Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Grape To Meet You - Part 1

My husband brought me home some wild grapes that grow near his work.  These luscious orbs are his contribution to my blog. 

He asked me if I would like to make grape jam.  How could I refuse?  Making jam from scratch was a lot of work, but it was also fun. It was especially fun because we made the jam together.
 Now the big question - What is Jam? Yes, there is a difference between jam and jelly.  Jam contains both fruit juice and pieces of the fruit's (or vegetable's) fleshJelly is a clear fruit spread consisting of set, sweetened fruit (or vegetable) juice

So, how do you make grape jam? 
  • Wash and sterilize all jars, lid tops, and ladles.
    • To do: bring boiling water in a caning pot, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Put jars in boiling water in canner to sterilize. Pour boiling water over flat lids in a saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. When you are ready to fill the jars, pull from boiling water and drain well before filling.
  • Always measure exactly as this will ensure success.  This is especially important for jam.
The recipe ingredients:

• 6 cups prepared fruit [about 4 lbs. ripe grapes]
• 1 box powdered fruit pectin
• 7 ½ cups [3 ¼ lbs] sugar

• Prepare the fruit. You do this by holding the ripe grape between the index finger and the thumb and squeeze the grape. This will cause the pulp to pop out and you will have the skin of the grape in your fingers. 
• Put the pulp in one pan and the skins in another. The pan you are using for the cooking of the jam should be of steel rather than aluminum and large enough to let the jam cook and boil up without spilling out.
 • Once you have separated the pulp from the skins, you are going to add one cup of water to the pulp that is in the larger pan. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer 5 minutes. 

• Press through a sieve or food mill to remove the seeds.  I used my Kitchenaid with it’s amazing attachments to do this step.

• I then put the skins into a blender and puree them. 
• Now add the pureed skins to the pulp you have. 

• Measure six [6] cups of your pulp and skins mixture and put into a very large saucepan. Remember you want the pan to be big enough to be able to bring the mixture to a boil and not have it boil over the sides.

• Now comes the part where you are making the jam. Add powdered pectin to fruit in saucepan and mix well. Bring to a hard boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar all at once. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

• Remove the pan from heat and skim off foam with metal spoon. Then alternately stir and skim for about 5 minutes to cool slightly and to prevent floating fruit. Ladle quickly into glasses. Cover jam with sterilized lids.

• I then put the closed jars into a boiling water bath for about 12 minutes to finish the process. 
• This recipe will make approximately six or seven pints.  I got 11 jelly jars out of this batch.

Side note – Anywhere that the grape juice, skins, pulp touched I got a lacy red rash w/ welts here and there and it itched (OMG DID IT ITCH!!) with a buzzing, zinging kind of itch.  We used wild grapes so I don’t think it was pesticide causing the itch. 

Concord grapes do have a type of histamine in them that you may cause an allergy - even if you were never allergic before.  Once the grapes are processed, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road . . .

To get to the eggplant . . . duh!

  • All rice is a member of the grass family. 
  • Rice farming has been traced back to around 5,000 BC.
  • Hundreds of millions of the poor spend half to three fourths of their incomes on rice and only rice.
  • To plow 2.5 acres of land in the traditional way, a farmer and his water buffalo must walk 50 miles.
  • It takes 1,320 gallons of water to produce 2 lbs of irrigated rice.
  • More than 140,000 varieties of cultivated rice are thought to exist but the exact number remains a mystery.
  • Three of the world's four most populous nations are rice-based societies: People's Republic of ChinaIndia, and Indonesia. Together, they have nearly 2.5 billion people almost half of the world's population.
  • The average Asian consumer eats 330 lbs of rice annually compared to the average European who eats 11 lbs.
  • 143 lbs.of rice are milled annually for every person on earth.
  •  Eggplant is native to southern India and Sri Lanka.
  • It is part of the nightshade (Solanacene) family and like all other edible members of the nightshade family, the eggplant is a fruit.
  • Tobacco is also a member of the nightshade family. Like tobacco, eggplant and other nightshade plants contain nicotine, though to a lesser extent than tobacco.
  • Eggplant and other members of the nightshade family may worsen the symptoms of arthritis.
  • An eggplant is almost 95% water.
  • Salting eggplant will reduce the amount of oil absorbed in cooking.
  • China is the top eggplant producer in the world.

