Use as Directed

So, grape jelly.

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This is one of those cases where using the recipe in the box is just fine. In general I have no complaints about sugar, but for jelly I want to taste the fruit, so I went with a low sugar pectin from Ball. This recipe could more accurately be called ‘lower sugar’, because there’s still quite a bit, but the grapes are not overpowered and that’s what I was going for.

Grape Jelly

5 1/2 cups grape juice

3 1/2 cups sugar

1 box low or no-sugar-needed pectin

Prep 6 half-pint jars.

Mix pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Combine pectin and juice in a large pot, along with a small bit of butter. (The butter will keep everything from foaming too much. I skip this step when making jam, but it really helps to make a nice, clear jelly.)

Bring to a boil.

When you can’t stir the boil down, add the rest of the sugar.

Bring back to a boil, and when you can’t stir it down cook for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Skim any foam.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.

Process 5 minutes in water bath.

Yield: 5-6 half-pint jars.

Hip To Be Square

Who says english muffins have to be round?

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Here’s another recipe that can help cut down on grocery spending. The cornmeal gives the crust just the right english muffin crispness, and as you can see, you will not sacrifice any nooks and crannies by making your own.

English Muffin Bread

1 cup flour + 1 3/4 cups flour

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups warm water

Cornmeal

Combine 1 cup flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and warm water. (In a stand mixer if you’ve got one.) You want the water to be about body temperature – hot enough to wake the yeast, not so hot you kill it.

Mix 3 minutes.

Add remaining flour and mix til incorporated.

Butter a pan very well. What size pan? Well, it’s up to you. The dough is going to rise to basically the shape of your pan. You could use a loaf pan, and have more of a slicing bread. Or you can do as I did for the muffins pictured above and use a shallow casserole dish. Whatever you use, make it big enough for the dough to rise in.

Give the pan a good dusting with cornmeal.

Add the dough and sprinkle with more cornmeal.

At this point the dough will be very wet and will not fill your pan. Cover it with a towel and let it rise for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Bake 30 minutes.

Falling

I hate to do this to you, but I’m calling it.

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It’s time for soup.

Or at least time to make soup for your freezer. Multiply this recipe by as many tomatoes as you can get your hands on and freeze in pint jars with airspace on top for expansion. You’ll thank me in a few weeks.

Roasted Tomato Soup

7 or 8 tomatoes, cut in quarters

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, peeled

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 cups vegetable stock

1/2 pint heavy cream

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Lay cut tomatoes in foil-lined roasting pan, cut side up.

Add peeled garlic.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast 45 minutes.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan.

Add onion and cook til translucent.

Add sugar and stock and bring to a boil.

Add tomatoes and garlic.

Puree til smooth.

Add cream, and blend again.

Yields about 7 pints.

Save Some Bread

This bread goes fast at our house.

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All bread goes pretty fast, actually. When I began tracking our groceries to see where our money was going it wasn’t too surprising to see that bread was one of our biggest grocery expenses. Coming up with some easy, delicious recipes caused a nice dip in that spending, with the added bonus of getting to eat much better bread than we can buy at the local supermarket.

Cinnamon Bread

Preheat oven to 350.

1/2 cup sugar + 1/3 cup sugar, divided

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, vanilla, and oil.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar.

In a buttered bread pan, layer 1/3 of the batter, then 1/3 of the sugar/cinnamon. Repeat until you have 3 layers of each, ending with sugar/cinnamon.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Cool It

I make a delicious cake, but not a particularly pretty one.

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Yesterday I got some lessons in cake decorating from a friend. How to level the cake, what consistency the frosting should be for the crumb coat vs. the piping, what each pastry tip is used for, and most importantly, how to stay cool when you realize it’s over 90 degrees and your cake is beginning a slow tilt on its rapidly melting middle layer of frosting.

Because my friend is vegan, we made a vegan version of buttercream, using a coconut-based margarine and almond milk. As a long-time frosting lover I can attest that not much is lost in the translation, but use butter or margarine as you like and your milk of choice.

(Vegan) Vanilla Buttercream

1/2 cup margarine

1/2 cup shortening

6 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

6 Tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

Whip margarine and shortening, then alternately add sugar and wet ingredients. If too stiff, add a bit more milk; too wet, add sugar.

As Advertised

It would be just plain mean to have a cinnamon bun dancing at the top of my page and not give you a recipe, don’t you think?

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Cinnamon Buns

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling:

4 Tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon

Dough:

2 cups flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter

3/4 cup milk

Glaze:

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup milk

Combine the filling ingredients to make a crumbly mixture.

Spread half of the filling ingredients to cover the bottom of a 9″x9″ pan. You may want to line the pan – this gets messy.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture.

Add milk and work it into a soft dough.

Roll the dough into a 1/4″ thick rectangle.

Spread the remaining filling over the dough.

Roll the dough up and slice it into 12-18 buns.

Place the buns in the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While they’re baking, mix up your glaze.

Drizzle with glaze while warm.

