Monday, October 15, 2007

Pumpkin Soup and Leeks

Pumpkins are in full season, so I canned pumpkin soup today. I can enough of it that I can serve it at a few dinner parties during the winter. My favorite way to serve it is with grilled scallops. I also like to bring it to a simmer and add mussels and steaming them in the soup on occasion.

Leeks are back in season too and they will remain in season until late winter or early spring. They are a vegetable that I don't think we eat enough of and are an excellent substitute for onions in many, many recipes. I substitute them for onions in stuffing and sauces as they produce such nice color and texture. Because they have a lot of dirt in them, I recommend cutting off any wilted darker green, slicing them lengthwise and then crosswise. They can then be easily washed in a salad spinner, but be careful not to overload the spinner as it won't remove all the water due to their heaviness.

Leeks can also be slowly sautéed in a little extra virgin olive oil, course salt and ground pepper and then served with any steak or beef patty. Or, the sautéed leeks can be added to Bechamel sauce and served with poultry. Or, if you are really decadent add a little sour cream and serve them with fish or on a cracker as an hors d'oeuvre. They also good in an omelet or with some beef or chicken broth as a soup.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cast Iron

There is a very good interview focused on cast iron in last Saturday's Good Food podcast, 'Table Manners; Four Star Hospitality; Jitlada' with Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen. The interview begins 31 minutes and 35 seconds into the episode, if you want to skip the beginning.

I have spent a lot of time researching and testing different cookware. I have some All-Clad, Mauviel, Staub, Le Creuset and good ole cast iron. The expensive cookware can cost about $100 for a pan and $150 for a Dutch oven. I've paid up to $250 for a good, copper roasting pan, but now do most of my roasting in cast iron skillets - see our Video 2.

The bottom line is that I have found cast iron to be superior to most cookware. I specifically like the Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron and I especially like the price. They are available at under cast iron products at our canning store.

I'm putting in a new kitchen for entertaining and canning, keeping my family kitchen on a different floor. The new kitchen will require new pots and pans, the majority of which will be cast iron. I've purchased several cast iron skillets, two grill pans, a couple of cast iron Dutch ovens, a cast iron wok (by Staub) and three heavy (5mm) copper saucepans with stainless lining and a non-stick omelet pan.

My cast iron tips are:
  1. Have a designated cast iron skillet(s) and/or grill pan for fish. The fish flavor will absorb into the seasoning of a cast iron pan and can leach into other meats and food - yuck.
  2. Never use any products that may stick, such as milk products. Gravies should be made in a stainless lined pan.
  3. Never use soap for cleaning. Lightly scour with a metal pad and warm water. If you see something has stuck to the skillet, run water in it immediately after removing the food, being careful not to scald yourself.
  4. Season cast iron every time you use it. After cleaning, put cast iron onto the stove and heat until all water is evaporated. If there is a lid, place the lid on, slightly askew to allow steam to escape.
  5. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil into the hot skillet (again being careful not to burn yourself,) using a paper towel.

For a perfect steak, hamburger, pork, lamb or veal chop; sprinkle coarse kosher salt into a cast iron skillet and heat until it begins to smoke. Place the meat in the skillet. If the meat sticks to the skillet, it isn't yet seared and ready to turn. Cook until desired. For cheesburgers, add the cheese after turning and cover - I turn the heat off 1 minute after adding the cheese and let it continue cooking until the cheese is completely melted.

For roasted red potatoes; heat oven to 400 degrees. Add unpeeled potatoes cut into 1-1/2" pieces to skillet, mixing with a little olive oil directly in the skillet. I mix with my clean hands. Sprinkle with desired amount of salt (I use coarse kosher) and pepper. May add dried rosemary and/or thyme. Roast about 45 minutes, or until golden brown, shaking the skillet every 15 minutes to turn the potatoes.

For chicken or turkey breasts; place a well seasoned skillet over high heat until it slightly smokes. Add the breast(s) and cook for 4 minutes (3 minutes for small breasts). Turn the breasts and cook for 3 more minutes, cover and turn off the heat. Leave the breasts to steam for 15 minutes.

For braising vegetables such as endives or fennel, preheat the oven to 180 degrees, bring a cast iron Dutch oven to a medium high heat on the stove top with a little olive oil. Add trimmed vegetable with a little salt and pepper and brown on one side for about 5 - 6 minutes. Turn the vegetable, place the cover onto the Dutch oven and put it into the oven. Do not open the oven or the lid and let braise for one hour. After braising, you may serve them as is, or chop the vegetables and add them to a Bechamel sauce for a delicious side dish. Do not add salt and pepper to the Bechamel, as the braised vegetables are already contain them.

Remember you may remove meat from the pan and make a brown gravy direct in the skillet. For a white gravy, I make a Bechamel in a stainless lined saucepan and then add the meat drippings.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bread and Butter Pickles

A friend gave me a load of fresh onions Friday that are delicious! I bought some cucumbers at the market today and made bread and butter pickles. They are very easy to make and I love to snack on them.