Fresh Eggplant& Chicken Risotto - fancy, shmancy chicken and rice

1 Medium Onion, Chopped
4 Tbsp Olive Oil, Divided
2-3 Clove Garlic, Chopped
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
6 Cup Chicken Broth
3 Small Eggplants, Diced
1/4 Cup Sun Dried Tomatoes, Chopped
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Cup Arborio Rice
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine, Warmed
3 Boneless Chicken Breasts, Diced
1 Cup Fresh Parmesan Cheese, Shredded
4 Slices American Cheese

Heat the chicken broth and keep just below a simmer.
 Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan, brown the chicken.  Transfer to a plate.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan you used for the chicken and sauté the garlic and onions until the onions are translucent.  Add the eggplant and sauté until browned.   Add the rice to the pan and add the warmed white wine and stir as it is absorbed. 
 Add a soup ladle of the heated broth and stir, keeping the mixture just at a simmer. Keep stirring until the broth is nearly all absorbed into the rice. Continue this process until the rice is al dente. This process will take about 25 minutes, and at the end a creamy sauce will form around the rice grains that are tender but firm.
At the moment the rice is no longer crunchy, stir in a last ladle of hot broth, add the cheeses, and serve the risotto at once.
This dish is a meal in itself.  Rich, flavorful and satisfying.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inspired by pessimism

My husband is a wonderful man and a fantasmic husband, but he is lord god king of pessimism.  Seriously, look up 'pessimist' in the dictionary and his face is right there!


a person who habitually sees or anticipates the worst or isdisposed to be gloomy.

Of course, if you look up the word 'dork' his picture is right there, too.  But I digress.  It is his negative attitude that has inspired this blog post . . .

He was inspecting my recent batch of canned pickles and was shocked . . . nay . . . horrified to discover that there was an inch of air space in some of the jars.  So, this topic comes to bear . . . 

 . . . bear in this sense means produce. A tree can bear fruit, or woman can bear children.  "It all comes to bear" means it all comes to fruition.

Holy crow!  I am so easily distracted . . . 

Oh look!  SHINY!

In all seriousness . . . this topic discusses mistakes in canning – minor and serious and potentially deadly.

Let’s start with liquid loss, shall we?  So, the question is . . . will foods be safe if there is some liquid loss in the jars after processing?  The answer is yes . . . with a caveat.   Sometimes liquid is lost during processing most likely caused by incorrect head space or because not all the air bubbles were released before putting on the lids.  It happens . . . it’s not the end of the world (or the batch of pickles, for that matter).  The stipulation is that as long as you used the correct processing - pressure, time and method - you should be okay.  Your foods will be fine but the food above the liquid level may darken a bit.  If liquid loss is excessive (like well below halfway) go ahead and put it in the front of your storage area so it will get used first.    

Other canning mistakes -

Ones that could kill you . . .

§         Making up your own canning recipe. Without scientific testing, you will not know how long the product needs to be processed to be safe. 

§         Adding EXTRA starch, flour or other thickener to recipe. This will slow the rate of heat penetration into the product and can result in undercooking.
§         Adding EXTRA onions, chilies, bell peppers, or other vegetables to salsas. The extra vegetables dilute the acidity and can result in botulism poisoning.
§         Using an oven instead of water bath for processing. The product will be under-processed since air is not as good a conductor of heat as water or steam.  The jars also may break or explode.
§         Not making altitude adjustments. Since boiling temperatures are lower at higher altitudes, the products will be under-processed. Pressure canning requires adding more pounds of pressure while water bath canning requires more processing time.
§         Not venting pressure canner. Lack of venting can result in air pockets (cold spots) which will not reach as high a temperature as is needed.
§         Not having dial-type pressure canner gauges tested annually. If the gauge is inaccurate, the food may be under-processed and therefore unsafe.
§         Failure to acidify canned tomatoes. Not all tomatoes have an adequate acid level (pH), especially if the vine is dead when tomatoes are harvested. This can result in botulism poisoning.
§         Cooling pressure canner under running water. Calculations as to processing time include the residual heat during the normal cool-down period as part of the canning process. Hurrying this process will result in under-processed food; siphoning of liquid from the jars and jar breakage may also occur.
§        Letting food prepared for “hot pack” processing cool in the jars before placing them in the canner for processing. The heat curves are based on the food being hot at the beginning of the processing. The product could be under-processed.

Mistakes that may cost you but are not deadly . . .

§         Use of mayonnaise jars. The thinner walls of the glass may break, especially if used in a pressure canner, and it may be more difficult to obtain a good seal. However, if it seals, it is safe to use.

§         Use of paraffin on jams & jellies. Small air holes in the paraffin may allow mold to grow. Also, paraffin can catch on fire if overheated during preparation. If preserves do have mold growth, the recommendation is not to eat the product, but discard it.

§         Cooling too slowly after removing from canner. (Example: stacked jars close together.)  There is a group of harmless organisms called thermophiles that can survive canning. If bottles are held hot for long periods, they can produce acid (fermentation). This results in the defect known as “flatsour.” This is harmless, but produces an undesirable flavor.

