29 August 2010

Homemade, Small Batch Ketchup

Tomatoes are everywhere right now, and I'm loving it. I've been canning them for the past few weeks. Whole tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes. Salsas. I'll post more about some of these later.

For this post, I want to focus on ketchup, which I always assumed was a magical condiment that was impossible to make at home. Silly me! Like pretty much everything else I once ate in processed form, ketchup is easy to make and fun to experiment with.

Just as we were about to run out of our store-bought ketchup, Julia of What Julia Ate posted her recipe for the Tigress Can Jam. I don't own a slow cooker, so I took parts of her recipe, parts of the Joy of Cooking recipe that she modified, and parts from the Ball Blue Book. Since I didn't have nearly the amount of tomatoes any of these recipes called for, I had to do some calculations to create my own small batch. So, here it is:

Small batch ketchup
(yields 4 half pints)

tomatoes - 6 lbs.
1 red bell pepper
1 large onion
dark brown sugar - 1/4 cup
1 spice sack (I bought a pack of 10 at a local kitchen store) filled with the following:
- 1/2 of a cinnamon stick
- mustard seed - 3/4 tsp
- whole allspice - 1 tsp
- celery seed - 1 tsp
- 1 bay leaf
- black peppercorns - 1 tsp
- 1 peeled clove of garlic
salt - 1 tsp
paprika - 1 tsp
cider vinegar - 2/3 cup

As you're making this, stir it up every now and then to prevent scorching and sticking.
1. Peel, core, and chop tomatoes. (To make peeling easy, dip the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds and then into ice water.) Drain excess water from the entire batch.
2. Throw the chopped tomatoes, diced onion, and diced pepper into a non-reactive pot and begin cooking. Once they soften, use an immersion blender to puree. Alternately, you can throw the lot into a food mill or sieve, but, like Julia, I opted to keep the seeds.
3. Add the brown sugar to the mix. Stir and keep simmering.
4. Let it cook for, oh, maybe 5 minutes and then add the spice sack.

(The mixture will become nice and thick. Keep the spice sack submerged, but make sure you can easily grab the strings, as I'm doing here.)

5. Cook until the entire mixture is reduced by half.
6. Remove spice sack and add the cider vinegar. Blend well and let cook for another 10 minutes.
7. Fill your jars, leaving 1/2" of head space, and process in a water bath. I saw recipes that suggest either 10 or 15 minutes to process. I decided to strike a balance and go for 12.5 minutes, but process for 15 if you want to feel more secure. (Covering my ass: It's always a good idea to check the USDA recommendations.)

My outcome was a surprisingly delicious ketchup - sweet, fresh, and beautiful-looking.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

09 August 2010

My first attempt at vegetable stock

I bought a pressure canner recently - a 16 qt Presto, for which I also purchased a weighted regulator. I was all kinds of excited to use it to can vegetable stock but things didn't turn out so easily -- at first.

I started with the Ball Blue Book's recipe for vegetable stock and dutifully diced my onions, carrots, etc. and added spices. After throwing everything in a pot, I gracefully managed to knock the entire pot to the ground. Luckily, only a few veggies spilled out, but the finish on the pot cracked, prompting flecks of it to float alongside my lovely veggies. I completely freaked out because I have no idea what flecks of paint might do once canned with food. Could they breed some sort of super strain of botulism that will kill me instantaneously? Do I even want to find out?

So, I rinsed each diced veggie individually, but that meant that my tomatoes lost a lot of their juice, and I started worrying about whether that meant that I would have to change the processing time. Since I'd rather not take a chance with low-acid foods, I decided to scrap the canning idea entirely.

I searched around and found a NYT recipe that suggested pressure cooking stock. At least now I could put my pressure canner to use as a pressure cooker. Before I got started, though, I removed all the turnips from my recipe because I quickly scanned Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and watched this helpful video, both of which note that cruciferous vegetables are a no-no in stock. I'm not sure why the Ball Blue Book, whose recipe I initially checked, would advise adding turnips. Maybe they don't overwhelm stock that is to be canned?

What I ultimately discovered is that making veggie stock is super easy! I will try canning it next time, but for this particular attempt, I froze my stock in freezer-friendly, 12-oz canning jars (at least they got some use after all). I've also begun to save veggie scraps in the freezer for the next time.

My first basic veggie stock
(adapted from Ball Blue Book)

1lb carrots (1" dice)
4 stalks of celery (1" dice)
2 onions (quartered)
4 cloves garlic (peeled and whole)
3 tomatoes (peeled and seeded)
2 bell peppers (1" dice)
pinch of peppercorns
few sprigs of thyme
3 Turkish bay leaves
  • Combine all ingredients in pressure canner/cooker and cover with water (do not overfill, as per your canner's instructions).
  • Pressure cook for 20 minutes under 15 lbs of pressure.
  • Strain stock and add soy sauce to taste.
  • Freeze or use with 3 days.
  • Pat yourself on the back.
It's that easy! Next time, I plan to play around with the combination of vegetables to see if I can get a fuller-bodied stock. This is my first one, and I thought it came out pretty decent if not potently flavorful. But then again, I want to use my stock as a base for cooking, so I don't want it to be too overpowering.

(This post is also part of Simple Lives Thursday)

08 August 2010

Garden update - early August

I think I'm in need of fertilizer. I added some of the organic kind, hoping it will boost some of my plants, many of which seem to be suffering as badly as I am in this heat.

The good news is that I finally have bell peppers coming in - two tiny buds and one medium-sized one are making an appearance. There is also evidence of two pickling cucumbers and the start of green beans. I've also continued to have a steady supply of lettuce, green onions, thyme, oregano and basil. Plus, I just harvested a bunch of carrots -- many are tiny, so I've just planted less of them to give them more space.

(small harvest of carrots - soon to be integrated into vegetable stock)

(pickling cucumbers)

(bell peppers)

(bush beans)

Not all my plants are doing so well, though. One of the tomato plants looks like it's barely making it, the leaves are curling and no flowers have appeared. My other two tomato plants are also struggling, though they're producing flowers at least. But their leaves are dying at a rapid rate. The cilantro looks terrible, and I had to get rid of 75% of it because it was dying in the heat. The parsley also seems to be stunted, but hopefully the fertilizer will give it some life.

(we have fruit
- but it's small and scarred. Tastes good, though! That's one of my compost bins in the back.)

(These tomato plant's leaves look terrible)

(What's left of my cilantro, which is quickly going to seed)

I also started some late summer/fall crops, including spinach, chives, and kale. Keeping my fingers crossed!

(kale, spinach, and chive seedlings)

Next year, I will hopefully have a decent amount of compost to use as additional fertilizer. My worm bin seems to be thriving, and I noticed that my small outside compost bin is progressing beautifully. I bought 2 more 5-gallon buckets so I can start additional composting. Hopefully they'll be ok over the winter months. Is it ok to leave compost bins outside once winter hits?