Friday, August 9, 2013

Zucchini Bread Recipe

The zucchini plants in our garden.
This year in our garden, I had originally planted 8 hills of zucchini. I have no idea why I thought this many was a good idea, since really one or two plants will feed a family of four for the summer quite easily. I think part of it was remembering the rows of zucchini plants in our garden when I was growing up. At any rate, this year I was fortunate that not all 8 hills sprouted. I planted them in a more shaded section of the garden and perhaps that is why they didn't all come up, or maybe I just had some bad seeds. Anyway, I ended up with 3 fairly massive zucchini hills, 2 of which  you see in the picture on the left.
Of course even just these have left me scratching my head as to what to do with all this zucchini that we seem to be picking every other day! Now I love zucchini just boiled and mashed with butter, but you can only eat that so many days in a row. So I decided to make some zucchini bread. And, if I may brag for a moment....this recipe rules. So here ya go:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 tsps cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups grated zucchini (I grated one large zucchini and this is approximately what I ended up with).
Preheat your oven to 325 F.
Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon together into a bowl. My sifter only holds a little over 2 cups, so I sifted 2 cups of flour first, and then did the additional cup of flour along with the other ingredients and then just mixed it together in the bowl.
With electric beaters, beat together the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla extra in a separate bowl. Once well combined, start adding your dry sifted flour mix to the wet ingredients. Beat together until everything is well incorporated. Then add your zucchini. You can use beaters with this as well if you wish, however I just used a large spoon at this point. Once all ingredients are well mixed, pour it into two greased (I just sprayed mine with Pam) 8x4 pans. Place in the oven and then bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat on the oven, but leave the bread in there for another 20-30 minutes. You will want to check it periodically after the first hour with a toothpick until the toothpick comes out clean. Once you remove it from the oven, let it cool in the pans for about 20 minutes and then remove and place on a cooling rack for about another 20-30 minutes.
This bread is so sweet and moist it's ridiculous. I keep mine wrapped in aluminum foil in the fridge and it makes a great addition to my morning coffee. I plan on making more, and then freezing it for later this winter. Enjoy!

The finished zucchini loaves.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Attempt at Spaghetti Sauce and Canning

Sunday's Harvest
Now that we have rolled into August, we are in the full swing of one of my favorite parts of gardening.....harvesting! Finally the fruits of our labor can be enjoyed, almost daily.

This past weekend, we pulled over a dozen ears of corn, nearly a half bushel of tomatoes and a few peppers. With the tomatoes and peppers I thought I would now try my hand at making a spaghetti sauce from a recipe shared by my friend JC. I have never made my own spaghetti sauce from scratch before, so figured now would be a good time to start, since I don't think I could make enough salad to use up all these tomatoes.

Additionally, I decided now would be a good time to start the canning. While I was growing up, my mother spent many a Sunday canning all sorts of things, from tomatoes to peaches, applesauce and even making her own tomato juice. These would fill the shelves in our basement so we could feast on homemade and homegrown goodness throughout the year.

After working in the yard all day Sunday, I decided I would make the sauce and can on Monday night after work. Bad idea, as this is quite a bit of work, and not something I would recommend trying to get done in an evening before bed when you have to work the next day. Thinking back on all the canning my mom did when I was a kid, I have to say that I have even greater respect for her canning and cooking skills now that I have had a go at it!

Anyway, I started the sauce Monday after work. Prior to starting I went out and picked more tomatoes from the garden that had ripened, so I had filled the half bushel basket. Here is the recipe I used, (this includes some of my own additions and subtractions as I changed up slightly the recipe JC had shared).

25 pounds of tomatoes (about 60-65)
3 onions, finely chopped
4 green peppers, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 (12 ounce) cans of tomato paste
4 tablespoons dried italian spice mix (includes oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.)
1/3 cup of salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1. Wash and peel the tomatoes. To make peeling tomatoes easier, blanch them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then plunge them into ice-cold water. Core the tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters. Put the tomatoes into a large pot and bring them to a boil over medium high heat. (Be sure to stir them constantly so that they don't burn on the bottom!) Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes start breaking down into small pieces.
2. Add the tomato paste to the tomatoes and stir to mix thoroughly.

3. Cut onions and green peppers into chunks and process in a food processor until finely chopped. Add to the simmering tomatoes and stir.

4. Mince the garlic cloves and add to the pot. ( I also just tossed these in the food processor and added them at the same time as the onions and peppers).

5. Stir to mix thoroughly and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes. Continue to stir the sauce constantly.

6. Add the italian spice mix and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix thoroughly and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

I recommend using a very large pot for this. I started out with our largest pot, but by the time I added all the tomatoes, I had filled it to the rim and I didn't think I was going to have enough room to add the rest of the ingredients, even though the tomatoes will cook down some. So Mitsy ran next door and borrowed this big pot from the neighbor, and I made a quick transfer and put it back on the heat.

