Monday, July 23, 2012

Canning 2012: Pasta Sauce

It's been a full week, my friends. I not only had to adjust to a new schedule/work load, but I got to work an extra day this week. Thankfully, I still had Sunday off so I was finally able to attempt what was once thought as impossible: make & can my first tomato sauce.

First a little background. I have absolutely, positively no Italian background, but I love me some pasta. It's almost an unhealthy obsession. The weird thing is I hate tomatoes, but I love tomato sauce. But recently, I noticed both pasta sauce & ketchup sold at the grocery store have a lot of sugar. And I'm talking like a cup or two. So, I wanted to make my own without sugar. That did not turn out too well last year thanks to the neighborhood squirrels. But this year, we have some beautiful, huge Better Boy tomatoes. And since I'm not sure how many more we'll get since there's a new excessive heat wave, I decided to start cooking.

First, I attempted to do a lot of research. And I found a few conflicting things:
- Needed 20 lbs tomatoes (not happening)
- Simmer for 2 hours (or not)
- No exact "air room" for jar
- No exact time on bathing jars
- Having water over jars (or not)

So here's what I did. And this is what I used:
- 14 better boy tomatoes right from my own garden
- 1 red onion from farmers market
- few leaves of basil from the garden
- few sprigs of oregano from the garden
- 1 garlic clove
- ground thyme
- 1/3c of Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2T sugar (I'll explain later)
- A couple splashes of lemon juice
- I'll admit it, 1 can of garlic roasted diced tomatoes
Beautiful tomatoes from my garden
So, let's first start with the pasta sauce. Getting the tomatoes ready is the hardest part. First you need to de-skin. The east way to do that is first cut an "X" lightly on the bottom and scald the tomatoes for about sixty seconds.
Just throw the suckers in boiling water for one minute
Then immediately put the tomatoes into ice water. The stress in temperature loosens the skin and makes it super easy to pull off the tomato.
See? Simple.
Then there is the not so fun part. Tomatoes are FULL of seeds (obvious) and water (not so obvious). So to make your life easier, core & quarter the tomato. Then de-seed & squeeze out as much water as you can.
Not going to lie, this felt really gross. And finding the seed quarters is like gutting a fish. Really encouraged my dislike of raw tomatoes. Bleck. But soon as you get this over with, the real fun begins: making a tasty tomato sauce.
What squeezed tomatoes with skins look like
The sauce is pretty easy. I just tossed the tomatoes into a pot & used a potato masher to break down the tomato. I also sauteed the garlic & onion before throwing it in with the tomatoes, spices, lemon juice & wine. Later on I threw in some last minute sugar because I learned a little helps the sauce last longer since it's so acidic. I'm not going to lie, it doesn't look pretty at first.
It will first look chunky yet watery.
But don't worry; over time, it will look, smell, and taste much better. I did simmer it for about an hour and 45 minutes to get some of the extra water out. And I ended up using the diced tomatoes so I ended up with more sauce. I now see why you need so much tomatoes. With my 14 tomatoes AND can of diced tomatoes, I still only ended up with TWO jars of sauce. I guess this will be more of a can as you go kind of thing.

Ok. So, about an hour or so before your sauce is ready, it's time to get your canning gear in place. Thankfully I have all I needed after my mother bought me a canning set: pot, jars, lids, rings, magnetic wand, funnel, tongs, jar rack, and a little thing that helps you get all the extra air out of the jar.
Back when I first received the kit
For each canning session, you need to get your jars, lids & rings clean. So again, about an hour before the sauce was ready, I threw the jars into the dishwasher. I also put a few of the lids & rings into boiling water. After those are clean, you'll need to keep them warm until you are ready to can. That way the jar won't crack when you put hot sauce into it & the rubber on the lid is hot and can make a proper seal.
You should also start heating up the water bath early. And take it form me, put on a lid on the pot. It takes forever to get the water boiling. And silly me, I didn't put the lid on so it took even longer. Frankly, the water didn't get to a good boil until after I got tired & put the jars in. Which I'm sure is a no-no.
Sauce reduced and is ready
So after everything is ready to go, I filled the jars right to under where the threading begins. You want to give the tomatoes enough room to expand when in the boiling bath. I used a clean towel to dry of the tops of the jars & bottoms of the lids before placing the lids onto the jars. Then place the rings only finger tight around the jar. It just needs to keep the boiling water out. You then place the jars into the bath.

I still had about 1/2 - 1 inch of water above the jars
I ended up leaving the jars in the bath for about 30 minutes. The sauce & jars were already quite warm before going into the bath. I also noticed the pressure pushed the lids up, which I hope is a good thing. And after that, I used the tongs to pull them out & set on up of a towel on the counter. I'm happy to say, both lids gave the satisfying "pop" in only a few minutes afterwards.

 I am resisting the temptation to mess them more because you're supposed to leave them completely alone for 12-24 hours to ensure a good seal. After that, I plan to test the lids to see if the move up or down at all. The suspense is killing me.

