Caramel Sauce from a Can? What Sorcery is This?!

When I saw MyFridgeFood.com’s Facebook post earlier this week explaining how to make caramel sauce by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water for two and a half hours, I was intrigued. Well, intrigued and hungry. I love caramel!

MyFridgeFood.com's Facebook post that started this whole story.
MyFridgeFood.com’s Facebook post that started this whole story.

Our Facebook fans pointed out that my caramel sauce would likely end up chock full of BPA – a very real concern. But I wanted to try this so badly! I figured… just once.

Here are the instructions I followed (courtesy of the Facebook post, and verified by several fans:

No Work Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

One can sweetened condensed milk, label peeled off

Instructions:

  • Place can in pot of boiling water, ensuring can is completely submerged. Use a large pot, full enough that it can boil for two and a half hours without boiling dry, and with enough water that the can will stay completely submerged for the same.
  • Boil for 2.5 hours. Check periodically to ensure can is completely submerged.
  • Remove from water and allow to cool completely. This will likely take a few hours.
  • When you open the can, you’ve got dulce de leche!

We ate ours with Granny Smith apple wedges.

Our bedtime snack (I hadn't factored in cooling time) of apples and dulce de leche.
Our bedtime snack (I hadn’t factored in cooling time) of apples and dulce de leche.

Now, our good friend Jen does this often, but without the added chemicals leaching from the can’s lining. Here’s how. Keep in mind we’ve yet to try this, but we do trust Jen!

Almost No Work Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

Sweetened condensed milk (you can open the can)

Instructions:

  • Divide the sweetened condensed milk into canning jars (small ones if you’d like to resist eating it all at once when it’s done). Secure lids. Place jars on top of a tea towel in the bottom of a tall crockpot. Fill with water and heat overnight on low.
  • In the morning, turn off crock pot. Allow to cool completely.
  • Same result as the other recipe!

This is amazing. Dare I say… life changing? Did I mention I love caramel?

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Happy Birthday Nasturtium Smoothie (recipe)

Not looking for any celebration here, but yesterday was my birthday. I went to visit my parents over the weekend and came into a large amount of garden produce – including some nasturtiums. I had this idea that I would use them in a smoothie, and save enough for garnish, so I could have what should feel like a pretty special smoothie on my birthday.

Well, circumstances were against me and I didn’t get around to making my birthday smoothie on my actual birthday, but gosh darnit, I was going to drink that smoothie while the nasturtiums lasted! So, we had it today. The following recipe is totally flexible – feel free to substitute similar flavours or consistencies – but the key for me was keeping the flavours light so that the flower flavours could show through, and keeping the colour nice and peachy-organge so that it would look pretty with the flowers. Your priorities might be different!

Happy birthday or merry unbirthday to all of us!

Happy Birthday Nasturtium Smoothies
Happy Birthday Nasturtium Smoothies

Happy Birthday Nasturtium Smoothie (makes enough for two adults and three kids)

Ingredients:

  1. One frozen banana
  2. 1 cup frozen cantaloupe
  3. 1 pint apricots canned in water
  4. 1/4 cup strawberry/rhubarb butter
  5. 1/4 cup elderflower cordial
  6. Handful of frozen strawberries
  7. Handful of nasturtium blossoms (don’t forget to save one as garnish for each cup!)
  8. 3/4 cup greek yogurt
  9. 1/3 cup hemp hearts

Blend in a blender. Or your fancy-schmancy Vitamix, show-off. Pour into cups, pop a nice straw in there, garnish each cup with a flower. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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When Life Hands You Lemons…

There was a terrible late-summer storm in my city this week. Several inches of heavy, wet snow fell, bringing down decades-old trees all over the city and decimating gardens. I found myself with a sudden harvest of very green, very frozen heirloom tomatoes. Something had to be done with them, and quick, before they started to get soft.

We’re not a relish-eating family, so that was out, and I’d already made about 9L of salsa so that was off the table as well. Coincidentally, a friend had just that morning gifted me with some yellow zucchini from her garden, because she had more than she knew what to do with.

Brandywine tomatoes and Brandy's yellow zucchini.
Brandywine tomatoes and Brandy’s yellow zucchini.

I come from a long line of picklers. Pickling is what we do.

This hangs in my dad's kitchen. h/t my sister for her badass crosstitch skills.
This hangs in my dad’s kitchen. h/t my sister for her badass crosstitch skills.

