Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pressure Canning Problem

I have been having so much problem with getting a proper seal when pressure canning. I tried to can 10 pints of stewed tomatoes tonight and 6 jars did not seal. One or two is understandable, but 6? That's more than 50%! I must be doing something wrong.

It's not the first time that it ever happened. I've been doing this for 3 years now and sometimes all jars seal up and sometimes one or two don't seal, and sometimes, like today, over 50% doesn't seal...

I just can't figure it out. In the meantime, those that did not seal are in the canner for the second process.

Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard

We had one unexpected guest and one expected guest over the weekend. That certainly changed a few things with my dinner plans. Also, it was my husband's birthday earlier this week, so I got some take out sushi - one of his favorite things - instead of making the good old boring Tuna Casserole that I had originally planned for that day.

I tried to stick to the rest in my weekly menu plan. There was the Calzones (no pic) with ham and cheese, because I had one more jar of unsealed tomato sauce in the fridge that I needed to use up.

Then we had sweet and sour meatballs with garden veggies (peppers, zucchini, carrots, beans,) and brown rice. Very yummy! Those beans were really nice and crunchy.

In the midst of meal planning, I have been having a canning festival in my kitchen. The other day, I canned 5 quarts of tomato juice and 12 half-pints of ketchup. The whole house smelled like ketchup for 2 days. Boy, that took a long time to reduce down to the right consistency.

Now sitting and staring at me in the kitchen are another bushel of tomatoes. My local farmer that I get these from must think I'm crazy. I still need several more jars of tomato sauce and some cocktail sauce.

I will be happy when this canning phase is done, and will be even more happy to find those jars in the basement during winter. :)

Last night, I picked some squash blossoms. I will be stuffing these with cheese, batter them lightly, and fry them up for dinner tonight!

Linking up to the host of Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard - see what everyone is cooking up in their kitchens!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Never ending chores

I'm sure this is the busiest time for every gardener in North America. It's the time to do absolutely everything at once - cleaning dead plants, harvesting, preserving, composting, preparing for the fall garden, and of course weeding.

In the last week or so, I have done so much of everything, and I'm still not done with everything on my to do list.

1) Cleaning - Tomato plants are all dead from late blight. I pulled them up and cleaned the areas. I also pulled all the melon and cucumber vines from the earlier in the season. The second crop of cucumbers is slowly coming. Some pepper plants, hard beans, kale, onions (never grew), also have been pulled and the beds were cleared.

2) Fall Planting - In the newly prepared beds, I have planted: Cabbages, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Kale, Komatsuna, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Celery, Radish, Carrots, and Daikon.

3) Harvesting - A handful of beans every few days. Hot peppers are starting to turn color. The second wave of bell peppers are coming -still small but growing. Lots of herbs. A cucumber here and there.

4)Preserving - Canned 15 quarts of tomato sauce, 5 quarts tomato juice, 12 half-pints of tomato ketchup. Dried a bunch of herbs. Put away a few bags of green beans and ready-made meals in the freezer.

5) To do - Trellis peas! I planted them about 3 weeks ago and they are already flowering! Need to plant beets, Mache, more spinach, Lettuce and other greens. Build a tunnel for brassica beds. Clean old and damaged Komatuna leaves (cabbage loopers!). Transplant raspberries and Blueberries. And WEED everywhere!

6) Questions - When is it safe to plant brassica out in the open without the protection from those moths? I still see a few flying around, but will the eggs hatch and survive through the fall to damage my plants? Or is it time to get BT?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard

Every week, I try to stick with the menu that I create at the beginning of that week. Of course, plans change all the time. This week was one of those weeks that I constantly had to change because of what's around my kitchen.

We had a bountiful mushroom harvest last weekend, so we absolutely had to make something with them. One of our favorite dishes is homemade pizza using those wild mushrooms. I bake bread quite often, so I have a bread machine, but for pizza doughs, I always use food processor. And I always make it the night before up to a few days in advance. It is the easiest and best dough ever for our taste. I'm a bit of a pizza snob ever since I spent some years in NY. So I've tried many many many many different recipes and methods over the years. I seem to stick to this one nowadays. Ideally, you want to grill the pizza, but I just crank up the oven as high as it goes, and it's usually pretty successful.

These are obviously white pizzas. I think the tomato sauce would overpower the delicate flavor of these mushrooms. I just brush the dough with garlic infused olive oil and put already sauteed mushrooms (in butter) and fresh mozzarella cheese on top.  Here is the pizza dough recipe:

7.5 oz Bread Flour
3/4 tsp salt

Pulse these in the food processor until mixed

Mix in a separate bowl the following

5 oz water
1/2 TBSP sugar
1TBSP Olive oil
3/4 tsp yeast

Add this mixture to the flour mixture in the food processor and let it process until a ball of dough forms (about 30 seconds). Take the dough out and put it in a greased plastic bag. Rest it in the fridge over night or 2-3 days until ready to use.

