Friday, August 31, 2012

Canning with Kacey 101, How to prepare tomatoes for canning!

If you have been following my previous blogs about preserving food, you know that I find it a very fulfilling and nostalgic practice. Many people have wonderful memories of canning with their mom or grandma. As I was putting up tomatoes yesterday it was just the boy and I. My girls were at school and I was thinking, I can't wait until my girls are old enough to help me in this process. I picture us gathered in my kitchen, the smell of salsa boiling down on the range top, my girls around me peeling tomatoes and chopping peppers, talking about what's going on in their lives and which boys they like. I have great memories of bottling pickled beets with my Grandma Gay and my mom in-law, we had the purple fingernails for weeks to prove it! My mom has helped me peel many of tomato in her day! I have also had many wonderful times canning with my girlfriends. Those are treasured memories for me and I hope to make more canning memories with my kids, but for now...It's just me and my kitchen, with a little Luke Brian in the background. "Rain is a good thing!"
     So for this post I thought I would share a how to get your tomatoes ready to be bottled. (Keep in mind that if you are new to this idea, when I say canning I am referring to the practice of preserving food, but in all reality we are putting things in glass bottles and not in cans.) But I like the term canning better.
Tomatoes can be preserved in so many different ways such as salsa, chili sauce, stewed/quartered tomatoes (like to be used as you would a can of tomatoes in soups, stews, recipes later), tomato sauce, juice or spaghetti sauce just to name a few. But in all of these ways to use them one thing remains the same...the tomatoes need to prepared before they can be made into something. Their skins and stems need to be removed before they can be used. So I am going to show you how I prepare my tomatoes. Here goes!
*First step is to pick your tomatoes, or buy them from the Farmer's Market. Make sure they are picked fresh. They should go from vine to bottle within 24 hours.
*Next wash your tomatoes, removing all dirt and nature's other yucky stuff like spider webs etc.
*Then have a large shallow pan full of boiling water on the stove next to the counter where you have your washed tomatoes. Dip several tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30-60 seconds then promptly remove with a slotted spoon when the skins start to split. This process will loosen the skin making it pleasurable to remove it. (If you were to skip this process you would be peeling forever and the tomatoes would look horrible!) But remember only long enough to split the skins, you don't want them cooking, that will come later. So hence the next step...
*The ice bath, because you don't want to over cook the tomatoes in this stage go from the boiling water to an ice bath. (Large bowl filled with ice and a little water to stop the cooking process.) Replacing the ice and water as it melts/as needed until all tomatoes have been through the process.
*Then from the ice bath bowl to the holding bowl.
*Make an assembly line going from wash sink, to counter top, to boiling water, to ice bath to holding bowl and if you have more than yourself, you can add someone peeling and chopping.This is where it is nice to have friends, it goes faster!
*Once you have slipped the tomatoes skins you can now prepare the tomatoes for their ultimate purpose, such as on to the juicer/food mill or chop up for salsa etc. (Keeping in mind the food mill says you can throw the tomatoes with skins, stems and all into the food mill after the boiling water, such as to make tomato juice, but I prefer to remove all that first in case I missed any nasties while washing because they usually hang out in the stem or skin.) I used the tomatoes photographed below to make a stewed/chopped tomato to be used as an ingredient in sauces or soups in the winter, like you would use a can of tomatoes from the store.
*Make sure that during the chopping step that you cut the tomato in half first and then face the inside toward you so you can view the inside as you cut as to catch any undesirable things that sometimes hid within. (See photo below.)

I wash mine in my kitchen sink.

Then move them to the counter top to wait for the boiling water.

Then they go into the boiling water pan.

This tomato is ready to shed it's skin for you! See the split.
Then to a nice ice bath to cool down.
Here is the ice bath bowl and the holding bowl.

Now ready to peel off the skin.

Another tasty bowl of scraps for my hens.

Now cut out the stems/cores. I make a triangular cut with the tip of my knife.
Cut out any undesirables such as this gross spot or any bruises or cracks.

Chopped tomatoes ready for your canning purpose.

