Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Year of Wedded Bliss

On June 11th I said to Marc, "Say, do you know what tomorrow is?"  Marc looks at me and says "Yeah, it's our anniversary.  And you thought I forgot!"  Then we had a big discussion about how neither of us wanted to spend money on gifts or flowers.

Later that day Stephanie mentioned that her anniversary was the next day.  I said WHAT!  and told her that both Marc and I thought it was OUR anniversary. 

At least we're both approaching senility at the same rate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Convenience Foods From Your Pantry

In my last post you heard about how much work convenience canning could be and how things sometimes don't turn out as planned.  Last night was a good example of how convenient it is to open the pantry and know dinner is only 15 minutes away.

I've been busy finishing up a large sewing project and didn't give a lot of thought to dinner last night.  It was way too late to thaw anything (usually everything is frozen solid) so I grabbed some jars out of the pantry to make a very quick dinner.  We had roast beef with onion gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and salad. 

When beef chuck roast was on sale a while back I bought up a bunch of it and canned it.  I cut it into large chunks, browned it in a little oil with onions, filled jars with the broth left in the pan and water and canned it.  Browning it first really gives it a good flavor.  I'm not a big roast beef fan, but this is really good.

Some authorities now say if you carefully follow canning directions you no longer need to boil the food before eating, but I still like to do it.  So I simmered the meat and broth while I made everything else.  After 15 minues, I removed the meat to a bowl and used the broth to make a gravy. 

I will admit that I use instant mashed potatoes.  Even if we have home grown potatoes on hand I still use instant for mashed potatoes.  Why?  Cause they're easy and fast.  So about 15 minutes after opening the jar dinner was ready.

After dinner I cleaned up the kitchen and not long after that the power went out.  We'd had some wind and storms earlier but it  had calmed down to a gentle rain.  According to the light company lightning had struck a transformer.  They said that they should have our power back on by 6 p.m. the FOLLOWING night.  What ! Hello!!! It will be 95+ degrees tomorrow!! 

As we sat there in the candle light eating home made brownies I pondered the current state of affairs.  We immediately regretted not buying a generator, though we have certainly talked about it a lot.  In a situation like we were in we knew it would be a good investment, but as soon as the lights come back on we completely forget about it.  We commented that the electric fence around the chickens was now off and any predator could get in.  I had considered buying a solar charger, but who has hundreds of dollars to spend on that when the electric one works just fine.  Then we thought about the refrigerator and freezer.  By the following night everything in the refrigerator would have to be thrown out.  At 95 degrees even the freezer might be thawing.  What to do.  In the perfect world I would have a propane freezer, but of course they're expensive so that's why we don't have one. 

I have a lot of food in that freezer and if it thawed out, it would be a terrible waste.  This brought my thoughts back to canning.  Almost everything in the freezer could be canned in some form or another.  While it's convenient to throw a ham or packages of chicken breast in the freezer after a trip to the grocery store, it's not so convenient to thaw and prepare them.  Canning is a lot of work, there's no way around it, but once it's done, there's no concern about whether it will thaw and spoil and since the cooking is done, creating a meal is almost instant.

So while I may not try canning beans again anytime soon, I will definitely be canning more meat. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Convenience Canning and Production Cooking - Not for the Faint of Heart

I love the idea of Production Cooking - making large batches of something, then preserving it by freezing or canning - for later use.  It can be a lot of work for one person.  I've been trying to recruit a group of people who would like to get together, each bring the ingredients for a dish, and have fun while assembling casseroles or whatnot, then freezing them.  This concept works for business (Let's Dish) and I think it would be fun.  I have thus far had no takers.  Sister Dana would be interested, but she lives 10 hours away.