Dinner’s Ready

Sometimes you need dinner in 10 minutes.

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Mix up some veggies – maybe corn, shredded zucchini, chopped spinach, or dried tomatoes? – black beans, and cheese.

Warm a bit of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.

Lay a flour tortilla in the pan.

Cover half the tortilla with veggies and cheese.

When the bottom of the tortilla begins to brown, fold it over like an omelet.

Turn down the heat and give everything a minute to warm through.

Top with salsa and/or sour cream.

Done.

Staff of Life

Bread is the simplest of foods, but many people think making it requires some sort of expertise.

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The process is completely straightforward. I’m not sure how it became shrouded in mystery, as if yeast were an outlandish ingredient and not something floating around in the air we breathe, but I am quite sure just about anyone can make a loaf of bread.

This challah is so pretty, and nicely sweet. It is not a traditional challah, as it includes milk, but there’s room on the table for tradition and innovation, yes?

Vanilla Challah

4 1/2 cups flour, divided

4 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 Tablespoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm milk

2 eggs, plus 1 egg for eggwash

4 Tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon to oil bowl and 1 teaspoon for eggwash

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon honey

Whisk 1 cup flour with yeast, sugar, and salt.

Add warm milk. You want it to be warm enough to wake the yeast up, but not so hot it kills the yeast. 40 seconds in the microwave works for me.

Add 2 lightly beaten eggs, 4 Tablespoons olive oil, honey, and vanilla.

Mix until smooth.

Add the rest of the flour a cup at a time.

Turn onto floured surface and knead til springy, 3-5 minutes.

Place in a deep bowl lightly greased with olive oil.

Turn it over once so it’s coated with oil, then cover the bowl with a dishtowel and set it in a warm spot.

Let it sit for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with Silpat or spray with oil.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts and roll each into a snake about 20″ long. Keep the middle of the snakes a bit wider than the ends.

Lay the three pieces side by side, almost touching.

Begin in the middle and braid towards yourself, then turn the baking sheet and braid from the middle towards yourself again, this time moving the outside snakes under the center one rather than over. This will give you a neat braid.

Preheat the oven to 350 and let the dough rise on top of the stove on its tray, covered with a dishcloth.

After 30-40 minutes, whisk 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of olive oil and brush on top of loaf.

Bake the loaf about 40 minutes, until it is golden and sounds hollow when you rap the bottom.

Seasons In the Sun

Tomato season is exhausting, not gonna lie.

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Pounds and pounds of tomatoes pass through the kitchen, needing to be processed as soon as possible to preserve them while they’re still full of sunshine.

I spent yesterday making tomato sauce, and I’ll be doing it all over again in a few days. We use about 40 pints of sauce a year, so I do two batches of 40 pounds each. If you eat less, or just want to try out a small batch, this recipe can be divided and your cooking time will be shorter. If you decide to go for the full 40 pounds, you will need a giant pot.

You’ll notice that I do not remove the seeds or skin from the tomatoes. Just about every sauce recipe does, but to me it seems a colossal waste of time. You can, of course, do it whichever way you prefer.

This is a very simple sauce, and we use it as is for lots of things, but if you want to add more ingredients – peppers, meat, anything – do so when you’re ready to eat it, not when you’re preparing this recipe. Changing the ingredients may result in an unsafe product, and adding meat definitely would.

Tomato Sauce

40 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 120 tomatoes)

2 cups onion, diced

16 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Dried oregano to taste

1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice PER PINT JAR (This is important. Tomatoes vary in acidity. The lemon juice increases the acidity, which keeps your food safe.)

Prep 22 pint jars

Core tomatoes and cut in chunks.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in giant pot until translucent.

Add tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer 20 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender.

Add basil and oregano.

Bring to a boil and cook til reduced by half. This can take anywhere from 5-7 hours. It’s done when you feel it’s thick enough. Stir often to prevent sticking.

Put 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice IN EACH JAR.

Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Remove air bubbles with a very clean tool.

Process in water bath for 35 minutes.

Yield will be 18-22 pints, depending on thickness.

I Think I Can

Some canning basics, in case you think only other people can perform this magic.

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There are two kinds of canning, water bath canning and pressure canning. Some things can only be pressure canned because of their ph levels or density. I’m going to leave pressure canning to someone more knowledgeable and talk about water bath canning, which is safe for high-acid foods. If a recipe calls for pressure canning you absolutely cannot substitute with water bath canning.

There are three important things to remember while canning. The first is, “hot food, hot jars.” Your jars should be sanitized and hot, and they will be filled with hot food. The second is, ‘be clean to be safe.’ Clean hands, clean jars, clean pots, clean utensils (metal’s best), clean towels. The third is, ‘trust your source.’ You don’t want to wing it when canning. Make sure the source of your recipe is someone who understands the canning process. Your great grandparent, while undoubtedly the source of some stellar life advise, may or may not be the best source for canning recipes, as understanding of food safety has developed quite a bit in the past fifty years. The best way to decide who is trustworthy is to understand the process yourself, so do some reading. You’re off to a good start with this post. Ball (maker of jars) has a website full of great information. You can feel confident using any recipe on their site.

