Adjust for Elevation, and more: vegetables!

Next in line, we consider vegetables: the largest group of can-ables you’ll ever work with in your kitchen. Given their variety, vegetables may look rather intimidating on the surface, but–truly, even in combination–they’re probably some of the easiest things you’ll ever put in a canning jar … especially when it comes to adjusting your canning pressure to better suit your elevation.

Just like with tomatoes, if you’re canning something simple and straightforward–a plain vegetable or something seasoned simply with just a little bit of salt, something like asparagus, beets, or cream corn–then congratulations! The NCHFP already has you and your canning project covered! Their list of vegetables–found here–is fairly extensive, and I would strongly suggest that–when you’re canning a plain veggie–you use the specific NCHFP recipe for that vegetable. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel, and the recipes found on the NCHFP website have been scientifically proven, and they’re repeatable. Repeatable means that–if you follow the recipe precisely–you’ll end up with the exact same product they got in the lab at University of GA, back when they first perfected the recipe.

Out of twenty-three vegetables on the list, including two–Mixed Vegetables and Succotash–that are combination of more than one vegetable, and discounting the duplications (Pumpkins and Winter Squash/Winter Squash and Pumpkins), and setting the recipes for baked beans, beans with tomato or molasses sauce, and soup aside for right now (I’ll address those combinations separately) … all of the remaining vegetables (see the list below) are simply packed in water, maybe with a little salt … and that’s it. When you finish canning your jars of those vegetables, they’re just like the cans of solo vegetables you buy at the grocery store. The NCHFP and their university partners have researched and perfected repeatable recipes to can the following vegetables safely, so–again–there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in these cases. They’ve already done all the work for you.

I’ve listed each vegetable below, including their canning times–in minutes–for pints/quarts–unless otherwise notated–and included a link to the NCHFP’s directions in each case:

NOTE: if you want to can a particular vegetable–but it’s not on that list I put together above–then there’s a chance your vegetable may be on the canning No-No List. Don’t just can it anyway. Do some research into why it’s not listed. It could save your life.

Look back for a moment at that spread of required times across the vegetable category. The times range from a low of 20/25 (snap/green beans) to a high of 75/90 (dry beans or mixed vegetables) or–possibly–cream corn at 85 minutes for pints. Some things make sense–like–it’s not surprising that fresh green beans need a whole lot less duration than dry beans. And then some things make no sense at all–like–why sweet potatoes take so much longer than white potatoes to pressure can. Sweet potatoes bake in 40-60 minutes … white potatoes take a hour to an hour and a half to get soft … yet, sweet potatoes take almost twice as long to can safely as white potatoes? Lima beans are fairly tiny when you compare them to asparagus spears, yet lima beans take a good bit longer to pressure can–even though they have more surface area and they’re surrounded with more water … which is one of the best conductors of heat around–than great big asparagus spears do? And then why does something as thin as spinach take twice as long to pressure can as pints of potato chunks?

Okay, I actually know the answer to that last one :) It’s because the spinach leaves lay on top of each other, shutting out any air or water between them … so they become more like a solid mass for the purposes of canning, not a bunch of leafy greens. If you get an entire jar of spinach leaves all pressing on each other … it makes a LOT thicker mass than chunks of potatoes surrounded by water, so the heat doesn’t penetrate it as well.

Aren’t you glad that the NCHFP has already done the scientific experimentation on these individual vegetables? That they’ve already given us tried and true, scientifically-repeatable canning recipes that we can use in our own kitchens … without having to worry about damaging our family’s health. Thank goodness that’s the case! If it were left up to you and me to figure the timing out by ourselves–without access to the equipment they use to take the temperature of jars, or their ability to detect canning cooties in canned food … without having to resort to eating spoonfuls of it, of course … it could be ugly :(

So we have all the timing and recipes we need for the vegetables on our list. All we have to do is follow the NCHFP’s recipes. And–like all other pressure-canned recipes–the time doesn’t change as the elevation goes up, not like it does with BWB canning. In pressure canning … the required pressure goes up as the elevation goes up, which–in turn–means the pot gets hotter, too. Luckily, the adjustments are fairly standard across the category as well … both for dial-gauge canners:

… and for weight-gauge canners:

Fairly simple, right? :)

With Beans (Baked, 65/75 minutes of timing) and Beans (dry, with Tomato or Molasses sauce, also 65/75 minutes of timing), the recipes are a little more involved. They require some additional ingredients and cooking … but the adjustments for elevation are exactly the same as shown on the charts above.

Finally, the recipe for Soups also adjusts in the same manner … and–if I were you–I’d commit Soups to memory! That’s the recipe where–pretty much, short of the real no-no foods–if you have a recipe that contains meat and vegetables … and you don’t have any canning instructions for it … would it perhaps qualify as soup? I mean, the instructions for soup say:

Vegetable, dried bean or pea, meat, poultry, or seafood soups can be canned. Caution: Do not add noodles or other pasta, rice, flour, cream, milk or other thickening agents to home canned soups. If dried beans or peas are used, they must be fully rehydrated first.Select, wash, and prepare vegetables, meat and seafoods as described for the specific foods. Cover meat with water and cook until tender. Cool meat and remove bones. Cook vegetables. For each cup of dried beans or peas, add 3 cups of water, boil 2 minutes, remove from heat, soak 1 hour, and heat to boil; drain. Combine solid ingredients with meat broth, tomatoes, or water to cover. Boil 5 minutes. Caution: Do not thicken. Salt to taste, if desired. Fill jars halfway with solid mixture. Add remaining liquid, leaving 1-inch headspace.

How many recipes can YOU think of that you could fit into that category? I don’t know about you … but I can think of tons of them … and a lot of them aren’t traditionally thought of as soup. But–hey!–if I can work or rework the recipe around so that it doesn’t contain any banned foods! … and it fits the definition a mix of veggies and/or meat … half solids/half liquids in that standard soup recipe… and that means I’m able to can it? … then I don’t really care what they call it :)

When you’re canning “soup,” your timing is 60 minutes for pints/75 minutes for quarts … or 100 minutes for either size if they contain any sort of seafood. Adjust for elevation using the same “vegetable” charts above, based on whether you use a dial-gauge or a weight-gauge canner.

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Adjust for Elevation, and more: nuts!

On the flip side, nuts and nut products are something I definitely have an opinion about … and so does the NCHFP. They’re a simple category, and I can handle them easily.

There are two different preparations available for nuts: Nut Meats and Peanuts, Green, or … as we like to call them down South … boiled peanuts :)

Nut Meats are all packed and processed the same way, regardless of variety. You don’t add water or any other fluid to the nuts. You need to dry them out first, either in a dehydrator … or by drying them on cookie sheets in a 250 degree oven. Pack them into half-pints or pints dry, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace, and then you can either BWB process them … or you can pressure can them … your choice.

To BWB your nuts, your adjustment for elevation is:

  • 0 -to- 1,000 ft = 30 minutes
  • 1,001 -to- 3,000 ft = 35 minutes
  • 3,001 -to- 6,000 ft = 40 minutes
  • over 6,001 ft = 45 minutes

NOTE: unlike every other time you’ll use a BWB–where you’re required to cover your jars with at least 2″ of water over the top of the lids–in this case, the NCHFP says you should process your jars of nuts “with the water in the canner 1 to 2 inches below the tops of the jars.” However–in my experience–that’s often enough water that you’ll still need to put bricks or some other type of weight on top of your jars in order to keep them from floating around in the canner. Since that’s the case anyway–personally–I put another canner rack on top of my jars …. then I add bricks on top of the rack (run a long loop of twine through the holes in your individual bricks, in order to facilitate removal) and then fill the BWB with boiling water to the regular 2″ over the top of the lid depth. If you’re going to have to weight them down anyway, why not sanitize the whole jar while you’re at it?

To pressure can your nuts, process for 10 minutes. Your pressure adjustment for elevation on a dial-gauge canner is:

  • 0 -to- 2,000 ft – process at 6psi
  • 2,001 -to- 4,000 ft – process at 7psi
  • 4,001 -to- 6,000 ft – process at 8psi
  • 6,001 -to-8,000 ft – process at 9 psi

On a weight-gauge canner, you will also process your nuts for 10 minutes, and your pressure adjustment is:

  • 0 -to- 1,000 ft – process at 5psi
  • over 1,001 ft – process at 10psi

Again, you may have some problems with certain sizes and shapes of jars floating–especially the half-pints (since they’re lighter)–so you may find you need to weight jars in your pressure canner, too. If that’s the case–personally–I won’t use the PC. I don’t like the idea of putting anything inside my canner that may deteriorate under that sort of heat and pressure … so I just stick to the BWB for all my nut meats.

