I coulda been a contenda….broken mason jars…

It`s the saddest sight (tongue slightly in cheek):

I coulda been a contenda....broken mason jars...

It was my first time breaking a jar in 19 months and it was all my fault.

The majority of broken jars stem from very few causes:

  • A cracked jar
  • An overstuffed jar (rare but possible)
  • A cold jar hitting hot water
  • Over-tightened bands
  • Accidental pre-sealing (putting your seals on and leaving your product on the counter for too long before hitting the water bath can actually create an initial seal as the air cools in the jar and this preseal can prevent the escape of air later).
  • Although rare, jars can break mid-cooling.  This typically happens when they are set on a cold surface or a flat surface (extra water cools quicker than the jars, small pools form and cool a jar too fast).

These onions were part of a two-day process.  On day one they were cut and blanched for 20 seconds.  They were then salted and placed in the fridge to remove their moisture content and create a crisper pickle the next day.

On day 2 I followed typical procedure – rinse the onions, dry them, heat jars and so forth.  I added the onions to the jar cold.  This cooled my jar considerably and created one of two effects:

  • Thermal Shock.  Cracking and then breaking of glass due to rapid temperature change.  If you ever need to break jars simply fill them with boiling water, put a lid on and submerge in very cold water.  This is NOT recommended and dangerous but an illustration of how breakage happens.
  • Cold air from the onions heated and expanded at a rate that the jar couldn`t release and shattered.

I am guessing that it was Thermal Shock that got them.

It would have been easy to avoid – I rinsed my onions in cold water, maintaining their cool temperature.  Had I left them on the counter to temper or rinsed them with hot water, I would have raised their temperature and they would not have cooled the glass so considerably.  A brief introduction to my brine in the pan could have also helped.

If you do get a break, here`s a few tips:

  • Count to 3, try not to cry.
  • Carefully remove the other jars and set aside (they are too hot to clean and a quick rinse in cold water will yield more breakage)
  • Know that an exploding jar can create enough force to break others – use caution and, when cool, examine other jars closely.
  • Once everything has cooled down, clean your jars extra good – their outsides are now covered in brine and a great attractor of pests (or puppies)
  • I strain the entire contents into a colander.  It makes things easier to dispose of.  Check colander, sink and pot for any small shards that remain.
  • Try to figure out what happened – use this as a learning opportunity.  Once you have figured out the cause, laugh at yourself and move on for making a mistake.

At least we had more jars of yummy onions – but that`s another story down the riverbank…

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – A second look at sprouting

We originally wrote about sprouting here.  Back then (in January), we were young and innocent.

Since that time we`ve continued to research.  I have 3 books on sprouting and 8 packages of seeds.  All of them (including the seeds) suggest that sprouting in a jar is a fine alternative.  Nonetheless, I read something recently that suggested there could be a possibility of E Coli when sprouting using jars.  It`s a single mention but one that I took to heart and attempted a different approach, sprouts in dirt:

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   A second look at sprouting Sprouts Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   A second look at sprouting Sprouts Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet

The first lesson we`ve learned is fairly evident – don`t pack the jars with too much dirt.  In retrospect, it`s mind numbing obvious – as sprouts grow, they take more room and this will move dirt if necessary.

The process is easy – soak the seeds for 4-6 hours and place a single layer on top of soil.  Place a small amount of soil on top, moisten.

There are considerable advantages to sprouting in dirt compared to the jar method which go beyond avoiding potential disease:

  • You can grow as much (or little) as you wish
  • Dirt will allow for a second or third crop if you cut them as opposed to eating the root
  • You only have to water once per day – the soil maintains the moisture
  • Watering is quicker and cleaner
  • It doesn`t take fridge space
  • Since they are living in dirt, they will stay in prime health longer
  • Although not exclusive to soil, we are growing 4 pots to rotate our `crops` so we will have a constant stream of greens (they grow in 2-4 days).

The cost is low.  We bought the pots (they include a drainage hole and tray) for $2 – a cheaper alternative could include reused yogurt jars.  Seeds are typically around $2 and many packages will yield up to 10 cups of sprouts.  The pictures above are early in the growing process – the pots are easily 3 times more full now.

Bread doesn`t tolerate silly mistakes…

I used to ride motorcycles.  A lot.

My Mother was a Nurse, my Father a Fire Fighter.  Our Neighbor had been a Policeman.  All of them cautioned me against being on two-wheels.  All of them had seen enough of the bad consequences.

I remember a specific piece of advice from the Policeman who had also been a motorcycle officer at one point.  `The moment you feel cool while driving, pull over and get off – you are in trouble.`  In 5 years and tens of thousands of kilometers of travel (including a trip to Nova Scotia), I managed to stay upright and, more or less, without incident.  The 3 or 4 times that I had my gravest problems all stemmed from feeling cool.

