A few good reasons to start canning

Canning is really popular these days. It seems that people are canning more than ever. Still, a lot of people are missing the point when it comes to canning. „Why do you waste yoir time with it?“, „Is it really worth it?“, „Where do you find the time?“, are among the most common questions I’m being asked.  First of all I really enjoy it, but there are same good (and practical) reason you should can.

Canning saves money: Of course this is the most practical reason of all and nowdays a very good reason if you want to save some money on your groceries.  Preserving food yourself  is a great way to stock your pantry and save some money. You will save even more if you grown your own fruits and vegetables. In this way you will not only save on your groceries but you will save on your gas bill (less trips to your grocery store).

Canning is healthy: If you do your own canning you will be able to control what goes into your food. This is the best way to avoid dangerous additives and preservatives. Again, the benefits are even greater if you grow your own food because you’ll know exactly what is the quality of your own fruits and vegetables (hopefully you will avoid pesticides as well). Moreover,  you will be able to avoid exotic or non-seasonal fruits shipped from foreign countries and stored for months in refrigerators.  Remember that the best thing you can do for your health is to eat fruits and vegetables that have grown under the sun and that have matured respecting the times of Mother Nature (read here something about seasonal fruits and vegetables http://localfoods.about.com/od/finduselocalfoods/a/natlseason.htm) .  Overall you’ll be healthier because you’ll be eating better food with more vitamins and nutrients. Lesser trips to the doctor as well!

It tastes better:  This is true if you grow your fruits and vegetables or if you buy it from your local farmer. Store-bought fruits and veggies just can compare to the seasonal food that is harvested at the peak of its flavour. The flavours and the colors are just a whole different thing.

Canning is green! Canning is environmentally friendly. You preserve  your food (even better if you grow it yourself or buy it from the local farmers), you avoid additives and pesticides, you save on gas and, the next year, you recycle the jars. So, canning is good for your health and for the environment, too.  And overall this is the first step to self sufficiency.

Canning is fun:   Some people won’t agree with this statement but I find canning really fun. Preserving with your family and friends is a nice way to spend your day. If you pick your fruits and vegetables (or berries in the woods) you will spend a nice day outdoors! And the beauty lies in the fact that the result will last for months and you will be able to make some really great gifts (I just love home-made jams!).

So, the next time somebody asks you „Why do you can?“ you can list a few very good reasons. Here is a great site http://www.pickyourown.org/ . Just click on your area nad find the nearest „Pick-your-own farm“.  Happy canning to everybody!


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Presto vs. All American pressure canner or how to choose the best canner?

When people look for a quality canner usually the main dilemma is between a Presto and an All American canner/cooker. It’s no surprise that a Presto and an All American model hold the first and second spot in the category on the Amazon bestsellers list. But which one to choose? In this post I’m going to compare the two and hopefully help you choose the right one.

The comparison is made between the Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker and the All American 921 21-1/2-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner.

all american pressure canner 921The material:
The Presto canner is made from heavy-gauge aluminum, but it’s not as heavy as the All American. The Presto’s shipping weight is 12 pounds. However, the aluminum that Presto uses for their canners is not of the highest quality. It can stain your hands when you hold the handles. The reason for that lies in the fact that Presto has moved their manufacturing to China around 20 years ago and it seems that the quality of the material has suffered from the relocation.
The All American canner is made of durable, hand-cast aluminum. The canners are made in the USA by the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry. They have manufactured the All American Pressure Canner since 1930. So, the quality is top-notch. Their canners  weight quite a bit and the shipping weight amounts to  24 pounds!

The gauge:
Presto has a dial gauge while the All American has both a dial and a weight gauge. If you decide to buy a Presto you can convert it over to a weighted gauge canner by purchasing the Presto pressure regulator (it costs around $12).
The dial gauge needs to be tested anually. You can go to the County Extension Service. They usually do it with a small charge (or even no charge). If your dial gauge is off a few pounds your food won’t  be processed in the right way. For example, if the gauge is off by three full pounds, you will can low-acid food at only 8 psi while, in fact, you’re supposed to do it at 11 psi. Meaning that your food will be unsafe for consumption and you will risk food poisoning.
The weighted gauges require no testing and they are easier to use. With the dial gauge you have to watch it constantly looking that you have the right amount of pressure (checking it doesn’t go above or below). On the other hand, weighted gauges will either make a frequent jiggling noise or will rock gently indicating that the correct pressure is being maintained. You just have to listen to the jiggle and then begin your timing.

presto pressure cannerThe gasket:
The Presto canner has a sealing ring gasket. The gasket needs to be replaced once in a while (for example when steam starts to come out between the canner and the lid or when the gasket feels hard and is not easily pliable). If you use your Presto quite often you will need to replace the gasket more frequently.