§         Storing food longer than recommended. Keeping foods longer than recommended or storing them at temperatures above 70° F for an extended period of time will decrease the quality and the value of some nutrients, but the product will be safe to eat. A darkening of fruits and change in texture is often a result as well.

The general guidelines for safe food preservation really are not difficult to follow. Just make certain to always use an up-to-date, scientifically-tested recipe, follow it exactly and make the altitude adjustments for time or pressure.

Cautions Issued for Specific Foods

• Butter — for now, canning butter using any method is not recommended. Some methods are dangerous at best; others are not backed by science.

• Hydrated wheat kernels (berries) — Starch in wheat may interfere with the heat penetration during canning. Insufficient processing can result in botulism food poisoning. Wheat should be stored dry until use or refrigerated up to several days if hydrated for use in the near future.

• Quick Breads (e.g. , banana, zucchini, pumpkin) — Baking quick breads in canning jars and then placing a lid and ring on the jar to create a vacuum seal as it cools does not kill botulism-forming organisms that grow in warm, moist, anaerobic conditions. These items should be either baked fresh and served or frozen.

• Dried Beans (pinto, kidney, etc.) — To safely can dried beans, they must be hydrated first (usually 12 to18 hours) and then brought to a boil for 30 min. Hot beans are then placed into hot jars for processing.

General Rules

• Always use up-to-date, scientifically tested canning recipes.

• Only use approved, up-to-date canning methods
• Follow canning directions exactly.

• Make altitude adjustments by adding more time to water bath canning or increasing pressure for pressure canned products.

• Make certain canned products have a proper lid seal.

Note: Unless you are sure that the above general rules were followed, boil low acid foods for 10 minutes before eating them to inactivate botulism-causing organisms (clostridium botulinum).

Exceptions to the General Rules

• Changing salt level in anything except pickles. Salt acts as a preservative and adds flavor and crispness to pickles. In other foods, it is mainly used as a flavoring agent and is added as a personal preference.

• Changing sugar level in syrup used for canned fruit. Sugar helps fruit retain a bright color and firm texture, but is not necessary for safety.

• Add EXTRA vinegar or lemon juice. Bottled acids help obtain required pH (acid levels) in tomatoes and pickles. If a more tart or sour flavor is desired, more vinegar, lemon or lime juice may be added.

• Decrease any vegetable except tomatoes in salsas. Salsa recipes have been tested to ensure that they contain enough acid to be safely processed in a boiling water-bath canner. This acid is provided by the correct amount of tomatoes. The addition of vegetables has also been calibrated to balance the acid level. While

it is dangerous to add more vegetables to salsa recipes, fewer may be used for a milder flavor.
• Substitute bell peppers, long green peppers or jalapeño peppers for each other in salsa recipes. So long as the total amount of peppers remains the same (or fewer) as what is listed in the tested recipe, peppers may be interchanged.

    Saturday, August 28, 2010

    Drunk as a skunk

    When I’m canning tomatoes I find that I have a lot of tomato juice as a by-product of seeding the tomatoes. 

    Waste not want not . . . and I love bloody mary’s.  :)

    So, I canned it. 

    Tomato juice contains vitamins A and C as well as the antioxidant Lycopene, making it a healthy beverage.

    I simply strain the juice to remove any seeds and pour the juice into a large pot.  Then bring the juice to a boil, stirring.  And then reduce the heat to boil gently for 5 minutes.

    You can add whatever seasonings you like – salt, pepper, etc.  I added a couple dashes of hot sauce to the mix for a little kick.

    You can chill the juice and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

    Or, you can pour the hot juice into pre-sterilized canning jars and process for 20 minutes in a hot water bath.

    Uses for tomato juice:

    • In Canada and Mexico, tomato juice is popular mixed with beer, the concoction is known in Canada as Calgary Red-Eye and in Mexico as Cerveza preparada. 
    • Tomato juice is the base for the cocktails Bloody Mary and Bloody Caesar. 
    • Apart from the obvious use as a beverage, tomato juice's mild acidity means that it can be used to clean up old coins or metal saucepans in much the same way as other acidic substances such as Coca Cola are used. 
    • Tomato juice is frequently used as a packing liquid for canned tomatoes. 
    • Helps remove chlorine stains from naturally blond hair. Saturate hair with undiluted tomato juice or ketchup, leave on for 10 to 15 minutes, rinse and shampoo

    • The juice is also thought to be an effective cleaning agent against skunk musk. 
    • Tomato juice contains fructose, which helps the body metabolize alcohol and prevent some of the more severe hangover symptoms.
    Where does the phrase "drunk as a skunk" come from? Do they stagger around, hit on all the girl skunks and spray things randomly while yelling, "Woo hoo!"? Or perhaps it's just because it rhymes. 