However, a pressure canner is the PERFECT way to can green peanuts. You’re basically making canned, cooked in the jar (and in the shell) boiled peanuts with this method … a treat for most Southerners, and others who’ve discovered them along the way. Don’t forget: I created a recipe that will allow you to can shelled green peanuts, turning them into “Shelled Boiled Peanuts in a Jar” … something most Southerners wouldn’t kill for, but many would threaten you for–or, at least, ask nicely for–nonetheless :)

If you’re trying to convert your boiled peanut recipe to go into a canning jar, compare yours against theirs first. They’re probably very comparable, since–just like with basic tomato products like “whole” and “diced”–there really aren’t a lot of different ways to cook basic boiled peanuts. You can process your peanuts without salt (I know some people have to limit their sodium intake, so they’ve learned to eat lots of things without salt … even though, I can’t for the life of me imagine eating them that way) or add pretty much any flavoring you’d like to add, from something as simple as sea salt to something far more elaborate like Chinese 5-Star Powder, Chili Powder, or pretty much any other spice or seasoning.

Butter is the only thing I know about that some people put in their boiled peanuts that *may* be problematic. A very small bit wouldn’t be a problem … but–since most people add butter to facilitate carrying the salt through the shells and into the peanuts themselves … and pressure canning them seems to do that exact same thing without the aid of butter–I’d say try them first without and see what you think without it. Then–if you insist that the flavor just isn’t the same without the butter–try putting a tiny bit in each jar, say … no more than a 1/4 teaspoon/pint … or consider–instead–using something like Butter Buds, Molly McButter, dehydrated butter, or some other powdered butter substitute … just to keep that fat out of your canning jar. I always used butter in my boiled peanuts that I cooked on top of the stove, too … so I understand the urge to do it here, too … but I haven’t missed it in the least, not in the dozens of pints of cooked in the jar boiled peanuts I’ve eaten so far :)

Green Peanuts should be processed 45 minutes for pints and 50 minutes for quarts. Your pressure adjustment for altitude on a dial-gauge canner should be:

  • 0 -to- 2,000 ft – process at 11 psi
  • 2,001 -to- 4,000 ft – process at 12 psi
  • 4,001 -to- 6,000 ft – process at 13 psi
  • 6,001 -to-8,000 ft – process at 14 psi

For a weight-gauge canner, your correct pressures–adjusted for elevation–are:

  • 0 -to- 1,000 ft – process at 10 psi
  • over 1,001 ft – process at 15 psi

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Adjust for Elevation, and more: salsas!

Next on the roster at the NCHFP is Salsa, but–honestly–I’m not going to devote a lot of space to it. For the most part–with a couple of minor exceptions–the approved salsas follow the same basic pattern: you have vegetable matter–tomatoes, peppers of various varieties, onions, fruit, jicama, etc–that gets combined with an acid–vinegar or lime/lemon juice usually–and cooked. The actual proportions and cooking time vary from salsa to salsa, but when it comes to BWB time, salsas made with a fruit base–mango, peach, cranberry, others–seem to be processed:

  • under 1,000 feet = 10 minutes
  • 1,001 -to- 6,000 feet = 15 minutes
  • over 6,001 feet = 20 minutes

Salsas with a vegetable base–tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and onions–seem to take a bit longer. They’re processed:

  • under 1,000 feet = 15 minutes
  • 1,000 -to- 6,000 feet = 20 minutes
  • over 6,000 feet – 25 minutes

The exception to this processing seems to be jicama-based relish recipe that–for some strange reason–they’ve also added into the group of salsas. Since it also appears with the pickles–where it would more aptly go–I’ll address it when I get to that section.

As far as the acidification level goes, it fluctuates somewhat … based on what else you’re putting in the salsa.

For example, the recipe for Chile Salsa II seems to have the least amount of acid: one cup of vinegar for roughly twenty cups of raw vegetables. In that case, the only vegetables included in the salsa are the ones we already know are pretty much interchangeable and easily canned–as long as they’re properly acidified–namely, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. The recipe also states: The only changes you can safely make in this salsa recipe are to substitute bottled lemon juice for the vinegar and to change the amount of pepper and salt. Do not alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe. And that’s not the only salsa recipe with that same disclaimer on it. In fact, all of the recipes that use lemon/lime juice as the primary acid use that same disclaimer, as well as the vinegar-laced salsas that have roughly that same 20:1 ratio of vegetable/fruit to acid content. If they call for a larger portion of vinegar than a simple 1/20th, they don’t seem to have that same disclaimer.

Basically, looking over this section and assessing the group as a whole, my perspective is that–using the BWB processing times I listed above, based on either fruit-based salsa or vegetable-based salsa … and using acidification with either vinegar or lemon/lime juice in proportions that are at least as strong as 20 parts vegetable/fruit to one part acid (and–preferably–stronger/more acidified than that) … then you should be able to make a salsa–built to your tastes–out of any of the ingredients they list in any of the salsas on the NCHFP website … with the exception of the jicama relish. I wouldn’t try to use jicama in a salsa that I was canning … unless I was making that same published recipe … because either it needs a whole lot more attention than other vegetables do … or the researcher(s) who put that recipe together used ideas and methods that were different from their contemporaries. Regardless of which is was, I just don’t know enough about why that particular recipe was so far out of range of the others–and I’ve never seen another jicama salsa recipe, or tried to craft one of my own–so I don’t feel comfortable making any suggestions about using jicama in salsas. Any comment I made would be coming from me completely blind, so–while I’m willing to push against the NCHFP in lots of places, based on my own knowledge and experience–I’m not willing to push this one … because I just don’t have enough facts to base any sort of real judgment on.

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Adjust for Elevation, and more: tomatoes!

When it comes to canning tomatoes and tomato-based products, it gets a little trickier. Modern rules set forth by the NCHFP use acid in most tomato-based recipes … with the exception of their age-old recipe for tomato paste. That turn toward acidification has been a major change in the last few decades … a change that a lot of people haven’t caught up with yet. Therefore, when reviewing a recipe you find online–be it for canned tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, or whatever–you should always refer to the NCHFP’s collection of recipes for specific recommendations for the various types of tomato products … especially if it’s a BWB product. That’s the best place to start. See how close it compares to something you know is safe … but–as always–we tend to find ourselves with recipes that don’t quite fit into their specific guidelines. When you do, the question is always … how do I judge what I have against what they have? And, of course, how do I adjust it for my elevation?

In a lot of ways, tomatoes are canned just like fruit. That’s because they are a type of fruit. They contain some sugar and some acid–just like fruits–with the actual levels determined by variety, ripeness, and several other factors. Like most agricultural products, the acid and sugar levels vary according to variety, field, moisture content, and a whole lot more. Some of them vary so widely that it could be very confusing trying to can them safely, especially given the changes in the food system in the last 30-40 years.

That’s why the NCHFP developed an acidification process that ensures your tomato products are canned safely, no matter how much they vary individually in chemical composition. According to their recommendation, if you’re canning quarts of tomatoes–whole, halves, diced, crushed, etc.–that are prepared simply, and without much in the way of other produce added to them … then they require additional acid in the form of:

  • two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice … or
  • four tablespoons of 5% vinegar … or
  • 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart

or …

  • one tablespoon bottled lemon juice … or
  • two tablespoons of 5% vinegar … or
  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint

Once you start straying away from plain tomato products, you can add or subtract dry herbs and spices freely … as always … without it affecting the processing time your product needs. You can also add certain amounts of other–usually savory–vegetables (in salsas, etc.) as long as you acidify the final product enough to cover them. Generally speaking, 1/4 cup of bottled lemon juice added per pint of tomatoes and vegetables is adequate to cover the addition of onions, peppers, and celery … regardless of their proportions to the tomatoes/whole.

However, if you want to add meat or any other vegetable to your tomatoes–such as squash, mushrooms, etc.–that puts them in a whole ‘nother category … one we’ll discuss more coming up.

Just like with fruits, when presented with what looks to be a can-able tomato-based recipe, first check the NCHFP website to see if you can locate a comparable recipe … one that uses the same ingredients in similar amounts. Remember, you can’t compare a tomato onion sauce that calls for one cup of tomatoes and two tablespoons of onions … equally … with a tomato-onion sauce that calls for one cup of tomatoes and three cups of onions. They’re not the same–not at all–especially not when you’re talking about a BWB recipe, where precise combinations, acid-levels, etc. are important to the overall safety of the dish. Adding more of something that’s NOT an acid ingredient (like adding more onions in my two sauce examples above) but still trying to process it in a BWB for the same amount of time as the original recipe is just asking for trouble. All those onions would be throwing off the acid level of your final product … enough that it may make a difference in the safety and longevity of your canned tomato products.