The All American has a “metal-to-metal” sealing system. The All American has no gasket just a series of bolts you clamp down. Some users have encounteed some difficulties with this seal. The trick lies in rubbing a layer of olive oil on the sealing edges before use. If you get used to tightening it down evenly it will be more efficient that the Presto because it comes up to pressure a bit faster.

No doubts here. The All American is much more durable. This is a lifelong investment. You will probably pass this canner to your children and grandchildren. And it will still work. Some people claim that they still use an All American that is 90 years old! With the AA there is virtually no maintenance.
With the Presto the rubber gasket and the emergency plug must be replaced periodically. Replacing them is under $50 (shipping included). If you do it twice in the canner’s lifetime that is the amount you need to buy an AA. So, think about it.

The price:
The Presto is much cheaper. The price for  the Presto 23-Quart is around $ 75 on Amazon. The All American price is around $ 200. Still, you need to add the maintenance costs for the Presto and the cost of the additional pressure regulator (if you want to convert it to a weighted gauge canner).

The verdict: The Presto canner is really nice and it will definitely do the job. Still, the All American is outstanding when it comes to quality and performance.Overall, better material  and construction but quite pricey. But, if you ask me the AA  is a valuble lifelong investment. And the winner between the two.

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How to remove the stains from your Le Creuset Dutch oven?

You just bought a wonderful Le Creuset French oven and one day, while cooking your favorite meal, the pot gets badly burned. You wash it and the stain remains there. Some people don’t mind because staining  somehow adds character to the pan and there is no harm to continue using the pan with the stains on it.

Others are bothered by the staining especially because Le Creuset Dutch ovens have a sand colored interior making the stains quite visible. What to do?

I’ve heard and read many tips and tricks on how to solve this problem. Here is a list of the most efficient methods you can use to remove the staining from your Le Creuset.

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Cleaner: This is the “official” cleaner from Le Creuset. It costs around $ 15  on Amazon. Mixed reviews from users. Great for lighter staining not very efficient for the deeper ones.

Boiling salt water: this is a tip from Martha Stewart’s Home Handbook. Fill your Dutch oven with 1/3-1/2 with cold water and add 2-3 tablespoons of salt. Let it rest overnight and in the morning put the pan on the stove and bring water to a boil. Let the water boil for a while and then take the pan off scrub it.  This is a good method if the burns are not really bad. If not, read further on…

Baking soda: the quantity of the baking soda you’re going to use depends on how severe is the staining. A tablespoon should be enough for milder staining, 2-4 tablespoons for more difficult stains.  Barely moist the baking soda to make an abrasive, polishing paste. Wipe it on and let it rest for a few minutes. Then scrub. Rinse when you’re finished.

Barkeeper’s Friend: Usually the most recommended method people use for deeper stains on their Le Creuset. Really great and cheap product.

Efferdent: yes, it’s the thing you use for cleaning dentatures and retainers.  After the surface stains are removed it can be quite efficient for the most stubburn and deeper stains.

People also use bleach for stubborn stains and apparently it’s efficient. But I think it can damage the surface of your pan. Haven’t tried this method, yet.

On the other hand, if your pan has a black enamel interior then you shouldn’t worry. The black matte interiors are supposed to have a layer of seasoning. The rough surface of the pan will build and hold a coating with use.  Le Creuset describes it as a brown film. You shouldn’t remove this coating because it makes the pan nonstick over time.


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The Pumpkin risotto

Pumpkin risotto dor the Dutch ovenThis is definitely the pumpkin season so today I’m going to write a post amount one of my favorite autumn/ winter dishes. Ideal for an easy and light Halloween lunch!