Autumn has settled in and I'm beginning to see nice squash at the market. I will begin thinking about canning some squash soup, but need to wait until the season is in full swing and the prices drop. I did some work this week on a turkey pot pie filling recipe and hope to get it posted soon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Waterbath Canner verses Pressure Canner

The most frequently asked questions from our readers are “Do I really need to use a pressure canner for this recipe?” or “Can’t I use a waterbath canner for this recipe?” So, let’s address the differences between the two.

A waterbath canner processes canned goods submersed in boiling water. Water boils at 212F or 100C at sea level. A pressure canner, at 11 pounds of pressure, processes foods at a higher pressure and reaches a temperature of 240F or 115C at sea level. This represents a 15 percent increase in the processing temperature!

Some foods are more acidic and some are less acidic or non-acidic. We can typically taste acidic foods on the sides of the tongue, not to be confused with bitter tastes on the back of the tongue. Sweets are tasted with the tip of the tongue. You can test this by tasting consecutive spoonfuls of lemon juice (acidic,) tonic water (bitter,) and a sugar cube (sweet,) and then noting the area of the tongue that becomes sensitive upon tasting each one.

Common acidic foods are citrus fruits, apples, berries tomatoes and peaches. At the opposite end of the spectrum, low-acid foods include meats and vegetables with the exception of some peppers. Although we can taste these on our tongue, a more accurate measurement of a food’s pH, or level of acidity can be made using pH strips or a pH meter. Both can be found at our canning supply store.

In canning, the magic number for determining high-acid verses low-acid foods is 4.6. Foods with a pH of 4.6 or below are considered high in acid and are generally safe for processing using a waterbath canner. Certain bacteria exist in low-acid foods, with a pH above 4.6, that cannot be eliminated at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Low-acid foods must be processed at the higher temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Please note there are certain dense foods that should never be processed at home such as pesto.

If you intend to process a lot of low-acid foods, we highly recommend an investment in a good pressure canner. We prefer the All-American pressure canners, which can be quite expensive. You might start making hints that one would make a great holiday or birthday gift! Waterbath canners and pressure canners may be found at our canning supply store.

More information about high-acid and low-acid foods can be found in our five dollar technical guide available at the

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More Figs and Zucchini

I picked five or six dozen more figs yesterday. It looks like the rest will be ripe within a week or so and I'll can them at that time.

I went to the farmers market which seemed to be overflowing with beautiful zucchini. Now is the time to can zucchini soup! I can mine using only salt and pepper and a little lemon juice, which helps keep the color. I decide what I'm going to do with zucchini soup upon opening. Sometimes, I add a hint of nutmeg or some shaved Parmesan cheese. I might add a little cream (or just milk) when serving it to company as a starter. You might also try poaching cod in it as we do in Video 4.

Along with the zucchini, eggplant is in season and it's about the end of the tomato season. With the three in season, it's the perfect time to can ratatouille, which is a traditional French sauté of onions, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. If you've never had it, I'd recommend making some for dinner and trying it on its own, or serving it with a pork or lamb chop. Feel free to change the quantity mix of the vegetables to suit your own taste. When serving with beef, I like to add Worcestershire!

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I picked figs this morning for the second time this week. They are really beautiful. I have one tree that produces small, dark-purple figs and another that produces large, redish ones. I'm not ready to can them because the weather is nice and I need to get some outside painting done plus I'm putting in a lawn. So, I've decided to freeze them and can after all of them are picked. I'm rinsing them off, letting them dry and then putting them into freezer bags.

When I do can the figs, I'll can the small figs in red wine. When I open these, I usually remove the wine sauce from the canning jar and reduce it until it's the thickness of syrup just before serving. I put the two or three figs in a large soup dish with two or three scoops of vanilla ice cream and then drizzle the syrup over them. Yum!

I'll make fig jam from the large ones because the lighter color is so appealing. I can serve the fig jam with pound cake, or heat it up and put it over ice cream.

I know that tomato season is almost over and I'm trying to decide what I need to can with them. I'll go to the farmers market next week before making a final decision. I saw some beautiful eggplants last week and have been thinking about them too!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


This is my first Blog, so bear with me as I get accustomed to this form of writing. David has been blogging for years and you can tell by the way he so easily finds that blog tone and runs with it.

I wanted to write about applesauce but the more I thought about it I realized that what I was really going to say had a lot more to do with the joys of cooking and canning in general. I'll start out with the applesauce and tell you what I mean along the way.

So, we have an orchard, a bit old and in need of care, but nevertheless we have this amazing apple tree, Alexandre is the variety, and it produced a record number of apples this year. As I do every year, I set about collecting the apples and preparing to start the peeling, chopping and cooking of the apples. My husband carried this huge box of apples over from the orchard and I set things up on the terrace outside the kitchen door to get to work. Then one of my sons, Phillip, came along and sat down, asking if I wanted a little help as the quantity of apples gave the impression I might be there for several hours! So we set to work; I peeled and he chopped and to our amazement Johan my husband came out with another chopping board and knife and joined us!

