I've written before about rising food costs and the imminent need I feel to start building skills related to cooking, baking, food preservation and at-home food production. While some of these prove more difficult than others in an urban area, I feel it's important to practice and improve those I'm capable of doing in my apartment so that once we own land I will be ready with an arsenal of go-to recipes and techniques.
So one thing I've become conscious of recently is that I go through about one 11-oz. bag of granola a week, as I have yogurt and granola for breakfast every morning. While I'd one day love to have farm fresh milk from which to make my own yogurt (does anyone reading this make their own yogurt?), I've settled for practicing making my own granola, as this seems a more attainable first step. I've never really found a granola I've particularly loved, so thought it would be nice to be able to control all the ingredients myself and make something more personal to my tastes.
I followed the general guidelines of a couple of recipes, one from Kitchn that was submitted by a Seattle baker that was dry and I actually ended up burning the heck out of, and one from Martha Stewart's site, which I actually had really great success with. It's a little on the sweeter end, but I balanced that with a healthy pinch of salt and cut the brown sugar a bit the second time around.
The recipe calls for cooking down the wet ingredients - oil, honey and I actually added a little maple syrup - with brown sugar until the mixture boils, and then adding a teaspoon of vanilla at the end. This seemed to make the granola come together and be a little stickier than the other recipe, which I tend to prefer.
Incidentally, I love this honey from Mt. Horeb, WI which has a really nice, spicy clover flavor to it. Of course, the finest ingredients always yield the best outcome, so I'm really not sure if this has saved me money or not! The next step is to price it all out and compare, though either way I think I'll keep making my own.
I also made my first tentative venture into the world of canning, which I am particularly excited about. I am borderline OCD about things like botulism so was always pretty nervous about undertaking this endeavor but I think we were successful. My mom and I harvested close to the last batch of tomatoes from their garden and she cooked them down using this recipe for tomato jam, which was a nice balance of sweetness, heat and spice from the cinnamon and ginger. She started it while I was on my way over, as it needs to cook for 40-50 minutes, at the end of which time we got a nice gelatinous consistency that lightly coated the back of a spoon.
While I stirred the mixture, I read aloud canning preparation and instructions from both Paul Virant's The Preservation Kitchen and Irma S. Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking, to make sure we got a couple sources of information on the sterilizing process. Though Chef Virant claims one needn't sterilize the jars and rings when the mixture is being processed (or cooked in boiling water) for at least 10 minutes, which ours was, we sterilized to begin with anyway out of nerves, though in the future we'll probably be a little more lax.
We washed the cans in soap and water and then filled them with the tomato mixture, tightening the rings and then twisting them a quarter turn the other way, as Chef Virant advises, so that they aren't too tight when they go into the boiling water. We used a canning pot and the structure that holds the jars upright and processed them for ten minutes, starting the timer when the water came back up to a boil. After killing the heat, we left the jars in the water to sit for a minute or two before pulling them out, so that the temperature change wouldn't be too drastic.
When we pulled them out, we did hear a few of the lids "pop," where the button in the center of the jar indents, but not all of them which sort of worried me, though we did find that several other indications of them having been successfully sealed did occur: one, that buttons in the center of the lids were indeed all depressed; two, there was no visible sign of any seepage occurring around the lid, where some of the tomato mixture's contents might have escaped; and three, when we tested a jar by opening it, we found the lid suctioned to the top, unable to be popped off with just our fingers. So I believe we successfully canned? Does anyone have any surefire ways of telling if this is the case? I'm probably a little too paranoid; people have been doing these things for millennia and hardly dying that often from tainted jam.
Paul Virant is teaching a workshop on canning at his restaurant Vie in Western Springs next Monday, September 21st that I'm thinking of attending. If you're interested, you can find details here.
And in case you're interested in cooking or related classes like gardening or floral design, I came across this venue, Elawa Farm, in my search of gardens in the Chicagoland area that has such offerings. Since we were up north on Saturday, we visited Elawa in Lake Forest, as they have a weekend market where they sell preserves, produce and some food prepared on site. We had a nice time strolling through their garden and prairie habitat; the perfect place to spend a brisk fall morning and a really neat event venue as well. It was very stately!