I found instructions for pickling green tomatoes online and, as I do, set about to make the recipe my own. This comes together really quickly, but looks crazy fancy. You give a jar of these to someone and they’re going to be hella impressed, and that’s before they taste them.

Pickled Green Tomatoes and Yellow Zucchini

  • 3 lbs green tomatoes, sliced into sandwich slices
  • 1 lb yellow zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
  • 6 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 2 t celery seeds
  • pinch cayenne
  • Bernardin Pickle Crisp or similar food-grade calcium chloride
  1. Mix vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seeds and cayenne in a large pot and bring to a simmer.
  2. Add tomato and zucchini slices and heat on med-low for 5-7 minutes or until tomatoes become slightly soft and translucent.
  3. Add the recommended amount of Pickle Crisp to the bottom of each of your hot, sterilized jars.
  4. Using tongs, carefully layer slices of tomato and zucchini, alternating for visual effect (I found two slices of tomato to one slice zucchini worked perfectly).
  5. Top up each jar with hot brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
  6. Slide a knife down the edges of jars to release trapped air bubbles.
  7. Place heated lids and clean rings on jars.
  8. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Yields 8 half-pints.

These can be enjoyed as soon as 24 hours after preparation, and can be stored for up to one year.

Right? Right??
Right? Right??

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Slow-Cooker Spicy Tomato-Mango Ketchup

Tomato canning season is underway. In my house, tomatoes are the single largest canning endeavour of the year, and I buy more of them by weight than anything else. I always can with Romas – they’re high in acidity, not too watery and have great flavour. This year I’ve done right around 200lbs, and I’ll need another 20-30lbs to finish making everything I need for the year.

About three-quarters of that goes toward tomato pasta sauce. This is a staple for my family. We eat it at least once a week, as a part of various pasta dishes, as a pizza sauce, in the slow cooker with chicken thighs, and the list goes on and on. I can’t eat commercially jarred sauce anymore. Homemade is just so much better.

Here’s the thing about tomatoes. Tomatoes are a labour of love. You bring them into the house, box after box after box, and then spend a good amount of time staring at them in disbelief, thinking holy shit, what have I gotten myself into? Then you get to work. You blanch, peel, squeeze and repeat. The boxes don’t ever seem to get less full. It’s three a.m. and you’re still canning tomatoes. Your nails are stained yellow and brittle from the acids, and your kitchen is an absolute disaster.

Take special note of the splatter on the floor.
Take special note of the splatter on the floor. That’s basically all over my kitchen right now.

But at the end of it all, you have these amazing, fresh-tasting tomato things, and once you open the first jar, you realize that all the hard work was worth it.

While the tomato sauce always makes me go, “Yum, I love this stuff,” when I cook with it, the following recipe elicits a “holy crap, this stuff is frickin’ fantastic!” And the best part is, the slow cooker does most of the work while you sleep!

Slow Cooker Spicy Tomato-Mango Ketchup

10 cups peeled, squooshed Roma tomatoes
8 cups mango
2 cups onion
8 cloves garlic
1.75 cups honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 T + 1 t mustard powder
2 t Herbamare
1 t ground cloves
½ t cayenne
1 t chipotle spice
1 t smoked paprika

  1. To prepare tomatoes, heat a large pot of water to boiling. Add whole tomatoes, removing into an ice bath once skin has split. The skins will now slip off easily. Cut off stem end and squeeze the peeled tomato to remove inner juice and seeds. Measure out ten cups of the tomato that remains.
  2. In a large pot, combine tomatoes and mango. Heat until juices start to come out, then add onion and garlic.
  3. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes on med-low.
  4. Using an immersion blender, roughly puree the mixture, then process with a food mill, discarding the solids.
  5. Return the pulp and juice to the pot and add the other ingredients.
  6. Transfer to a slow cooker set on low and leave it uncovered overnight (10 hours).
  7. The next day, pour ketchup into clean, sterilized half-pint jars and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 6 8oz jars.
Here is the slow cooker, labouring away while I lay dreaming of a time when my kitchen is spotless.
Here is the slow cooker, labouring away while I lay dreaming of a time when my kitchen is spotless.