We passed an hour this way, chatting while we worked, filling two of my huge pots with chopped apples, which of course resulted in two huge pots of applesauce. I will post my various recipes on our web site, or rather David will since I am such an incompetent computer person.

Anyway, at one point a friend of ours came over to say hello and found us out on the terrace. He was amazed to see this little apple party; how many of us are lucky enough to have an 18 year old son and a husband who would happily take up this kind of work?

It all made me realize that cooking and canning are really great vehicles for social interaction. It doesn't have to be some solitary activity the canner does alone and slaves away for hours preparing all those apples.

OK, so I'm the one who actually stirs the pot and eventually puts the applesauce in the jars, but once again, when it comes time to load up the canner, Phillip is right there to help me lift all the jars.

We have a cellar full of three different applesauces this year which we will slowly enjoy during the winter months for easy desserts, warm or just straight out of the jar. Perfect comfort food!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First post

I've been canning for several years now. When I began canning, I had difficulty figuring out how to do it. All of the information was either by word of mouth, in a format that was difficult to understand or simply scattered about from one book to another. It seemed like each time I wanted to can something new, it would take as much time doing research on how to can as the actual canning itself.

I bought every book available, including some used books from the 40s and 50s and I was fortunate to meet some other home canners who had a lot of experience and taught me how they did it. I compared what they did with what all the books and internet sources said and researched safe canning by the USDA. I then began developing my own canning recipes, which I posted to with step-by-step instructions and photos. After canning everything from jam to foie gras and duck confit to a freshly slaughtered whole pig (including making sausage!), I sat down and began developing a pedagogy for canning. I was able to break all canning into six basic canning methods that were progressive in difficulty.

The first method is the easiest - canning jams and infused fruit. It doesn't require a lot of skill or equipment and is the most commonly learned method. It only requires a water bath canner.

The second method was a little more difficult and focused with fruit: Canning fruit in syrup or as a pie filling. It's a little more difficult than canning jam and is the next logical step for a home canner. It also only requires a water bath canner, but introduces the difference between cold pack and hot pack canning.

The third method increases the level of difficulty, as it moves into tomatoes. They are still a fruit, but everyone uses them as a vegetable. The objective here was to learn how to can tomato sauce which is very popular and an extreme time-saver. Along with tomato sauce, we included canned salsa and whole or diced tomatoes for those who want to make their sauces at a later date. Again, this method only requires a water bath canner and reaffirms the difference between cold pack and hot pack canning.

The fourth method introduces how to can vegetables and soups. They are low in acid and are canned very similarly to the fruits in methods 2 and 3. However, this method requires a pressure canner and the majority of this method is spent on getting comfortable using a pressure canner.

The fifth method moves into meat packing with whole meals in a jar; chili, stew, etc. It's more difficult to do, but if one learned the other steps first then they wouldn't have any trouble catching on. This is super handy when making a large batch of your favorite chili, stew, chicken soup or meat marinara sauce. This method also uses a pressure canner.

Method six finishes off the pedagogy by teaching how to can pates, meatloaf and fish. This method introduces the raw pack method, meaning that the product is canned uncooked and then cooks while it is being processed in the pressure canner.

Using these progressive methods, I was able to develop a series of six, approximately ten- minute home canning videos, with the help of my dear friend Andrea Van Wallenburg and Fergus Anderson. We scripted the six methods and filmed the videos in Andrea's kitchen. Fergus had intended to be on holiday from filming short films and documentaries, but was nice enough to help us get the videos produced. had existed with just recipes until we added the videos. At that time, we also changed the quantity formats in recipes to be unique to a common jar size so that someone could decide how much they wanted to can and make a batch that size. This was contrary the confusing recipes found in practically all canning recipes, which have inconsistent quantities; 8 pints, 9 quarts, 1 peck or bushel, etc.

Andrea and I are canning buddies and we use different philosophies for canning. I live in town and entertain a lot, shopping at the farmers' market. My focus is on things I can use for entertaining. Andrea has a blended family with seven children and lives in the country, where her husband, Johan, grows some vegetables and tomatoes for her and they have some nice fruit trees and brambles. They also have an organic farmer friend, Stu, who drops off incredibly beautiful fruits and vegetables. She's cooks for a hoard of people everyday, in between raising kids and a full-time job. I don't know how she does it.

Rather than try to describe why Andrea is a home canner and the differences between what we can, I hope Andrea will make an occasional post to this blog. When we post, we'll try to tell you why and what we're canning, what we're doing with canned goods upon opening or tips for how to can more easily. We might even throw in some of the questions we get from inquiries and our recommended solutions.

Before I end this post, please remember to visit the Canning Supplies Store. We're associates of trusted and have been able to develop the store in conjunction with and their other associates. The pricing is the same as at, checkout is through and their shipping rates and policies apply. The shipping can sometimes make canning jars more expensive that you might find them locally. However, we think the other products are good quality, competitively priced, including the shipping and handling charges. Plus there are some unique products that aren't easily found locally.

Happy Canning!