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Unless otherwise noted, all recipes on this blog are free of gluten, peanuts, soy, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, shellfish, cane sugar, oranges, and yeast. Most recipes are also free of egg, dairy, and tree nuts (if used, reliable substitutions will be provided for these when possible). Check out my recipe index for a full list of recipes by category. 

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Thursday
Oct062011

How to check your canning jars for a good seal 

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After a long day of canning, you may think that you are off the hook the minute you take those jars out of the water canner. Oh, how wrong you are! One of the most important things about canning won’t happen until those jars are nice and cool. What is it?

 

You need to check the seal!
 
If your lids haven’t formed a good seal with the rim of the jar, your food will not be properly preserved. This means that pathogenic bacteria and fungus can form easily and make the food unfit for consumption. While keeping unsafe food in your own cupboard is bad enough, swapping or gifting unsafe food is even worse, as the person receiving the food may not recognize signs of improperly preserved food. While mold will be visible, some bacterial growth in the food may not be, and if someone consumes the food they may become very ill. Plus, opening a jar full of moldy jam is really nasty.

Thankfully, illness, shame, and sadness can be easily avoided with a handful of simple steps. Rejoice!

 

Here are a few tips to help ensure that you almost always get a good seal.
  • Always use new canning lids. It is unsafe to reuse canning lids for water bath processed foods.
  • Do not use really old canning lids, even if they are unused. While the box of canning stuff you found in the cellar of your rental house or the unwanted canning stuff from Grandma may be really exciting, treat yourself to new lids. The adhesive compounds on old lids – even if they are unused – tend to break down over time and may not seal properly. To be safest, use canning lids that are no more than 1-2 years old.
  • Check the rim of your jars. If there are chips or cracks, do not use for canning.
  • Thoroughly wipe the rims of your jars after filling. Use a damp, clean cloth and wipe up any of the contents that may have spilled on to the rim. I like to use a canning funnel to fill the jars to make it less messy – there’s less to wipe up!
  • Process for the designated amount of time in your recipe. Remember to account for changes in elevation if you are canning above 1,000 feet.
  • Remove your jars from the water canner gently after processing, keeping them as level as possible. Do not tip to pour off water that may have collected on the lid – it will evaporate. Place the jars on a double thickness of towel on a level surface. Keep away from drafts and let sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours.
Then…

 

You may hear a “ping!” sound as the jars cool – this sound means that the jar has sealed properly. But listening for this sound alone is not a reliable method for checking the seal. Plus, the “ping!” is an easy sound to miss and some well-sealed jars never “ping!” at all.

 

Once the jars have cooled…
  • Press down on the center of the lid. Does the lid move up and down or does it feel solid and concave? If it feels solid and concave, you have a good seal. If the center of the lid moves up and down, your jar has not sealed and the food is not safely preserved.
  • Tap on the lid. If it makes a tinny, ringing sound your jar is sealed. If it sounds like a dull thud, the seal is poor or non existent and the food is not safely preserved.
  • Here’s the big one: unscrew the canning jar ring. Then pick up the jar holding on to nothing but the lid. If you succeed, your seal is awesome. If not, well, you guessed it – bad seal.
If your seal passed the test, you have successfully preserved your foods!

Nice work. Remove the band and wipedown the rims and sides of the jars to remove any residues from canning. Replace the band if you’d like by screwing it on and leaving a bit of give, or leave band-less so you can use the band for other canning projects. Then label the jar with the contents and the date, store in a cool, dark place and consume within one year for best freshness.

 

If your seal did not pass the test, you have a few options.
  • You can eat the contents immediately
  • You can refrigerate the jar and eat soon. Within 1 – 4 weeks, depending on the food.
  • You can reprocess the jar. Unfortunately, you can’t just screw on a new lid and band, and drop in a pot of boiling water. Rather, you need to start over from the very beginning. Clean the jar(s) and band(s) thoroughly and use a new canning lid(s). Heat the jar (sterilization not needed if processing over 10 minutes). Then heat the contents back to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Then fill the jar as directed in the recipe and process for the designated amount of time.
Easy, right? That said, don’t feel bad about your canning abilities if you have a jar (or two) that doesn’t seal. It happens to the best of us sometimes! Just be thankful that you caught it and didn’t stash it in your pantry unsealed. And besides, it gives you an excuse to dig into some of your tasty foods now rather than later.
Food safety is fun, right? Happy canning!

 

 

Wednesday
Oct052011

Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Cranberry Spice Muffins and Sorghum-Millet Flour Blend

I've been on a gluten-free banana bread kick ever since I made this bread. And by "kick" I really mean it - I've made a loaf nearly every week for the last 2 1/2 months. I finally encouraged myself to depart from the loaf and venture back into the world of the muffin. Inspired by an overabundance of bananas in our fruit bowl, I came up with this tasty vegan banana muffin recipe that features one of my favorite seasonal ingredients: cranberries. No gums, only a wee bit of starch, and no refined sugars. Hooray!

Conveniently, cranberries are this month's featured ingredient for the Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge, hosted by Diet Dessert and Dogs blogger Ricki Heller and me. What better reason to share my muffin recipe on the blog, right? 