Basically, when it comes to tomato-based products … you either need to find a recipe on the NCHFP site that more closely mirrors the proportions of your recipe … then use its processing information for your recipe … or you need to use the recipes provided by the NCHFP (like their spaghetti sauce with meat recipe) and then add/change the spices and/or cooking method to make it taste more like the recipe you found/the taste you’re trying to achieve. Those are your two best options.

The problem is, though … not all tomato recipes can be wedged into one of those two best options. That’s where it really gets tricky … but a few rules of thumb can help you navigate though it. First and foremost:

1) remember, there are NO safe BWB recipes for tomato-based products that contain meats, period! Dishes that contain meat must ALWAYS be pressure canned.

In addition, there are a LOT of tomato-based dishes out there which feature a wide variety of additional vegetables, over and above the normal sorts of onions, peppers, and celery. The question is, can those vegetables be added to your tomato-based product safely … or not?

The solution is usually pretty simple:

2) when adding other vegetables (in addition to onions, peppers and celery) to your tomato-based foods, first check the NCHFP charts for that vegetable. The rule of thumb is …  use the longest processing time among your ingredients. That means that the combination of tomatoes, potatoes, whole-kernel corn, and lima beans should be processed based on the recommendation for the whole kernel corn: 55 minutes for pints, and 85 minutes for quarts.

Also–when in doubt–remember recommended canning times are minimums. You can’t use extra time to make up for everything–especially not for adding banned ingredients into your jar, or for changing the proportions of things drastically … especially if you increase things on the non-acid side of the house–but if you feel like the extra two tablespoons of onions that you added–in addition to the quarter cup the recipe called for–is enough proportionally for it to *maybe* need some extra processing … there’s no rule that says you can’t process it a few more minutes … just to feel like you’re being extra sure. At most, you’re going to lose a little more texture and maybe a bit more of the nutrients … but if it keeps you from a bad case of canning cooties … so be it, right?

The types of tomatoes and tomato-based products that you can can in a boiling water bath include tomato juice, whole/half/quartered/chopped in water/juice/raw-packed, crushed, sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, and various acidified salsas. Some of these products can also be safely canned in a pressure canner, and in a much shorter time-frame. Check the various recipes on the NCHFP website to see which ones have both sets of instructions. Usually, they’re the ones where texture isn’t as big an issue.

The types of tomatoes and tomato-based products that you can not can in a boiling water bath include tomatoes mixed with okra, zucchini, and any vegetables other than onions, peppers, and celery; spaghetti sauce (with meat or without) that contains any other vegetables; and any non-acidified tomato-based sauce such as Mexican tomato sauce, etc. These types of products should ALWAYS be pressure canned.

Here’s where tomatoes get kinda tricky. The sorts of tomato recipes that you’re allowed to process in a BWB are very basic for the most part. With the exception of things like ketchup, hot sauce, BBQ sauce and salsas … most of the whole, half, quartered, diced, chopped, crushed, etc.–i.e. the plain tomato recipes–can be processed without a pressure canner … but they should be processed exactly like the NCHFP recommends. There’s very little difference in those sorts of recipes (I mean, how many different ways can you can plain old whole tomatoes … and still call them plain old whole tomatoes?) so I recommend you stick with the classics in those cases, with the actual recipes and processes outlined for each tomato product on the UGA-based site. Those recipes were designed by scientists–and double-checked using laboratory equipment you don’t have in your kitchen–to be repeatable. That means that–when you use that recipe exactly as it’s written–you should get the same results in your kitchen that they got in their lab. They also give specific instructions for adjusting their recipes for your elevation … so why guess when it’s already been done for you?

Beyond that–when you start talking about ketchup, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, and various other acidified tomato-based sauces–you get into the world where recipes vary widely … and wildly. Just like with fruits, if you find a recipe–online or otherwise–where they don’t give you specific canning times/methods … then check it against the tomato recipes offered by the NCHFP. If you find a very similar recipe–one with similar approved BWB ingredients and a similar level of acidification–then you should process and time yours based on theirs, maybe giving it a couple of extra minutes for good measure. Just be sure to maintain good acidification at all times.

If you decide you want to try someone’s so-called tried and true tomato recipe online–a recipe where they give you one BWB processing time, where all of the ingredients are BWB-approved–then you can use the following chart to determine your elevation adjustment.

When it comes to strictly pressure-canned tomato products, the picture is a little different. If you’ll notice on the recipes that require a PC–stewed tomatoes with un-approved vegetables, spaghetti sauce that also contains large amounts of other vegetables and/or meat, and other non-acidified tomato-based sauces–there’s no added acid in any of them … and that’s the big difference here! Without that added acid–and with vegetables and/or meat on board that you cannot safely acidify, regardless–you cannot safely can tomato products in a BWB. You MUST use a pressure canner to assure the long-term safety of your food.

Pressure canning times break out a little different than the BWB times … because–in pressure canning–the times don’t change based on elevation … the pressures do … and a dial-gauge canner’s pressures change differently–and at different levels–than a weight-gauge canner.

Confused yet? I thought so :)

Don’t be. Chances are … when you’re first learning all of this, you’ll only be using one form of canner. You’ll either have a dial-gauge pressure canner or a weight-gauge pressure canner, based on your personal preferences. If you’re still deciding, you can read my discussion on the operation of pressure canners and pros and cons of each style and brand. Once you have your first canner in hand, then you’ll learn how to operate that particular model … and ignore the instructions for the other form of canner. By the time you’re hooked enough to own both styles–like I do–you’ll be ready to know and easily differentiate between the two.

Weight-gauge canners–my personal favorite–are a lot easier to deal with when it comes to adjusting for your elevation. The tomato-based sauces category is a prime example. There are only two zones, and the cut-off is right at 1,000 feet. If you’re below 1,000 feet in elevation … you use 10psi. If you’re over 1,000 feet in elevation … you use 15 psi. It’s as simple as that.

As you can see from the chart below, dial gauge canners are a bit more involved. Your precise pressure depends on your precise elevation … so this is one of the places where you really do need to know exactly how high you are above sea level. If you don’t know, you can find a great website here called Earth Tools … where you can put a pin in the map on your house, and it will give you latitude, longitude, elevation, and more. It’s how I know I live at 383.9 feet of elevation … so I’m one of the people who isn’t in the dominant third of the population … but I’m still close enough to can in Zone 1 full-time. Technically, I probably can at 384.5 feet once you take the height of my floor into consideration.

Pretty cool, huh? :)

As the chart below shows, there are–again–four zones to deal with when you’re using a dial gauge canner:

The different zones allow you to better fine-tune the pressure in your dial-gauge canner, so that you only have to use exactly what you need to kill all the canning cooties inside the jar … without unnecessarily hammering the texture of the food by using a single foot-pound of pressure more than you really need. On some foods, it doesn’t make that much difference in the texture if you can them at 12psi with a dial-gauge canner … or at 15 psi on a weight-gauge canner. On other foods–especially the more delicate ones–it DOES make a difference … which is why some people insist on extremely-accurate dial gauges on their canners. However, that multiple zone system does make dial-gauge canners much more tedious to work with … especially since canners have this annoying habit of changing temperature and pressure without you touching either the pot or the burner controls.

As far as the length of time required at these various pressures goes, that’s where pressure-canned tomato products REALLY get difficult to figure out without using an actual NCHFP-approved recipe. The examples they give you are:

  • Spaghetti Sauce without Meat, unacidified and contains onions, peppers/celery and mushrooms; cans for 20 or 25 minutes, depending on if you use pints or quarts,
  • Spaghetti Sauce with Meat, unacidified and contains meat, onions, peppers/celery and mushrooms; cans for 60 or 70 minutes, depending on if you use pints or quarts,
  • Mexican Tomato Sauce, acidified and only contains peppers and onions: cans like Spaghetti Sauce without Meat, 20 0r 25 minutes,
  • or Tomatoes with Okra or Zucchini, unacidified, with nothing other than onions added: cans for 30 or 35 minutes, based on pints or quarts.