I’ve done a lot of fiddling with this recipe over the last couple of years to get the balance of sweetness, acidity and spiciness just right, and this year I think I’ve made the best batch yet. If you don’t like a lot of heat, you can omit either the chipotle or the cayenne, but not both! Best served on top of smokies or bratwurst, alongside scrambled eggs, thick-cut homefries or hashbrowns or with homemade mac and cheese.

Please don't email to tell me those aren't Romas. I know. I used every last one in the house to make the ketchup, so these are from my garden.
Please don’t email to tell me those aren’t Romas. I know. I used every last one in the house to make the ketchup, so these are from my garden.

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A-Foraging We Will Go!

Summer. It’s my favourite season. I’m an avid gardener – in fact, most of my front yard has been given over to vegetables and fruit. A trip down the front walk to the car is never complete without snatching a couple leaves of lettuce, a ripe cherry tomato or a sugar snap peapod, or plucking a carrot from the earth to munch on. Having my own little Victory Garden, as they were called during World War II, gives me an intense sense of satisfaction.

The neighbours like it because I give them free organic veggies.

But being a city dweller, there’s only so much I can do with the land I have, so from time to time, I head out into the wider world to forage what I can. Lindsay and I have been doing this together for years, and I’m always surprised by two things: first, how many edible things there are all around us, and second, that more people don’t take advantage of this.

By far the easiest thing to forage for in our city is berries. We have two spots that we hit up every year, one for saskatoons and another for nanking cherries. And this is no u-pick farm with tidy rows of shrubs. We’re scrambling down hillsides, waist-deep in thickets to find these.

Lindsay picking saskatoons. We also found currants!
Lindsay picking saskatoons. We also found currants!
Okay, 'beside the tennis court' is not exactly bushwhacking.
Okay, ‘beside the tennis court’ is not exactly bushwhacking.

The highlight of our annual foraging date is always the rare white nanking cherry bush. There’s only one that we know of, and its fruit is precious indeed.

So mysterious.
So mysterious.

Saskatoons are a versatile berry that can be made into jam, pie filling, juice and anything you might use blueberries for. Nanking cherries, because of their small size, are difficult to pit so I only use them to make juice with. I add the juice to my morning smoothie; Lindsay adds it to gin.

Juice concentrate (red jars) and white nanking cherry jelly (centre bottom).
Juice concentrate from red and white (centre bottom jar) nanking cherries.

Edible things are all around you, if you keep your eye out. Depending on where you live, you may also find tree fruit, mushrooms, greens, wild grapes and more. Lindsay and I even found asparagus one year. My husband says in Saskatchewan, swiss chard grows in the ditches beside the highway. In the Shuswap area of BC, where my parents live, raspberry canes are everywhere, and I’ve seen roadside blackberries in Vancouver. Sometimes, foraging is as simple as knocking on a neighbour’s door and asking them if they’re planning on using all the apples on their tree this year. And plants you’ve seen around your entire life may be a food source you never knew about! The cattail has several edible parts, and I’m sure there’s a dandelion somewhere near you right now. (Please always ensure you have correctly identified a plant before consuming it.)

So, what do you like to glean from the land?

Nanking Cherry Juice Concentrate

  • Any quantity of nanking cherries – as much as you can pick! The cherries can be frozen prior to using as well.
  • Sweetener, if desired (unsweetened juice can be tart. You can also add a small amount of a sweeter fruit instead – Lindsay adds a cup of saskatoons to roughly 10 cups of cherries.)
  1. Wash the fruit in cold water, removing stems as needed.
  2. Move them into a pot and add about half an inch of water. Heat on medium.
  3. Once cherries are simmering, reduce heat to low, mashing occasionally with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
  4. Simmer until liquid has been reduced by a third.
  5. Remove from heat and ladle the liquid into a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. I squeeze the bag to get a bit of pulp into the juice.
  6. Return strained juice to pot and heat to a boil.
  7. Pour into clean hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (pints or quarts). Don’t forget to adjust processing time for altitude!

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Guest Post: Liquid Sunshine (with recipe)

When our friend Angela (check out her blog at http://deliciousandhealthfulfood.blogspot.ca) described her Liquid Sunshine recipe to us, it sounded so delicious (and full of magical whole-food properties) that we asked her to write a guest post for our blog, so that we could share it with all of you, too! Here’s what Ange had to say. Enjoy!

