Monday, September 26, 2011

Canning Cucumbers, Part Two: Dill Pickle Spears

I may not be too fond of sweet pickles, but I love a good dill pickle. There are a variety of ways to make dill pickles -- fresh pack, brined, cooked, canned, refrigerated, lacto-fermented. For my foray into pickle making, I decided to try a simple fresh pack recipe.

Although this recipe doesn't produce the crisp dill pickles I like most (I'm determined to make this recipe next year), they are still delicious and work well in a variety of recipes and on a hamburger or in a sandwich.

Fresh Pack Dill Pickles - from The Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Yield: about 7 pints or 3 quarts

8 lbs. 4- to 6-inch cucumbers, cut lengthwise into halves (we cut ours into quarters)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canning salt (can be found in the canning section in your local grocery store)
1 quart vinegar
1 quart water
3 tablespoons mixed pickling spices (also can be found in the canning section)
Green or dry dill (1 head per jar)
Cheesecloth and kitchen string or a store bought spice bag (For instructions on how to make a spice bag, check out this link -- it's really easy.)

Wash cucumbers; drain. Combine sugar, salt, vinegar, and water in a large saucepot. Tie spices in a spice bag; add spice bag to vinegar mixture. Simmer for 15 minutes. Pack cucumbers into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put one head of dill in each jar.

For those who are wondering what a head of dill looks like, there it is. The head is made of up the flower at the top of the plant, the part with several stems and little buds at the ends. These heads of dill came from my mom's garden, but you can also buy it in the produce section, by the packaged fresh herbs). You can also use dried heads of dill. (After a little research, I've learned that you can can substitute 1 Tablespoon of dried dill seed for 1 head of fresh dill.)

Ladle hot liquid over cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles by running a rubber spatula around the inside of the jar, between the cucumbers and the glass. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints and quarts 15 minutes (be sure to adjust for altitude, if necessary) in a boiling-water canner. 

Allow 4-6 weeks for these pickles to cure and develop the best flavor.

Have you ever made pickles? What's your favorite kind -- to eat and/or make?  Any recipes/links I should know about?

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Canning Cucumbers, Part 1: Sweet Pickle Chips

Yet another reason why I love this time of year: people sharing the bounty from their gardens. I mean, isn't that such a nice gesture? We joke about people unloading all their extra zucchinis on neighbors, but I think it's nice.  Like the lady in my mom's neighborhood who gave her eight pounds (eight!) of pickling cucumbers a few days ago. Free homegrown produce? Sweet!

Until this latest endeavor, Mom and I had never canned pickles. Never. But seeing as we had to do something with all those cucumbers, we decided to give it a go. Hooray for learning and trying new things, right? So, I took the kids up to my parents' house (hence the different setting for all the photos in the pickle posts -- I even used my dad's camera) for the day and we canned a bunch of cucumbers  I'm happy to report that pickle-making isn't too difficult. So, for the next couple posts, I'm going to share the recipes and techniques we used to make pickles.

Pickle Post #1: Sweet Pickle Chips

I'll be totally honest: I'm not a huge fan of sweet pickles. I don't hate them, but I definitely don't seek them out. But my mom likes them. Plus, she has this childhood memory of eating homemade sweet pickles with a neighborhood friend when she was a kid and she's always wanted to try making her own. My motivation for me to make these: they are an ingredient in my grandma's potato salad recipe (ridiculously good).

This recipe we used was one of the simplest we found (we found it on Many recipes for sweet pickles call for a ton of spices and seasonings. While this one had only a few ingredients, the results were quite tasty.  Mom says they're as good as the ones her neighbor made all those years ago.

Sweet Pickle Chips
- yield: 6 pint-sized jars -

4 lbs. pickling cucumbers - washed, blemishes removed, stems and blossom ends removed

Brining solution:
1 quart distilled white vinegar
3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. mustard seed
1/2 cup sugar

Canning Syrup
1 2/3 cup of distilled white vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 tbsp. whole allspice
2 1/4 tsp. celery seed

{Note:  I don't know if we reduced ours too much during the cooking process or what, but we ended up having to make extra canning syrup. This may or may not be the case for you, but I think it'd be a good idea to have enough of the ingredients on hand to make another batch, if necessary.}

Once your cucumbers are washed and the ends have been trimmed off, cut the cucumbers across into 1/4 inch slices.

