Canning Basics for Beginners

There is a satisfaction that comes with canning your own fruits, vegetables, and even meats for your family. I love to see the pantry shelves stocked with an abundance of brightly colored, healthy, and tasty foods.

Canning gives you the option to preserve foods when they are in season and at the height of freshness and enjoy them later. I have gathered together some basic canning tips to help you get started if you are new to canning.

Canning gives you the option to preserve foods when they are in season. Here are basic canning tips to help you get started if you are new to canning.

Water Canning vs. Pressure Cooking

What is the difference between water bath canning and pressure cooker canning? Here is a quick breakdown for you.

Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is where you process your jars completely submerged in boiling water for a designated amount of time. It is a good easy option for canning high acid containing foods like pickles, jellies, jams, condiments, tomato sauce, and preserves. These foods are processed with additional acid in the form of lemon juice or vinegar. Be sure to process for the recommended amount of time.

Pressure Cooker Canning

The pressure cooker method is a must for safe canning of low acid foods like broths, meats, and most vegetables. I use this pressure cooker for all my canning because I feel using an electric pressure cooker is safer and more stable than an old fashioned pressure cooker or water bath canning. With long process times, the food in the jar is cooked and a safe seal is made at the same time.

Sterilizing Mason Jars

Proper sterilization of jars is very important in safe canning, although Ball no longer recommends boiling to sterilize your lids (apparently this has been a thing since they changed their seals in 1969, but I just recently found out). You can simply use clean room temperature lids and rings.

You still want to sterilize your jars in boiling water or in the dishwasher. Heat them in simmering but not boiling water and keep them there until ready to fill or pull straight from a hot dishwasher.

General Canning Tips

  • Start with a clean kitchen. You want to have a lot of counter, stove, and sink space for the canning process.
  • Use only canning jars, upcycled mayonnaise, pickle, or pasta jars are not effective or safe for long term food preserving.
  • After filling jars, wipe the rim with a clean damp cloth to remove any spillage and get a better seal.
  • Don’t rush it. Take your time and follow all the steps to be sure your canning is done properly and safely. Short cuts are generally not your friend when it comes to canning.
  • Use ripe fruits and veggies. Avoid overripe as the canning process does not reverse the ripeness and the flavor will be preserved as is.
  • Test lids before putting canned food away for storage. When you press on the center of the lid, it should not move up and down.
  • Use lids only once but the rings can be used over and over.
  • When removing jars from hot water, place on a towel rather than the cool counter where temperature differences might crack your jars.
  • Use tools to help you can safely, quickly, and neatly. The right tools for the job make it much easier. See the list below for my favorite basics.

Basic Tools To Have on Hand

These are the items that I consider basic canning supplies and keep on hand in my canning stock at all times.

Pressure Cooker – I like this model because it has a canning feature and can be used as a slow cooker. You can also pressure cook to quickly make meals.

Water Bath Canner – This is a good, basic water bath canner that is ideal for jams, jellies,and preserves.

Jar Lifter – A jar lifter is a great safety tool for lifting hot jars. This one lifts regular and wide mouth jars.

Lid Magnet – A lid magnet is another safety tool that allows you to easily lift lids out of hot water.

Lids/Rings – Jars and rings can be reused, but you don’t want to be out of these when canning – clean lids are a must.

Funnel – This collapsible funner really helps fill your jars more quickly as well as with less mess.

Canning Scoop – This scoop is designed for getting food out of the bottom of a stock pot and pouring into a jar.

Jars – Which jar size you use will depend on what you are canning. There are many different sizes and shapes to choose from such as these Pint Mason Jars and Quart Mason Jars.

What is your favorite thing to can and preserve?

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How to Cook a Pumpkin

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Do you know how to cook a pumpkin? I didn’t until a few years ago when stores started running out of canned pumpkin around Thanksgiving. I did some research and realized that cooking a pumpkin is actually quite simple and you can freeze the cooked pumpkin for long term storage.