Once you are to this step you will want to refer to a trusted source for instructions on how to  process your tomatoes. I like to use   the Complete Guide to Home Canning put out by the USDA/USU Extension Service it can be printed from online. I have mine in a 3 ring binder that is out on my counter top most of time during the canning season. It will tell you how to prepare and give tested recipes for salsa, sauces etc. as well as what canning methods to use for the best outcome. It is a staple for me, my go to canning book! If you don't have an experienced, trusted canning friend, mom or grandma to ask you can always call your Local Extension Agent with questions on canning if you can't find your answer in the guide. Here is a link to where you can print the guide from USU.  Complete Guide to Home Canning
I made these into stewed/quartered tomatoes to be added to soup during the winter.

Well, gotta go now, I have these waiting on my counter. I'm thinking salsa today!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Accidental Blackberry Syrup" Recipe

I don't serve this with Basil, but it needed green, sorry!!
So if you read my "Home-made Blackberry Jelly" blog post you know that I had a brawl with my trusty food mill. And if you read it, you know that I lost some of the extracted juice and that meant I didn't have enough for the Syrup Recipe I had intended to make, but more than enough juice for the Jelly Recipe, so I had about a cup of juice left over. So in my attempt to use all of that precious juice that almost made me say lots of swear words, I came up with a new twist on an old favorite! In a long ago post I shared a recipe from my childhood, "Special Syrup", which we love to eat on "Magic" German Pancakes. This left over blackberry juice went into a new concoction I call "Accidental Blackberry Syrup." My kids wanted me to make a batch of German Pancakes because after school they were starving. So I had to give this recipe a go and it went something like this.....

In a medium sauce pan add one stick butter, 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup of (precious, freshly squeezed while almost swearing) blackberry juice, 1 cup white sugar. Heat on high and stir with wire whisk until comes to a boil and then serve warm over German Pancakes for a super yummy after school snack! Or more typically at the breakfast table.

So moral of this story is...sometimes what you intend to do doesn't work out. But then something even better happens, like a batch of jelly and a bonus new recipe "Accidental Blackberry Syrup!" Just have to remind me of these positives when I am having an all out rumble with the food mill! Glad I didn't swear over the ordeal by the way! It took some restraint believe you me!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some might wonder...Why bottle/can your own food??

Some might think canning or bottling your own food to be prehistoric or just not necessary. I mean these days you can just walk right into the grocery store and what you need is right there on the shelf for your super hurried hand to grab and be on your way. So why would anyone in their right mind want to do it themselves?? "You mean to tell me there are still people who grow their own fruits and vegetables, water and weeding them, harvest them, wash them, remove their stems, or pits or peels, carefully cut or smash them or add them together to make sauces,salsas or jams and put them into jars to be eaten later???" Yep, there are still those people, and I am one of those "crazy" people. However I really don't think I'm that crazy. Let me explain why I do what I do. First of all growing your own food makes you feel closer to nature and makes you appreciate what you have and how much work it takes to produce good food. I think growing a garden and involving children is such a good thing, they learn where their food comes from (not growing on the grocery store shelf.) It teaches them to work and that work can be enjoyable. I find it very therapeutic to garden, water and weed! It's much cheaper than psychiatric therapy! It teaches many of life's lessons and builds character such as hard work, dedication, and responsibility. Growing and processing your own food builds self reliance, it allows us to not fear if the grocery store suddenly had no food, I would not panic. I know how to produce and preserve on my own, I don't have to rely on others. What I have explained above does take a lot of time, effort and energy, but I have been doing it for years and I feel it is very worth it for me and my family. And I'm not someone who is bored and can't find enough to do! Another thing I like about preserving your own food is that you get to know how that food was grown, for instance I don't use pesticides or other harmful substances in my garden so I know that food is very safe to eat. And I am able to pick it at peak ripeness so it is extra tasty! And as I mentioned in my "Blackberry Jelly" post there is just something nostalgic about it. It brings back memories! Maybe of canning with grandma or mom. Experiences that you had while growing or picking the vegetables or fruit. It's more than just food it's memories of your life all bottled up! And trust me there is a certain sadness when you open up that last bottle of peaches or that last jar of pear jam, it's over until next year. (We have been out of grape jelly for a couple of months now, my kids are about to mutiny on me. The stuff at the store just isn't the same and our grapes are usually ripe in about October so I need to get as much juice out of those babies as I can!) Here are a few of the things that I preserve around here. Pepper Jelly (makes a tasty appetizer when served with cream cheese and crackers), Raspberry, Pear, Peach Jam, Grape and Blackberry Jelly, Blackberry Syrup (tasty on pancakes), Peach and Pear Syrup...mmm...on pancakes! Salsa, Spaghetti Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Tomato Juice, Chopped/Stewed Tomatoes, Peaches, Pears, Green Beans, Carrots, Pickles, Picked Beets (one of my favorites!), Frozen corn off the cob, frozen peppers, and the list could go on but you get the idea! The garden produces much and much can be saved to be eaten later. So why do I can? Because I CAN!