At some point you’ll likely see lemon or lime juice used in a recipe. They are used to increase the acid level when the food itself does not have enough to can safely. It is important to use the amount specified, and to use bottled juice, not fresh. Bottled juice is required to meet certain acidity levels, whereas levels vary in fresh fruit. Vinegar is also used to increase the acidity of foods. Do not improvise on quantities – prepare the recipe as written.

There are some supplies you’ll need:

1) A large pot with a rack of some sort on the bottom to boil the jars in. This is your water bath canner. The rack keeps the jars off the bottom of the pot. Full disclosure, I canned for years without a rack and had no problems, but a rack is proper procedure. You can rig one with rings from old jars if necessary. There are canning-specific pots sold, but any pot big enough to hold your jars and allow them to be covered by at least an inch of water will do. These days I can in a beautiful two-burner Amish canning pot, but for a long time I used a cheapo stainless pot.

2) A large pot to cook your food in. Many times the food you’re canning will expand as it boils, so you want something that gives you a lot of space on top of the food. Because you’re cooking high-acid foods, you do not want to use aluminum or cast iron, which are reactive. If you’re buying a pot and not just using one you have, I’d go for stainless steel, get the biggest you can, and make sure it has a nice thick bottom. That will prevent any sticking or burning.

3) Tongs and/or a jar lifter. Jar lifters are very handy, making it about a million times safer to move your very hot, full jars from counter to canner and back again. It is possible to use a long set of metal tongs, though, if you move very carefully, and I prefer to use tongs when moving empty jars.

4) A wide funnel. This will cut down on the amount of food that ends up on the outside or on the rim of the jar, helping keep things clean.

5) Towels. I like to have a stack of very clean dishtowels and also some larger towels to line the counter so my hot jars don’t experience a sudden temperature change when they’re placed on it. The dishtowels should be a flat weave, with no fuzzies that might make their way into your food. I use flour sack towels.

6) Canning jars. These comes in various sizes, so choose the one that’s right for your product and make sure that you follow the proper processing time for that size jar. Jars can be reused. Just make sure they are clean and without cracks or dings.

7) Two piece canning lids. These will consist of a flat lid which can only be used once and a ring which can be reused as long as it is not rusty or damaged. Flat lids can be purchased separately from jars, so you can reuse last year’s jars and rings and just replace the lid. It used to be recommended to simmer your lids, but Ball has reversed that recommendation and it is no longer necessary.

Ok, so what do you do with all this stuff?

Take the lids and rings off your jars.

Set the jars in the water bath pot and cover them with water.

Put that pot on the stove, cover it, and heat it to boiling, then turn down the heat and let it simmer.

Prepare your trustworthy recipe in your cooking pot.

Remove your jars from the hot water and fill with your completed food, leaving the amount of headspace (empty room on top) noted in the recipe.

If any food splatters on the rim or outside of your jars, wipe with a very clean dishtowel.

Cover the jars with clean, never been used lids, and secure with rings twisted finger tight.

Place your full jars back in the water bath, cover it, and turn up the heat to bring it back to a boil.

Once it’s boiling, set a timer for the amount of processing time noted in the recipe.

When time’s up, shut off the heat and let the jars sit for a minute in the water, then remove them and set them on a towel on the counter.

Don’t move them for the rest of the day, so as not to disturb their sealing. You will hear popping as they seal. You will develop a Pavlovian response to this noise.

The next day, check the seal by removing the ring and holding the jar by its lid. (Keep a hand underneath just in case!) The lid should be on very firmly. If your jar didn’t seal, your food is still just fine. It is not shelf-stable, however, and should be kept in the fridge. Failed seals happen to everyone, so take the time to check them.

Make sure the jars are clean, double checking under the ring, so that no mold will grow on the outsides. Wipe with a damp towel if necessary.

Label your jars with contents and date made.

Store your jars in a cool, dark spot. Best practice is to remove the rings so that if for some reason your jars should unseal it will be obvious. I will admit to not always following best practice in this area, but feel free to be more responsible than I am.

High-acid canned food is generally considered safe for one year, but that’s conservative. We’ve eaten lots that’s two years old. If it goes bad, you will know it – the seal will break, mold will develop, or the color or texture will be unappealing. When in doubt, throw it out, but if a high-acid food looks fine, it is. This does not apply to low acid foods, which you of course will not be water bath canning in any case, and which are the foods where botulism is a concern. You can’t see or taste botulism, which is why it’s important to pressure can when required.

A word on mishaps: Sometimes a jar will break in the water bath canner. It’s depressing, but don’t despair. Take out your other jars and clean them up, dispose of the broken jar, and move on. Very rarely, due to user error, a lid might come off during processing, leaving you with an empty jar and canning water filled with floating food. Again, not the end of the world, just follow the same cleanup process.

Whew, that’s a lot of information. Any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.