It is easy to cook a fresh pumpkin and it tastes so much better than the canned pumpkin you buy at the grocery store. I usually cook mine in the crock pot and then freeze the extra for later.

Since I live in Florida and didn’t want to turn on my oven in the 90+ degree heat I decided to try cooking a pumpkin in a crock pot. I searched the internet and was surprised that I couldn’t find any tutorials for cooking a pumpkin in a crock pot. Always one to experiment in the kitchen, and having an extra pie pumpkin on hand just in case the crock pot pumpkin experiment went totally wrong, I decided to try it anyway.

All you need to cook a pumpkin in a crock pot is a pie pumpkin (these as smaller than the “jack-o-lantern” type pumpkins ), a crock pot and water.  I cannot stress enough that this needs to be a pie or sugar pumpkin. There is a difference between pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins. The pie pumpkins will be located by the squash and gourds in the produce department at your grocery store.

Wash the outside of your pumpkin with soap and water. Since the outside of the pumpkin will be touching the inside of the pumpkin while cooking you’ll want to make sure you’ve removed all the dirt from the outside before you cook it.

Take the pie pumpkin and cut it in half. This is the most difficult step in the process because pumpkins are not easy to cut! You’ll want to use a serrated knife and use a sawing motion to cut the pumpkin in half.

I like to skip this step by purchasing a smaller pumpkin that I can fit in my crock pot without cutting.

If you have a small pumpkin and a large crock pot you can put the entire thing in the crock pot and cook it whole. This is actually easier and safer since you don’t have to saw the pumpkin in half.

Once you’ve cut the pumpkin in half remove all the seeds and the stringy stuff inside the pumpkin. I usually take a sharp paring knife around the inside of the pumpkin and slice off the strings and seeds but you can also use a spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the innards. 🙂

After you’ve removed the seeds and strings you’ll want to cut your pumpkin in a few smaller pieces. How many pieces depends on the size of your crock pot. The larger the crock pot the fewer the pieces.

Place the cut pumpkin in the crock pot and add about one cup of water. This also depends on the size of your crock pot. You’ll want to make sure you have enough water in your crock pot to cover the bottom with about 3/4 an inch of water.

Turn the crock pot on high and cook for about four hours. If your crock pot runs hot you might want to use the low setting and cook for a bit longer.

You’ll know the pumpkin is finished cooking by sticking a fork into the flesh and gently pulling away from the skin. If it “falls off” the skin it is finished. If not cook for a little longer.

Remove the pumpkin pieces from the crock pot and let cool for a few minutes. Then using a spoon, scoop the pumpkin out of the skin. If your pumpkin has cooked long enough it should be very easy to remove.

Let my pumpkin cool completely then puree it in the blender.

I used Ziploc bags to store the pumpkin. I put two cups of pumpkin in each bag.

You can store your pumpkin in the refrigerator for a few days or freezer for long term storage.

The benefit of cooking your pumpkin in the crock pot is that it doesn’t absorb much, if any, of the water, so it isn’t watery after cooking. It also doesn’t heat up your kitchen, which is a benefit to those of us who are still looking at 90 degree weather.

I paid $0.99 a pound at the commissary for my pie pumpkin. I was able to get 4 1/2 cups pumpkin from a 5 pound pumpkin. So my cost was $1.10 per pound of pumpkin. Depending on where you live this could be more expensive than canned pumpkin, but many people prefer the taste of fresh pumpkin for baking.

Pumpkin is really good for you, loaded with beta carotine and potassium as well as fiber it is a great food to add to your favorite recipes. Below you will find some of my favorite pumpkin recipes.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Donuts

Pumpkin Muffins

Curried Pumpkin Soup

 

 

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Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Are you looking for a tried and true Mexican recipe to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this week?

Well, maybe you aren’t celebrating Cinco de Mayo, but Mexican recipes are always a crowd pleaser, usually inexpensive, and can be prepared ahead of time.

cinco de mayo recipes

Here’s another tidbit for you. Beans and meat are awesome freezer foods! It is so nice to pull out a tray of homemade burritos from the freezer and heat them up for dinner without any prep.