I remember back when I was a teenager, my mother was in the hospital and my Dad had to run the household for a while. His idea of cooking was to do it up Big (I guess that's where I get this from). Being retired from the Air Force, he liked to shop at the Base Commissary occasionally. Since it was about an hour and a half drive, he really loaded up when he went. He sent me and Dana to the commissary when my mother was in the hospital. I am not sure if we ever found it... I think we got lost. To this day I still remember one of my Dad's Production Cooking sessions during that time. He decided that rather than making our school lunches each morning, it would be more convenient to make a month's worth at one time and freeze them. Sounds like a great idea, but the reality is, the sandwiches were soggy when lunchtime rolled around and we wouldn't eat them.  So sometimes a good idea just doesn't work out as planned.
When cooking for two, it's hard to cut down a recipe when you're making a casserole or chicken and dumplings, so now I buy those inexpensive throw away pans and make multiple casseroles at one time and freeze the extras. It's nice to be able to pull one out for a quick and easy dinner.

In my food stockpile I probably have enough beans to last us for many years, but dried beans take a lot of forethought and work. So I thought - why not can beans to have on hand? I had just bought a pressure canner and had great success canning meats, so it made perfect sense.

I follow a blog called The Iowa Housewife. These two sisters cover various topics such as gardening, cooking, canning, etc. The blog has a sort of vintage 50's vibe to it which I love. They reference some of the vintage cookbooks that I have, which is kinda cool - like the 1973 version of the Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cookbook. They have lots of canning, preserving and production cooking recipes and information on their blog. But they don't have a recipe for canning beans... yet.

If you know anything at all about me, it's that I always read directions, and follow them.  With home canning, I want to be absolutely sure that I follow the rules.  I have about 5 versions of The Ball Blue Book - considered the "bible" of home canning.  I have a really neat version from the 60's that I got FREE at the Half Price Bookstore.  It was in MINT condition!  Stephanie gave me a new version this past Christmas, along with other canning related items.  I used this new version for my bean canning recipe.

The recipe in the Ball Blue Book says for each Quart, use 2-1/4 pounds of dried beans.  That sounded like a lot, but hey, they're the experts.  Well, since I wanted to do a full canner load, 7 quarts, I needed 15-3/4 pounds of beans.  I wanted to cook a little extra for dinner so I measured out a little over 16 pounds of beans.  SIXTEEN pounds of beans I said.

Then the directions say to boil the soaked beans for 30 minutes.  I have a lot of kitchen gadgetry, more than most people, but do you think I own a pot that will hold SIXTEEN pounds of beans??  Of course not - no one does.  So I got out every pot I had and started cooking beans. 

Fast forward to the canning process.  I did indeed get some quarts of beans canned.  They turned out like some sort of bean-concrete product, all turned to mush.  They all went in the trash.  That was the first load of 7 quarts.  What of the other beans?  By this time I was exhausted and it seemed as if the beans were multiplying in my kitchen - I had pots of beans everywhere.  I was inundated with beans!  So what did I do?  Throw them ALL in the compost heap of course.  Unfortunately my husband was on hand to witness the entire event.  Wisely he didn't make any comments.

Not only did I waste all those beans but my kitchen was a complete disaster!  I looked back at every Ball Blue Book I had and they all had the same recipe for beans.  SURELY it wasn't my mistake, so I wrote to Ball.  I got this nice email in response:

"Dear Tracy:

We sincerely apologize for the printing error in the Ball Blue Book and the inconvenience caused you. The correct amount for the dried beans is “¾ pounds dried beans or peas per quart”.

This error will be corrected in the next printing of the book. To express our concern, we are mailing to you under separate cover product coupons for you to use with our compliments.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.


Consumer Affairs
Jarden Home Brands"

THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS MATTER TO OUR ATTENTION?????  So for DECADES home canners have used this recipe and no one noticed the error??  Did they just scratch their heads thinking they had made the mistake, not Ball?

And what of the "product coupons" I would receive in the mail?  I received ONE coupon for $5 off jars or yet ANOTHER version of the Ball Blue Book.  Bahahahahahah!