A cooking and baking journal

I'm in a Sweet Pickle

9/29/09: Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

The day after I did the tomato puree with the pressure canner, I canned some sweet pickle relish. My family uses this relish on hot dogs mostly, but I love to add it to a ham sandwich every now and then!

The recipe came from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, like the one seen here. I have the 2005 edition. I did four times the recipe. . . Well, sort of. I did kind of change some amounts (like the sugar) so I'll state my version of the recipe here:

4 quarts cucumbers OR pickles (ground, using the food processor)
2 quarts onions
2 quarts bell peppers
1 cup salt
4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons celery seed
4 tablespoons mustard seed
2 quarts apple cider vinegar, with 5% acidity.

Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers, in a large bowl; sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand 2 hours. Drain; rinse and drain thoroughly. Combine sugar, spices and vinegar in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Add drained vegetables; simmer 10 minutes. Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

I made about 14 and 2/3 pints.

And here is a pic of the relish used in a very natural setting.

Ah, the Love Apple Once Again!

9/28/09: Canning and Freezing Tomato Puree

On the Monday after I made my torte my family and I did our final batch of tomato puree using the Squeezo machine. See my previous post to learn more about how we make puree. After the puree had simmered for a couple hours it was time to can. Instead of using the hot water bath method we decided to go with pressure canning because it is faster. It takes only 10 minutes at 10 pounds. Here are some detailed facts for myself so the next pressure canning job will be quick and easy:

1. Check pressure gauge on green canner for any defects before starting. Add about 1 1/2" of water to the canner, insert rubber gasket in lid, make sure safety valve is correctly positioned, place lid on canner, and seal. (Tip: look at arrow on edge of lid for easy placement.) When canner is sealed, put the 1-piece pressure regulator on vent pipe. Wait until dial gauge reads 10 pounds (which usually takes five minutes), turn off heat and wait until arrow goes down to zero. If arrow doesn't reach this point I have to replace the gauge.

2. The jars do not have to be piping hot when being filled.

3. When filling jars, leave about 1 1/2" head space. I did the first batch with 1" head space and some overflowed. They sealed, though.

4. To maintain it at 10 pounds, I hovered around 200 and 300 degrees F.

5. It takes about 20 minutes to do one batch: five minutes to reach 10 pounds, 10 minutes at 10 pounds, and another five minutes for cooling.

6. Do not have the washing machine or dryer going when canning, or you would overload the circuit. I had four burners going, the oven, the washer, and dryer. Oops!

So in the end I canned 28 quarts and froze 4. Whew! What a job!

And the best part... They all sealed!

Alexandra--Queen of "Tortes"

9/27/09: "Express" Dobosch Torte

Meal Details: For the main course I heated up some sweet and sour meatballs and tacos that we had in the freezer. For dessert, I made the Dobosch Torte.

Defining moments: This is my third recipe in the Food Network Challenge, hosted by the writer of the I Blame My Mother blog. See here for more info. This is my first attempt at making a torte. But what is the definition of a torte? It is a round cake with multiple layers (with lots of frosting between), lots of eggs, and frosting on the top and sides. And where does the word Dobosch come from? It is the last name of the man who created a famous Hungarian torte in 1884. The original Dobosch torte (aka Dobos torte) had many more layers and used much more intense techniques; that is why the recipe I used has the word "express" in the title. You can call the express Dobosch, the beginner's Dobosch.

Recipe sources: The torte recipe came from the Food Network chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli, and can be found here.

What I learned: Because of this torte I can honestly say that I learned my lesson. I was very much upset over a frosting episode that came up during the afternoon hours on Sunday. The frosting for the torte was not coming together for me; it just continued to be a soupy mess. I thought it was all going to go to waste and when I feel that I will have to throw money out the window, well, that's hard to cope with. But Annemarie told me to keep the leftover in the refrigerator (for ice cream and whatnot), and after I looked at the refrigerated bowl of frosting in an hour's time I found it to be the perfect consistency. :) I was very happy over that! I do regret, however, having this set back ruffle my feathers like it did. I will really try to remember that even if a recipe mistake will result in a garbage toss, I shouldn't lose my patience or peace of mind.