The moment you think you have it nailed, it has a way of reminding you that you don`t.  Motorcycling can be humbling.  Making bread can be the same:

Bread doesn`t tolerate silly mistakes...

What happened?  That`s easy to figure out; the short answer is I felt cool.

This was to be my best bread yet.  For starters, it was part whole wheat.  I knew the farmer that grew the wheat and milled it into flour.  I had taken onions from a neighboring farm, dehydrated them myself and added it to the dough to create an onion-bread like dough.

I mixed the ingredients, using a scale.  I long ago learned that bakers find weight a far more reliable indicator of quantities when baking.  Everything was painstakingly obvious when I, without explanation, through a bunch of water in without being careful to measure.  I added way too much.  I was able to remove some (along with some floating yeast and other ingredients).  Now the entire concoction was a guess.

I then let it rise too long (twice) and I was left with a dough-like resemblance to add to the oven that wasn`t nearly hot enough.

I suddenly felt not-so-cool.  I was, however, able to laugh at myself instantly (I knew long before it entered the stove that I would need a yeasty miracle to pull this one off).

The good news is that we were able to eat the outside crust to get an idea of flavor (the further you cut into this loaf, the more it resembles solid stone).  It was remarkably good and the onions really came together in the taste.

It`s amazing to me how personal the sense of loss over this one was.  I`m not in an overly dramatic morose state of sadness and I am totally fine that I simply made a mistake but I do feel that I let my farmer down, the wheat down and even my poor shrivelled onion.  I know the people that worked far harder than I did to make this bread and I flopped it with an avoidable flick of my wrist.

A good lesson learned – time to try again!

What to do with dehydrated beets and celery root

Yesterday showed part one of this exercise – we dehydrated 5 pounds of beets into chips and did the same with an entire celery root.  A lot of people asked us what we were going to do with them.

Let`s begin at the end.  Our 5 pounds of beets now look like this:

What to do with dehydrated beets and celery root Preserving Recipes Celeriac Beet [Read more...]

Dehydrating beets, onions and celery root

There`s not much I can add to the title other than the photos so let`s start there:

Dehydrating beets, onions and celery root Preserving Recipes Celeriac Beet [Read more...]

They Tapped That (and you can too on Sunday)

We have written about our friends at Not Far from the Tree several times (some of those are here and here).  We simply adore them and have met many great people and friends through them.  Their website is here.

The group was formed by Toronto resident (and New Brunswick native), Laura Reinsborough is a passionate advocate of our city, the environment, local eating and the intersection of all 3.  Laura, along with a small army of volunteers, are changing our city.

The non-profit program started by offering a service to home owners with fruit trees.  Fruit trees are lovely but can be a source of pain through their abundance – once you’ve eaten, shared  and preserved all you can, the remaining fruit often drops to the ground, makes a mess, smells, attract flies, gets in the way of the lawnmower, etc.  Not Far From the Tree will come to your house and clear your tree of all it’s fruit.  1/3 of the fruit goes to the tree owner, 1/3 to the volunteers and 1/3 to charity.

They harvested 8,135 pounds of fruit downtown Toronto last year.

Now they’ve expanded their focus:

They Tapped That (and you can too on Sunday)

The program is largely one to make us think different about the urban forest, our city and food sources.  The program is supported by the city (there had been initial reports of concerns that were completely overcome) and the group has tapped 12 urban Norway Maple trees to gather the syrup.  There is a sugaring off party this Sunday, March 14.  The event runs from 1-4pm (you can find the details here).

T-shirts are also available on their website.

I love the imagination of Laura and her team.  I adore that there will be people gathered around a late winter harvest from within our city walls.

If you’re in the area and want to meet some great people, be sure to pop by.  We haven’t planned our weekend yet but if we can make it, we’ll be there…

New York Schools (and California) ban homemade baked goods

In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the New York school system banned most baked goods.  The ban includes fundraising and was communicated to parents in June though it`s become a hot topic as the impact to the schools, teams and intramural groups is felt much stronger.  Apparently California has done a lot of this in the past.

The original memo is here.

It`s easy to pick things apart and simply protest.  When I first read about this, my reaction was decisive.  I`ve had a chance to count to 3, hold my breath and consider the intent and understand more about what they are trying to accomplish.

Where I continue to struggle is the two main areas children receive food in school (other than from home): the vending machine and the cafeteria.

