Friday, August 31, 2012

Eating the Web: Canning Resources

1. This post from highlights the simplicity of making jam.
2. After you are all jammed out, consider preserving grape leaves!
3. Have a glut of red peppers? Here's your solution.
4. Canny Granny has a very strong facebook presence and offers a ton of wonderful canning advice!
5. And if you have some failures on your canning adventure... The Half-Assed Homesteader will make you smile!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Scratching: Crabapples

Crab apples. Crab apples have a less than stellar reputation. According to my husband they are only good for childhood neighbourhood fights. According to my sister's CSA farmer, "no one eats crab apples."

Eating those sour, pucker apples straight off the tree was definitely a trip down memory lane. I had to figure out something to DO with them, because eating more than five WILL give you an upset stomach.

Crab Apple Jelly - a jewel like jelly that is sweet and tart at the same time.

Put the apples in the pot. Add enough water to cover and cook until the little apples explode. Strain through a dishcloth. Measure how many cups of liquid you have. Add an equal amount of sugar. Boil until jell test passes. Hot water process 10 minutes.

Crab Apple Hot Pepper Jelly - my sister and my husband both like this jelly so I had to give it a try

Cook 2 lbs apples in water until they burst. Strain. Add enough vinegar to make 3 cups of liquid. Add 3 3/4 cup sugar. Boil until dissolved. Slice up half a sweet bell pepper, 3 jalapenos, and 1 scotch bonnet pepper. Boil for a few minutes then strain. Continue to boil until mixture passes the jell test. Process for 10 minutes.

I did not measure how long the pepper were in the mixture but I continued to taste test until I thought the strength was appropriate.

Check out my DIY Canning post for basic canning information.
Total Jars Canned: 19 3/4 pints

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Food in Jars

I have a tendency to get a little obsessed with a new food hobby. I get obsessed for a while then something distracts me and I meander off to a new obsession but eventually something returns my attention to the original obsession. That's why it's not THAT bad if an obsession with a new food hobby costs me a little money.

Days into my canning obsession I passed a bookstore and couldn't resist picking up Food in Jars Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan. I figured it would be a good buy as I had already come across her blog and got some good information there. I also really like that the book was for small batch canning as that is what I had the equipment and desire to do. Overall this book is beautiful. The pictures are gorgeous and the layout is very visually appealing.

I've been canning a lot lately and so far have made three recipes from this book.

I started with Cantaloupe Jam. I hate cantaloupe but the McClellan said that this recipe tasted like Creamsicle. I couldn't resist! It does taste like creamsicle but because of that it is a little odd on bread. However, I think it will be really good in shortbread or in some type of jam cookie. 

I had a glut of apples due to some Not Far From The Tree apple picks so I made Honey Lemon Apple Jam and Apple-Cranberry Jam. All of the Honey Lemon jars sealed (YAY! First time!) so I won't be able to taste that jam for a while. The author states that the apple-cranberry jam is good on turkey (as in a cranberry sauce) or on bread and I could definitely see how it would be good on tofu or seitan. It may actually be too savory to make a good toast jam.

The instructions in this book are easy to follow and clear. The amount of jam seems to vary slightly from what is stated but that is due, I think, to the ripeness of the fruit and will be an issue in any canning recipe. I like the flavor combinations and find them intriguing. I will definitely be canning more from this book in the future and would recommend it.   

Total Jars Canned: 11 1/4 pints


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From Scratching: Plum Jam

This is the canning recipe that really sealed my current obsession with canning (pun intended). I went on a @NFFTT plum pick and came home with a huge bag of small under-ripe plums. There really was no choice except to make jam.

Plum Jam
2 cups pitted, quartered plums (skin on)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (used bottled)

Combine on the stove. Once the sugar melts and starts to boil start at timer for 15 - 20 minutes. At 15 minutes, start to test for jell. Process for 10 minutes.

Makes: 3 x 125 mL jars

Follow my DIY Canning Guide for more information on canning.

Total Jars Canned: 5 pints

Monday, August 27, 2012

From Scratching: DIY Canning

While I am a somewhat adventurous home cook, there are a few things that I am simply terrified of. For example, I have a huge fear of broiling because after all, broiling is basically a controlled burn. I have nurtured a fear of canning for many years. This fear was so strong that it survived a successful batch of raspberry jam. 

However my recent involvement with Toronto's Not Far From The Tree has forced me to overcome this fear. I have been on a plum pick, apple picks, and even a grape pick. It's been a ton of fun and is a really good organization to get involved with.  