 This is a recipe that is originally from the north of Italy (it’s from the Lombardia region). In Italy they call it Risotto alla zucca.

The ingredients for this risotto are:

- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 cup of diced pumpkin
- 1 ½ cup of rice
- 4 cups of hot vegetable stock (you can use chicken stock as well)
- grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 15 g of butter
- ½ glass of white wine

how to make pumpkin risottoFirst of all you need to clean the pumpkin and dice the needed quantity. In the meantime heat the olive oil in a saucepan (I use my Dutch oven as well) and gently cook the finely chopped onion. When the onion is golden add the diced pumpkin and the rice. MIxe the two for a couple of minutes and make sure the rice doesn’t adhere to the bottom of the saucepan. Cook for 10 minutes.

pumpking risotto recipeNow it’s time to add the white wine and gradually the stock. Cook for another 20 minutes. When the rice is almost done add the butter and the parmigiano reggiano cheese.Mix it well. When it’s done leave it to rest for 2 minutes before serving it!
You can add a little bit of rosemary. For the rice you can use Arborio, Vialone nano or Carnaroli rice. If you prefer your risotto to be nice and colorful mix a couple of cooked pumpkin cubes and mixed them so you can add them to the sausepan alongside with the stock.


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A few interesting questions about canning

I have been doing some canning lately. So, I wanted to share some interesting questions (and answers) you can encounter when canning.

How safe is it to eat canned food that was frozen and then thawed?
Freezing should not harm the canned food. But before consuming the thawed canned food check it thoroughly. But, if you notice any damages on the food or there is no vacuum upon opening the can, throw it away.

Should I use table salt for canning and pickling?
The answer is no! The reason for that lies in the fact that the table salt you can get at your grocery store is usually not pure sodium chloride. Instead it is a mixture of sodium chloride, dextrose, potassium iodide and calcium silicate. Calcium silicate is an odorless and tasteless anti-caking compound agent that is added to absorb moisture inside the package. Table salt is not recommended for canning recipes because the calcium silicate can discolor some foods and it can cause a clouding effect or settle to the bottom of jar. All these effects don’t make the food harmful but just unappealing.
Use canning and pickling salts, that can be also used for cooking and baking as well as for the table. Kosher salt can be used for canning and pickling as well because is usually pure salt without additives.

Can I use artificial sweeteners when canning fruits?
Better not.  Artificial sweeteners are usually not recommended for canning. For example.   sweeteners that contain aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet) lose their sweetening effect with heat. Sweeteners based on saccharine like Sweet’N Low and  Sugar Twin become bitter when exposed to canning temperatures. So it’s better to add them after you open the canned fruit.
On the other hand, Splenda and Sucralose won’t produce an aftertaste when heated.

Can I use a microwave pressure cooker for canning foods?
This is not recommended. The pressure cookers that are designed for use in the microwave are safe to use for simple cooking of foods. However, you should absolutely avoid them for canning low acid foods because you cannot monitor the actual pressure inside the cooker, and therefore there is a danger of underprocessing the food.

Read here a first hand review for the All American pressure canner.

Is there any difference in canning yellow, orange and red tomatoes?
No. All tomatoes are canned in the same way,  no matter what the color. So, use the standard recipes for red tomatoes. Just make sure to add the correct amount of lemon juice or citric acid.

Is it safe to use homemade vinegar as an ingredient in home canning recipes?
It’s safer to avoid homemade vinegar in canning recipes. To stay on the safe side, it’s recommended to use vinegar of at least 5% acidity when pickling or canning. The vinegar that you can get at  the store is standardized to at least 5% acetic acid. On the other hand, the acidity of homemade vinegar is variable and it could contain more or less acid.

Do I need to add lemon juice or citric acid when canning tomatoes?
Tomatoes are an acidic food and it was once considered that you could safely canned them in a boiling-water canner. However, with some newer and less acidic tomatoes varieties it’s recommended that lemon juice or citric acid should be added, in order to avoid any potential for botulism.
You can add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to pints and 2 tablespoons lemon juice to quarts of tomatoes. Don’t use fresh lemon juice because its acidity varies. If you use crystalline citric acid, add one-fourth teaspoon to pints and one-half to quarts of tomatoes. You can add the acid directly to the jars before filling.