This recipe also features a great homemade flour blend, a mixture of sorghum, millet, white rice, and arrowroot starch (also known as arrowroot flour). Ever since Shauna posted her Gluten-Free Whole Grain Muffins and the whole grain flour mix on her blog last year, I've been making many of my baked goods with various blends of flours and absolutely loving the results. It seemed she cracked the code to making a well-balanced flour blend, and the versatility of her formula allows you to use whatever flours and starches you have on hand. Brilliant.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Oct042011

We're back....it's the October SOS Kitchen Challenge Reveal!

Sweet or Savory Kitchen CHallenge

Darling readers, it's been a long time since you've seen this logo, huh? The last time that my friend Ricki and I hosted a Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge was back in June. Remember? It was early summer and we paid honor to the noble blueberry. You created wonderful sweet and savory recipes featuring the blueberry and shared them for all to see. We were so pleased with the turn out!

And yet, despite our love for all your inspiring entries, Ricki and I decided to take a break through the summer to focus on our friends, our families, and our selves. In my case, this holiday from the blog turned out to be a significant blessing! With limited internet access, multiple housing changes, a broken laptop, and a very busy schedule of cooking demos and travel and food swaps, I've hardly been online all summer.

With the coming of Fall, I am happy to say things seem to be finding a place of balance. And thus, Ricki and I are excited to bring the SOS back to life! So, without further adieu...

Our featured ingredient this month has a humble history, but has recently joined the ranks of “super foods” like blueberries, spinach, and pumpkins. Their ravishing red color is  unmistakable and their sweet-tart flavor is unique and versatile. 

Any guesses yet? Okay, okay, we’ll tell you. Our featured ingredient this month is...

image from http://glyndk.blogspot.com/2009/09/land-of-cranberries.html

Cranberries!

Basic Cranberry Information

Cranberries are related to blueberries, and grow in sandy bogs in cool climates of the Northern hemisphere. The short shrubby plants have long trailing vines, featuring evergreen leaves, distinctive pink flowers, and shiny plump berries. Unripe cranberry fruits are white and the fruits deepen to the characteristic red color as they ripen.

Native Americans used cranberries as food, medicine, and dye. Soon after they arrived, the European settlers  caught on to the versatility of cranberries and incorporated them in their meals. In fact, the early colonialists are responsible for the name cranberry, which derives from “crane berry” - the distinctive shape of the wiry stem and flower petals and stamen reminded them of the neck, head, and beak of a crane. American colonialists shipped plants to Europe in the early 1800s, where the cranberry quickly gained popularity throughout Great Britain and Scandinavia. 

Ricki and I are lucky, as we both live in cranberry country - cranberries are grown throughout southern Canada and in northern portions of the United States. In fact, my home state of Wisconsin leads the way in U.S. production, pushing out more than 50% of the crop!  As a native Wisconsinite, I take cranberry bogs for granted, as a drive through the countryside always revealed low-lying bogs dotted with shining red berries. I grew up eating fresh cranberries prepared a variety of ways in the fall, and my family often had bags of fresh cranberries in the freezer. But it doesn't stop there. My grandparents took my brother and I on a tour of the Ocean Spray cranberry plant in Tomah, Wisconsin, and I’ve visited the Cranberry Festival in Eagle River, Wisconsin more than once. What can I say, I’m a cranberry lover from the get-go!

image from http://www.thecamreport.com/images//CranberryHoW.jpg

How to Select and Store

Cranberries are in season from October through December, and can be found fresh at grocery stores and green markets. Frozen berries can be found all year round. Almost 95% of the cranberry crop is processed into juice, dried cranberries, and sauces, while the other 5% is sold raw. When selecting fresh, raw cranberries, look for firm fruits that are deep red and free of blemishes. Firmness is a key indicator, and ripe cranberries will actually bounce when you drop them. This has earned them the nickname “bounceberries”. 

Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or can be frozen for several years. If freezing them, rinse the berries then lay on a flat baking sheet or pan, and freeze. Then place in a freezer bag and seal tightly. Frozen cranberries can be used as-is in recipes; there is no need to thaw. Cranberry juice should be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for later use. Dried cranberries will keep for 6-12 months if well-sealed.

Culinary and Nutrition Benefits

The fruits are incredibly versatile; thanks to their sweet-tart flavor they can be used for a variety of sweet or savory applications. They can be used for sauces, chutneys, relishes, smoothies, and in baked goods and other desserts. Dried cranberries are an excellent addition to breads and muffins, granola or meusli, or as a snack on their own. For a savory option, try adding to stuffings, salsas, salad dressings, salads, or for adding a tart flavor element to soups or stews. Cranberry juice can be used to make everything from agar agar molds to punches to flavorful apple cider blends. Ricki and I have both enjoyed using cranberries on our blog. Check out Ricki’s Stevia-Sweetened Dried Cranberries or my Stevia-Sweetened Apple-Cranberry Sauce

In addition to amazing culinary variety, cranberries pack a lot of nutrition in a small package. They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and dietary fiber. Additionally, they contain powerful phytonutrients that may help support the cardiovascular system, immune system, and may even reduce the risk of cancer. Cranberries also contain compounds that may help prevent and eliminate bacterial infections of the urinary system, particularly in cases of urinary tract infections. Cranberry pills or unsweetened cranberry juice are often suggested to people and animals struggling with UTIs!