In a large pot, mix together the ingredients of the brining solution. Add the cucumbers and stir.  Cover the pot and let the cucumbers simmer in the brining mixture for about 5-7 minutes, until the cucumbers lose their bright color and look more dull. 

While the cucumbers are cooking, make the canning syrup by combining the vinegar, sugar, whole allspice, and celery seed. Heat mixture in a saucepot until the syrup comes to a boil.

Once the cucumbers are done cooking, drain. Pack the cucumbers into the hot pint-size canning jars (again, we ended up using 6 pint-size jars).  Cover the cucumbers with the hot syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove the air bubbles by running a rubber spatula around the inside of the jar, between the cucumbers and the jar, moving the spatula up and down. Adjust lids and bands and process for 15 minutes (be sure to adjust for altitude and add on extra minutes, if necessary).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Product Review: Tattler Resuable Canning Lids

I first learned about Tattler reusable lids last fall, right after I finished canning numerous quarts of pears, apple pie filling, salsa, and peaches. I remember reading about the lids on a blog and thinking, "Now you tell me!"

In all my years of canning, I only knew about the metal ones that came with the jars. I had no idea there even was an alternative. That said, I always wondered why lids could only be used once. Wasn't there any way around that? That's where Tattler reusable lids come into play.

Tattler reusuable lids are just that -- reusable. The lids are made of a washable, heat-resistant plastic. When used with a rubber ring (which come with the plastic lids) and the regular metal canning rings, Tattler lids can help you preserve your food year after year.  The best part is that once you buy them, you never have to buy canning lids again. Even the rubber rings are reusable, so long as there are no signs of damage or wear on them (you can buy replacement rubber rings for a couple bucks). The company says that if the lids ever wear out, they'll replace them for free -- and according to the website and the pamphlet that came with the lids I bought, they've never had to replace a single lid. That's pretty awesome.

These lids are a guaranteed money saver. There is some initial investment (three dozen wide mouth lids for $23.95; $20.95 for three dozen regular mouth lids), but even that isn't much. It usually costs about $4-5 for a box of 12 of the one-use metal dome lids. If you do a lot of canning, the price for lids can really add up. Plus, once they're used, they're trash. With the reusable lids, you get years of use and they eventually pay for themselves. It goes almost without saying that Tattler lids are a much smarter choice. Plus, the lids contain no BPA like the metal dome lids do. Even more reason to use them!

So this is my first canning season with Tattler lids -- I ordered mine about a month ago and couldn't wait to try them out. I only bought the wide mouth ones, but I'm going to place an order for some the regular size ones soon. I've used them with both salsa and jam so far and I can definitely say I won't go back to the old lids for the majority of my canning (I'll still buy a few of the metal lids now and then so I can share jars of my canned foods. No way am I giving away my reusable lids!).

The lids took a little getting used to for me since I've learned with and have been using the metal dome lids for so long. You can't fill the jars as much as you would with the metal lids -- you need about an inch headspace in each jar so that the lids can seal. After a few jars, though, I got the hang of the Tattler lids. You heat the lids and rubber rings like you would with the metal ones. Once heated, you put rubber ring and lid combination on the jar, screw the metal rings (as I said previously, you reuse your metal rings with the Tattler lids) on loosely to keep the lid in place, and then process the jars as you normally would. Once the jars are done processing, you have to tighten the rings on the jars immediately.

My only complaint: I like the way you can tell that the metal dome lids are sealed. When the jars cool, you just have to tap the metal lids to make sure they're sealed. Plus, I love that popping sound of the metal lid sealing into place. With the Tattler lids, you have to unscrew the metal rings (once the jars have cooled, of course) and lift gently on each lid to see if they sealed. It's not a huge bother, but it takes more time. Still, that's not enough to make me even consider going to back to the dome lids.