Word is after you know you have a good seal, you should remove the rings to prevent any rusting. The sealed lids should be enough. And while you can reuse the rings, you should never reuse the lids.

So that's how my first experience with canning went. Since I only made two jars, I'm sue we'll end up testing out the sauce soon. And while I enjoyed learning about using the water-bath method, I'll probably test out a pressure-system next time. Mom swears by it.

Speaking of, I ended up taking the best advice from my mother & step-mom when it came to the sauce & canning. I guess I should of just taken that route instead of getting confused online. I guess that's the moral of the story.

Now that I got my first canning out of the way, my next big attempt is making a chicken bone broth. One of my favorite bloggers, The Healthy Home Economist, writes that making & using homemade bone broths & stocks is the number one way replenish the nutrients your body is lacking. I've wanted to make my own broth for months, but now that a friend is giving me one of his chickens (that I know was well care for/fed/exercised) , I will soon make my dream a reality. But you'll have to wait another week or two. I'm actually taking a short vacation next week. With that said, I'm not sure there will be a post next week. All depends on how busy I'm enjoying a few days off. Maybe this last photo of my kitchen buddy will make up for it.
"Let me help you cook."
By the way, if you follow me on twitter, you'd know all about this fun adventure.

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Vino Veritas

Disclaimer: This week's focus is on booze. I enjoy alcoholic beverages, but am a responsible drinker. And I can only wish others are the same. Please do not judge or criticize my choices.

With that being said...

Hello. My name is Manda. And I am a wino.
But I'm still sneaky enough to have limited photos of myself drinking wine
I enjoy other forms of alcohol, but my true love is wine. Semi-sweet whites to be exact. While there were times I drank more Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon, there's something to be said about sweet (not too tart) taste that's light and doesn't linger. My most recent obsession is Moscato (especially if they are D'Asti).

Thankfully, I live in one of the best places for a wine-lover to reside, outside of Europe & California of course. We have two wineries in our little heaven in Western Kentucky...
Wine tasting at local Purple Toad Winery with great friends
And you wouldn't believe how many vineyards are across the river into Southern Illinois. In fact, there's 32 in the southern region of the state. Even better, that includes an area called the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area; where there's 21 wineries and 55 vineyards. It's nationally recognized as one the most well known & respected wine regions. There's even a trail to several of these areas I wish to travel one day. But until then, I will just keep visiting one of the best: Blue Sky Vineyards. We actually took one of my best friends from from Central Illinois there this weekend.
Good Wine, Good Food, And Great Company

So in between my love for fermented grapes during dinner and how often we socialize, we go through a lot of wine bottles. And most of the time, we just end up recycling. But I thought I would share a few ways that you can use left over wine bottles.

The first idea we stole from my husband's lovely parents a long time ago: we use an old wine bottle to carry dish soap. At the time, his parents picked out the bottle for us to use, but you can always try any left over bottle of your favorite wine... or any beverage for that matter.

Another good use that we are now trying out is watering the plants. It's a cheaper version of the watering globe they sold on TV years ago. It can also hold more water & is more durable since the glass is thicker. You pretty much wash it out, fill with water, then shove into the ground. The soil does the rest.
Not only do we hope it can help save the squash, but now my garden can drink with me
There are other great uses for wine bottles when it comes to home decor'. You can paint them, put lights or candles in them, reuse them with other beverages, use them as vases, use them as yard torches, I've even found a few links about cutting some of the glass to make cool designs. I plan to try that if I find enough bottles with colorful glass. I also need to get my hands on chalkboard paint eventually- buahaha.
I love the sight of a vineyard as sunset
So raise a glass to the never-ending enjoyment of wine. Even the mayo clinic notes that red wine (in responsible, moderate amounts) can help the cardiovascular system. The antioxidants in red wine may help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart. One antioxidant - resveratrol - could reduce bad cholestrol & has shown to reduce the risk to obesity and diabetes in mice. Unfortunately, I can't say that includes my preference of white wine, but it is still a good beverage choice in moderation. And both red & wine wines can bring great additional flavors to certain dishes in the kitchen.

And what's the wine bottle without the cork? I'm currently trying to store up corks to make an pot holder. And thanks to one best friends, I now have an awesome container for the corks. I'll be sure to share how it all turns out.

Awesome, right?
And if you happen to end up using the bottles for your home & garden, you may avoid the risk of looking like an alcoholic come recycle day.
IN MY DEFENSE- there were mostly beer bottles. And it was after a HUGE house party. DON'T JUDGE ME.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Growing Up

So I just realized I missed the one year anniversary of this blog. It was on June 30th 2011, that I wrote my first musing for the world to see. So happy be-lated anniversary to Limelight Musings and all my readers. I can't believe you all have followed me as I've written (about) one a week for a full year. Thanks for sticking with me guys.