The @NFFTT bike and picker poles.
My DIY guide to canning:

One gigantic pot
One huge pot
Canning jars and new lids
Jar lifter

1. Sanitize the jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, keep them in the hot water until ready to use.
2. Start cooking the ingredients for jam. Test for jell by dipping a metal spoon in the jam and placing in the freezer for a few minutes. This cools down the mixture quickly so that you will be able to tell how thick the jam will set to.
3. When the jam is almost set, throw the lids and rings into the pot with the jars. 
4. Remove one jar from the gigantic pot. Fill with jam. Wipe the rim of spilt jam. Remove one lid and ring from the jar. Place on the jar and finger tighten.
5. Repeat step 4 until you run out of jars.
6. Turn up the heat on the gigantic pot. Place the filled jars back into the pot. Once the water returns to a boil start the timer for amount the recipe calls for.
7. Remove jars from water. The jars should start to pop sealed within a few minutes. Once the jars have sealed remove the rings. Let cool completely before storing.

The main things I have learnt through the last few weeks of canning is:
a. don't remove the rings and lids from the hot water until immediatly before you place them on the jar
b. don't remove the ring from the jar until the jar seals

My seal rate greatly increased after I started to follow these two things!

Another thing to note is that the jar lifter is not required for jars that are 125 mL in size. These tiny jars can be lifted with tongs even when they are full of jam. So if you aren't sure if you are going to continue canning you could skip buying the $8 dollar jar tongs. There are packages of canning equipment for $15 that include jar tongs, tongs, magnetic lid lifter, funnel, and jar opener. I feel like the jar tongs are the only required item but the magnetic lid lifter would be nice to have.

Disclaimer: I am not a food scientist or an expert canner. There are a lot of safety concerns with canning and I urge you to do your own research regarding canning. The above DIY guide is simply meant to illustrate how simple the premise of canning is. I hold the view that the industrial food complex requires (and likes) us to be scared and sceptical of our food. However, if jam smells like jam and tastes like jam it probably IS jam. Overall, we should not be scared of food that we source and cook ourselves. It's important to trust your own senses and common sense.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Summertime Sippers 15 COOl recipes for HOT summer days

I received Summertime Sippers because I entered the giveaway on Lizz Clements blog. It took a few weeks to arrive but thankfully it arrived in the midst of a massive heat wave. It was so hot in Toronto that we bought a fan, I contemplated taking a margarita shower, and I was consuming a dozen Popsicles a day for the last week. The weather in Toronto was the iconic interpretation of HOT summer days. Thank goodness I had fifteen COOL recipes to choose from.

I started with the classic lemonade recipe. It was super easy, straightforward recipe which makes a slightly sweet lemonade. I think it would be amazing with a shot of whiskey as Clements recommends in the introduction. A few hours later I had to try the limeade recipes (did I mention there was a heat wave!?) It uses the same technique a results in a refreshing, tart drink. As the introduction states, limeade is 'lemonade's more sophisticated cousin'. From decision to drinking, both the lemonade and the limeade only take a few minutes to put together. This is a huge selling point during a heat wave unlike my brand new fan which required 10 minutes of sweaty assembly (what is wrong with the world!?)

A few hours later (don't judge me!) I had to try the recipe for Sweet Tea. I was aware of sweet tea, but I assumed it was simply a sweeter version of iced tea. It definitely is a liquid unto itself! It's good for a change of pace, but won't replace my sun brewed iced tea.
Summertime Sippers is Clements first self-published cookbook. I love the fact that the book is dedicated to her partner, Christine, who was responsible for the photos in the book. The amount of love and support evident in that dedication is a beautiful thing! Clements has two other cookbooks in the works. Stay on the lookout for Vegan Gifts in a Jar (1 Oct 2012) and Vegan Cake Truffles (1 Dec 2012).


Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Setting Self-publishing deadlines

Hello, everyone! Sarah invited me to write a guest post here and recommended I share with you some advice in regard to meeting self-publishing deadlines. Here goes!

I have been self-publishing little books since 2002. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school and tried my hand at compiling my poems into books. These items are still available and I still sell a few copies of them every now and then on Amazon.

I have also always wanted to write professionally (or, you know, full time). A lot of things had supposedly prevented me from doing so; school, work, and other activities being my excuses. I spent many years trying to come up with an idea for my next book before I realized that that was my problem. I was waiting for the perfect opportunity as opposed to trying something out and seeing what I could do with it.

On Christmas Day, 2001, after having received nearly 100% food-related gifts, I came to realize that writing about food would likely be right up my alley. I had been pretty good at whipping up things in the kitchen on my own and figured that my knowledge and experience in the field of homemade vegan food might be beneficial to others. I started my blog, lizz delicious, on the 26th and began publishing recipes there very soon after.