The tomatoes seeds have turned black in the jars! Is it still safe to eat the tomatoes?
If the tomatoes were processed correctly and the seal of the jar was maintained (the jar was sealed in a vacuum) the discoloration of the seeds is probably not a sign of spoilage. The discoloration is probably a reaction of harmless polyphenol compounds in the seeds with the iron and other minerals that are present in the water.

I noticed a white substance surrounding pieces of the canned vegetables. Is it still safe to eat them?
The cause of that can be the excess starch from over-mature vegetables or precipitated calcium salts from excessively hard water. The use of table salt can cause this effect as well. These situations should not be harmful and the vegetables should be safe to consume, of course, if the food was properly processed in the first place.

Adding grape leaves to pickles? Yes or no?
Grape leaves are added because they prevent the softening of pickles. Grape leaves contain tannins that apparently inhibit the enzymes that cause the pickles going soft. But, if you remove the blossom ends of the cucumbers, that are the source of enzymes, the grave leaves will become unnecessary.


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How to prepare your jars and lids for canning

When preserving fruits and vegetables it’s important to use clean and sterile equipment. In this post I’m going to talk about canning jar preparation.

Basically, when deciding whether you need to sterilize the jars or not depeds upon the processing times. If the the food is going to be processed in a boiling-water-bath or in a pressure canner for 10 minutes or longer, you don’t need to sterilize the jars before filling and processing them. If the processing times is less than 10 minutes the jars must be sterilized.  I prefer to sterilize my jars in any case. Just to be 100% safe.

Another thing you should do before you start canning is to look for chips and cracs in the jars. First of all check them visually and then run your index finger lightly along the edge of the rim to check for small chips. Always discard the defective jars.  Remeber that even the smallest crack or chip can cause the jar not to seal properly or it may cause it to break during the canning process.

After that you can wash the jars in hot soap and water or in the dishwasher. Rinse it thoroughly to get rid of any soap (do it even if you have previously used the dishwasher). That’s very important because soap residue left on the jars may affect thecolor and flavor of the canned food.

Now it’s time for sterilizing. Fill each jar with hot water and set them in the canning rack inside a canner. The canner should be at least half full of water. The jars should be covered with at least 1 inch of water.
Now it’s time to bring water to a boil. Leave the jars to boil for 10 minutes. The boiling time should be increased by 1 minute for each 1000 ft. above sea level.

When the designated time has elapsed, turn off the heat and leave the jars in the hot water.

How do you prepare the lids?

First of all check the lids and rings. Make sure the lids are not bent and the sealing has no defects. Use hot water and soap to wash the lids and rings. Rinse well and wipe dry the rings.  Then place the lids in a saucepan and cover them with water. Using medium-high heat, bring water to a simmer (180°F).  Then turn off the heat but leave the lids in hot water until they are ready to use. 

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Grilling with a gas grill

With the approaching of spring and summer grilling becomes a cooking option again. Yesterday I took my Q 100 Weber portable gas grill out and made a tasty and delicious lunch (grilled chicken and grilled vegetables).

The Weber Q 100 is one of the most popular gas grills and there are several reasons for that.

q 100 portable gas grill1. It’s easier to use compared to a charcoal grill. This grill heats up in a couple of minutes, so you are ready for making your steaks whenever you want. Before I bought the Q 100 I was using my grill only on weekends, because I had more time but with this one I can have a complete grilled meal in some 20 minutes.

2. This is a grill for smaller spaces and for a maximum of 4 persons. This is the ideal grill if you don’t have a backyard or you live in an apartment. It’s great if you are single too. So, for big grill parties you should get a bigger grill.

3. It’s a sturdy grill. The Weber is well made unlike some cheaper grills. The Q 100 has a heavy cast iron grate which leaves great searing marks on your meat and veggies.

weber portable gas grill4. You don’t have to deal with charcoal. I don’t know for you but I always hated the whole charcoal thing when it comes to grilling. The 100 is a gas grill so I just hook my grill up to a 5 lb propane tank. Some people buy a special adapter hose in order to use larger gas tanks. So this is a good option. In every case my 5 lb tank lasts for quite a while.