Yes, I have small hands, but that is a big pepper!!

A little batch of Blackberry Jelly.

Kacey's Dresses, Update!

So all of the samples of my dresses have been made and approved by myself and Shabby Apple. Let me just say..."I am so excited!!" I really love them and can't wait to put one on for real! I also can't wait to share them with the world, it's like I'm holding a super exciting secret, just waiting to be shared! Shabby Apple is sending me some fabric swatches to review for colors and then we will make the big jump to full production...YAY! If you haven't checked out Shabby Apple lately, they have some fun new dress lines available now. (They aren't mine, but super adorable!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making Home-Made Blackberry Jelly. Mmmmm....Sticky, Good!

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there are many fruits and vegetables around this place just begging to be put into jars. Today my second born started Kindergarten (wipe an eye), and so it was just the boy and I at home. We thought we would go berry picking. We spent about an hour picking blackberries at a U-Pick berry farm just up the road from us. (Yes, I have my own blackberry bushes planted, but they don't produce enough yet to make jams, jellies or syrups. Just enough for me to snack on while I garden, maybe next year!) So at said U-Pick farm, you bring your own containers, pick until your heart's content, weigh and pay. At $2.00 per pound they are much less expensive than buying at the farmers market. I'm not against a little sweat equity, and in Utah today it was a dry 95 degrees so there was much sweating going on! I was planning on a batch of my favorite blackberry syrup with these berries and had enough to do so until I had a brawl with the food mill, in which I lost! I lost a bit of my juice in said brawl so instead of syrup I only had enough juice for a batch of jelly. Which was okay because jelly was next on the list of things to do with blackberries, so I will just change my order of things. I'm flexible like that. I must say I have not been so tempted to use curse words so many times as in said brawl. (The darn thing, for some reason today didn't want to stay on tight, and I would start to crank and the part where the juice comes out would pop off and juice would go everywhere!) And it is a bit hard to get the thing tightened back down with pulpy, juicy hands, but I eventually got the juice I needed and am glad I have the food mill. Just FYI, check to make sure it is tight before loading/cranking! If you have never made home-made jam or jelly you may wonder....why??? You know you can just save yourself all the trouble and just buy a jar at the grocery store. Yes, I don't live under a rock and I am aware that these things are on the shelf all ready to be spread. However, It just isn't the same! There is just  something to be said about doing it yourself. When I open a jar of sticky, sweet spreadable-ness in the dead of winter, it brings back the memories of when I picked those berries. My 1 year old riding his little Lightening McQueen 4-wheeler down the berry isles as I picked, face covered in purply-berry juice. The fight I had with the food mill in my attempt to get the deliciousness into the bottle and the satisfaction of a job well done. You just can't buy that at the store! So if you have never tried this really should. Just let me give you a few suggestions that I have learned from my experiences in canning.
*Tip 1: Try canning with a friend or loved one who has done this before, you will have many questions your first time. I get lots and lots of phone calls about canning questions.
*Tip 2: Try it on a day when you have nothing else to do, because it's just not as fun if you are stressing to get it done before you need to do something else. Remember this takes time, you don't want to rush it, you want to enjoy the journey. And you make a big mess!
*Tip 3: Start early. Pick your produce to be canned early in the morning before it gets hot, it's much more enjoyable picking and you should can things within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness.
*Tip 4: Review your recipe before you start. So you know how much to pick (you don't want to get in the middle only to realize you didn't pick enough or that you have way too much and not enough time to process it all.)
*Tip 5: Use a tested recipe. There are lots of tested recipes out there. I use a lot of recipes from the USU Extension Service, also for the jams/jellies I use the recipes included in the boxes of Pectin. Why would I suggest this? Well because I am going through a lot of time and effort and I want to ensure that the recipe has been tested and safe to eat. I realize that back in the "olden days" the recipes probably weren't tested and grandma did it without testing her recipe, however botulism is real people and I don't want you to die, so please use a tested recipe...please!
*Tip 6: Wash jars and lid rings and have them hot and ready for use when your jelly is ready. You want to keep everything hot. If you put hot jelly into cold jars you can cause cracks or breaks. Use the jar washing step to check all rims of the jars for cracks because if you go through all the work of canning only to find you filled a cracked jar and it didn't seal correctly, waste of time! Don't use jars with cracks or breaks, trust me!! Sterilize and keep jar lids warm in hot water before use.
 I took some pics of my berry to jelly adventure today so here goes!