I am so thrilled to be doing a guest post for Lindsay and Nicole. I love their on-line store and I have purchased some different lids and straws which have gotten a ton of use this summer. The kids fight over them, they are so well loved.

This spring I discovered a beautiful shop called The Light Cellar which is located in Bowness, Calgary. They have a wonderful selection of herbs, health and super foods, as well as what they call an “Elixir Bar”. This thing is magic. You can order truly scrumptious hot and cold drinks that are just busting with goodness for body and soul. It’s really a gift that we have this place in our city.

Anyways, I like to try to replicate the drinks at home. They sell the ingredients right there and I do my best to mix up my own elixirs for my family.

The cold drink that we really love I have re-named “Liquid Sunshine”. It is called “Solar Charge” at the Light Cellar, and I highly recommend you go try the real thing if you are in Calgary.

I make a big batch of this drink and then store it in cute, small mason jars. The kids like that they are a similar size to store-bought drink-boxes and we throw a couple in the picnic basket when we rush off to this or that. I can also put them in lunches which is a bonus. If I also throw in a couple reusable mason jar drinking lids the kids can drink them in the car, or switch out the lids and sip them at the park or on the go.

I get all the ingredients at the Light Cellar. I did a little editing and had to estimate the proportions. I also added “Amazonian Jungle Tea” as a base, which is a lovely tea to just have in your house. I love it on its own, hot or cold. Because it is a “stick” tea, you need to simmer it for 15 minutes, which means it’s easiest (for me) to make a big batch and store it concentrated in the fridge and then add hot/cold water as needed.

Sea Buckthorn is one of those super foods that is high in Vitamin C and so many other wonderful things that are hard to find elsewhere. Camu Camu is a fruit from South America that is ridiculously high in vitamin C. The flavor is sort of bitter so use a little at a time. It’s also great for smoothies.

Liquid Sunshine. Sunshine in jars!
Liquid Sunshine. Sunshine in jars!

Ingredients: (again, I rarely measure and just sort of plop ingredients in and then taste it and adjust…)

⅓ cup Sea Buckthorn Puree
1.5 T Camu Camu Powder
6 cups cooled Amazonian Jungle tea (must be cooled or it will affect the Sea Buckthorn flavor)
6-8 drops Orange essential oil
6-8 drops Tangerine essential oil
Honey to taste (dissolved in hot water and then cooled again)

To make this, I usually boil a little water to dissolve the honey because it mixes better. Also, the Camu Camu does not really dissolve so I really mix it in, or put a bit in the Vitamix and blend it. You really have to cool the honey/hot water because the Sea Buckthorn tastes rancid if it gets warm at all. This is also true of the puree and the juice. It’s lovely when it’s cool, but be sure to keep it in the fridge. That said, I do take it in the picnic basket and as long as we drink it in a few hours before it gets warm it’s always fine.

 

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Zen and the Art of Canning – About Nicole

There’s something intensely satisfying about standing in front of shelves and shelves of goods you preserved yourself. Or tasting a recipe you threw together on a whim and realizing it’s fantastic. These are only a couple of the reasons why I can, but they’re the two that stand out the most for me as we come up on the beginning of the produce season here in Canada. It won’t be too long until the first tender spears of asparagus start poking through the soil, after all!

Canning is more than a hobby for me. Putting up my own food has become an integral part of my personality. I like knowing that even if catastrophe happens – we find ourselves without an income or there’s an extended power outage, I still have plenty of food put by to feed my family. I like knowing that it came from local farms and producers, and that I inspected every ingredient for freshness. And maybe more than anything, I like the quiet mindfulness my mind sinks into when I’m canning – almost a meditation – where I can let my mind run free as my hands perform the same motions over and over. That escape from the everyday burdens of life, deep into my imagination, is where I often wind up finding ideas and solutions for another facet of my life – writing. The two are not so dissimilar: like any art form, both involve creation, hard work, a great deal of learning and practise and in the end, something you can be proud of.

Far from leaving me exhausted, spending hours – days even – in this state is rejuvenating, and always leaves me looking forward to the next time (although at the end of blanching and peeling some 150lbs of tomatoes, I often swear I never want to see another nightshade again). Canning is what I do to relax. The fact that you get delicious food out of it is just a bonus. And those jars sure do look pretty all lined up like that.

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Earl Grey Spruce Tip Jelly

A friend told me recently that she uses spruce tips to make jelly.

