Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Canning 101, Hot Pepper Butter and My Trip to Hell and Back

I planted 5 banana pepper plants in the garden this year. My first time trying to grow them, I didn't hold out too much hope, given the measley 1 or 2 jalapeno's I've managed to grow in the past. The banana peppers ended up being the best producing plant in the garden this year...with at least 25 peppers on a plant at a time, we were overrun with peppers. The picture at the top of this blog are some of our peppers.

I planted the peppers so I could make one of my favorite canned foods: hot pepper butter. My sister-in-law Michele introduced this to me a few years ago in WV and it is one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. It's not dairy butter, think more like apple butter. And actually it's more of a sweet and hot mustard that is awesome on sandwiches or mixed in cream cheese for a dip. I now have over 30 half pints of the stuff in my pantry, and the plants are still loaded with peppers!

This post will show how I make the pepper butter with some basic canning steps/rules along the way.

Step 1: Always put on comfortable shoes before you attempt to can anything. Please disregard my white Casper legs, the pool closed early on us this year, ok?

Step 2. This is what you need to get if you want to can anything. I put this picture here because usually these things are harder to find in your grocery store than hen's teeth and I wanted you to know what they look like. Try to channel your store manager's brain or try the seasonal aisle, the charcoal aisle, sometimes the baking aisle (again might want to consider the comfortable shoes as you hunt for these) These are half pint jars, but they also come in pint and quart size as well. 1 half pint of pepper butter mixes perfectly with an 8oz block of cream cheese so I choose 1/2 pint for pepper butter.

Step 3. There are 3 pieces to each jar: the jar, the lid and the ring. Everything but the lid is reusable. Start a big pot of water boiling and put the jars in there to sterilize for at least 5 minutes. I do this first thing and they just kind of hang out in there until I am ready. There's nothing worse than having to wait for your jars to sterilize.

Step 4. Pick a peck of pickled peppers (or just go to the grocery store) You will need about 40 large banana peppers. Mine are in different shades of ripe as you can see.


I want to re-enforce step 5 with the story of my trip to hell and back. The first time I made pepper butter I ignored this rule. As I chopped and seeded the peppers, I told myself I'd put gloves on if it started to burn. I made it through 40 peppers (some of them were so hot they made me cough and sneeze just smelling them). I was even brazen enough to reach in each pepper with my finger to get the seeds out. I washed my hands good with soap and congratulated myself for being tough enough to not need gloves.

I finished making the pepper butter, and went outside with JW to check his garden. It was a typical 95 degree high humidity August day. As soon as my hands hit that heat they started to burn. By the time I got to the garden, I knew something was terribly wrong. Intense heat was radiating from both hands. I ran back inside and washed them again, only to make it worse. Then I got the bright idea to go to the pool and soak my hands in the cool water. So we pack the kids up and went to the pool. I get in the pool, put my hands in the water and it is like I stuck them directly through the gates of hell into a fiery flame. I ran out of the pool and went straight to the grill to ask for a can of soda to wrap my hands around. My hands are now plastered to the can and I'm in a complete panic. I tell the kids to get out of the pool we got to go home, NOW! By this time my hand and fingers are starting to swell. I start thinking of any possible thing to try and research on the internet. I tried everything, even putting my hands in Maalox and baking soda. Finally the only thing that worked was putting my hands in cold milk. As soon as the milk warmed up, it stopped working. So I somehow managed to sleep (or lay) all night with both hands in a bowl of milk, that I had to keep swapping out for cold milk. By about 4 am after a sleepless night, the fire started to ease up.

Lesson learned: I will NEVER touch another pepper without gloves, I even get a little nervous around a bell pepper. Post traumatic stress disorder, no doubt. Another lesson, if you eat something hot, drink milk NOT water!!

Step 6. Did I mention put gloves on? Double them if you can. I do, refer to step 5. Cut the ends off and then put a skinny knife down inside the pepper and rotate 360 degrees to get the seeds out. I could not do this and take a picture so the picture below is the carnage that remains in the sink. Don't worry if a few seeds get missed.

Step 7. Chop the seeded peppers finely in a food processor, you should have about 1 quart.

Step 8. Put in all in a large pot. Add 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart mustard and 6 cups sugar and 1 tsp salt. Start heating and continue to stir constantly.

Step 9. Whisk 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water until there are no lumps and add to the heated pepper mixture.

Step 10. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to thicken up. I test it with a spoon

Step 11. Get your sterilized jars out and fill while they are still warm. These jar lifters are essential.