Here are some of my favorite, go-to Mexican dishes.

Appetizers and Sides

Easy 5 minute guacamole recipe with only 4 ingredients!

Easy 4 Ingredient Guacamole

easy homemade refried beans

Easy Homemade Refried Beans

homemade tortillas

Homemade Flour Tortillas

homemade_salsa

5 Minute Salsa

Main Dishes

Paleo Fish Tacos w Spicy Slaw - 2

 Paleo Fish Tacos

Cuban_Chicken_Salad

Cuban Chicken Salad

Fajita_Salad

Fajita Salad

chicken enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

tyson chicken tostada

Chicken Tostadas

crock pot salsa chicken

Salsa Chicken (Crock pot) 

Shredded_Beef_Burritos

Shredded Beef Burritos

 

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How to Get Four Meals from a Whole Chicken

One way I can really stretch our grocery budget is to make a whole chicken in the crock pot and use it for several meals. Many of you have asked how you can get more than one meal out of a whole chicken, so I wanted to show you how I do it.

crock pot chicken meals

A whole chicken can usually be purchased for under a $1 a pound (more if you are buying an organic, free range chicken) but it is still cheaper than buying chicken breast. I try to get a 4-5 pound chicken.

First cook your whole chicken. You can find a step-by-step tutorial for cooking a whole chicken here.

crockpot chicken

When your chicken is done you’ll want to remove all the meat from the chicken.  Don’t throw the bones away!

Chances are you won’t get all the meat off the bones. Throw them back into the crock pot, add some water, and let them simmer overnight.

Not only will you find more meat floating around in the broth the next morning, you will have several cups of broth you can use in soups, pot pie, or to cook rice.

Don’t throw away the fat from the broth. The fat can be saved and used to cook veggies in lieu of bacon grease or oil. 

Once you have all your chicken off the bone, shred it and divide it into four equal sections. This will be the meat for your meals. You should have a little over a cup of chicken in each bag if you buy a 4 to 5 pound chicken.

I store the shredded chicken in Ziploc bags, and usually freeze two and put two in the fridge for the week.

The key to making the chicken stretch for four meals is to not serve the chicken by itself as your main dish. If everyone eats a large piece of chicken you can’t make one chicken last for more than a meal or two, but when you mix it with other foods, it is easier to stretch.

While we eat meatless meals once or twice a week, my family prefers to have some meat in their meal (well the little girls don’t care) and it seems to keep them fuller longer, even the meat is mixed in and not served by itself.

Each of these main dishes serve four people with leftovers.

Meal #1: Chicken and corn chowder

This delicious recipe uses chicken broth so don’t forget to save the broth from your whole chicken for this recipe. The recipe calls for two cups of cooked chicken but you can definitely make it stretch with a cup and a half.

Meal #2: Chicken pot pie

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie is a family favorite and a great way to use up the broth. I use about one cup of chicken in my pie and double up on the veggies and potatoes. My kids eat pie for the crust so they don’t even notice how much chicken is in the pie.

Meal #3: Chicken and Bean Burritos 

chicken enchiladas

This is actually a bean burrito recipe, but my family really likes meat with their dinner so I add about a cup of shredded chicken to this recipe. This is a great quick recipe for busy nights and also freezes well.

Meal #4: Chicken Tetrazzini

chicken-tetrazzini

This recipe calls for chopped chicken breasts, but I often make it with shredded chicken. This recipe came from my dear friend Blair and it is a favorite of my kids! In fact for years we ate it at least once a week, sometimes more.

If you are gluten free you can make this with spaghetti squash or gluten free noodles, of course.

You don’t need to use these recipes to stretch a whole chicken. Any recipe that calls for shredded chicken can be made with meat from a whole chicken.

To make stretch the meat and the budget, look for recipes like soups, casseroles, and pasta. These recipes usually supplement with rice or beans and you’ll can use less meat in your main dish to save money.

Here are a few additional recipes that call for shredded/ chunk chicken.

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