Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kitchen Adventures - Canning Edition

Back in the day, when I was in school, every student was required to take Home Economics and Shop.  In shop we learned to use power tools, built a few projects using wood, metal and even resin and learned a few things about cars as well.  Note, this was at a time when it was easy for anyone to do their own basic car repairs and oil changes.  Today's vehicles are not so simple.  Home Economics taught us how to sew, cook, bake and "run a household".  If I recall, we even learned how to care for a child (i.e. change a diaper).  These were all life skills that everyone should know and understand at least on the basic level. 

It appears that this Spring I am in the midst of my own little Home Ec class.  I am experimenting with my sewing machine as witnessed with my daughter's dress in my last POST.  I look forward to sharing some new projects in the weeks to come as I gain confidence with my new friend the sewing machine.  I have also been trying some new things in the kitchen.  So here is the story of my first canning party!


My first "new" kitchen adventure was in the world of canning.  As I kid, I remember helping my Mom in the kitchen as she canned many of the vegetables from our family garden.  Oh how I wish I could have a lush garden like my Mothers, however Arizona soil and heat make gardening a challenge that is bigger than me at this time - maybe someday!  Alas, we have an awesome sources for fresh produce including a great cooperative called Bountiful Baskets (if you are on the West coast, check them out).

A couple of weeks ago they had an awesome deal on Organic Tomatoes so I ordered them, called some friends and we had a "first-timers" canning party.  None of had really canned before so we were learning as we went and had fun morning chatting and canning.  I also ordered the Mexican Pack which included some delicious treats like peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, key limes, avocado, garlic, tomatoes and more.  The day before the ladies arrived, I whipped up a large batch of tomatillo salsa and canned them to make sure I knew what we were supposed to do.  It worked and they all sealed!

I researched a few different recipes for Tomatillo Salsa online and ended up improvising with my own version which was essentially just a few steps.

Step 1 - Roast the Veggies - I removed the husks from the tomatillos, sliced them in half, cut up a couple of onions, broke open a head of garlic and through a few green chili and jalapeno peppers on a sheet pan and placed them under the broiler.  I let them roast and char under the broiler, occasionally turning them so that they got a nice char on all sides. 

Step 2 - Blend - Once the veggies were roasted and had a nice char, I placed them all in the blender along with the large bunch of cilantro that came in my pack.  I blended them until everything was smooth.  If necessary, you can add a touch of water but mine was plenty juicy without.  I didn't bother to remove the seeds from my chilis as we like it a bit hot and I was using rather mild green chilis and only a couple of spicier ones.  TIP:  Make sure you hold the lid down with a towel when blending hot liquids.  The heat adds a fair amount of pressure to the lid and you don't want to spray hot liquid everywhere.

Step 3 - Season & Can - At this point you need to taste your salsa and add your desired seasonings.  I added a palm full of cumin, a heaping tablespoon of cayenne pepper, black pepper and some garlic salt until it tasted the way I wanted.  At this point I placed them in my pint jars (which I warmed up by dipping them in a pot of boiling water - you never want to put hot liquid into a cold glass jar as it can make the jar crack).  I left about a 1/2" headroom, cleaned my seal and placed on my lids.  I lowered the jars into a deep pot of boiling water and boiled them for approximately 25 minutes (adjusted slightly since we are a higher altitude).  When done, I removed the jars and waited to see if they sealed, and yeah, they did.  Success!

The next day, my friends came over and we made our way through approximately 50 lbs of tomatoes.

Thanks Evita, Keri, Cathy & Heather!

After briefly blanching the tomatoes in water, we peeled the skins off and placed them in the pot.  We began to simmer the tomatoes and used an immersion blender to chop them up to make a smooth sauce.  Our tomatoes were pretty juicy so we allowed them to simmer a while in order to reduce the amount of liquid.

With so many tomatoes, we decided to do one small batch with some roasted green chili peppers in it. Overall it was a great day - all of our tomatoes sealed and we were all able to take home 3 quarts of tomatoes and 3 pints of tomatoes with chili.

Since a party isn't a party without swag - I picked up the ingredients to mix up a simple Sugar Scrub using olive oil, sugar, lemon zest and essential oil.  There have been so many blogs out there offering variations of this scrub but essentially it is 1 part oil to 2 parts sugar plus scent as desired.  Next time I would love to try a brown sugar scrub and I will try a less fragrant oil.  One note with scrubs - they make your skin really soft and the bottom of your shower very slick so be careful.

I look forward to getting together with the ladies again in the future and try our hand at some fruit and jams.  I am partial to freezer jams as I think they maintain the best flavor of the fruit.  My Mom makes an incredible strawberry freezer jam - granted, I think her secret weapon is that she can go out to her patch in the backyard in the morning, fill a big bowl with fresh-picked strawberries and make a batch.

Friday, May 20, 2011

First Attempt at Sewing = Success!!!


Thanks in advance to my friend Heather for inspiring me!  She is an awesome seamstress and crafter!  I love to talk all things craft, homemade and blog with her.  I keep telling her she needs to start a blog to share some of the incredible work she does!  You would be amazed by her talent!  I am.  My other inspiration is my Mother.  Growing up my Mom made a lot of my clothes and I loved it - even though we give her a hard time about the amount of double knit we wore as kids!  I really just blame it on the 70s!

For the past several months I have toyed with the idea of trying to sew a dress for my daughter.  I have seen numerous posts about the pillowcase dress and how easy it is.  My husband gave me a sewing machine a few years ago (after extensive hinting by me).  Up to this point I have sewed exactly 2 things - pillowcases for a couple of giant floor pillows in our living room and a pillowcase for the body pillow on my daughters bed.  So why not give a pillowcase dress a try - I mean, I have proven I can sew a pillow case!  Hee hee!

So I headed to JoAnn's and found this awesome floral fabric and picked up a great pink and green ribbon.

I pulled out that sewing machine that is collecting dust and set out on my journey.  On a side note, I think I need a name for my sewing machine.  I have big plans for lifelong friendship and my besties all have names.  I guess that will have to wait as I can't wait to share my dressmaking skills!

Here's the fabric!

I had archived a couple of patterns for pillowcase dresses and found that the guidelines provided by Sew Delightful was perfect because it helped me size it for my almost 6 year old.  Then this week over at The CSI Project Sarah from This Crazy, Blessed Life shared her version of a similar dress that included an elastic waist.  This was exactly what I was looking for as I was concerned that making a pillowcase dress for an older girl might look a bit big and bulky.

I have no sewing education, no really experience but a desire to give it a try.  Straight lines are great so I decided to just go for it.  At best I would be out $5 in materials.  Much to my delight, the project turned out wonderful.  My daughter loves it and so do I.  I can't wait to go back to the fabric store.  I have my eye on this awesome madras plaid and want to make another dress for my daughter and even attempt to make a pair of matching shorts for my son (although I will try with a cheaper piece of fabric first).  I found a great pattern for a simple pair of flat front shorts from Made.

Wish me luck!