Last weekend was also my canning weekend, and I had a few jars of tomato sauce that did not seal. Do I made eggplant parmesan the next day. I wish the eggplant was from my garden, but they were the first thing to be affected by the fungal problem and died very quickly without producing any. Luckily, I bought 2 big beautiful eggplants at a local farm for 80 cents.

We had enough to eat for the dinner, lunch the next day, and 2 meals worth went to the freezer.

Then last night, I used up the leftover grilled chicken from the previous week and made chicken pot pie. I can't believe I forgot to take pictures, but here is what's left of it, ready for the freezer. I used carrots, celery, herbs, green beans, and onions from the garden.

It was certainly yummy, but it was way too early to have that kind of cozy soul food in shorts. I'm sure we'll appreciate it more when we pull them out of the freezer in a couple of months from now.

Linking up to the host of Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard where you can see what's going around everyone's kitchen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Harvest Monday

The night temperatures have been unusually cool for August, which is not so good for the remaining summer veggie plants. But it's great for the fall veggie seedlings.

The last of the carrots were pulled out and I need to sow some more seeds for the fall/winter crop. I had no idea that the home-grown carrots could taste this good!

I have been harvesting herbs and drying them. They have been good to us all throughout the season.

Earlier in the season, my basil was getting attacked by something. They were so bare at one point that I thought I would just pull them out...

But I'm glad I didn't! They all came back and the more I snip, the more they give.
I used the basil in my first batch of tomato sauce this weekend.

I wish I could say these tomatoes were from my garden, but I've been having trouble with my tomato plants all throughout the season and they didn't produce much. They recovered for a few weeks, but then with all the rain we've been getting lately, they were hit by blight and are quickly dying. The good news is I can buy a box of canning tomatoes for $3 around here. It's ALMOST not worth gardening when they are this cheap!

I canned 15 quarts of sauce from the beginning to the end. 3 quarts did not seal in my pressure canner. I have been having a problem with that lately. I can't figure out why. It does seem to happen more often with the wide-mouth jars though. I give plenty of head space, wipe the rim, etc.... Anyone has suggestions?

The rain has been great for some things in nature - wild mushrooms! My husband and I collect all sorts of wild mushrooms, but we especially look forward to this time of year when our favorite ones come out.

Happy Harvest everyone!

Linking up to the host of Harvest Monday, where people share their wonderful harvests!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Just as when I thought our tomato plants were recovering from the initial fungal problem, they are now suffering from late blight. Oh poor tomatoes.... There is not much I can do at this point with all the rain we have been getting lately.

I think I'll just let them be for now and hope those several tomatoes that are hanging on there will show some shade of red, so I can at least save them for sauce.

I am not ready for fall yet...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard

What a busy week! I had a special guest visit me from overseas this week, and have not been able to do much in the garden. But I've sure been cooking a lot!

One of the things I made was this coconut Thai curry with the garden veggies (zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, onions) and shrimp, and squid.

This is surprisingly very easy if you have a jar of Thai curry paste (red or green) and a can of coconut milk (unsweetened) and whatever protein and veggies you want to put in it. My husband likes it with LOTS of hot chiles from the garden. We have several different types of hot peppers - mostly for him.

Then the next day, I grilled whole chickens with some jerk seasoning, corn, and some more veggies. It's usually my husband's job to grill, but he was busy with work this week, so I did it this time. I still need to improve my skills, especially when it comes to charcoal grilling, but I'm getting there.

I love these easy summer meals! (Our puppy thinks so too!)

Visit the host of Thursday Cupboard to see everyone's yummy treats!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvest Monday

The ugliest melon I've ever seen!! I planted 3 different types of muskmelons, but only this one lived long enough to produce fruit. It is called Prescott Fond Blanc Muskmelon. I wish I had taken a picture just the day before I picked this. It was bright GREEN. And it's been green for several weeks. I didn't know when it was going to ripen, but I was shocked to see the quick change of color over night. And it smelled so heavenly.

The taste???

Unfortunately, not so good.....

I read a lot of reviews where people are commenting on the "so-so" taste of this melon, so I'm not surprised. That combined with the poor soil of my garden, I can't expect much. It just didn't have the sweetness at all.

But still, I'm pretty excited about harvesting my first ever muskmelon!

Please visit the host of Harvest Monday where all gardeners around the world are sharing their yummy harvests.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


We originally planted about 40 tomato plants - half heirlooms and other half plum types for sauce making. The garden is fresh dug and we did not test the soil (don't know why!) and all we did was add a couple of buckets of manure to the area.

Although this is the real first garden we had, we have been canning our tomato sauces for the last several years, using the "seconds" from our local farms. So this year, we were so excited to be able to can the sauces using our own tomatoes.