But if anything this past year has taught me is that I'm still growing up. Within the past twelve months I've learned a lot about friends, family, politics, and the world in general. And after everything is all said and done, I realize I'm becoming a foodie.

I'm sure you've all witnessed how the majority of my posts are now food based. And I hope you like what I've written. I seem to say it every time, but I'm learning more and more about true nutrition and real food. And I want to share what I've learned. For so long, most of us just consider food as a meal. Something you just gobble up. We've developed such a mindless connection to something that is supposed to become a part of us. Your dinner, no. Every meal should an experience you have with delicious dishes that will in turn fuel you mind, body & soul.

I guess over this year I learned that I don't give myself the time to fully look into or enjoy what I consume. And I feel that's a common mistake in my society. Your meals fulfill so many needs. Not only does it give your body fuel to keep going, but it should (key word) provide the nutrients you need to be in your prime. As many quote the father of medicine, Hippocrates: "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." We are so focused on calories or fat that we don't think about the nutrients we need to take in every. single. day. There's fiber, calcium, omega fats, and countless vitamins & minerals... Lots of little pieces that help make us us.
To give you just one example- you can thank the diet of our ancestors for our heightened intelligence above all living things. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain. Studies show they appear to be important for cognitive & behavioral function. And it's not just Omega 3's- saturated animal fats and cholesterol are also in your noggin. Both are part of a sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and preserves proper function of the brain & nervous system.

And food isn't just beneficial. It's delicious. There's a reason we crave fresh, crispy produce or savory, juicy meat. Our taste buds help us enjoy what we need to eat. And I promise if you take a few extra moments today to think about how your lunch tastes, you'd be surprised by what you find. 

Needless to say, there's quite a few reasons to really consider & enjoy what you are eating. If you think about it, food is such a huge part of our lives. While we all enjoy the benefits of cars, phones, hobbies, etc., food is a primal need in order to survive. So it deserves your time & effort.

With all of that being said, I'm super excited to say I registered to listen in on a Real Food Summit. Go ahead, click the link. It's free to watch & if you register with your email address, they'll throw in a couple freebies along the way. One of my favorite bloggers, The Healthy Home Economist even speaks today. But if you don't have time to watch all of the presentations, I hope to share some of the key points I learn along the way this week. I've already learned so much & it's only been one day.

That's my rant for the week. And once again, it's about food. I do feel bad that I didn't show any fun photos. So here's a look at my monstrous mint plant.
Made me realize I need to make mojitos. Lots & lots of mojitos.
Speaking of mint, here's something to keep in mind. It's a beautiful, fragrant plant that I feel everyone should grow. But never, ever, ever plant it in the ground. Ever. Unless you want a yard full of ravenous mint in a few years. This year's turned out so big I may divide it for a matching urn. It's still pretty. And it will provide fresh menthol for future mint oils, possible homemade toothpaste, and tea.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Week of Turmoil Ends With Monograms

It's been quite a week, let me tell you.

Quite. A. Week.

First, we are still plagued with a serious drought. So far it's nearly three weeks of no rain. Add almost a week of triple digit temperatures and you get true misery. My plants are barely hanging on despite a generous morning watering. My beautiful squash and zucchini are dieing. Every yard is brown and it's unbearable to be outside.

Since my garden is lacking, I unfortunately have not cooked much. But there is another reason for that matter. I battled a horrendous infection that caused an abscess this week. Needless to say, I was out of commission for a few days. Despite any afflictions dealt with in my life, this is truly the worst.

During that time, I've developed a new Netflix addiction to Showtime's "The Tudors." If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a nerd. To my core. So while others watch reality shows or family dramas, I watch science or history-based features. And what is more suspense-filled than the lifetime of King Henry VIII and his six wives. I can't say if the show is completely accurate, but who cares?
Despite how much I've obsessed over the show, I can only laze about so much. But with that being said, I found quite a few restrictions. Too hot to be outside. The infection kept me away from food. Infection also kept me from yoga. Too lazy to dedicate myself enough to a book worth reading. And there's a lack of inspiration for a knitting project. These are all only excuses, I know. Sue me.

BUT there's a craft that I've missed since the ole' Festivus season. Painting. And I've developed a love for monograms. Combine the two and I think we have a hobby.
First painted monogram- For Festivus
Since I previously painted a monogram for the holiday season, I decided to eventually do one for each season. So I painted a summer "B" designed for summer.
I think I subconsciously added blue in hopes of water/rain
These monograms are so fun to make. They are also cheap... that is after you set aside the cost of paints. I just get a standard cardboard letter from Hobby Lobby & go to town. These letters should only cost a dollar. I typically paint it white first then slowly work the layers from the bottom up.
The other B will be dedicated to Autumn
Through out the next year or so, I hope to incorporate more monograms through out our home... Pinterest opened my mind to so many ideas. Maybe even over the mantle? A gal can dream.