I definitely recommend Tattler reusable lids. To me, they're one of those frugal no-brainers.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Return of Canning Season: Some Recipes, Reasons, and How Canning is Sexy

I've said it before and I'll say it again: one of the main reasons I love late summer-early autumn is canning. I love canning. It's not easy and it can make a big mess, but I love it. It's just so satisfying to rows of beautiful glass jars full of delicious summer produce in the pantry. And opening a jar of some of that in the winter? Lovely. 

For the next couple weeks or so, it's all about canning here. Before we get started, though, I thought I'd share a few links to past posts of mine, along with other blog posts about canning that I've enjoyed.

To Get You Started:

Yes You Can! -- My motivations for canning and why I love it.

All You Really Need -- A list of supplies to get you started.

The Fruits of My Labor:
Apples -- Applesauce and Pie Filling
Jam (Pluot jam!)

Other Helpful Sources and Inspiration:

Roasted Tomato Salsa -- Doris and Jilly Cook {Mom and I just canned a batch of this. It is the BEST!}

9 Good Reasons to Can Your Own Food -- Simple Bites

Preserving Summer: A Round-Up of Inspiration -- Simple Bites

Preserve! - SouleMama {My favorite blog}

And if you still haven't caught the canning bug, watch the video below. If you're a big canning geek like me, watch the video below. It made me kind of giddy. Classie Parker tells you why you should can. After all, as she says in the video, "Canning is sexy, baby!"

The Canning Queen of the Desert from Etsy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Misto, Misto: Why I Stopped Using Cooking Spray

I'll just get this out of the way right now: from the first time I heard of the Misto to just about every time I use it now, I can't help but think of one part from Happy Gilmore. It's the part where Happy (Adam Sandler) is at the nursing home with his grandmother and there's this lady who says, "Mista! Mista! Get this offa me!" Yeah, just about every time I get my Misto out of the pantry, I think, in that lady's voice, "Misto! Misto!" My husband does the same thing, too.

Now that I've got that out of the way, let me tell you about my latest frugal find, the Misto.

I first heard about the Misto from Betsy at Eco-Novice -- she mentioned it in a comment on one of my posts and I was intrigued. The Misto is basically a replacement for those aerosol cans of cooking spray. You simply fill the Misto halfway with any kind of vegetable oil, pump the lid a few times, and the oil sprays out in a fine mist.

The Misto costs around $10. Even if that seems like a lot for a sprayer, buying cooking spray in an aerosol can is much more expensive. In fact, you might even say canned cooking spray is a rip-off. Let me explain with a little bit of math. (Those who know me may have just gasped at the idea of me doing math. Don't worry -- it wasn't too complicated.)

The cheapest I've been able to find cooking spray is at Walmart -- you can get a can of the store brand for around $2. Buy the name-brand stuff and your price goes up. For the $2 can, you're getting about about 185 grams of oil. I figured this by checking the nutrition label's serving size. A serving size (according to the label) is .25 grams. I multiplied that number by 741 (the amount of servings in a can).  Once that number was calculated, I found a conversion table to help figure out how many grams are in a cup. Turns out, the conversion varies from food to food. For oil, there are 224 grams in a cup. (I checked another label for a name brand can of cooking spray and there's less in it -- around 158 grams). So, really there's less than a cup of spray in your typical can of cooking spray. 

Take it a step further: that's not all oil in the cooking spray. While they all contain some kind of oil (canola, soybean, olive, etc.), you will also find a bunch of other ingredients in a can of cooking spray. Some of these extra ingredients include things like grain alcohol (added for clarity), soy lecithin (an emulsifier), dimethyl silicone (for anti-foaming), dimethylpolysiloxane (another anti-foaming agent), natural and artificial flavor, and propellant. I'm not necessarily saying that these are all bad (though, what is 'propellant' anyway?), but it is a bunch of extra stuff.