While I was already imagining all of the business opportunities I could explore through my blog, I waited a few months before deciding to actually pursue anything. I had had many blogs before where I had publicized all sorts of projects I intended to make but I never finished most of them. If I was going to take writing any type of cookbook seriously I needed to be sure I could actually devote the time to developing recipes for it.

The time came to choose a direction and I picked something near and dear to my heart; tasty bevvies. There's a story behind my love of drinks, too. I moved to Austin, Texas with a friend in 2007 and became a sweet tea addict while living there. When I moved to West Virginia in 2008 to be with my partner, I was absolutely devastated that I couldn't find a good sweet tea anywhere. The only option was what they had at the local Subway restaurant and it wasn't very good. It tasted like artificial sweetener and kind of gave me a headache. So I set about developing my own recipe for "southern style" sweet tea. It took a few months and a lot of researching on the Internet, trying different teas and tea bag sized as well. I ultimately came up with the recipe I used in my book, Summertime Sippers, when we moved to Midland, Texas in 2009.

So, with that in mind, I planned out a little cookbook of drink recipes inspired by this experience. In January, I sat down and started on a list of drinks to try making. The classics were where I started; sweet tea, lemonade, limeade, and the like. I did some research on what's trendy in flavored lemonades, too. I'm a huge fan of lavender lemonade, but felt like there were some pretty good versions of that already out there. I looked into some more classic beverages and found orangeade. I took that formula and decided to try it using watermelon, too.

My original goal was to develop ten recipes. Keeping in mind that I worked full time and wouldn't have tons of freedom in my schedule, I mentally prepared myself and paced out my research and development. I started with three recipes in February. I knew the sangria recipes would take the longest to test, considering I hadn't made anything like that from scratch before, so I began testing those initially. I made three different batches before finding one that I actually liked. I then used that formula to devise a second type.

I essentially took a week and a half to develop each recipe. Some of them had to be made twice. Some of the recipes I tried didn't make it into the book at all.

The important thing was that I spent time that I would use to relax to develop my recipes. Ordinarily, I would spend my days off going grocery shopping, doing chores, playing with my dog, and spending time on the computer. It's not that I didn't have the time for writing the cookbook, it was that I needed to rearrange my schedule in order to take advantage of what time I did have so I could be in the kitchen.

For instance, some of those days I would go grocery shopping the day before, after work on my way home. The same thing with chores. I got into the habit of doing them before or after work. I did laundry while watching tv after dinner and walked the dog while my appliances were making food for me (gotta love rice cookers!) or making simple, low work dinners like baked potatoes.

I took notes on each recipe as I made them. Thank you, iPad! I have a stand for it and kept it upright on top of my coffee maker, writing down measurements for the ingredients and any changes I made while taste testing it. If I felt the recipe was finished, I entered it into the manuscript of the book as soon as I was able. This eliminated the extra step of compiling the recipes later on down the road.

Being so organized gave me more time for developing more recipes that I intended to have. The final week before my self-imposed deadline, I added two more recipes for a total of 15. All that was left was getting it on the Internet!

Having published using the Kindle marketplace before, I knew it would take some time for the digital version to be approved for sale. I sent it to the moderators early, and both Amazon and Barnes & noble had the ebook versions on the sites the day after the print and PDF versions were published. Not too shabby! Each channel requires different formatting,s o the week prior to May 1st was devoted to that in entirety. I sent the manuscript to Create Space (my chosen publishing service) early because I knew it would take a bout a week before Amazon would list it, then the Kindle and Nook versions, and then the PDF. Publishing through Lulu (which offers PDF downloads) is pretty much immediate, and it really is my preferred method, but people like options and it's important to provide them.

You WILL have difficulty converting your book for sale in the Kindle and Nook marketplaces. Unfortunately, I don't have much advice for you in that regard. I always seem to just keep trying until it seems like it works. Formatting, for me, is the most difficult part. If you aren't tech-savvy, I don't recommend trying to format your book in order to sell Kindle and Nook versions. No amount of extra time is going to help you do something you don't understand. But this post is all about deadlines, so I won't bore you with the unending list of my pet peeves when it comes to digital formatting!

In closing, it's always better to give yourself more time than you need but to work at a speed that will ensure you are done early. Don't stress out. Always remember that you're supposed to be enjoying yourself and meting or surpassing your personal standards. You need to do what you love; it will show in the final product!

Lizz Clements is a vegan food blogger and cookbook author currently living in Austin, TX. Her first cookbook, Summertime Sippers, is devoted to celebrating warm summer days with iced cold drinks. It is available in print and digital format from her website,

Coming Up! A review of Clements' Summertime Sippers!