This was pretty much the face I made.
This was pretty much the face I made.

But then I got to thinking about the giant spruce tree in my backyard, and decided to give it a try. Harvesting them was easy. I enlisted the boychild as my helper and together we picked about six cups of the small, tender tips. I chose only the light green ones that still had their sticky, papery cover at the end, which I removed. We also were careful to not take all the tips from the same spot, in case the tree ended up lopsided ten years down the road.

Don't they look like little green fox tails?
Don’t they look like little green fox tails?

A warning: there are going to be spiders. Decide in advance how comfortable you are with that. I decided I was not very comfortable, and spent quite a bit of time shrieking and flinging spiders off my hands while the boychild rolled his eyes at me. There are two steps to making spruce tip jelly. First you have to make the juice.

  1. Measure out six cups of spruce tips. Make sure all papery ends are discarded.
  2. Rinse the tips and chop them roughly.
  3. Dump them into a large pot and add 7 cups of cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let the tips simmer for 30 minutes. The spruce tips have a faint citrusy aroma, and it was while I was sniffing the steam wafting from the pot that I knew what I wanted to add to enhance the basic flavour of the jelly.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat, and with a tea infuser, steep three tablespoons of Earl Grey looseleaf tea in the pot for 4-5 minutes.

While the tea was steeping, I tried to think of a joke that would end with the punchline “Spruce Wayne,” but the best I could come up with was “who is the forest’s favourite superhero?” which is a pretty sucky joke. Once your juice is ready, the second step is to make the jelly. I use Pomona’s Pectin, but another low-sugar pectin would work as well. The instructions that follow are for using Pomona’s.

  1. Strain juice through a jelly bag or cheesecloth, and measure out 4 cups into a clean pot.
  2. Add 4 tsp of calcium water to the juice, and heat to a boil.
  3. While juice is heating, measure out 1.5 cups sugar and mix with 4 tsp pectin powder.
  4. Once juice has reached a boil, stir in sugar and pectin and return to a hard boil, stirring vigourously.
  5. Remove pot from heat and ladle juice into sterilized jars. Wipe rims and place lids.
  6. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level).

Makes six half-pint jars of a very complex-flavoured, yellow topaz-coloured jelly.

Like so.
Like so.

I was honestly terrified that this wouldn’t turn out. The weirdness of the ingredients made it impossible to imagine in advance how the jelly would taste, but after my first taste, I’m totally sold on it. It’s the perfect accompaniment for high tea with crumpets, or if you’re not quite that high-brow, toast and a nice cuppa.

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Bring It On, Zombie Apocalypse! (About Lindsay)

I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that this all started with an intense interest in the apocalypse. A lifelong love of mysteries had led me to books about 2012, which led me to books about peak oil, which introduced me to permaculture and topics like peak soil, the plight of the bees, the state of the economy (this was before the 2008 crash), and on and on. Ever the pragmatist, I accepted that while the poles were likely not going to flip, and we have only a small chance of being buried in ash from a volcanic eruption in Yellowstone, it’s only prudent to be prepared for any eventuality. And thus, a prepper was born.

I do like to joke about the zombie apocalypse, and I feel our world is changing fast in many ways, but rest assured – I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. After about five years of preparing for whatever may come, I’ve learned that preparedness (food storage, financial preparedness, carrying a first aid kit in the car, and knowing how to react in emergency situations) can reduce life stress in general.

Canning and preserving is a great example. My plunge into canning came about as a natural melding of several interests – prepping, of course, but also foraging local wild edibles, learning drying skills, and cooking/food. I have loved learning the skills involved in canning and preserving, but I have also discovered just how nice it is to have shelves and shelves full of home-canned, healthy foods in the basement. During times of financial stress, illness, or when I’m just too lazy to run to the store, being able to walk downstairs and choose a jar as the base of our dinner or snack is comforting, to say the least.

Assorted jars in the basement.
Assorted jars in the basement.

Now that I’ve been canning for a few years, I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. In fact, when for some reason the summer of 2013 proved very overwhelming for me and I was tempted to can hardly anything, my husband begged me to still can tomatoes and salsa – he couldn’t go back to store bought, he said. Indeed, now that we have become accustomed to our favourite home recipes, we’d be hard-pressed to find anything comparable in a store.

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