Another thing I learned is that a semi wet cake pan that is sprayed with vegetable spray will result in hard-to-remove-cake. I unfortunately found it out the hard way. But my Papa came to the rescue with a heavy rolling pin and a strong arm. With a few taps--or should I say hammer whacks--from the rolling pin the cakes slipped right out. A bit rattled, but they still came out! I will remember the drying step next time!

One of the most interesting parts of this torte are the eggs that I used. They weren't your typical eggs, they came from the Easter Egg chicken. No, I'm not kidding. They are also known as Araucanas. These special chickens are rightly named because they lay blue eggs. Read all about them here. A friend of ours stopped at my family's farm and gave us a dozen of her eggs that were laid by her five Easter Egg chickens, six of which made their way into my cake batter.

Any modifications? Yes. The recipe told me to make two cakes, cut them in half horizontally, and stack them on top of each other to form four layers. I didn't feel like fiddling around with cutting my cakes so I divided the cake batter into four separate cake pans. This modification also cut the baking time in half. The cakes only took 20 minutes to bake.
I also didn't use cream but half-and-half for the frosting, it's a cheaper alternative and it gave good results.
Lastly, I decided to skip the caramel top mainly because I thought there was enough sugar on this cake already!

How it tasted? It was DIVINE! I love chocolate so I was very satisfied with the frosting choice. The cake was moist and I liked the interesting lemon flavor that was added. It tasted even more delicious the second day when it was thoroughly chilled.

How about a 2nd time? I would love to make it again!

Fall Means Freezing and Canning--And Lots of It!

9/21/09: Freezing Tomato Puree and Gravenstein Apple Slices

On the Monday right after I made my eggplant dish, me and my sisters did another batch of tomato puree. We did it with our old faithful Squeezo machine (see my previous post here). Here is the tallying for this batch:
  • Used Super Marzano (aka Roma) tomatoes for the puree, four 5-gallon buckets in all.
  • Was able to fill the large stock pot, the corn pot, and the 8-quart pot.
  • Took us about two hours to do puree from start to finish.
  • In the end, we managed to have 28 quarts of puree.

Right after the puree was in our stockpot and simmering away we went onto our next task: freezing Gravenstein apple slices.

Gravenstein is the BEST apple for apple pies and we wanted to make sure we'll be able to savor this delicacy during the cold winter months. (The pies are so good that my Papa said that he would choose Gravenstein pies over peach pies. Now that's saying a lot!)

We prepared the apples by coring and slicing them with our Apple Peeler, similar to the one seen here. After they went through the peeler, we cut the slices into quarters. We then mixed the slices with a powdered produce protector, a bit of sugar, and lastly, placed them in quart sized freezer bags. For some of the apples we didn't add sugar; I'll tell you which one works the best in a couple months.

Here is the full recipe for the apples:

Freezing Apples Without Sugar
Wash, peel and core apples. To prevent darkening, dissolve 1/2 teapsoon ascorbic acid powder or equivalent of finely crushed vitamin C tablets in 3 tablespoons water. Sprinkle over apples. Place apple slices in zip-closure freezer bags, lable, date and freeze. Freeze up to one year at 0 degrees F or below.

Dry Sugar Packed Apple Slices
Follow directions for "Freezing Apple Without Sugar"; mix 1/2 cup sugar to each quart apple slices. Seal and freeze for up to one year at 0 degrees F or below.

Finally, Eggplant has Found a Home!

9/20/09: Rigatoni with Creamy Eggplant and Mozzarella and Homemade Donuts for Dessert

Meal details: For the main course I made a pasta dish that included eggplant, mozzarella, onion, garlic, tomato puree, grape tomatoes, and zucchini. The donuts were for dessert and they were not your ordinary donuts--they were baked in the oven! Intriguing, huh?

Defining moments: This is the first time I ever cooked with eggplant. And this is also a special moment for me because I actually made donuts in the oven! I wanted to try the baked method since day one of Sabbath Supper!

