Sunday, August 22, 2010

Relish the Thought of Overgrown Cucumbers (or How I lost my Home Canning Virginity!)

My husband and I have just returned from a week in Chicago ( business, unfortunately - not vacation) and my cucumbers used the opportunity to grow into blimps. Giz of  Equal Opportunity Kitchen suggested I toss them into the composter, but I didn't have the heart. I nurtured those cucumbers, fertilized them, watered them, provided them with beautiful coloured cages to climb - how could I resort to such an undignified end for their brief lives?

After googling and a bit of research, I decided to try my hand at preserving cucumber relish. I remember the delicious relish my mother used to make when I was a youngster, and wondered if I could pull it off. I have never in the almost 60 years of my life ever canned anything, so this would be a new experience.

Off to Canadian Tire® to buy supplies:

and a book:

Bernardin® are the folks that make the jars. They were the resource I counted  to hold my hand through the process. This recipe is from Bernardin® Guide to Home Canning and makes 6 - 500 ml. jars of relish.

Cucumber Relish

7 cups peeled, finely chopped cucumbers
4 cups finely chopped green pepper
4 cups finely chopped red pepper
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup pickling salt
2-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 cups white vinegar
3 tbsp. celery seed
3 tbsp. mustard seed

 1.  Peel the cucumbers and seed them. The recipe I used did not say to seed them, but when using watermelon sized (well, almost) cukes, the seeds are undesirable.

 2. Chop all the vegetables and combine in a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Little did I know that this process would take well over an hour! Once all the vegetables are combined, add the pickling salt, mix well and allow it to sit for 4 hours.

(I found it necessary to alter the recipe. I under bought peppers and over peeled cukes, so my cucumbers took up the slack for my pepper shortfall. Also I had red and yellow peppers and no green ones, so that was another deviation from the original recipe. I'll know in 2 weeks if my changes were a good idea or not. That's the suggested wait time before using the relish in order to allow flavours to blend.)

3. Line a salad spinner basket or sieve with cheesecloth and scoop the relish mixture into it to drain.
Rinse it well and drain several times as it's pretty salty. Very salty! Squeeze out the excess liquid.

4. Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed and mustard seed in a large stainless steel saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and return the mixture to a gentle boil for 10 minutes.

Jar preparation:
At some point near the end of the 4 hour wait time, prepare the mason jars for use. The clean jars need to be placed on a rack in a canner and covered with water. Heat the water to a simmer (180° F/82° C.) The snap lids need to be heated also in the same temp water - not boiling. Keep them hot until ready to use. Remove  from the hot water with a jar lifter. Tilt to drain all the hot water out.

5. Ladle the relish mixture into the jar to within 1/2" of the top rim. This is the headspace. Using a non-metallic utensil, poke around in the mixture to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of the jar to remove any stickiness and centre the SNAP Lid on the jar. Apply the screw band securely until resistance is met. Do not over tighten.

6. Place the jar in the canner. Repeat with the remaining jars and relish mixture.

7. Cover the canner and bring the hot water to a boil. Process by boiling the filled jars for 15 minutes. Remove jars from boiling water without tilting and cool upright, undisturbed for 24 hours. After cooling, check the jar seals to make sure the lids have sealed properly and curve downward. Remove the screw band, wipe dry and replace. Do not tighten firmly.

8. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

The recipe was supposed to make 6 - 500ml jars. I only got 5 out of it. The way I figure it, with the canner, jar lifter, jars and book I had to purchase to make it, each 500 ml. jar is worth $7.41 not including tax! . (That's not including the  non-cucumber vegetables I purchased.) Maybe Giz's idea to pitch the cukes wasn't such a bad one after all!  I should listen to her more often!

However, my mother would be proud of me if she was here to see it! My first preserves! Ever!  The experience - Priceless!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cauliflower-Carrot Soup

This soup doesn't look much different than last week's "Anything you want it to be " soup. Lighter and not green in color - but because it's pureed with a hand blender, it has that same look and texture. I was a holdout against pureed soups - I thought that keeping the vegetable in chunks would make it more filling, but I`m gradually coming around. There`s more of an elegance to them - and you can hide all kinds of nourishing stuff in them and your family will be none the wiser!