When picking blackberries, choose ones like these beauties, large in size, all black/purple in color (no red, or they aren't ripe), and they should pull off easily. If you are pulling hard...they aren't ripe. Let me give you a few hints on picking. Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, the best berries are hanging under the canes and I get on my knees to find them. You will get dirty! Not to mention the juice is dark purple! Also hornets/wasps love ripe berries so shake the canes a little before you dive in to get them out and watch where you put your fingers. I use a gallon ice cream bucket with a handle and tie it around my waist with a belt or other tie so both my hands are free to pick and move the canes. When it feels heavy I put them into another container and continue picking into the ice cream bucket. A milk jug that you cut the top out of works well too. Just cut a big opening in the jug with scissors, but leave the handle so you have something to tie to.

Enough berries picked for a batch of jelly. Picked through to remove any spider webs, leaves or other undesirables. Rinsed lightly with cool water.

Heat berries on low heat in heavy bottomed sauce pan to warm them so they will release their lovely juices. (Keeping in mind I am making jelly, not jam. I prefer no seeds so I make jelly, if you prefer bit/chunks of fruit or seeds make jam and skip the removing the seeds part.)

Here is a pic of assembled food mill of which I had said brawl with today. This is what it looked like before, I did not take pic of the was ugly!! Even though I had said brawl, I still count this as a must in the "makes canning easier products list." The other option besides a food mill like this one is to use the old-fashioned method of heating berries as above and then smashing with something like a potato masher and running through cheesecloth to remove seeds.

This is what the juice looks like when it comes out of the food mill. You put the warmed berries into the hopper at the top, start to turn the hand crank and it separates the seeds and pulp from the juice so you have only juice to use for syrup or jelly.

And this is what the pulp/seeds looks like when all the juice is extracted, yep...kind of gross, but that's what it looks like. The pulp/seeds come out the clear plastic spout end opposite the hand crank. This purple gross-ness makes a yummy treat for my chickens. They will love me for it!!

Chickens enjoying the gross-ness left over! Loving me!! "You're Welcome guys!" (I hate to throw away even the gross-ness.)

Once I extracted all the juice from the blackberries I followed the recipe for jelly enclosed in the box of Sure-Jell pectin I used. I followed the instructions for my altitude, always check for altitude changes on the recipe. As I live about 4700 ft. above sea level, that means I need to add 10 minutes to the normal 5 minute processing time, making it 15 min. total in the water bath canning method.

This is what the jelly looks like after following all the pectin recipe instructions. Notice the "scum" on top, this is what I call it. It is the jelly, but it has air bubbles in it and is frothy. I let it sit for a minute to let it rise to the top, then I skim it off with a spoon. It tastes good, it just isn't pretty. if you don't skim it off it will look like this at the top of your jars.