Step 12. Fill the jars with one of these funnel thingies, makes it much easier!

Step 13. Scoop some water out of your big pot where you sterilized the jars. Put your lids in there. They just need to warm up so the wax can make a good seal. Don't ever boil them.

Step 14. Leave 1/4 inch headspace in your jar. Get one of these cool measurers.

Step 15. Wipe the rims with a wet paper towel so the jars will seal properly.

Step 16. Grab a lid with one of these magnetic lid lifters.

Step 17. Put the lids on and then the rings.

Step 18. Lower into a hot water bath and process for 10 minutes. There should be about 1/2 inch of water above your jars.

Finally, the finished product! This made 16 1/2 half pint jars. The 1/2 jar I put right in the fridge.

If this seems like too much work, you can always come and get some of my stash (don't tell Jason I told you that!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Extreme Makeover - Bovine Edition

I thought I'd share some of the finished aspects of our house before I start focusing in on the works in progress. I am kicking myself for not getting "before" pictures of this chair, but I want you to picture the typical light blue chair with little goldish color shell like things all over it. Oh and worn out threadbare arms. OK, have a mental image now?

Here it is after Jason got done with it. That's real genuine cow hide there, ladies and gentlemen.

We had fun at the leather store picking out the hide, do you realize how many color options are available in cow hides? We decided on this white and brownish/blackish one. The kids loved to play on it on the floor, we had to pry it out of their hands to make this chair. Jason can recover car interior which has been very usefully applied to our home as well. We lovingly refer to this chair as "the cow chair".

Other things to notice in this picture are the window treatments, which are actually a sheer denim printed fabric. Don't ask me how I ever found it, but as soon as I did, I knew it was the fabric for me! Jason welded the window treatment holder thingys out of real pony horseshoes.

The end table we've had since we got married 11 years ago. The base is is metal made to look like leather with buckles. Somehow the glass top has survived this many years, though the protective layer of dust and usual smattering of magazines and clutter has probably protected it well.

I love the metal cow skull, much nicer than the real thing, which seems omnipresent in western decorated houses. The lamp is a barrel racer.

Finally the floor. It is 7 inch wide low grade hickory, so it has lots of knots and character to it.

I think that's about it. See the hideous looking, sagging, barely working blinds in the window? They are on my list for replacing. I'd love to make a roman shade type shade out of old burlap feed sacks. But that is still in the dreaming stage.

Many thanks to Jason, he is my idea execution man. I get an idea and he figures out how to get it done and he has good ideas too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A tribute to the Croquette and other wild Salmon patty stories...

I like to read old cookbooks. I'm not talking about the the old Better Homes & Garden cookbook that everyone has with pages plastered together from years of use...I'm talking about old cookbooks, like first half of last century. I even have found recipes from the 1800's, though that far back recipes start having unknown or unwanted ingredients (like lard) and strange measuring amounts like "pinch", "drop", "size of a walnut". It wasn't until the turn of the century that measurements were standardized.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that all old cookbooks have a least 12-50 recipes for croquettes (not to be confused with the lawn game) A Croquette is a small fried breadcrumb coated cylinder or disk containing any number of ingredients, including last nights leftovers, mashed potatoes, fish or meat, and is soaked in bread, egg or some other binder. From wikipedia: "The croquette (from the French croquer, “to crunch”) was a French invention that gained world-wide popularity, both as a delicacy and as a fast food."

They were apparently all the rage back then so I always wonder what ever happened to the once beloved croquette? What could possibly happen to a food so obviously popular to have it almost go extinct? Oh sure, occasionally I see croquettes on a menu or in a newer cookbook, but it's rare. It's a mystery to me! Someday I will track down the answers to these questions, but for now, won't you join me for a moment of silence for the long lost croquette.

Thank you.

Now back to the 21st century, where the croquette has been transformed into a "patty" or a "cake",and brings me to my recipe of the day, Salmon Patties.

The first salmon patty I ever tried was believe it or not for breakfast about 10-12 years ago. They occasionally offered them for breakfast where I worked since salmon patties are a southern staple for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don't have any idea what got me to try them other than the other selections on that day must have been slim to none since I was never a big salmon eater and I'd never even considered eating fish for breakfast. Much to my surprise, I really liked them.

Eventually I investigated making them myself, but back then the first ingredient in every recipe was "1 can of salmon with bones and skin removed" because back then the only canned salmon available had to be picked over. Yuck. I could never get past that. So I resigned myself to only having them occasionally for breakfast at work (I wasn't about to actually cook a real salmon myself, I was in my twenties for Pete's sake).