Looking over that, a couple of things jump out at me:

  1. as always, the recipes featured on the NCHFP website are the result of scientific experiments performed by different scientists who worked on different recipes: either individually or in groups. They each took different, scientifically-sound routes to reach the same objective: a repeatable recipe that creates a canning cootie-free jar full of a specific desirable food or combination of foods, one with an extended shelf-life at room temperature. These different, scientifically-sound routes include–but are not limited to–acidification, heat/pressure, and duration. This explains why–in some cases–the different recipes seem to be … well … very different :)
  2. as expressed in one of the papers published on the NCHFP site–where they were studying salsa, peppers and onions seem to work very well with tomatoes. The paper specifically states: using the correct amount of bottled lemon juice (1/4 cup per pint) full pint volumes of either onions or bell peppers are safely acidified. This lends further strength to the impression you get above that peppers and onions can be safely added to any tomato-based product in any volume, and–as long as you use valid processing times/methods for the tomato product–your peppers and onions are covered, too.
  3. even though I don’t have a separate published paper to back this up, it also appears–looking at the approved recipes–that celery and mushrooms can be added to tomato products, too … and that the normal processing times for tomatoes will cover them adequately as well, without any additional adjustment.
  4. zucchini, okra, or other vegetables–when added to tomatoes–DO require additional processing beyond the normal time/temp/pressure needed for the tomatoes themselves. How much time is the problem. In the case of okra and tomatoes, the processing time (30 minutes for pints, 35 minutes for quarts) is longer than the time required by okra: 25 minutes for pints/40 for quarts. The difference between pints and quarts–as you can see–is also not consistent from recipe to recipe. And then–if you look across the various veggies that the NCHFP says you’re allowed to can–you’ll notice that zucchini is missing. In fact, the NCHFP withdrew their recommendations for canning zucchini–and all squashes–in general … but then there are recipes like this one where you can combine it with tomatoes–which are heavily acidic themselves)–and another one where you can make what they call “Pineapple Zucchini“–with almost equally-acidic pineapple, that has lemon juice added on top of that further acidifying the mix in the canning jar. One might suspect with that obvious acid pairing that you could potentially add acid foods to any no-no foods and make them suddenly and miraculously “can-able” … but, again, these are individual recipes … that were approved for canning based on a specific recipe … that survived lots of laboratory testing. That may NOT translate into any sort of rule concerning the no-no foods in general.
  5. adding meat of any kind to your tomatoes DEFINITELY requires a MUCH HIGHER amount of processing time … and I’ll delve into this more in a minute.

Together, these five observations paint a picture that–despite the joker in the bunch … the zucchini–begins to show somewhat of a pattern here. However, we need to look at all of the food groups before we can see the true, total picture.

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Adjust for Elevation, and more: fruit and fruit products!

What I mean by fruit and fruit products is:

  • whole fruits, halves, quarters, other assorted size/shape fruit pieces, canned in either water, syrup or juice.
  • fruit juice
  • relatively un-cooked fruit purees (since cooked fruit purees tend to end up being … umm? … jams 8) )
  • pie fillings
  • fruit sauces
  • jellies, jams, preserves, conserves, and other cooked fruit spreads … including chutneys***

For the sake of this part of the overall discussion, I’m going to leave that last bullet point off for now. Instead, I’ll address fruit spreads specifically in a pair of separate entries: one on chutneys, and one on the other types of spreads.

The rest of these fruits and fruit products–primarily the more plain-fruit sorts of canning projects–may contain added acid, pectin, and sugar or artificial sweeteners. They may also be thickened, but only either through either long-term/low-temperature cooking (to remove water and caramelize the sugars) or by the use of Clear Jel, the only thickener approved for use in a canning jar by the USDA and the NCHFP. DO NOT use flour, regular cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, masa, or any other non-approved thickener in your canned fruit products! No dairy either. They can all cause dangerously thick spots in your canning jar that can harbor canning cooties, and help them survive your attempts to sterilize your canned fruit products. Don’t play with your health and the health of others. I joke about “canning cooties” here … but salmonella and the other bacterial and yeast-based growths in a canning jar have the potential to blind, maim and even kill you … and–with the worst ones, the ones who love to grow in starch-rich environments–you can’t see or smell them when you open an infested jar. So, please … ONLY use Clear Jel!

The NCHFP provides processing methods and times for a wide variety of fruit, so–if you want to can it … and it’s a fruit–then they probably have a processing time for it. And in several forms, too: whole, half, juice, puree, pie filling, sauce, you name it! I’m not talking about top-secret or horribly detailed or fancy recipes here. When it comes to fruits, they offer scientifically-proven, repeatable recipes for canning the basics.

I’d highly suggest you stick with their processes … rather than trying to invent one on your own. Save your creativity for the places it matters! When it comes to the basics like peach halves or applesauce–the way I see it–they had all sorts of fancy laboratory equipment to process and test the food, over and over again … as many times as they needed to until they hit upon the right combination. Then they did it 50 or 60 times more … just to check it to be sure it would work … all before they published their recommendations to us.

On the flip side of that … all we have is what you find in a normal kitchen, and our own experience, however formidable. Most of us don’t own the equipment to test our food for canning cooties. I mean … I’d love to have a couple of these:

(images courtesy The National Center for Home Food Preservation)

… but they’re not really in my kitchen budget, and–with all these canning jars around these days, too–I just don’t know where I’d keep them :)

Therefore, when it comes to creating a certifiably “safe” canning recipe … you probably can’t do any better in your own kitchen than what the food scientists came up with at the NCHFP … especially for the basics. On the other hand, there are at least eight million ways you could do worse. Why reinvent the wheel, especially knowing that they had laboratory equipment to prove the scientific validity of all of these recipes:

From there, most recipes–if they say they’re canning safe–will usually include a BWB processing time. If they don’t give you one–but your fruit spread falls within the basic structure of one of the fruit spreads you see listed on the NCHFP sites … INCLUDING the fact that it has added acid–then I would use the longest processing time you can find for that type of fruit product on the NCHFP website, adjusted for your altitude. If the recipe doesn’t have any added lemon/lime juice or citric acid, then you should seriously consider adding some acid to it to extend the shelf-life. If it makes it taste too sharp for you when you do, just add a little more sugar.

If the canning recipe you found just gives you one processing time–like I said–they’re assuming you’re sitting at <1,000 ft., just like they are. If you’re not–and you’re not finding that exact same recipe (or something very close to it) on the NCHFP website–then use this chart to determine your time adjustment, based on your elevation.

You’ll notice surfing the NCHFP website’s fruit section that a few of their fruit-based products use a three-zone BWB canner system, with the breaks falling at 1,000 feet and 6,000 feet. In those specific cases, I’d use their chart for my timing … but if you’re doing something you don’t have an official chart on, then the chart above will work as a substitute for adjusting the canning time for most fruits and fruit products.

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Adjust for Elevation? First, the basics.

What do I mean when I say that you should adjust your recipe for elevation?

Most canning recipes are formulated by/written for people living at/near sea level … because–quite simply–a large percentage of the people on this planet live below 1,000 feet in elevation. In fact, census data indicates that a solid third of the population of this planet lives below 100 meters … a mere 328 feet above sea level. And–when they write a recipe–they assume everyone else does, too.

However, if you live in a place that sits more than about 1,000 feet above sea level … then you will need to make an adjustment in your canning–both in boiling water bath canning and/or pressure canning–in order to compensate for the fact that you live on higher ground.

***

Why do you have to adjust your canning?

Water boils at 212.15 degrees at sea level. However, the higher you go elevation-wise … the lower the boiling point of water goes. For example, on the top of Mt. Rainer–a dormant volcano in Washington State and, at a stately 14,410 feet, the highest point in the lower 48-states–water boils at somewhere around 188 degrees. That 24-degree difference is significant when you’re talking about killing canning cooties … even though–let’s be honest–most of us don’t do our canning on top of a mountain. However, even a difference of as little as two or even three degrees can have an undesirable affect on your ability to kill bacteria, yeast spores, molds and more in a canning environment. Some canning cooties can easily withstand temperatures below 212.15 degrees. It takes a hard 212+ degree boil–held for a certain duration … which is also important–in order kill those cooties properly. In fact, 188 degrees–or, in some cases, even 211.5 degrees–is just a nice warm soak in a hot tub for some of the worst canning cooties of the lot. All it does is get them all relaxed and warmed up to go multiply later.

That means … if your water boils at a lower temperature–and boiling is the highest level of water temperature you can achieve at that elevation without something (like a pressure canner) involved to increase the pressure and the temperature–then when you’re using a BWB at higher elevations, it takes a lot more duration during the BWB canning cycle to accomplish the same level of sterilization. You can’t make the water boil hotter in a BWB… so you have to make sure it boils longer in order to make it work properly.

