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.