Vending machines have a new supplier and schools must procure their snacks from them.  The options will include calorie-controlled portions, baked chip-like products, sugar-free granola and the like.  Commercially produced products with `regulated` calorie counts are considered more favourable than homemade food for health.  If we are concerned with such limits why not educate students (and their families), how to calculate calories and portions of their recipes.  Think of the life lessons, impact on family diet and learning that could occur in math, science and health around all of this.  Why can we not hold home chefs accountable to the same standards we apply to commercial producers of food?

When we message that prepackaged food is the only safe way to control caloric, fat and sugar intake, we are in trouble.

The cafeteria also leaves me wanting.  If you were studying in Manhattan this month and a member of the Junior High School or High School Trend lunch menu, you could eat the following diet over the 23-days of March:

  • 9 days of hamburgers
  • 11 days of pizza
  • More choices include tacos, mozzarella sticks, fish nuggets, and chicken tenders.

You can browse all of the school menus here.

It all reminds me of Jamie`s Schhol Dinners (Jamie Oliver) from the UK:

No sleep till Brooklyn (or Manhattan) – looking for New York food ideas

Dana and I have booked our trip to New York and we’re most excited.  4 days in Brooklyn followed by 4 days in Manhattan.  Friends are meeting us for the last half of the trip (Manhattan) – we’ve all been discussing this trip for a few years (since we journeyed to Chicago).

Dana has been to New York several times and adores it.  I have never been and am excited to see it.

We’ve been probing Twitter for the last few days as well as emailing friends (both those who we’ve known in person as well as the digital kind :)) and we’re blown away by the ideas we’ve received so far.  Farms, chocolate shops, farmers market, restaurants, bars and more are all on our hit list.

We’ll be putting together some articles and a Google map of the ideas we receive and share them here (unless you send us a treasured secret that you don’t want shared…laugh).

For now, we’re looking for any other recommendations.  Are there any destinations (places you’ve been, read about, adore or fantasize about) to share out here?  We’d love to hear them.  Use the comments or fire me an email (joel (a) elevenideas.ca) and we’ll share our guide to New York when we return and have compiled our findings!

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: The Mighty Rutabaga

I have never cooked one.  I didn`t really know what to do with it.  So I bought 4.

The rutabaga is (as I later learned) basically a sweet turnip.  It has a highly waxed exterior that can be peeled with a good peeler or a knife and firm flesh that is solid throughout.  You`ll need a good knife to cut it raw as it`s very solid.

When I got home I scoured a few books.  I found a recipe for glazed turnips by Julia child which I used as my base but derived from there and transformed this into a sweet soup.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: The Mighty Rutabaga Rutabaga Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

Toughest time of year…

The wonderful weather this weekend was an awesome sight.  It was a sign that spring is indeed close; even if it’s not quite as close as it appeared with the warm sun of March.

My lifestyle has changed a lot in the last 2 years.  Writing on conscious food choices (daily) as well as the new friends, conversations and focus that has entered our life as a result has rendered Dana and I into different people.  We still fall back to processed food, and even the occasional fast food, but that is happening less and less.

I really have fallen in love with the humble squash and all it can do.  We’ve had gnocchi, soup, chunks and mashed versions and I’ve loved them all.  We have eaten significantly higher amounts of root vegetables this year than previous years and we’re better off because of it.

We haven’t had the time to trek across the city on the weekends to head to the one winter market I know of (Green Barn Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns).  Saturday morning have been reserved to dog parks, hiking and playing in the snow so it’s a good kind of busy and an important kind of busy.

Local stores (large and small) offered choices that worked for us.  Parsnips, carrots, squash, apples, turnips, greenhouse options and more.  It was a fun challenge to fill the cart with items that were local (or localish) and learn what to do with them.

Things began to change about a month to 6 weeks ago.  Most of the same product existed but to buy it local you had to buy in quantity.  You could buy carrots if you were willing to buy a 5-pound bag.  You could buy onions by 10-pounds locally but all of the single onions were imported.  Quantity presents a problem in an apartment with 1 closet and 2 people.

The options have become fewer still.  I have gone to the grocery store 3 or 4 times in a row expecting to come home with a bounty and found myself coming home with less than a bag full as I can’t find the options that I am looking for.  Our preserved vegetables are getting a workout and I’m thrilled we have those to fall back on – tomato soup, canned peas, runner and romano beans.  It’s a reminder to do even more next year.

The frustration is compounded by the knowledge that the products I search actually exist.  Wether it’s stores insisting on cheapest pricing or the supply chain not being able to produce the quantity they need, the ability to buy seasonal food from less than 5,000 kilometers away is a scarce opportunity these days; at least in retail.

Potatoes, carrots, onions, sprouts, beets and cabbage are all availblelocally through the right connections today.  It’s just very difficult to find them – something we will remember when bottling and dehydrating the summer and autumn bounties next year.

Any other sources of local out there in the late winter/ early spring?