NOTE: This ONLY works when you’re canning properly-acidified, BWB-approved foods at higher elevations. No matter what your elevation is, you should NEVER try to can low-acid foods like meat and vegetable in a BWB, thinking “I know they -say- to use a pressure canner, but I’ll just boil it longer. That should work.

As I said above, adding to the duration won’t work with foods that are supposed to be pressure-canned. You could attempt to BWB steak chunks or chicken breasts for three full days straight, 24-hours a day without interruption … and STILL not get them completely sterile inside the jar. Duration is not a cure for all of your canning woes. Adding that extra time only works on recipes that are already approved for BWB canning at sea-level–i.e.: high-acid recipes–and it only works to adjust for elevation.

Technically, though … it’s not the elevation. It’s actually the barometric pressure that makes the real difference in all this. However, the two coincide … as you can see from the chart below. The higher the elevation (expressed in the chart below in feet) goes … the lower the barometric pressure (expressed in inches Hg.) goes … and the lower the barometric pressure goes … the lower the temperature where water boils (expressed in degrees Fahrenheit) goes. Inversely, the lower the elevation goes, the higher the barometric pressure goes, and the higher the temperature where water boils.

For example:

You get the picture :)

***

So how does all that science stuff translate–specifically–into canning?

There are quite a few different answers to that question, and they each depend on what we’re canning right that moment. It can be somewhat confusing at times … especially when you’re trying to can something that doesn’t have an official NCHFP-APPROVED recipe. Granted, it’s not quite rocket science, but it does involve being able to think about several different factors when you’re working between or outside of the various “official” sources.

What I’m going to try to do in the following (extremely long-winded) sections is give you an idea–by category–of how to adjust a recipe for elevation. In addition, I’m going to try to give you some ideas about what to look for/consider when you’re trying to shape and mold a recipe that you either created yourself, or got from somewhere–online/from a book/passed down from a friend or relative–other than on the NCHFP website itself … into something that might actually work in a canning jar … without getting you and half your family sick in the process. Some canning-specific cookbooks and how-tos (like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and others) provide you with altitude charts for their recipes as well … but, sometimes … you’re all on your own. There are a lot of other factors you need to think about along the way, too … but it’s not as confused and difficult as it can seem at first glance.

These are good skills to possess, too. Why? Because we have access to a wealth of recipes online, plus there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of cookbooks in print these days, but–in comparison–only a tiny percentage of them include canning instructions. Sometimes it’s just an oversight. Take me, for example. I’m an avid canner, so–on my own blog–I always try to remember to give you a direct link–where applicable–to the page on the NCHFP website that covers the food I’m talking about canning … but I know I forget at times. Other people don’t even bother. And then–last, but certainly not least … the most dangerous category–some people promote canning methods and timing that are just WRONG! Knowledge is powerful in those cases. It’s important for you to know how to judge a recipe.

If I don’t give you a link to the NCHFP here in a canning post (just a number of minutes, maybe a pressure, and a reminder to adjust for your elevation) or if you’re looking at one of the other eight-million recipes available online, many that give you less than that … but even the ones that seem to give you good canning times and/or pressures–always check the NCHFP first, regardless! It only takes a second to be sure. Double check ME and MY recommendations, too … each and every time … right along with everyone else … just to be sure. PLEASE DO! I try to be accurate, but–just like everyone else–I’m not perfect. I can make mistakes, too. And you won’t offend me at all by double checking to be sure I didn’t transpose digits … or just have a total brain spasm the day I wrote the post. And–if I did–let me know, and I’ll fix it here … with a note of gratitude to you on the post as well :)

When it comes to other people’s recipes, I know my experience isn’t unique. I’ve seen plenty of so-called ‘safe canning’ recipes online that–when you compare their processing recommendations with the NFHCP’s recommendations for that same type of food/combination of food–they are WAY OFF!! Sure, you can find some good ones on the web, but a large percentage of them are wrong … and 100% of the ones that are wrong suggest that you process your food for less time/heat than the NCHFP recommends. I’ve rarely found a recipe online that suggested more canning time than the NCHFP recommends. For some strange reason (or perhaps not so strange … people are–as a group–impatient) they are ALWAYS trying to cut the time recommended the canning authorities! And the way they go about it–in some cases–is pretty scary. I’ve done a lot of recipe surfing myself, and I’d say that at least 20% of the recipes I find online that include canning instructions are WRONG when compared to the NCHFP’s recommendations for that type of food.

Sure, the NCHFP doesn’t have instructions for everything you could ever want to can on their site/in their booklets. Their budget has always been lacking, and their recipes haven’t had a face-lift since the big salsa craze of the 80s. Regardless, though, they should always be your first stop. They cover canning a lot of solo foods, so–if it’s something as simple as berries in syrup or green beans or chunks of beef stew meat–there’s no need to look further: the NCHFP has you covered … with specific processing methods/times, expressed at a wide variety of elevations.

If you don’t find that specific item listed, or if someone’s giving you information on a recipe they’ve created themselves, based on something you can’t find at the NCHFP … especially not in their list of banned foods … then you’ll need to do a little calculation on your own.

***

How do I calculate that sort of thing? I don’t even know where to start!

The first thing you need to do is know your elevation. That’s much easier these days than it once was … thanks to websites like Earthtools.org. There, you can use their maps to drill down on your exact house–heck, if you live in one of their heavy coverage zones, you can drill down to your exact KITCHEN–so that you can know the exact elevation at your location.

Once you have your elevation in hand, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of variety in the NCHFP recommendations when it comes to that aspect of canning. For example, many BWB recipes break their processing times down into four zones ….

  • Zone 1 is under 1,000 feet.
  • Zone 2 is 1,001 ft-to-3,000 ft.
  • Zone 3 is 3,001 ft-to-6,ooo ft.
  • Zone 4 is over 6,000 ft.

… but not all of them follow that same format … and then pressure canner recommendations can be different as well … so–again–you really need to check the NCHFP website before you start. Never assume that one size fits all, since–just like in women’s clothes–there is no such thing when it comes to canning.

From there, let’s look at the individual categories of foods we seek to preserve, and their individual characteristics when it comes to canning them safely:

And … last, but certainly not least …

Let’s start with the first one, shall we? :)

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Update on the Voilette Mustard :)

If you remember, back a couple of months ago … I tried my hand at mustard-making for the first time … choosing to start–as I often do–by trying to decipher several elaborate centuries-old recipes for an extremely rare mustard that doesn’t see a lot of use these days. I chose to make Moustarde au Voilette, my attempt to clone one of his favorites: the Violette Mustard from Zingermans.com.

The history I was able to find on this sort of mustard says that it’s best served cold with cold meats and cheeses, and I had the prefect way to use it: whole wheat bread topped with excellent beef pastrami–sliced deli-thin–with equal amounts of Swiss cheese and baked ham … with mayo and our new mustard as the only additions.

As you can see, the mustard is definitely dark and whole-grain! I’m not quite sure I really captured the violet color of the original in my version …

… but my husband says I definitely captured the flavor of it … times ten! His actual words were … “It tastes just like the original … only more-so!:)

From my perspective, I will say that my recipe was ultimately a little dry. When I make it again–and start to cook it down in that final step–I’ll be sure to leave it a little more juicy than I did this time. In the meantime, I just need to remember to add a little extra mayonnaise (or some other condiment) to it this time … in order to offset the overall dryness of the mustard.

Other than that, my husband basically said “ooo ooo ooo ooo” … for the third night in a row! That’s all he’s wanted for dinner every night this week … cold cut sandwiches with his tasty new violette mustard … that he can now eat lavishly, without feeling like he’s got to horde it! :)

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Sampling cheese with the ladies :)

One of my closest friends here is originally from England, and–through her–I’ve been learning a lot more about traditional English cuisine in various areas … including their traditional cheeses :)

Let me say up front … I’m a total cheese-hound! In fact, I’ve said many, MANY times that if I was forced to make a choice between meat and cheese … I’d pick cheese every single time! It’s rich! It’s creamy! There are hundreds of different varieties … and it doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have in your pocket … you can almost always find a cheese to satisfy you!

Two of the English cheeses my friend bragged on recently are Stilton and Wensleydale. I’d never tried Wensleydale before … but Blue Stilton and I are definitely old friends. In fact, I love blue-mold cheeses of all sorts!

