Canning, condiment, Recipes

Charred Salsa

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What would you say if I told you that you could make salsa without peeling peppers? To me, peeling peppers is the worst part of salsa making, and it’s avoidable. How, you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. You just char them under the broiler. Then they don’t have to be peeled. They can be chopped in the food processor (do it with the other vegetables to avoid the sensation of being hit in the face with pepper spray when you open the top) without peeling.

In fact, if you want to make the best salsa you’ve ever canned, char everything. Yes, that’s right. Put all the vegetables under the broiler and char them all. I know, it sounds nuts, but it works.

The salsa recipe I use is from a book called Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. I highly recommend the book because Krissoff’s recipes teach techniques that you can then use to create your own recipes.  I learned to make yogurt, apple pectin stock, and old-fashioned, lower-sugar jams and jellies from this book. And charred salsa. And oh my, that stuff rocks! I don’t feel right about copying the recipe here (as a writer, I respect copyrights), but I think sharing the technique is okay. And I just did. Char everything under the broiler for the best salsa you’ve ever canned.

Use your favorite salsa recipe for proportions, but instead of scalding and peeling tomatoes, or roasting and peeling them and the peppers, broil them. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but I also know that you’re going to take some convincing. I did, at first.

Core and cut tomatoes in halves and place them cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet. (The foil keeps the veggies from sticking when they release their natural sugars as they cook.)  Pop them under the broiler in your oven on the top rack. Let them sizzle until each tomato has a big circle of blackened skin on top. (Yes, I know it sounds insane, but it’s good, trust me!) Slide the tomatoes and juice into a bowl to cool while you work on the rest of the veggies.

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Cut onions into quarters, put them on the foil-lined cookie sheets and under the broiler. Let them get blackened. Do the same thing with the garlic. (Now, I know this really sounds crazy, but again, trust me.) It’s best to put one thing at a time on the cookie sheets because obviously, garlic will not blacken at the same rate as onion.

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Now, for the beauty part, the peppers. As much as I hate peeling tomatoes, I really hate peeling hot peppers. In fact, I never do it. I never have to for salsa because I make charred salsa. (I know, if you’ve made a batch of salsa the traditional way already this year, I’m rubbing it in. Sorry.) I cut the peppers in half (I don’t seed mine because I like the heat, but go ahead and seed them if you wish—just wear gloves or be very, very careful) and place them cut side down on the foil-lined cookie sheet. Pop them under the broiler and let them get blackened.

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Watch out when you stick your head down to check them. You can get hit with a wave of released capsican as they’re cooking. After they’ve cooled, they release less of the stuff, even in the food processor. I use jalapenos and Serranos because I don’t like my salsa so hot I can’t eat it. This year, I had some ripe red peppers in the garden because I’m making salsa later than I usually do, and I love the mellow heat of ripe peppers. Usually, I’m stuck with green ones because that’s all I have.

All right, all the vegetables are broiled now, and are cooling. The tomatoes should be cool enough to handle, so dive in. If you want to drain off some juice to make sure your salsa is thick enough, now’s the time to do it. You can always add some juice back in later, and whatever juice is left over can be canned in pint jars with citric acid or lemon juice and salt, if you like, for 35 min. per pint. I did mine in quarts for 40 min.  I shook the jar on the left after it was cooled, before I took the picture.  It is normal for the juice to separate as in the jar on the right.

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Pull the skins off each tomato half. (They come off very easily.) Tear the charred skin away and put it in the food processor with the tomatoes. I know, you’re saying: WHAT? But yes, this is the point of broiling the tomatoes, so you can get the flavor of that blackened skin into the salsa. I don’t know why it’s so good, but it is. The blackened skin is crisp, not tough, and crumbles easily into little black flakes in the food processor. It actually makes the salsa look great in the jar and in a bowl when you open it. And I guarantee you that you will get rave reviews on this stuff when you open it. I do, every time. When my kids come to my house for a meal, one of the first things they ask is if I have any salsa left. I have to hide it, or I wouldn’t.  They’d take it all home with them.  They go through what I give them for Christmas and come back looking for more!

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Now, an interjection. Don’t throw away the rest of the tomato skins! Put the uncharred skins on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet and into a 170–200 degree oven. Let them sit there until the skins are dry and leathery and no moisture remains. Then whiz them up in a blender for tomato skin powder, which can be used in various ways. See my previous post for a great pork rub made using powdered tomato skins.

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Back to the salsa. Working in batches, chop all the veggies in the food processor. I do it this way: several peppers, a handful of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic. Chop, chop; add the tomatoes and blackened tomato skins. Whiz, whiz. Dump in large pot. Start over and keep going until everything is in the large pot.

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Every salsa recipe I’ve ever seen adds acid (vinegar or lemon juice), salt, and sugar at this point, and then calls for a short cooking time before the salsa goes in the jars. The recipe I use calls for apple cider vinegar, which gives a nice flavor to the salsa, but I also add lime juice because to me, you can’t have salsa without lime. It just wouldn’t be right. I also add about ¼ cup of chopped cilantro per batch just before the boiling salsa goes in the jars for the same reason. Salsa without cilantro? No way. A friend of mine adds a pinch or so of cumin. I haven’t tried that, but I bet I’d like that smoky flavor. Maybe with the next batch.

Whatever recipe you use, always pay attention to ratios. Tomatoes are acidic, yes, but peppers, garlic, and onions are not. That’s why you have to add acid to make salsa safe for water-bath canning. Don’t add extra peppers if you want hotter salsa. Use hotter peppers. Don’t add more garlic or onions than your recipe calls for. And always add the recommended dose of acid in the form your recipe calls for. I use lime juice in addition to, not as a substitute for, the vinegar in my recipe. Extra acid won’t hurt, but you can’t skimp on it and be safe.