This one is really easy - and makes use of minimal fresh ingredients: onion, cauliflower, carrot, dill. Add to that a litre (or quart) of vegetarian stock, some water  and 1 tbsp. vegetable oil and you have a very nice practically ZERO point soup if you are on the Weight Watchers® program.

Cauliflower-Carrot Soup

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large diced onion (1-1/2 cups)
6 cups finely chopped cauliflower
1 cup diced carrot
1 liter (Approx.4 cups) vegetable broth
1 cup water
3/4 - 1 cup fresh dill, loosely packed
fresh pepper

1. In a soup pot, saute the onion in the vegetable oil to soften.
2. Add the cauliflower and carrot and saute a little longer.
3. Add the vegetable broth and water and simmer until the carrot and cauliflower are soft.
4. Add the chopped dill for the last minute of cooking time.
5. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender.

This recipe makes 8 cups of soup. All items are "point free" except for vegetable oil - which is 3 points for the entire soup.  That's less than 1/2 a point per cup serving.


- Make the soup creamy by adding 1 cup skim milk. That would bump the point value per cup slightly.
- Instead of dill, season with curry - 2 teaspoons. This should be sauteed with the onions.
- Omit dill and stir in 1 tsp. pesto when serving the soup.
- Omit dill and add a dash of nutmeg when serving.
- Add 1 cup of shredded cheese after pureeing (and the appropriate point value per serving.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Anything You Want it to be Soup

I recently returned from a 4 day vacation trip to Las Vegas with my sister-in-law. We had a wonderful time - saw "Jersey Boys" and "Donny and Marie", played the slot machines, shopped and partook of many appealing buffets. The money I spent in Vegas stayed in Vegas, but the extra pounds adhered and came home with me. So, it's back on the WeightWatchers track for me. And here's a soup to get me started!

I was shopping in our neighbourhood Superstore (Loblaws in other parts of the country) a few days ago. Normally, the fresh produce in this store looks very tired and unappealing, but that day was an exception. There were bunches of fresh spinach that looked outstanding! Clean and perky and irresistable. I had to buy a pound of it!

 Part of it would go into a salad, and part of it would be for a soup recipe that I got from my sister-in-law who got it from her mother. I do not know the original source of the recipe. The original title of the soup was Broccoli-Cheese Soup, but the vegetables can be anything you want them to be. I used spinach and broccoli this time, but I would try cauliflower, carrots, leeks, turnip, and even potato if I wasn't trying to cut back on the carb calories.

Broccoli Cheese Soup (or Anything You Want it to Be Soup)

1 tbsp. canola oil
small chopped onion (I used the white part of 3 leeks that were about 1-1/4" in diameter)
2 diced carrots (approx. 1 cup)
1 stalk chopped celery (approx. 1/2 cup)
4 cups of water
4 tsp. of chicken bouillon flavouring
(I used vegetable broth in place of the water and bouillon flavouring
2 pinches of kosher salt (1 tsp. if you're not watching salt content)
freshly ground pepper - a liberal amount if you like pepper
1/2 lb. chopped broccoli including the stalk
1/2 lb. fresh spinach including stems
1-1/2 cups skim milk
1 cup shredded cheese - preferably low fat

1. Saute the onion or leek, carrots and celery in the canola oil until softened.
2. Bring liquid to a boil. Add the bouillon flavouring if using water.Add salt, pepper.
3. Add the sauteed vegetables and the fresh vegetables and simmer until all the vegetables are cooked - approx 15-20 minutes.

4. Toward the end of the cooking time, reduce the heat and add the skim milk.
5. Add the cheese and allow it to melt into the soup.

6. Puree with a hand blender while it is still warm.
7. If desired, garnish with some fresh dill or any suitable herb of your choice, and serve!

This recipe made 7 cups of soup. With low fat shredded cheese, that would work out to approx. 2 points per cup serving. With regular cheese, it would be closer to 3 points.