After skimming off "scum", ladle hot jelly liquid into clean, sterilized (If your processing time is less than 10 min. you need to pre-sterilize your jars, this means to put them into boiling water for at least 10 min. and increase sterilization time by one min. for every 1,000 ft you live above sea level.) If your process time is 15 min, like mine, you won't need to pre-sterilize the jars, just have clean hot jars. Wipe rims of jars with clean dishrag to remove any spilled so you will get a good seal. (If you skip this step you may find that the jar doesn't seal because a drop of jelly was in the way.) I hold the bottom of the hot jar with a towel as shown so I don't get burned as I tighten the lid firmly.

This is what my water bath canner looks like.

This is what the jars look like after they were lowered into the boiling water inside the rack. You should start your water on to boil so it is ready when your jelly is ready so hot jars go into boiling water canner. This takes a little thinking ahead so you aren't sitting waiting for your water to boil while your jars are ready. You should make sure that your jars are covered by at least 1" of the boiling water. And that the water continues to boil the entire recommended process time.

I use this nifty jar lifter hold onto hot jars as I lift them up out of the rack. And set them out to cool. As they cool you will hear a "POP" that is the vacuum telling you your jars have sealed. You want to hear this noise! You should not move or touch the jars now for 24 hours. Allow them to sit and seal. Check them for seals in 24 hours, if they haven't sealed, re-process, if they are sealed the lid will have sucked down to concave. If not sealed you can push the top and it flexes. You want to avoid sitting them to cool where they are subject to drafts. Cool drafts on hot jars can cause the jars to crack. I actually process my jars on my Camp Chef stove in my garage. Might sound dirty or gross, but it isn't because all the cooking and filling of jars happens in my clean kitchen and the processing of closed jars happens in the slightly less clean garage. But it is not air-conditioned and I can control the draft, it doesn't heat up the house and it keeps my electric bill down as my regular stove runs on electricity and I learned the first year I canned without the Camp Chef that it is not cost effective to use electricity for canning! I can fill my propane tank for about $15 once a year, that is doable!

I couldn't wait! I had to have a taste! Mmmmm!!!

And the last thing I will suggest on this episode of canning with Kacey, (sorry, I couldn't resist, it went together!) Is I always use a Sharpie to write on the lid, things I include are: Date, (because you shouldn't store these items longer than a year, so eat it up!), what is actually in the jar, (because from the outside syrup and jelly can look the same), and I also include batch number, (B1 means batch # 1, I do this just in case something went wrong with a batch and you felt like you needed to discard the whole thing, well at least just that batch and not all 90 jars, because you made 12 batches!)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Making Boutique Style Accessories, Part 2: Ribbon Headbands, Easy Peasy!!

Next in the "Boutique Style" Accessories I will show you a really, super simple way to make a comfortable headband out of ribbon and a piece of thin elastic. I chose a blingy ribbon that goes with a lot of my kids school clothes. The ribbon is very simple in it's colors too so it can be worn with many outfits. I added a lace rosette flower with a Swarovski crystal and pearls. The flower is a separate feature (held in place by an alligator clip) that can be added or removed as you wish.

What you will do:

Choose your ribbon. I chose this one that has small crystals because it compliments a lot of my kids current outfits. Also it has a textured back side so it won't slip. If you get slippery ribbon it won't stay in place.

Now use the ribbon to wrap around the "noggin" you will be putting it on, to see how long you will need it, keeping in mind that the elastic should be about 3", so cut the ribbon short 3"

I folded the ends of the ribbon to the insides about 1/4" (to make pretty, unfrayed ends) then attach the elastic to each end and stitch in place. Keep in mind if you choose ribbon with bling like this you don't want to sew over them, sew in between as shown. The elastic I used was white, I was playing around with fabric Sharpie's and colored it black. This shot also shows the textured side of the ribbon. I also used a little bit of hot glue to tack the ends of the elastic to the back side of the headband, just keeping things crisp and clean.

This is what it looks like from the side view.

This is a shot of the flower I made to go with it. It is a rosette style fabric flower made out of lace and accented with 3 pearls and a Swarovski crystal.

This is what the flower looks like from the back side. I used an alligator clip hot glued to attach it to the headband.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Making Boutique Style Accessories, Part 1: Wide Fabric Headband!