I decided to do some looking around about the two of them, and–according to StiltonCheese.com–“Stilton has its own Certification Trade Mark and is an EU Protected Food Name.” This EU certification means there are only three English counties allowed to use the name Stilton on their cheeses: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Sounds restrictive, right? Well … in addition, there are only six dairies in those three counties allowed to use that trademarked name: Colston Bassett Dairy, Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson Dairy, Quenby Hall, Tuxford & Tebbutt Creamery, and Websters.

Humm? Interesting. This makes me wonder if I’ve eaten bootleg Stilton at least once in my life 😮

Then I took a look at Wensleydale. WOW! It comes from one town: the town of Hawes in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, England. Interesting … it’s even MORE restricted!

My friend talked longingly of them both–and expressed some difficulty in her own personal search … beyond the tiny grocery counter in a British restaurant nearby, where they charged so much a pound that you thought you were buying the crown jewels–so I went on a personal quest to find some less expensive versions of her two favorites … because I love her, of course … but also because she was looking for even more restricted versions of these hard-to-find English cheeses: the fruited versions.

The idea of fruited cheese intrigued me. I’ve always enjoyed the taste of fruit and cheese together before … everything from a nice wedge of cheddar on a steaming hunk of apple pie to my personal favorite fruit and cheese combo: a thick slice of guava paste (the Goya brand is great) and a few thin slices of a nice sharp white cheddar–Tillamook Vintage White is a good choice—both layered on a good butter cracker, something like a Club Cracker. Mmmmm! It’s creamy and salty and sweet and crispy … all at the same time! Delicious!  :)

I began my quest months ago, and rapidly discovered the same thing she’d found: the only real sources for these sorts of cheeses in our area are expensive groceries like Central Market … and small specialty chops like the one she found in the restaurant in Bellview … both with fruited cheeses in the >$20/lb range. Granted, it’s not that I won’t pay >$20/lb for the right cheese … but that’s usually not the sort of cheese I keep around and eat lavishly … so my quest continued.

I finally found a Lemon Stilton for us to try a couple of months ago–priced at less than $10/lb–buried in a corner of the wonderful cheese case at Double-D Meats in Mountlake Terrace, WA. I love their selection there–of all sorts of things–but their cheese case is always the source of interesting finds! This particular Stilton, however, was just not good. Don’t get me wrong: it was beautiful, with little flecks of lemon peel studded all through it … and the smell was divine as we opened the wrapping and caught our first whiff. However, the best way to describe it was woody! The taste was okay, a little too whangy for my tastes … thanks to all that lemon peel oil … but not totally inedible when sliced thin and paired with something like a rich, salty cracker. The problem was … it was just too woody and chewy. There was just WAY TOO MUCH lemon peel in it, such that … if you put too much of it in your mouth at one time–and it didn’t take much–the cheese dissolved and disappeared within seconds of beginning to chew it … leaving nothing behind but woody, chewy bits of extremely TART lemon peel.

In other words, the initial taste of lemon and cheese was there in the beginning … gloriously so … but the finish was just bad! :(

Not to be thwarted, I kept looking … and–as a surprise for a recent Ladies Day–I managed to scrounge up two more fruited English dessert cheeses for our snack this time: an Apricot Stilton and a Blueberry Wensleydale :)

The Apricot Stilton was pretty, and ROCKIN! :)

To give you an idea of how much lemon peel they’d tried to shove into the Lemon Stilton version, take a look at the heavy amount of apricot in the picture below … and multiply it by at factor of at least two :( That’s why is was tooooo woody/whangy for casual snacking. There was just WAY too much lemon peel in that version.

This Apricot Stilton, however, is PERFECT for just about anything you want to do with it! The soft, creamy white cheese was heavily studded with soft, chewy dried apricot chunks, which made it insanely yummy the way we ate it: room temperature cool and simply poised on a lightly-salted rice cracker. It was amazingly tasty that way–sweet and cheesy at the same time–yet, the entire time I was eating it … I kept imagining it warm and slightly melted inside of one of my homemade whole wheat English muffins. It would be AWESOME that way!  And–bonus points–I bought it at Trader Joe’s for less than $10/lb … so they may offer it at a Trader Joe’s near you–or you can ask for it–AND they may have it again at my Trader Joe’s :)

Second on the plate came a Blueberry Wensleydale I found at my local Costco … again, for less than $10/lb.

First bite … and I started wondering if I could turn this cheese into a cheesecake! Unlike the Apricot Stilton, the Blueberry Wensleydale contained less fruit … that was also more concentrated in smaller areas of the cheese than the tons of apricots in every inch they gave you in the Stilton. That arrangement of fruit definitely gave it a different taste in the mouth, one where you could savor the rich, slightly sour cream taste of the cheese … separate from the parts that were bursting with sweet blueberries. It–too–would be awe-inspiring melted inside of a homemade English muffin … or pretty much any other cracker or bread you threw at it!

Final score: They both deserve A’s in my book … for different reasons.

The Apricot Stilton shows you how well cheese and fruit can mix together on a one-to-one basis. And when I say fruit … I mean FRUIT … not peel. I’m not sure who thought lemon peel would make a good addition to Stilton or any other cheese … at least, in those quantities … but they were wrong! A little bit might be nice *if* it’s in very small pieces … but, as a rule, lemon peel is just too tough and woody–especially after the cheese has sucked all the moisture out of it during the aging process–to use chunks that big in that sort of overwhelming quantity. In addition, it’s just WAY TOO INTENSELY-FLAVORED to use that much of it in a mild cheese, too. The lemon peel just took OVER …….

….. but the apricot became a sweet and fruity companion for the cheese instead. The combo was soft and light, only slightly chewy, and–quite simply–delicious! I will definitely be buying more of it in the future! :)

Likewise, the Blueberry Wensleydale will find its way into my fridge again soon, too. I really am serious about trying my hand at making a Wensleydale cheesecake at some point. The combo of ripe blueberries and soft cheese is delicious–and blueberries are my husband’s favorite fruit–so, at less than $10/lb … Costco needs to keep stocking it … so we can keep enjoying it! :)

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Indo Cafe – Seattle, WA

After our writers group meeting on Sunday, my husband and I decided to dig into our stash of Restaurant.com gift certificates for something new and interesting for an early dinner. After flipping back and forth, discussing for a bit … we ended up choosing the Indo Café. For you GPSers, it’s:

543 NE Northgate Way #J. Seattle, WA 98125
p:
(206) 361-0699 | f: (206) 361-7114

Technically, we’d never eaten Indonesian food before. However–perusing the menu at Indo Café–we realized there’s a lot of overlap in Indonesian cuisine from Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and other cuisines that we already enjoy.

For example–if you remember from my review of our neighborhood Family Time Filipino restaurant–you’ll remember that we’re already fans of lumpia, the Filipino version of an egg/spring roll. Well, apparently Indonesians call their egg/spring roll “lumpia” as well. So–needless to say–we started our meal with an order of Lumpia Jakarta, described on their menu as: Indonesian fried spring roll with rice noodles and vegetables, served with a side of spicy peanut sauce.

I’ve got to admit it … Family Time has spoiled me for anyone else’s lumpia. That’s because theirs is very meaty and spicy, a real mouth-filling bite each and every time … while the ones we ate at Indo Café were a) vegetarian and b) mostly stuffed with rice noodles … not meat or vegetables. I’m not sure if that’s because of the difference in the way the two cultures make their lumpia … or because of the difference in the way these two restaurants each make their individual lumpia … but–regardless–I really didn’t like the lumpia at Indo Café … and neither did my husband. They did have a nice garlic flavor when you bit into them, but–overall–were just kinda dry, and pretty much tasteless beyond the heavy dose of garlic.

I’m not real crazy about their spicy peanut sauce either. Unfortunately, I can’t eat a lot of heat these days (even though I love it) because my stomach can’t handle it anymore … and all this peanut sauce is is heat! There’s a little bit of peppery and vinegary flavor to it–similar to a couple of other Asian sauces I’ve tried, especially in Korean cuisine–but there’s very little in the way of peanut flavor (unlike Thai peanut sauce) in the sauce itself. It’s main function seems to be to bring peppery heat and flavor to whatever you dip in it, and–at least in my case–that’s not something I necessarily go looking for. On the other hand, my cute hubby LOVES vinegary/peppery dips … and he wasn’t that crazy about this one either.

Next, we tried an order of Risoles, described in their menu as … Deep-fried Dutch/Indonesian breaded egg rolls stuffed with chicken ragout and served with a side of spicy peanut sauce.

WOW! Talk about a complete 180 degree turn from the other appetizer! We sat the spicy peanut sauce aside (it was the same sauce they served with the lumpia, so we already knew we weren’t that crazy about it) and just tried the risoles by themselves. After a single bite, we both decided that we could probably make a meal out of them … all by themselves!