 This sauce came out pretty sweet, probably due to the type of tomatoes I grew in my garden. (Don't remember what kind they were) but they are large and have a great sweet flavor when we eat them fresh. The original recipe only called for 2 cans of the tomato paste, but I added a third to thicken it up a little more. You can also add more or less onions, peppers and garlic depending on your preference.

I also meant to add black pepper, but forgot before I started the canning process.

So by the time the sauce was done cooking, it had already gotten pretty late, but I decided to forge ahead with the canning process anyway. I put six jars in my big canning pot filled it with water (to about an inch above the jars) and set it on to boil to sterilize them. Once the water came to a rolling boil, I let them go for about 10 minutes and then came in to remove them from the heat and start filling them with my newly made precious sauce.

So imagine my horror when I pull out the first "sterilized" jar only to find it covered in a white film. Ugh. It was then I realized that I hadn't washed the jars or the canning pot prior to filling them with water, because, well, I'm an idiot. I figured this was all the dust that had been on them from sitting in the store shelves and the pot sitting in our basement for the last six months. So instead of starting all over with the jars with washing them, reboiling them, etc., I decided to wait a day, since it was already almost 11:00pm. I placed my pot of sauce in the fridge and went to bed!

Day 2

On Tuesday evening I came home and after dinner, got back to work on the canning process. I put the sauce back on the stove to heat up while I washed all the jars and the canning pot, and the put those on the stove to boil again. Once it finally came to a rolling boil (seems to take forever to start boiling with these big pots) I let it boil for 10 minutes again. Then I used my jar lifter to take out my first jar to fill with the sauce was covered in white film again. WHAT?!?! I was defeated. It was then that I realized that this was not dirt or dust collecting on my jars, but calcium and or limestone from our hard water that comes from our well. So now what? Doing a google search, I found that I could add vinegar to the water and do it all over again. Well I don't think I had enough vinegar, and quite frankly I didn't feel like boiling the jars for a third time! So what does a man do when faced with this type of dilemma? He calls his mother.

As I mentioned before, my mother has been canning for years, like probably at least 60 years, and at age 82, she is still canning every season! So I figured getting her advice on this matter would be better than any google search. Well mom said she doesn't boil her jars to sterilize them anymore, and hasn't for several years. She runs them through the dishwasher and then uses them and hasn't had a problem yet. Well I don't have a dishwasher (another project that needs to be done, and soon!), but I did fill up the sink with some scalding hot water and soap, rewashed the jars, and then rinsed them again in super hot water (seriously, I thought the skin on the back of my hands was going to come off from the heat). I then followed these canning instructions for the sauce:


1. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each jar. Do not use fresh lemon juice.

2. Using a funnel, transfer the spaghetti sauce into the jars. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Release any air bubbles with a spatula. Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place a warm lid on each jar and hand tighten a screw band on. Do not over-tighten.

3. Place your jar rack in the water bath canner, suspending it with the handles on the edge and put your jars in the rack. Unhook the jar rack and carefully lower it into the hot water. Add more water if necessary to cover the jars with at least 1 inch of water. Heat the water to full, rolling boil for 40 minutes.

4. Remove your jars with a jar lifter and place them on a clean, dry kitchen towel away from drafts and allow them to cool completely for 12-24 hours. Test to make sure each jar has sealed and store in a cool, dark place.

I actually didn't do that whole thing with suspending the jar rack, etc. I just set the whole rack down in the pot and then added my full, capped jars one at a time using my jar lifter. I think I also boiled the batch a bit longer as well, probably more like 45-50 minutes, since I wasn't sure exactly when the full boil starter, and then at the end I was watching Conan O'Brien and didn't want to go out into the kitchen until the commericial break. Yeah, I know my precious sauce should be more important than Conan's jokes, but I think the extra five minutes was fine.
At any rate, I finished up the canning process a little after 11pm and didn't run into any issues with cracked jars or whatever other atrocities that can occur during a canning session. Oh, I did accidentally fill my canning pot to high with water, so when I added the full jars of sauce it overflowed over the top of my stove and all over the floor. I used a large measuring cup to scoop out the excess water, and then a quick use of paper towels to clean up the puddle on the floor and I was good to go. I ended up with the finished product below, and in checking the lids this morning I have a proper seal on all six jars. Mission successful!
I should mention that I still have more sauce, I think this would probably fill another 2-4 jars, so I may do some more tonight, or I may just make some spaghetti and start using up the sauce that way. Also this blog entry is not meant to be an instructional for how to can, as most websites on canning will recommend the sterilization procedure that I omitted after two failed attempts with the hard water. You should always take precautions with canning to ensure you have proper acidity in your recipes to avoid those fun things like botchilism. Or you can call your mom and follow her advice like I did. But call your mom, not mine.
Anyway, I 'm looking forward to chowing down on some good homemade spaghetti sauce this fall and winter, and now that I have my first session under my belt, I may make more. God knows we still have a ton of tomatoes coming in to use.