Then came the awesome salmon in a pouch, with no bones or skin. Hurray, my ship had come in! So I set out to find the perfect salmon patty recipe. After many attempts, I decided I'm what I would call a salmon patty minimalist. I don't like any additions to distract from what makes a salmon patty all that it can be. No onions, no green pepper, nothing crunchy at all except the recently discovered Panko japanese breadcrumbs that are finally available in our hometown grocery store.

So without further adieu, I'd like to present.....the salmon patty:

Isn't she beautiful? Bask in the glory of the salmon patty, go ahead.

On a practical note, the salmon patty is my goto dinner, when I need something quick and haven't planned anything for dinner. It can sit nice and quiet on my pantry shelf until just the time when it can be called into the game. I keep a package of steamfresh brown rice (our family could eat this like a snack food we love it so much) and some steamfresh veggies in the freezer and within minutes we have a healthy meal on the table full of healthy Omega 3's and whole grains. Salmon patties actually are on the very short list of things my kids will eat for dinner (and they are probably one of the healthiest)

So finally if I could stop jabbering on, here is the recipe:

1 pouch Salmon (I use either Bumble Bee or Chicken of the Sea, I prefer the wild caught as it has more Omega 3's)
1/4 cup mayo (I use light mayo, you could even use Smart Balance brand for extra credit Omega 3's)
1 egg (I use Eggland's Best, for yet more Omega 3's)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs
Sometimes if I'm feeling wild, I'll throw in a dash of cayenne.

Add each ingredient one at a time until it is all thoroughly mixed. Shape into patties. This recipe makes about 5 patties which is enough for our family, but sometimes I double it because the leftovers are good cold in a sandwich.

Spread some more breadcrumbs on a plate, add some seasoning salt to taste. Roll each patty in the breadcrumbs to coat. Now you can go ahead and cook the patties, but you will probably notice that they are a little hard to stay together. At this point if I have time, I like to throw them (well not literally) in the refrigerator 'til they get nice and firm.

Now fry them in a fry pan coated with a good coating of a healthy oil like canola or olive oil over med-high heat for about 3-4 minutes per side.

If you like tarter sauce on your patties and don't have any handy, I mix some mayo with lemon juice and a little bit of sweet pickle relish (just taste it until you get it right)

Oh and you can also make crab cakes with this recipe.

And you can even call them Salmon Croquettes if you want to.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Introducing Bubs and Sissy

Here is Casey and one of our dogs Nickel. Casey looks like she has an idea....

Nickel says: "A dog can't have too many mint green Mary Jane Crocs with princesses"

Poor Nickel. He's a good dog. Bless his heart.

And here is JW in action.

We came home from school today and the neighbor's goat was in our pasture.

JW knew exactly what to do. He went right inside and got his rope.

Panic ensues...

The chase is on..

Predator and Prey come to a truce. There will be no goat catching today.

Check back tomorrow for my first recipe post!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life on the Edge

We live life on the edge. On the edge of sanity, yes. On the edge of our seats, yes. But mostly what I mean is that we live in the country, right outside the edge of the suburbs of Raleigh, NC. We have a 36 acre farm, and we can't see another house from our front porch. I love the country life, but by some standards we may not be as "country" as others (we have 3 grocery stores within a 6-7 mile radius) and by others standards may seem impossibly "country" (we have to drive 6-7 miles to the grocery store).

I have decided to create this blog to share our country life on the edge. I have a wonderful husband Jason (aka my #1 Water Toter...will explain that later) and 2 children Casey 5 (aka Sissy) and J.W. 6 (aka Bubs). I currently have a full time job at a large Pharmaceutical company and I'm a stay at home mom (thanks to being blessed with a wonderful manager who allows me to work from home 3 days a week and grandparents who watch the kids 2 days a week) and I manage a horse farm with monthly horse shows. I epitomize the saying "I'm so busy I don't know if I found a rope or lost my horse".

In this blog I will comment about things I have a lot of experience with (like canning, home cooking and horses), experience with but still learning (like gardening) and also things I've always wanted to try (like cheese making, soap making). People are always asking me how I do some of the things I do, like canning or just plain cooking so I thought I would chronicle some of them here.

I will share the adventures of raising kids on a farm.

I am also in the middle of a home renovation that actually started last year when I could no longer tolerate the carpet (does not work on a farm with kids) and bright yellow walls that were part of our house when we moved here in 2004. I will post before and after pictures as I transform our farmhouse into what I call Country and Western design....a little bit of country and a little bit western.

Hope you enjoy!