Recipe sources: I am included in the Food Network Challenge (FNC) that is hosted by the writer of the I Blame My Mother blog. The challenge is this: each week, for a year, I'll try to use a recipe from each Food Network chef and blog about it. Perfect challenge for me, don't you think? The FNC members are going through the list of chefs alphabetically so the first week was Aaron McCargo, Jr. (host of Big Daddy's House) and the following chef is Aida Mollenkamp (host of Ask Aida). See Aaron's burgers that I did a week ago by clicking here. So Aida is next for me and I chose her eggplant dish because it sounded the easiest for me to do and it also included eggplant, an ingredient that is hard to find good recipes for. If you have a tasty recipe that has eggplant as an ingredient, please share it with me by leaving a comment. Thanks!

The donut recipe came from 101cookbooks.com. Click here for the recipe.

What I learned: Hm, let me think. The pasta dish, for me, was so easy that it felt like I was putting together a Hamburger Helper dish! The donuts required extra TLC, however. :) The dough was hard to manipulate, it felt like I was dealing with a pizza dough that had a bit of Lycra folded in! They were fun to do and they didn't take as long as I originally thought. And for those people who think they need to run to the store for cookie cutters for donuts, you probably don't need to. Just browse through you glass cabinet or pantry to find glasses and jars that have the right diameter. I found two that worked out splendidly and we don't have that wide of selection.

Any modifications? Yes, I made modifications to both recipes. I'll first talk about the pasta dish. I was reading the comments left by other cooks on the Food Network website and one word seemed to be popping up everywhere. And the word happened to be BLAND. Ouch. I didn't want that to be the case with mine, so I added zucchini and tiny grape tomatoes (Sugar Plum variety) to the mix. Hey, they're in season so why not? I also used our homemade tomato puree instead of the canned tomatoes. I think that small substitution really made the dish something special. And lastly, I omitted the cream and used precut macaroni instead of the rigatoni, just because we had a box in the pantry!

The donut recipe was changed only in the amount of yeast and the amount of time I left the dough to rise. We have quick acting yeast so I only had to leave the dough to rise for one time and that was only an hour. I like that! And I placed about 2 1/2 tablespoons of yeast into the milk mixture; you have to use more yeast when using the quick acting type.
Oh yeah, I also gave the donuts different coatings. I did a sugar glaze, honey glaze, melted chocolate, and of the course the cinnamon-sugar, just like the recipe demonstrated. The sugar glaze was made by putting together 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon salt, and about 4 tablespoons of warm milk. The honey glaze was created by adding about 2 tablespoons of honey to the sugar glaze.

How it tasted? The eggplant pasta dish was extremely tasty and my Papa, whose a meat connoisseur, said that he couldn't tell meat was missing! :) Thanks, Aida, for this wonderful recipe.
The donuts were a bit too chewy for my liking, but their flavor was good. As my youngest sister pointed out, their texture is like a soft pretzel.

How about a 2nd time? Definitely for the eggplant recipe. The baked donuts may see the light of day upon request but I don't think that will be anytime soon.

Don't you just love when glaze drips?! ;)

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Mission Success!

9/17/09: Freezing Bell Peppers and Tomato Puree

Fall harvesting can be the most wonderful time of the year, but when you have to do about 24 quarts of peppers and half a deep freezer full of tomato puree, sometimes it seems like it is mission impossible. But me and my sisters succeeded and managed to do all of this in four hours. Whew! What a job!

I wanted to write down some notes here because we had a hard time remembering how much to freeze when we started out!


  • Used Super Marzano (aka Roma) tomatoes for the puree, four 5-gallon buckets in all.
  • Was able to fill the large stock pot, the corn pot, and the 8-quart pot.
  • Took us about two hours to do puree from start to finish.
  • In the end, we managed to have 26 quarts of puree.


  • Used long and square bell peppers, four 5-gallon buckets in all.
  • We noticed that the long bell peppers (the Big Early and Giant Marconi varieties) were easier to cut up because they had less seeds.
  • Took us about two hours to do.
  • In the end, we had 23 1/2 quart bags of peppers.
For those who have never frozen tomato puree or peppers, you should really give it a go! To make tomato puree, my family uses a Squeezo machine, like the one seen here. We then let the puree simmer for a couple hours, let cool, and then pour it into freezer containers.

The peppers are a lot easier to do. We simply chop them up as if we were to cook with them, place them in a freezer bag, then freeze flat. Really that easy, and we have been doing it for as long as I can remember!

