Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Canning Class and The. Best. Cupcakes. EVER.

In my last post, I made reference to some beginning canning classes that I was going to teach through Continuing Education at my college. The first one was this past Saturday, and though I was so worried about how it would go, I must report that I think it went GREAT! (I hope the students agree.) The first class focused on canning tomato sauce and salsa, and I had originally planned to teach it on September 6th. Unfortunately, the kitchen that I was assigned to use wasn't "up to code" yet, so we had to delay. I was worried that the tomatoes might have slowed down due a couple of nights of near-frost conditions. But we were fine, and I had no trouble procuring all my ingredients either from my own garden or the green market held on Thursday afternoons at the Nazarene Church in town. As it turned out, the hardest part of planning for the class was that, although the kitchen has "new" (to us) commercial applicances, it doesn't have anything else that you might need! So I basically had to haul EVERYTHING from my kitchen in Sciota to school (half hour away), making multiple trips from my car using the cart that I snitched from the mailroom. UGH! I mean, they didn't even have so much as a sponge and dish soap in there! (I had to go steal some from a kitchenette in the main building.) Surprisingly, given all the tidbits that I had to remember, the only thing I forgot was a can opener. So we had to mangle cans open with a bottle opener. Oh well. Crisis averted.

I arrived early (good thing, too, with all the running around, procuring and hauling in supplies) and got everything unpacked and set up. Then I put myself to work, washing the half bushel of tomatoes and also the peppers that I brought. Then I got a start on coring and seeding tomatoes while I preheated the canning kettle on the big, industrial stove. (Wow! I want one of those at home! The water boiled in the blink of an eye!) When the students arrived (all five of them!), I started the class with a basic how-to and safety lecture, handing out a comprehensive packet of notes, resources, and recipes. I explained to them how I had practiced making every kind of preserved tomato while I was waiting for the kitchen to be outfitted, and that I had come to the conclusion that it was really only worth our time and energy to make prepared sauces, such as those for pasta and of course, everyone's favorite, Annie's Salsa.

After the mini-lecture, I offered them a chance to take a break, but they all stayed around, waiting to be put to work! So I started them all cutting and chopping ingredients for the tomato sauce and the salsa. And can I just say that it was AMAZING having all those hands making light work? I wish that team would come help me at home every time I can! The worst part of canning is always the food preparation, which is why it's best to can in pairs or small groups--making a memorable family event out of it or a little party with your friends--and then everyone can share the bounty when you're done. That way, the project is actually FUN! We were so efficient, that when we had some "down time," I busted open some tortilla chips and tore off chunks from a roasted garlic bread loaf, and opened some sample jars of both of the products that we were making that day. I also brought a couple of two-liters of soda, and there's actually an ice machine in that little kitchen, so we chatted and snacked and had a fun little tasting party while we were waiting for things to cook and process. It was highly enjoyable!

We made the tomato sauce first, as it takes awhile to cook down. In fact, we had the salsa prepped, cooked, and in the canner before the tomato sauce was even done reducing. That was the only kink in my plan. Class time was up (three hours sure flies by!), and the tomato sauce still had a half hour to process. But luckily, most of the students are coming back for next week's class on pickles and relishes, so I told them I would bring their finished jars of sauce next time (and I work with one student's mom, so I gave his jar to her the next day to take home). In the meantime, I sent them each home with a quart of whole tomatoes, a pint of plain tomato sauce, and a pint of salsa that they made themselves (ok, I might need to remember potholders next week, too--note to self). This was my little group (pictured below). Don't they look very knowledgeable and oh-so-happy about preserving tomatoes? (The lady in the middle in the blue shirt works in Continuing Education. A plant! A ringer! A spy in our midst! I wonder if she was there to keep an eye on me and report back to Big Brother if the class was awful?! Just kidding!) I think we all had fun, and it went off with only very minor hitches. Not too shabby for a first effort in teaching a non-credit workshop, if I do say so myself! And I must confess, though it pains me to do so, it was SO MUCH DIFFERENT teaching students that actually wanted to be there and were excited about participating and learning (as opposed to my regular students who often loathe the subject of public speaking and are coerced into being in the class by the dictates of their academic programs)!

By the time I finished processing the tomato sauce, cleaning the kitchen, packing and hauling everything back to the car, I was nigh unto death. My feet hurt, my back felt broken, and I still had to make a harrowing trip to the Wal-Mart before heading home. I had considered staying in town to go see the new Coen Brothers' movie and perhaps have some Chinese food, but I was too tired even for that. I just wanted to go home and crash. And despite the fact that I had three buckets of my own tomatoes waiting to be dealt with (picked in haste last Thursday evening due to the first frost warning of the season), I put my foot down and declared, NO MORE CANNING this weekend! I can't face one more tomato! Let them rot! See if I care! I even went to bed early that night (well, early for me at midnight, right after the news on SNL).

I woke up at 6am having to go to the bathroom, so I let the dogs out, too (the basset hound has become old and leaky...like me, ha ha), fed them, and checked my email. By then it was 7am, and I said screw it, and took my doggies and went back to bed, sleeping until 11! Whew! I needed that! And of course, I felt so good and re-energized that I went ahead and made a batch of spicy chili sauce from the good old Ball Blue Book to use up the harvested tomatoes before they went bad. I'm not exactly sure what I'll be doing with the chili sauce, but I'm thinking that it would make a tasty dip for shrimp cocktail, a yummy meatloaf topping, or there's always the classic crockpot meatballs with grape jelly! Basically, you can use it anywhere you might use ketchup to add a little extra zing. So if you are getting sick of making tomato sauce and salsa, here's yet another recipe to help you deal with an abundant tomato harvest.