If you use vinegar, there’s something you should know. Boiling vinegar for an extended time can evaporate the acid in it, so if you are making a large batch of salsa, like I usually do, turn off the heat on the salsa pot and put a lid on it when the first batch of jars go into the canner for processing. Don’t let the salsa sit and simmer. When the processing time on the first batch is done and you are ready to remove the jars from the canner, turn the heat back on under the salsa pot, take off the lid, and bring it back to boiling before filling a fresh batch of jars. This will ensure that you don’t boil off your acid.

Having made salsa with broiled vegetables for several years now, I’m convinced this method produces the best-tasting salsa I’ve ever had, or made. I know it sounds crazy to put blackened tomato skins into the salsa, and right up until I tasted the salsa, I thought it was nuts, but one taste did it. Give blackening your veggies a try; I bet you’ll agree with me. And the bonus? You don’t have to skin any peppers!

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Canning, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free, Recipes

Apple Time

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The house painting project has taken so much time, there’s been no time for blogging.

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However, I did pick apples today.   My apples are falling!  I would have loved to have left them on the tree a little longer, but between wind, squirrels, raccoons, and birds, they had to be picked. I have the tree about 2/3rds of the way stripped and will finish tomorrow with my grandson’s help. I have nicknamed him Farm Boy, because he does love to garden. And I love to have his help.

If you are picking apples now, when they are still not quite ripe, here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned.

* Twist the apple clockwise (or to the right) to get it to release either from the stem or from the branch. Twisting rather than pulling does far less damage to your tree.

*Sort the apples as you pick them. I pick into a two gallon bucket (because that’s all I can lift when it’s full) and after I’ve filled the bucket, I sort them into separate boxes: a box for any wormy apples, any that have hit the ground, any that have been bird-pecked, and any oddly-shaped apples that won’t go through the peeler cleanly; and a box for “perfect apples,” those that are not bruised or wormy or bird-damaged. This is important because the old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel really is true. When I sort as I pick, I know which apples need to be processed first, and which ones can sit for a while and sweeten up a bit more.  The pic below is of the damaged apples.  These won’t sit long.  I’ll be turning them into apple butter next week.

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*Store the apples that are going to sit for a while in no more than two layers, with plenty of newspaper in between layers to absorb moisture and cushion the fruit. Don’t stack boxes of apples on top of each other unless you can do it without bruising them.

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*Store the apples in the coolest place you can find where mice, squirrels, etc., will not damage them. This can be difficult sometimes. Right now, the only place I have to store my apples is our pump house, and since the temps are heating up again, they will not hold long. Cooler is better, if possible.

I process my bruised, damaged apples first because they will go bad much faster than the perfect apples. I make applesauce and apple butter with those apples. For my apple butter recipe, click on the link above.

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With the perfect apples, I usually make pie filling and dehydrated apples with cinnamon for the grandkids (and even my kids still ask for them!), but this year, it’ll just be dehydrated apples. I have plenty of pie filling left from last year, both canned and frozen. (For the recipe for canned apple pie filling, see below.)

For dehydrated apples, we use a hand-cranked peeler/slicer/corer machine (Dennis always helps me with this part). After slicing the rings in half, I drop the apples into acidulated water (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh added to water) to prevent browning, and I place them on the dehydrator trays and sprinkle them with cinnamon. You can’t keep them from turning brown, and the cinnamon helps disguise the brownness and gives them wonderful flavor. My kids have always loved these, and now my grandkids do too. Just the other day, my daughter was at my house, foraging in the pantry, and came across a bag of my dried apples. She ate half the bag and wanted to take the other half home with her!

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And don’t throw out the peels and cores–make apple scrap vinegar  or apple pectin stock with them.  Click on the link for the how-to.

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I usually make up gallon bags of pie filling for the freezer. I just use the apple pie recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook, and mix up the filling in a bowl (apples, flour or cornstarch—and you can use brown rice flour for this if you are gluten-free, sugar, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and whatever other spices you like).

But last year, a friend, Suzanne Lepowski, shared a canned apple pie filling recipe with me which I altered because I don’t can with cornstarch or Clear Jel (unsafe with the former and too expensive with the latter), and it worked perfectly. One quart jar isn’t enough for a 9-inch pie, but works fine with an 8-inch pie. If you want to make 9-inch pies, can both quarts and pints. One of each will fill a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. All you have to do is add a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, or ¼ cup flour, or brown rice flour if you’re gluten-free, to the contents of the jar, and then put it in your unbaked pastry shell. The apples are tender, and the pie is delicious. Thanks, Suzanne!

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Canned apple pie filling (no thickener)

6 pounds apples (About 20-25 medium apples:  amounts to about 5 qts. cored, peeled, sliced.  This will make about 3 quart jars of pie filling.)

Ball Fruit Fresh (or several tablespoons of lemon juice)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (and I add 1/2 teaspoon allspice because I like it in my pie filling)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core, and slice apples.  Add apples to water with Fruit Fresh according to directions on Fruit Fresh jar, or add several tablespoons of lemon juice to a large bowl of water. Combine sugar and spices in large pan. Rinse and drain apples.   Stir apples into sugar and spice mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until boiling.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot, sterilized quart or pint jars, leaving 1 inch head space, place lid and cap, and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude according to altitude chart.

I hope you are able to leave your apples on the tree long enough to let them be kissed by frost.  It makes them sweeter.  But if, like me, you are working with apples now, I hope you enjoy these recipes.  We do.

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