Everything was looking great until the heirlooms started wilting. The leaves were still dark green and healthy looking, but they wilted during the day and recovered at night. Around the same time, the eggplants and a few pepper plants started showing the same problem and died quickly. I did some research and was convinced that it was either Fusarium or Verticillium wilt, for which there was apparently nothing you could do to save them. At this point, All of the heirlooms were suffering pretty bad, so I pulled most of them out. The plums that were planted much later in a different bed were doing okay then, but a few weeks later, the same thing started happening. This is what they looked like then.

I know this is our first garden and we can't expect everything according to the plan, but we were really looking forward to the tomatoes. So I desperately did more research and came across this product called "Actinovate." I am opposed to the use of any chemicals, but this product is apparently safe for organic gardening. It is not cheap, and my plants were already well established by then, but this was going to be my last hope before calling it quits.  I also bought some high quality fertilizer along with it.

Now this is how they looked after 1 application of Actinovate and fertilizers.

Some still wilt at the hottest part of the day, but not as bad as they used to. They also started being more productive. Each plant initially had only 3-4 tomatoes before they got sick, but now they are flowering non stop and putting on some fruit.

Since I did both Actinovate and fertilizers at the same time, I can not say which did the trick - maybe it was the combination of both. I wish I knew about this product before I pulled out all those beautiful heirloom plans. But at least, it looks like we'll see some plum tomatoes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard

Here are some of the things we've had this week. It's so great to be able to have fresh veggies right from your own backyard.

Monday, we had the beef kabobs marinated with lots of garlic, onions, oregano, wine, balsamic, olive oil and whatever else I felt like putting in... On the side, we made grilled zucchini and peppers (no picture), plus stuffed Jalapeno peppers from the garden:

I love this tool - well, it's actually my husband's tool. You just remove the stems and seeds, stuff them with cheese and grill them. So easy and delicious! Some Jalapenos were too small for the size of the holes, so I stacked 2 pieces together and it works fine.

Last night we had some flounder with veggies from the garden. I was supposed to make rice pilaf, but made sour cream parmesan potatoes instead. I also sauteed zucchini, carrots, and beans.

I'm excited that I have been able to freeze some of these veggies for the winter! I was hoping to make 100 packets of veggies in the freezer, but I think I need to plant a little more to be able to eat everyday and preserve enough for later.

I'm linking this post to The Gardener of Eden - the host of Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harvest Monday

Things are coming!

Tomatoes - Despite the wilt problems, our tomato plants keep fighting and trying to produce. Not enough to can, but plenty for daily uses.

Peppers - Both hot and sweet peppers are doing very well! I am waiting for the bells to turn red, but no sign. The Anaheims are our favorite. We roast them over wood fire and make green chile sauce every year. Since they don't ripen at the same time, we roast them, peel them and freeze them until we have enough to make a big batch.

Zucchini - Only one plant - still standing tall and healthy. It is producing one every 3-4 days - perfect amount.

Beans - The Haricot verts have started! They are not as prolific as the yellow waxes, but they are delicious!

Cucumbers - We had 10 plants of mix variety, and most of them produced some and quickly wilted. I have 3 plants left - half dead, but still trying to produce a little. But this Japanese cuke might be the last one before I finally pull out the plant. My second seedlings are getting bigger fast, so maybe we'll have another crop of cucumbers before the fall.

Hard beans - I planted pinto, black coco, and canellini beans. They are ripening at different times. And because of so much rain we've been having lately, some beans are sprouting in pods!  So I have been removing semi-dry pods here and there. As soon as I removed those old pods, the near dead plants decided to flower again! We'll see if I get a second crop out these.

Water melon - First time growing melons! I think I waited long enough to pick it... it's "Sangria" and weighed about 6lb. Very exciting, but the taste was just OKAY... I have 2 more, but I think I am going to give them some more time.

I'm linking to the host of "Harvest Monday" where gardeners all over the world share their yummy harvests!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake

We are big blueberry fans! So we are pretty happy that there are about 25lb of blueberries in the freezer right now. There is a farm that we go to towards the end of the season when they let you pick as many berries as you want for close to free. Not so fun part is the washing and picking the stems off, but it's well worth the time and effort. Now I have all those berries to make muffins, jams, smoothies, ice cream, etc. all year long. Last year I made blueberry citrus conserve and it was a big hit, so I may make a batch of that again to give away as gifts.

For now, this is the first blueberry thing I made this season - crumb coffee cake. Of course, I couldn't resist tasting it shortly after it came out of the oven, as you can see a piece missing in the picture. The recipe actually came from the blueberry farm. My husband will be happy for a week.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

make once serve 3 times

I get a little anxious when I don't have any meatballs in the freezer. They are such a huge saver when it comes to busy days, unexpected guests, or hunger attacks! So when I make them, I try to make a big batch and freeze some for later. Last Sunday, we had Swedish meatballs for dinner, which is a very simple plain meatball base. As soon as I finished forming those little balls, I added some cheese and Italian herbs to the rest of the batch and formed some bigger balls.

I also have 2 jars of tomato sauce left from last year, so we have at least 2 spaghetti + meatball dinners ahead!