With the Misto, you can use the oil you already have on hand, which is a much more economical choice. You can get a 48 oz. bottle of canola oil for $3-5. Considering you get less than 8 oz. (a cup) of oil (plus all that other stuff) in a single can of aerosol spray for almost (if not the) same price, using the Misto is definitely more frugal.

I also like the Misto because I can use whatever oil I want -- I usually have extra virgin olive oil or canola oil in mine. I've been using the Misto for almost six months with little problem (there are some complaints if you read the reviews on Amazon, but I haven't experienced any trouble). I'm not going to tell you it works just as well as an aerosol cooking spray -- I have experienced some minor problems with sticking while baking. That said, the problems haven't made me want to go back to the aerosol spray. The Misto works well for me. Plus, I giggle a little when I use it. "Misto! Misto! Spray my pan!"  Yes, I'm easily entertained.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Meatless Monday: Sour Cream & Cheese Enchiladas

I love Mexican food. LOVE it. I especially love Mexican cuisine because the recipes are made of basics -- rice, beans, cheese, and the like -- which translates to a frugal dish. And because many delicious Mexican recipes feature things like beans, rice, and cheese, it's not too difficult to make a meal meatless.  Another reason I love Mexican food? It's soooo good, making it something the entire family will eat.

A few months ago, I came across a recipe for sour cream enchiladas on the Pioneer Woman's blog (love her.) and I knew I had to try them. As with every PW recipe I've tried (seriously, every recipe), it was absolutely delicious. These enchiladas have since become part of my repertoire of recipes. When I plan my dinners for the week and ask my husband what he'd like me to make, he'll almost always suggest these enchiladas.

I would just send you straight to PW's blog (really, if you haven't gone there, you must. MUST.) for the recipe and end this post right now, but I have tweaked it a bit to fit my family's tastes and preferences. The big difference is that I use flour tortillas, which may make them less authentic, but we just like them better. This also eliminates the need to fry the tortillas in oil as in the PW recipe.

That all said, here's our version:

Sour Cream & Cheese Enchiladas

Serves 6

6-8 flour tortillas (This number varies because of the size of the tortilla you're using, how much filling you put in them, and how many your pan can hold. I don't mean to be vague, but it varies for me every time. I say, start with six and go from there).
1 can (20 oz.) enchilada sauce
2 cups sour cream (I've used both regular and light with equally delicious results)
3 cups of colby jack cheese, shredded (I prefer this over cheddar. You can use any kind of cheese you want, though. One time I added a little shredded pepper jack and gave it a good little kick.)
1/2 cup chopped chives (If you don't have chives growing somewhere, you can use 1 cup of chopped green onions instead)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cayenne pepper
Pico de gallo (optional but highly recommended)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the sour cream, 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese, chives, cumin, and cayenne.

To soften the flour tortillas, wrap a few (2-3 at a time) in a slightly damp paper towel or cloth napkin. Microwave for a just a few seconds until they become flexible. You don't want the tortillas to crack as you're rolling them. Sidenote: Lately, I've been using uncooked flour tortillas since so many of the other flour tortillas have preservatives and hydrogenated oils; the uncooked ones only have flour, canola oil, salt, and sugar in them. When I use these tortillas, I'll just quickly cook them up and keep them in a tortilla warmer until I'm ready to roll them into enchiladas.

In a medium saucepan, heat the enchilada sauce. Using tongs, dip the tortilla in the enchilada sauce, coating the entire tortilla well, and then lay it on a plate. Put a dollop (about a couple tablespoons or so) of the sour cream mixture on the tortilla. Roll and place facing down in a 9x13 baking dish. Repeat with other tortillas until sour cream mixture is used up. Pour any leftover sauce over the enchiladas. Top with the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cheese.

Bake for 15-20 until bubbly.  Serve topped with pico de gallo. You don't have to do this, but it is so good. For a great recipe for pico de gallo, go to this link from (who else?) The Pioneer Woman. Trust me, when it comes to cooking just about anything, she knows what she's talking about! Plus, with garden tomatoes ripening now, there are few things better than some fresh pico de gallo.
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