Here are a couple photos of our tomatoes and peppers straight off my family's farm. They were taken in 2005.

They Were Good, Both Inside and Out.

9/13/09: Inside Out Burgers and White Out Sweet Corn

Meal details: Burgers that are stuffed with mushrooms, onions, bacon, and cubes of swiss cheese. We had our White Out sweet corn for a side dish.

Defining moments: First time for making burgers from scratch! And also the first recipe for the Food Network Challenge, hosted by I Blame My Mother blog. Click here to learn more. And finally: my first ever attempt using fresh button mushrooms! (I regularly use canned.)

Recipe sources: Aaron McCargo, Jr. from Food Network who hosts Big Daddy's House. See the recipe here.

What I learned: I learned that it takes about two and a half days to thaw out a frozen package of ground beef. So if I am working with it Sunday afternoon, I would place it in the refrigerator Friday morning. I also learned that mushrooms can be cleaned by rinsing them under a faucet. I heard from chefs on T.V. that they should be only cleaned with a soft brush; never have them touch water or they'll wind up being soggy. But after watching a Good Eats show I learned that the mushrooms, which are very close to being sponges, soak up only 1.5% of their weight. Hardly anything to worry about! I would much rather give them a thorough cleaning, they are grown in manure you know. Lol!

I also discovered that I don't need to make as much filling as the recipe calls for. I really tried to stuff the burgers (maybe too much) in order to use everything up. I think they'll turn out better if I go easier on the filling.

Any modifications? Yes, I made smaller burgers because not everyone in my family has big of appetite as Aaron! His burgers are huge! I used 2.65 pounds of ground beef to make 8 medium sized burgers.

How it tasted? They were the best burgers I ever had! The family liked them immensely.

How about a 2nd time? Yes.

Swiss cheese delightfully oozing out of my first ever burger. Gotta love that!

Canning Peaches

9/10/09: Canned Peaches

No, it is not a Sunday but I still wanted to jot down my Thursday canning experience. I canned twelve quarts of Harrow Beauty peaches using the hot water bath method and a light syrup. Just take a look at the Ball Blue Book for the recipe! I used a bushel and a peck of peaches to make this amount. I used both wide mouth and regular mouth jars and I think the regular mouth are easier to fill; they prevent the peaches from popping up and not leaving enough head space. The peaches were moderately ripe and most of them were first boiled for thirty seconds for easy skin removal. I used the Ball Fruit Fresh powder to keep the peaches from turning brown.

Ok, I think that's all I need to write down. I hope to use all these peaches in pies during the winter, can't wait for that!

Baked Onion Rings--Yes, They Are True!

8/30/09: Onion Rings, French Bread Pizza, and Sugar Pearl Sweet Corn

Meal details: I only made the onion rings from scratch, the pizza was store bought. The onion rings were made with our farm grown onions (I think I used the variety Riverside), potato chips, and they were baked in the oven. Yep, I didn't fry them!

Recipe sources: Onion ring recipe came from the Not Without Salt website. Click here for the recipe.

Defining moments: First attempt to do onion rings!

What I learned: After the sixth onion ring I made the potato chips began to get very heavy and gloppy and they weren't adhering to the rings. I had to finish up the rest using bread crumbs. Next time I do these I will lay out the potato chips on a cookie sheet and drop a number of onion rings on top, then coat all at once. Originally, I was dropping the rings one by one into the potato chip bowl--not the best way to do the job I think.

Any modifications? Yes, I didn't quite understand the timing instructions so I just decided to place the rings in the oven and wait until they were golden brown and crunchy. That took about 8-10 minutes at 450. And after my potato chips began to stop adhering, I moved over to using bread crumbs. They worked out very well and were delicious, too. Good substitute.

How it tasted? Crunchy, salty, oniony... Wonderful in other words! The potato chips really make these special.

How about a 2nd time? Yes.

The photos may not be as good as those provided by the Not Without Salt writer, but I can say the flavors were picture perfect!

And here is the Sugar Pearl sweet corn we had alongside the rings and pizza. Very sweet and tender! This is the first time we grew this variety.