It's been a few days since I have blogged anything because honestly it has been crazy around here! The garden is in full swing, and veggies are just begging to be put into jars, I got tired of the kids toys all over the house so I made a make shift toy room down in the unfinished basement. I have been waiting for the extra money to finish it properly, but that extra money seems to keep eluding me, so I took matters into my own hands, literally and got it done. (I'm that kind of girl, flexible and do it myself like that!) Oh...and school started! With school comes school shopping and new clothes. This is what has prompted my next random blogging: A series of blog posts that will be dedicated to making your own "boutique style" accessories. You know the type I'm talking about (any accessory that you might find that talented, creative people make and sell at boutiques, markets, parties, etc.) I have been one of those people, selling my wares in a little cubie at a huge expo and have decided to share a few things I have learned by doing so. The first thing I will suggest is look at the clothes that you want to make accessories to accompany. Choose ribbons, fabrics, embellishments that match or coordinate really well. For instance some of the clothes my kids chose this year had little bling crystals on the dresses and shirts, so I found some matching ribbon with similar little bling crystals on it, to use for one of the headbands I will show later. Another suggestion, choose many different textures in those colors, for instance choose some fabrics that are smooth, then somethings with texture, like a corduroy or lace. And another thing I have learned is that the accessories must be comfortable or no one wants to wear them, especially children! For example, lace against skin: not so good! And with your embellishments choose lots of different ones. I like to use buttons, resin flowers, pearls, beads, Swarovski crystals, bows, fabric flowers etc. I love places that sell things by the one because then I can pick lots of different things, like the local copy shop I frequent sells resin flowers individually and I sort through. (I realize buying in bulk is also a good thing, for instance I buy my Swarovski Crystals and a few things that I know I use a lot of, but I also don't want everything to look the same and unless you are making and selling many you probably don't want to buy too much in bulk.) So the first thing I decided to share is a pattern I made up for a wider headband. It features a comfortable fit because I used a stretchy soft knit for the backing and a beautiful glittery lace for the front. It slips on and off, donning a piece of elastic in the back for extra stretch. I have included pics and instructions for making this headband. Have fun!! And look for more tutorials on making other "boutique style" accessories coming your way!

Cut a piece of fabric, scraps work great! I did mine about 9" long and about 3.5" wide then tapering down to about 2.5" wide at the end. Make sure to cut the 9" end on the fold. (As shown in photos)

Then open up the stretchy fabric and put it on top of the lace fabric (right sides together), pin and cut out the front piece. (this saves a step by doing it this way, this way the two pieces are already to be sewn together!)

Then before you sew, sandwich an elastic piece in between the two fabrics and pin in place so it will be sewn in. (The size of the elastic will differ upon the size of the head you are making this for, I would start big and before you sew the other end into the elastic put it on the person and see how long it should be.)

Now start sewing the two pieces together starting at the end without the elastic and sewing all the way around the whole piece using the sewing machine foot as your guide, and leaving the end (without elastic) open. When you sew around make sure that your stitches catch the elastic. If you have pinned it to the end you should be OK.

Now using my favorite "grabber thingy" turn the headband inside out. (I know it looks kind of twisty turny, this is because of the knit fabric I chose, but don't freak out, a little top stitching will help flatten it out.)

This is what it looks like turned right sides out and the little piece of elastic sticking out.

Now for the top stitching so it doesn't look so twisty-turny. I again use the edge of my presser foot as my guide and top stitch starting at the open end, again leaving open at the end without elastic.

And this is what it looks like with the top stitching.

Okay, now working at the end without elastic, you will turn both the lace and the knit fabric ends to the inside, to make a nice finished edge and insert your elastic end into it and pin it down.

Now stitch the ends closed catching the elastic inside.

This is what it looks like from the back finished.

Front finished view. Now it just needs embellishments!

A few ideas for embellishments. Using your favorite adhesive attach the embellishments you have chosen. (I usually like hot glue). 

Always get a plan for where you want your embellishments to go before you glue them down. Then one by one glue them into place. (I like to group them together and stack too, for instance, these different kinds of flowers are grouped close together and then the glitzy button is stacked on top). 

This cute little knit and lace tunic I found at Target and was the inspiration for this headband.