What an amazing fruit, huh? Ricki and I think these little red berries pack an admirably powerful punch. 

image from http://www.plantcare.com/oldSite/httpdocs/images/namedImages/Cranberry.jpg

How to Participate in the SOS

To participate, please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Cook up a sweet or savory recipe--whether yours or someone else's with credit to them--using cranberries. Your recipe must be made for this event, within the month of the challenge--sorry, no old posts are accepted.  Then, post the recipe to your blog (if you don’t have a blog, see instructions below).
  • Be sure to mention the event on your post and link to the current SOS page so that everyone can find the collection of recipes. Then, link up the recipe using the Linky tool below.
  • As a general rule, please use mostly whole foods ingredients (minimally processed with no artificial flavors, colors, prepackaged sauces, etc.).  For example, whole grains and whole grain flours; no refined white flours or sugar (but either glutenous OR gluten-free flours are fine).
  • Please ensure that recipes are vegan or include a vegan alternative (no animal products such as meat, fish, chicken, milk, yogurt, eggs, honey).
  • Please use natural sweeteners (no white sugar, nothing that requires a laboratory to create--such as splenda, aspartame, xylitol, etc.). Instead, try maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, dates, yacon syrup, Sucanat, stevia, etc.
  • Feel free to use the event logo on your blog to help promote the event
  • Have fun and let your creativity shine!
  • You may enter as many times as you like, but please submit a separate entry for each recipe.

For all the details (and to view past challenges), check out the SOS Kitchen Challenge page.

If you don’t have a blog, you can still participate!  Simply email your recipe, or recipe and a photo, to soskitchenchallenge@gmail.com. We’ll post it for you. 

Deadline for submission is Monday, October 31, 2011.

 

Ricki and I look forward to seeing what you do with cranberries this month. It’s good to be back!

October 2011 SOS Kitchen Challenge: Cranberries

Thursday
Sep152011

Gluten-Free Thai Noodles with Turkey

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Studious readers will remember that I moved to a new apartment only two months ago. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be - the basement leaked and I believe the house is riddled with mold and other environmental contaminants. Within two weeks of moving in, I was dealing with a constant headache, congestion, a burning throat, swollen glands, foggy headedness and fatigue. My Lyme and Babesia symptoms were flaring up, and I was starting to suffer anxiety attacks. I could barely function at work and had no energy left when I returned home at the end of the day. I finally resorted to spending as much time away as possible, housesitting for two weeks, camping for 5 days, and staying with friends for 2 1/2 weeks. Inevitably, after being away from the house for a few days, I would experience a total clearing of the additional symptoms. When I would go back, the symptoms would return. I knew I had to get out of that place for good; I've worked too hard the last 3 1/2 years to get to this point in my health, and I can't let my living situation drag me down. After negotiating with my landlord (and calling over the city inspector), I broke my lease and moved out. Now all my stuff is in storage and I'm staying out in the 'burbs with my aunt and uncle.

This experience has opened my eyes to the importance of having a safe place to call home. I dreaded going back there each day, knowing that it would make me feel sick. Although staying other places made me feel physically better, it wore on me emotionally. I yearned for quiet, for privacy, for my normal pattern of cooking dinner and working in my garden and being able to rest whenever and where ever I wanted. After being on the move for the better part of two months, I am worn down and feeling drained. My lack of pattern made it hard for me to eat the way I need to and stick to my rigorous and ever-changing schedule of medications and tinctures and supplements. This wore me down even further, and made me realize that no matter what I need to put my health first and do whatever I need to do to stick to my patterns. 

I had always seen myself as someone with a strong gypsy streak, someone who is comfortable traveling and moving about, but I have realized that I need a space to call my own. Maybe that space could be a modern-day gypsy wagon, but I definitely need my own wagon and can't be solely reliant on the wagons of other people. 

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Tuesday
Aug232011

How to Can Tomato-Free Peach Salsa 

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This recipe is adapted from the Ball® Complete Book of Home Preservation. I love this book! I have been canning a lot lately - rather obsessively, actually - and it has been a pleasure to work my way through its pages. 

This time of year is always marked by a bevy of stone fruit, and this recipe is a great way to preserve some of it for for another season. I like this recipe a lot because it has all the yumminess of salsa without tomatoes. As a tomato-avoiding person, I was darn excited to see this. I have made the recipe twice, and each time it has turned out great.  The first time I prepared it as written in the book, and the second time I prepared it with a few tweaks of my own and doubled the recipe. I have a lot of peach salsa in my canning cupboard right now, it's kind of ridiculous.

I know it is delicious because one of my jars was a dud and it didn't seal properly, so I had to eat it up. And boy, is it good! Whether you avoid tomatoes or not, I think you'll love it. The salsa is also very good fresh, so feel free to reserve some to eat right away and can the rest. 

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