    Oh my, how I digress!

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Firewater Friday - Jello Shots

    Who doesn’t love Jell-o?  It’s wiggly, it’s jiggly, it’s fun to eat and  . . . there’s always room for Jell-o.
    Jell-o is made from gelatin.  Gelatin is a protein produced from collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, and intestines of animal.  Sounds yummy, huh?

    Gelatin desserts have a long and boring history . . . here are the highlights.  Well-to-do’s had the enjoyed Jell-o like desserts almost exclusively because gelatin was so expensive and difficult to make.  In 1845, powdered gelatin was patented and it jiggled its way to the unwashed masses.  Early on in Jello-s history, lucky folks got to enjoy other flavors such as chocolate, celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and seasoned tomato.   The J-E-L-L-O song that I grew up with got it’s beginnings in 1934.  In 1964, the slogan "There's always room for Jell-O" was introduced.  In 1974, comedian Bill Cosby began his 30 years stint voice of Jell-O.   During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the souvenir pins included one depicting green Jell-O.
    I love Jell-o . . . it makes me oh-so happy.    Why you ask.  Duh!  Jell-o shots, of course!  Sadly, it is not possible to make Jell-O shots with only alcohol.

    Scientific factizoid . . . Dry gelatin is composed of colloidal proteins. These proteins form chains that require hot water to denature them, so that they can then reform as a semisolid colloidal suspension incorporating the added water. Pure alcohol cannot be heated (without evaporation) enough to initially break down the proteins.

    Did your head just implode?  Here’s a recipe that will make you feel better!
    How to Make the Perfect Jello Shots

    Things You'll Need:
    • 6 Oz Box Of Jello (Any Flavor)
    • 2 Cups Boiling Water
    • 2 Cups Chilled Vodka (Flavored, Preferred)
    • Saucepan
    • 60 Individual Plastic Salsa Containers W/ Lids 
    • A Tray
    Boil two cups of water.  Check out this link if you need help with this step.
    In a medium-sized bowl, empty contents of Jello box, then pour boiling water over it. Stir for 2 minutes or until all the powder is dissolved.  
    Now stir in 2 cups of chilled vodka.
    Now, layout all the individual plastic cups on a tray and fill them with the liquid. Leave the lids off and place in refrigerator for 4 hours.  
    Put the lids on, and the jello shots are ready to be taken to a party!
    Enjoy responsibly or this could be you!
    If you haven’t had enough of Jell-0 you can visit only Jell-o Museum in the world.  Visit LeRoy, New York.  The museum offers looks at starting materials for Jell-O, such as sturgeon bladder and calves' hoofs, and various molds.  Exciting stuff, to be sure!

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Bonus feature . . . Kentucky Frilled Chicken

    “Some folks say that on a cold night, when the moon is a-howlin’, you can still see her at the old farmhouse table, knitting shrugs for the chickens.”

    Chicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist Cuff

    Chicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist Cuff
    Chicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist CuffChicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist CuffChicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist CuffChicken Poncho or Knitted Wrist Cuff


    This isn't a joke. I raise Bantam Chickens (for eggs - they are pets we would never eat them they are free range when they reach adulthood & they feed us with their eggs!) In my spare time I make them little outfits for when they are still babies & still living indoors.
    This poncho/human wrist cuff is being modeled by Bantam Chick Lil Dayna. I made it specifically for her. She's so beautiful - even more so than her nine sisters. I'm making ponchos and shrugs for them too.
    Anyway, if you have a Bantam Chick and need something for the holidays or if you know someone who raises Bantam Hens this is the perfect gift. Now... as Dayna likes to fly, spread her wings, walk around & partake in other chicken activities this poncho is only for very special occasions - and only with proper supervision. Never leave a chick unsupervised with any clothing or toys. Mostly I think the poncho is best for when the two of you are cuddling, you want to take some sweet pictures, or for a few seconds when company arrives & you want to show her off.

    The best part is... When your Bantam Hen is not wearing her poncho YOU CAN!!!!! It is a beautiful crocheted cuff in golden sunset colors with some blues & reds thrown in (I spun the yarn myself). The orange buttons are vintage & really pretty! The yarn has multiple fibers including merino, silk, soy, sari etc...
    I'm not crazy, just a jeweler who dabbles in fiber & raises Bantam Chicks.
    The fiber for this poncho came from Dayna The Crafty Scientist... her website is 
    Sold on Oct 23, 2009