuban Seasoning) to taste

Fry bacon in large skillet.  Once it is crisp, remove bacon and drain on towel.  Reserve as much fat as necessary to fry pancakes.  Save the discarded fat in case you need extra for the later cakes.  Or be healthy and virtuous and skip this whole bacon nonsense, heat your pan and add some oil.

Meanwhile process garlic, carrot, onions in small processor (or mince by hand if you want to do that kind of thing at 7 am).  Put leftover squash, corn and diced tomato in a colander, place a plate on top, weight it with a can and let it drain for about 15 minutes so the mix won’t be too wet.

Combine all the vegetables and flour in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and mix in eggs.  Add more flour as necessary to make a batter which will clump together.  Add crumbled bacon to this mix if you are still with me on the bacon nonsense.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and seasoning blend.

Batter mixed (before bacon).

Fry about 1/4 cup batter per cake over medium high heat, flatten a bit into a pancake, and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on paper towel placed on a cooling rack.  If you suck at pan frying have someone with skills assist you.

Taste-tester and Fry Champion William cooks the squash pancakes.

Enjoy with the topping of your choice – I’ve seen sour cream, yogurt, salsa, guacamole, and more suggested.

Food styling by William.

Result:  The pancakes were awesome and a great way to use up leftover squash, something very different for a weekend breakfast!