Spicy Chili Sauce
(Source: Ball Blue Book)

4 quarts red tomatoes (about 24), seeded
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups onions, chopped
2 cups sweet red pepper, chopped
1 hot chili pepper, finely chopped (I cut back on some of the sweet pepper and added more hot chilis)
3 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 (to 1 1/2) cups sugar (taste it to check the sweetness)
2 1/2 cups vinegar

Combine tomatoes, onions, sweet and hot peppers, sugar and salt in a large sauce pot. Cook gently 45 minutes. Tie spices in a cheesecloth bag; add to tomato mixture; cook until mixture is reduced by 1/2, about 45 minutes. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add vinegar and cook slowly until as thick as desired. Remove spice bag. Pour hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust caps. Process 15 minutes in boiling water bath.

Yields 6 pints.

After I made the cauldron of chili sauce, I was so proud of all my hard work over the weekend, that I decided to celebrate by making myself a special sweet treat. Naturally, I wasn't up for anything too involved or complicated, so I chose a quick and simple recipe that has been in my "to-try" pile for months now. I spied it on a blog amusingly titled, How to Eat a Cupcake, where apparently, the readers choose which cupcakes she's going to make each week and then she blogs about how they turned out. The one I chose is a very easy recipe made with pre-fab ingredients (mainly, a box mix and a package of Oreos), but the cupcakes are the best I've ever had! I used half sour cream and half vanilla yogurt in the batter, and they turned out sturdy but soft, and freckled with rich Oreo bits and chunks. On the bottom of the cupcakes, you will find a little surprise--half an Oreo as a crispy base for the tender cake above. The frosting is perfect, too--buttery, creamy, and not too sweet, even with the cookie bits mixed in. And the recipe makes just enough to adequately frost the two dozen cupcakes without lending itself to frosting overload. (Mind you, I say this, and I don't even like frosting as a general rule.) These cupcakes are just delicious! You have to try them!

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
How to Eat a Cupcake)
Makes 22 to 24

30 Oreo cookies
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
1 cup sour cream (or 1/2 cup sour cream plus 1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners. Set the pans aside.
2. Count out 12 Oreos and separate the top and bottom wafers. Make sure each has some of the icing on it. Place one wafer, icing side up, in the bottom of each paper liner. Set them aside. Place the remaining 18 Oreos between sheets of waxed paper or in a large, closed zipper-lock bag and crush them by rolling over them with a rolling pin. Set these crumbs aside.
3. Place the cake mix, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 1 1/2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the crushed Oreos and fold these into the batter until well incorporated. Set aside the remaining crushed Oreos for the frosting. Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each lined cup­cake cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. (You will get between 22 and 24 cupcakes; remove the empty liners, if any.) Place the pans in the oven.
4. Bake the cupcakes until they are lightly golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cup­cakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your finger­tips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.

Store these cupcakes, in a cake saver or under a glass dome, at room temperature for up to three days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you plan to freeze them, don't add the cookie-crumb frosting. Wrap them in aluminum foil or in a cake saver and freeze for up to six months. Thaw the cup­cakes overnight in the refrigerator and top with frosting before serving.

Cookies and Cream Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
remaining crushed Oreos

Mix together butter, confectioners sugar, and a pinch of salt until it’s creamy. Increase your mixer speed to high and beat until its light and fluffy. Add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat until its smooth. Fold in crushed Oreos. Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.


MrsKimF said...

loved this post...would also love to get the crockpot meatballs with grape jelly recipe...thanks!

Joy Bugaloo said...

Wellll....I don't know. This recipe is TOP SECRET and very intricate. If you aren't extremely precise in its preparation, it will be RUINED!

First, go to your local warehouse club and buy a big bag of frozen meatballs. Pour roughly half of them into your crock pot, then pour in a bottle of Heinz chili sauce (if you don't have homemade!) and a somewhat lesser amount of grape jelly (like 1 1/2 cups chili sauce to one cup grape jelly?). Then I personally like to add a few shakes of hot pepper sauce for a little kick, and sometimes I also add a tablespoon or so of grainy mustard for fun. But these additions are optional.

Stir the meatballs until coated, then cook on low for somewhere in the range of 6-10 hours or until you get home from work and serve them over rice or noodles for dinner....or until your party guests arrive, as the case may be. If they are to be served at a party, just leave them in the crockpot and provide guests with toothpicks. They'll be gone in a FLASH, as everyone loves this classic, crowd-pleasing favorite!

MrsKimF said...

thanks! big dave will love them! ;-)

Joy Bugaloo said...

You know I live to help fill Big Dave's tummy with yummy things! Be sure to try the Oreo cupcakes for dessert, too!

Sending love Nampa-ward. --G.

Unknown said...

could you drop me an email so I can ask you more about teaching canning classes?

thank you!


What’s for dinner?

Luther A Green

Luther A Green
Preserving Community

680 West Chestnut Court
Louisville, CO 80027
1-888-428-4485 fax