The pastry portion of a risole is like a good doughnut: soft and warm … with only the barest bit sweet to it. It’s like one of those doughnuts you often find on Chinese buffets, the kind that are only sweet because of the barest sprinkle of sugar on the outside of them. Imagine a good, barely sweet doughnut like that … stuffed with a spicy, meaty filling. The mix is excellent! It hits all of the different taste buds on your tongue at one time. And–like I said–we liked them so much we’ve already made plans to make a meal off of a couple of orders of risoles one day soon! :)

When I’m trying new things at new restaurants–especially new cuisines–I’m always game to try an interesting new regional beverage, too. That’s how I’ve discovered lots of interesting things to drink … like an Indonesian treat called a Limo Squash. Indo Café describes theirs as a refreshing drink of lemon juice and sweet condensed milk.

A limo squash is tall, cool, and somewhat creamy … but it’s a lot less sweet and creamy than most Americans would think with “sweet condensed milk” listed so prominently in the ingredients. It’s actually a mix of unsweetened condensed lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk in a carbonated base, so it’s not really sweet … it’s bubbly … and lemon-WANGY-good!!!

When it came time for our entrees, my husband chose the Ayam Goreng Penyet: Crushed fried chicken served with rice and chili paste.

He chose to pay the up-charge to get the yellow rice instead of the plain steamed version … and–honestly–this is one of the few times I’ve wished that I ordered what he ordered instead of what I ordered 😯

His yellow rice was really tasty, but that chicken was off the HOOK!!! It reminded me of the fried chicken I used to get in a restaurant in my hometown of Savannah, GA … now defunct … a place called New China Restaurant. There–just like at Indo Café–the family who ran the restaurant (who came to this country from Hong Kong) basically dredged their chicken in a mix of salt and corn starch … heavy on the salt. They don’t use any liquid in the process. The only thing that makes that coating stick to your chicken is the tiny bit of dampness you normally get on a piece of raw chicken. That makes the coating on the final product amazingly thin. Once it goes into hot grease, that coating fries amazingly brown and crispy on the outside of your chicken … sealing the juices inside within seconds of it first hitting the grease.

My husband’s chicken was done the exact same way … and it was killer! Moist and tender on the inside … crispy/salty on the outside. As I told him, that’s what *I’m* ordering the next time we go to Indo Café.

On this trip, however, I tried the Nasi Goreng Uduk: pork fried coconut rice topped with pork floss.

It was good–don’t get me wrong–but after two or three bites … I started wishing that I’d pushed that pork floss aside … rather than spreading it out across the top of my food more before I started to eat. I don’t know what it was that made me dislike it so strongly. I’m Miss Most-Likely to Order Pork at Restaurants from waaaaayyy back, so it’s not that I dislike the swine … and the pork pieces underneath the floss–the ones fried into my rice–were really tasty, as was the coconut element to the dish.

Pork floss, aka meat wool, meat floss, pork sung, or rousong, is thought to be Chinese in origin, but it’s also found in several different cuisines from that general region. It’s shredded dried pork, usually heavily-marinaded in sweet soy sauce … which may be what I didn’t like about the flavor. To me, it was just TOO TOO intense against the milder flavor of the fried rice. And the fried rice was really tasty, too … which may be part of why I was disappointed by the floss … because it limited my enjoyment of the rest of the dish by just being overwhelming in every-single-bite. It just seemed unnecessarily salty and heavily pork bullion-flavored to me. If I order any dish there again that’s served with pork floss … I’m asking them to put mine on the side :roll:

Finally–for my dessert–I tried something I’ve always wanted to try! I’ve seen similar desserts in Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese/etc. restaurants, but the Indonesians at Indo Café call it Es Teler, and they describe it as Mixed tropical fruits and green jelly served with milk and cocopandan syrup. I also took the extra they offered, so mine included a chunk of fresh durian :)

Isn’t that interesting looking? You see why it’s always intrigued me :)

What you have there is a bowl of milk, and in the milk … you have:

  • shredded young coconut: those long white strips you see at about 8 o’clock in the bowl. If you’ve never had young coconut before, it doesn’t have a hugely strong coconut flavor to it, but it’s definitely crispy/chewy in texture.
  • jackfruit: they’re whitish, large grape-sized/shaped fruits that are somewhat translucent/pearly, and a little bit chewy in texture. Taste-wise, jackfruit is kinda like a tart banana, so you’ll often find it sweetened when it’s canned. Unfortunately, all the jackfruit is currently hiding under everything else … so I can’t point it out to you in the bowl.
  • mangoes: I’ll trust that you know what mangoes are :) They’re the pink/orange lumps around the straw at 10:00.
  • green grass jellies: yes, they’re a little bizzare to most American palates, but those dark green chunks are rather interesting. They’re sitting from 2-3:00 in the bowl, and they’re exactly what they say they are: an agar-agar based jelly–often made from coconut water and sugar–that’s flavored by grass and/or herbs. This particular jelly had just a hint of basil in the slightly sweet grassy flavor, and it made a nice, fresh accompaniment to all the sweet fruits in my Es Teler.
  • durian … the stinky fruit I love! What looks like a spiky football, smells like an open sewer, and tastes like pineapple and strawberries in cream? It’s DURIAN! … the creamy yellow globs stretching from 4-6:00 in my bowl :) I’m not stretching the truth when I say I get strange looks when I order it in Asian restaurants. In fact, I often have to repeat myself when I do … because most Asian waiters/waitresses are just shocked that someone like me–middle-aged and obviously American–actually likes it. Half the time, I firmly believe that they think I don’t know what I’m ordering … so they’re trying to save me from myself when they question me. But I know what I’m ordering … and I love it, even though–when I eat it in the car/around my husband–I have to open the window to keep him from gagging 😈
  • crushed ice … that should be obvious :)
  • cocopandan syrup: a favorite Asian concoction, made by combining the flavor of coconut with the flavor of pandan–aka: Screw Pine or Pandanus trees–whose leaves are often used as a flavoring in Asian cuisine.

I know–what a bizzare mix of flavors and textures–but it was actually pretty nice when I dug into it! It was really cold/fresh tasting, thanks to the crushed ice and all that fresh fruit. I could see it being the perfect dessert for a hot Summer day. The cocopandan syrup is MASSIVELY SWEET … which surprised me, given its Asian roots. However–once I stirred it into all the milk–it helped mellow that aspect of the dessert out a little more … while it dyed the whole thing a pretty pink.

Final score: Indo Café was a bit of a mixed bag for us. We liked some of the dishes we tried, but didn’t necessarily like others. Note: that’s not because Indo Café isn’t “good Indonesian food.” Even though we didn’t necessarily like everything we ordered, we felt like–nonetheless–we got an authentic Indonesian dining experience. That earns bonus points in our book … because it’s like my husband and I always say … we don’t want to try the “neutered for the American palate” version of a new cuisine! We’d much rather try the actual, authentic version of the cuisine … so we can know if we either like it … or don’t like it … based strictly on the merits of the cuisine itself. Given that there were probably 20 diners in the place for dinner–at 5:30–and that more than 80% of them were Indonesian or Asian of some variety … I’d say it’s safe to bet that their food is fairly authentic, and prepared in such a way that native eaters of Indonesian food enjoy it.

For us personally, we’ll give them a solid B :)

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New Leaf Cafe – Orcas Island, WA

On our last full day on Orcas, we made reservations for an early dinner at one of the nicer restaurants on the island: the New Leaf Café :)

The New Leaf Café is part of the Outlook Inn, strategically located in the town of Eastsound, right at the inside tip of the horseshoe-shaped bay that separates the two halves of the island.

We planned a 5:30 dinner so we could watch the sun going down over the bay as we dined. Besides, that way we’d still have plenty of time for hot tubbing later in the evening!

The Outlook Inn itself is a tall, rambling wooden structure, sitting a mere 40 feet or so from the water’s edge … 40 feet that includes the entire width of Main Street. In fact, all of Main Street seemed filled with businesses sitting almost directly on Main Street … most, more than just proverbially. The entire town seemed to want to be as close to passersby as it could manage.

Beyond that quick hop from the front porch of the Inn lies nothing but cold, salty water … and two hillsides filled with trees and cabins, rising up from the still bay on either side! Very picturesque :)

The cafe itself sits on one side of the main entrance of the Outlook Inn, so we got a glimpse of the inn too on our way into dinner … making mental notes for future jaunts to the island. Our reservation was set for the same time the restaurant opened for dinner, and our host met us promptly at the adjoining door. He settled us into a window seat on the bay side of the restaurant–perfect so far–and my friend and I decided that we each needed a drink to celebrate the evening. After all … the guys were driving/navigating us around on the tiny island … we weren’t :)

Several specialty libations graced their bar menu, but one description in particular caught my attention … pretty much instantly. It read:

Elderflower Gin Martini: Martin Miller’s Gin, Elderflower Likor, fresh lime, splash of apple juice served in a martini glass.

One please! 😈

Oh, my! That picture–even if I ladled eighty pages of elaborately embroidered verbal description on top of it–will never even begin to express the flavor I found in that frosted glass. I’ve always loved the green, herbal flavor of gin anyway–and martinis are my favorite way to enjoy it–but this was gin extraordinaire, bracketed by sweet pear juice and the bite of fresh lime, with the elderflower liqueur bringing its own deliciously fruity flavor to the mix. It was sweet and tart, herbal and flowery … all at the same time. MMMmmm! Heavenly! :)

My friend decided to go in a slightly different direction, choosing one of their other interesting cocktails:

Lady Sage: House infused mango cucumber vodka, with fresh lime juice,  peach bitters, muddled with fresh sage.

She enjoyed hers as much as I enjoyed mine. She shared a taste (as I shared a taste of mine with her) and it was tasty, too: icy cold and well-blended, yet you could taste each and every flavor in it. Sage is one of my favorite flavors on the planet, too … but the cucumber taste was a little much for me … so I’m glad I started with the one I chose. It suited me better anyway :)

My friends opted to start their meal with the appetizer special: a pork rillette served with fresh cornichons, dijon mustard, and fried almonds.

With a big basket of rustic bread added in, this tasty plate kept them busy for quite a while. Pork rillette is made from lean cuts of pork, which are then seasoned and slow-cooked in heavy fat, similar to the process they use to make duck confit. Once the meat is done–and completely succulent after simmering in fat for that extended period of time–it’s shredded and buried under a thin layer of fat in order to keep it moist. The New Leaf Café served theirs with very fresh-tasting cornichons and tasty little skinned and fresh-fried almonds. My friends couldn’t stop bragging about all of it! My little nibble told me–once again–that my friends have great taste :)

My husband opted for the French onion soup as his starter, topped with toasted gruyere cheese.

It’s one of his favorite soups–one I can for him, in fact–so he’s a little spoiled … because I make it EX-actly like he likes it. This was a little different from what I normally prepare for him … I normally give him a lot more onions, and make it without adding wine to it … but he said theirs was lovely just the same, and made a nice break from the version he normally prefers. I especially liked the flavor of the gruyere myself! Heating it brings out some wonderfully nutty flavors in the chewy, melty cheese!

I went in a different direction, myself … and my starter was–quite simply–amazing. I choose the Kobe beef carpaccio, dressed with porcini oil, parmesean, mustard aioli, and arugula.

I could have eaten my weight in it! It was–quite simply–the tastiest thing I’ve put in my mouth in ages! My meat was perfectly chilled, buttery soft, and sliced razor thin into sixteen little rounds of beef you could almost see through. Yet, the small overall weight of the serving was insignificant when compared to the flavor I found on that plate! The bloody, fresh tang of chilled Kobe beef came charging through–despite the strong flavors paired with it–to taste like the best rare steak on the planet. I added a squeeze of lemon juice from the fresh wedge they supplied, then had my waiter add some fresh-cracked black pepper on the top, too. That–combined with the vinegary nip of the capers … the tender bite of bitter greens … the classic umami of all that salty, shaved parmesean … the bite of dijon wrapped inside the smoothness of fresh-made aioli … and the richness of porcini mushroom-scented olive oil–made every bite a masterpiece! If I hadn’t already ordered other things to eat … I swear … I could have just ordered a couple of more plates of the Kobe beef carpaccio for dinner … and been completely satisfied! :)

My friend chose something that I also considered from the menu: their Pork cutlet, caraway spatzle, house-made saurkraut, braised pork belly, and fried egg dinner.

Doesn’t that just look wonderful? I snagged a taste, too … of course! That’s the beauty of being a food blogger. Friends always go “You want a taste of this?:)

I agreed–of course–and I couldn’t find a single bad thing to say about ANYTHING on her plate either! The pork cutlet was crispy on the outside, perfectly seasoned, and tender on the inside: just like you’d expect it to be. I could eat a plate full of those cutlets just like that, or slap one or two on some bread with mustard, ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles … and grill myself right into Cuban sandwich heaven! The braised pork belly they’d added to the plate was … well, braised pork belly. It’s pork fat/food of the Gods anyway–no matter how you cook it–so it’s hard to make it bad in any way. Theirs was crispy and salty … and just melted in your mouth … so it was almost like a salty crumble for the cutlets in that preparation. The egg on top was cooked to perfection as well: the white firm, the yolk creamy and only just beginning to set around the edges. Pierced, it also made a beautiful sauce for the cutlets and bits of salty pork belly.

Now … most foodies would have given you a throw-away reference to the base layer of the plate at the beginning of that description–just to be sure they’d mentioned it–and then they’d spend the next several paragraphs discussing the stuff on top of the base. Note my shift in the standard presentation. That’s intentional … because the homemade sauerkraut and spatzel found under all that pork and egg goodness actually stole the show away from the main players … even as hard as that is to believe! The sauerkraut was still crunchy, yet tangy and nicely fermented, too … obviously something that had been bubbling in a crock in the back of the kitchen a few days or more. And the spatzel was EXCELLENT! It was tender without being chewy or gummy, and the caraway seeds made it just scream I WAS MADE FOR PORK!

The little braggarts were right, too :)

Her husband decided to try one of the specials for the evening: Grilled halibut with steamed veggies, some sort of flavored butter/oil, and yukon gold mashed potatoes.

I’m not usually much on grilled fish (shhh! I know! The PNW Fish Police might show up at any time to arrest me) … but I could have easily eaten and enjoyed his dinner, too. The fish tasted amazingly fresh, and the thickness of the cut kept it moist as they grilled it, too. Normally, I’d be reaching for some kind of tarter sauce or something to help me choke it down (thanks to being forced into Weightwatchers for years through my childhood, where you had to eat baked or broiled fish like eight times/week), but this fish was as delicious as it was moist and fresh.

My own husband decided to go with a classic: Grilled filet mignon, crushed peppercorns, and port wine demi-glaze, served with yukon gold mashed potatoes.

Mmmmm … that was definitely a tasty piece of steak. He gave me a sliver to taste … and it was tender and moist and perfectly cooked. I wasn’t quite as hot on the demi-glaze (as I’ve said before, I don’t really like wine-based sauces) but –personally–I didn’t think the steak needed anything except a fork and a knife to enjoy it fully.

Rather than order one big meal myself, I opted to have two more small plates as my entree. The first was the New Leaf’s Duck mac ‘n cheese, with toasted hazelnut crust.

I told our waiter as he cleared my carpaccio plate that I’d probably set the bar too high by having that first, that the kitchen would really have to step up their game from there to beat that first small plate. I was right. If I’d had the duck mac ‘n cheese first, I would have probably tried to bathe in it. The pasta was a perfect al dente, the chunks of duck meat were moist and tender, and the cheese sauce was amazingly creamy. I never really tasted roasted hazelnuts in the crispy coating on top–so I’d have to make a little deduction for that (don’t tell me I’m going to taste something … and then make me hunt for it)–but all in all the mac ‘n cheese was first class … just not quite as killer as the carpaccio 😐

To accompany my mac n’ cheese, I also ordered a second small plate: Shoestring truffle fries with sea salt, parsley, and white truffle oil.

MMmmmm! I wonder if I could carry a little spritzer of white truffle oil around with me in my purse? That way–when faced with average restaurant fries–I could just spritz them a bit with my own supply of white truffle oil. It pairs SO WELL with that good old browned vegetable grease flavor you get on most fries, and–with those crispy bits of sea salt–just made what were pretty average fries just ROCK OUT!!

By this point in the meal, I was so full I could only eat a few of these babies–and, of course, I shared them around the table … to rave reviews–but they were awe inspiring. In fact, I think the next time I venture over to Orcas, it’s going to be two plates of carpaccio, please … with a side of white truffle fries … and an elder berry martini … please :)

Can you tell we enjoyed our meal?

See that picture? What you see there are four very satisfied folks on their way to the hot tub … after thoroughly plundering the New Leaf Café at the Outlook Inn on Orcas Island … and giving them a solid A!

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