5. The food made on the Weber Q 100 is tasty and delicious. I use this grill for making steaks, hamburgers, sausages, fish, vegetables, and I’m very satisfied with the results. People often debate about charcoal versus gas and there are points in favor of both parts when it comes to the taste you get. The meat made on a gas grill has a less smoky flavor to it. The authentic „off the fire“ taste of grilled meat is stronger with wood a s the heat source. I have read that a study was done on the subject where people were presented with hamburgers and steaks prepared on charcoal and on gas. When it came to hamburgers no one could tell the difference between charcoal and gas, but people noticed the difference with the steak, because of a more smoky flavor.

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Staub vs. Le Creuset ? Which one to choose?

Staub and LeCreuset are both famous manufacturers of Dutch ovens. What is exactly the difference between them?  Read here.

le creuset dutch oven

The weight: Le Creuset Dutch oven is lighter than Staub and therefore easier to maneuver. Le Creuset has a slightly thinner construction which makes it lighter to lift. A great portion of the Staub’s weight lies in the lid, so I suggest taking the cover off before moving the pot.



staub dutch oven basilThe interior: even though both Le Creuset and Staub Dutch oven are made using enamel cast iron there is a difference in the interior. Staub has a black matte enamel while Le Creuset has a smooth light-colored enamel interior. Some don’t like the black interior because they find it difficult to see the food cooking in the pot. This may be true but I think it’s just a matter of habit.

The Staub interior is  much sturdier and cleans up easier than Le Creuset. The Le Creuset interior looks amazing when it’s new but after a while the finish becomes pitted and impossible to clean. So, if you get a Le Creuset Dutch oven you’ll have to make peace with the stained and dingy look. On the Staub interior you won’t notice any stains (because it’s black). The Staub’s cooking surface is slightly rough so it develops a nonstick patina over time because the cooking oil fill the pores of the enamel. This doesn’t happen with Le Creuset because of the smooth and glossy interior.

staub dutch oven grenadineThe lid: The Staub French oven  has a heavier and better fitting lid. The lid fits snugly and retains more moisture than Le Creuset. Moreover, the Staub’s lid has  special dimples underneath  (selfbasting spikes) that help retain the moisture in the pot. So, I find it ideal for stovetop braising. It’s a little bit more difficult to clean than the Le Creuset  though. Le Creuset has some models with the spikes but  most of their models have a smooth lid.

The knob: Le Creuset has a phenolic knob that is oven-safe to 350-400 degrees,  but you can buy a stainless steel replacement knob that stays cool on stovetops and is oven safe at any temperature (it costs around $10). Staub has brass or nickel knobs that are heat resistant up to 500ºF. In this regard Le Creuset gives two options, so you can combine the two knobs depending if you use the stovetop or the oven. The Staub lid handle has a better design that makes it easier to hold.

le creuset dutch oven cherryThe exterior: Le Creuset has brighter colors and a contemporary design. Ideal for kitchens with a a modern decor.  Staub has a high-gloss enamel finish,  gorgeous neutral colors and an elegant top handle. Staub is definitely more stylish and formal looking, therefore ideal for special occasions.  It’s really a matter of taste.

The prices: Staub and Le Creuset are not cheap. They are both at the high end of the price range for Dutch ovens. Comparing the two, Staub still seems cheaper for a few dollars, even though they don’t make Dutch ovens that are exactly same in size .

Read here a review for Le Creuset  or for Staub.

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How to choose the right pressure cooker?

kuhn rikon pressure cookerToday you can find various pressure cooker brands on the market and sometimes the difference between them is just in one single detail. Some details can  really make the difference!

So, what are the factors you should consider when buying a pressure cooker? Here is the check list.

1.  The operating pressure of the pressure cooker or PSI. Psi is a unit of pressure and it denotes the pounds per square inch. For me this is the first thing I would look in a pressure cooker. The amount of pressure is essential in a pressure cooker because the speed of cooking depends upon it. The higher the pressure the quicker the cooking (the cooking temperature rises with the increase of pressure).  Choose a pressure cooker that operates at 15 psi. Usually 15 psi denotes the high pressure setting and you are most likely to use this setting for most of your cooking. If your pressure cooker has less than 15 psi (12, 10 or 8 psi) you will need more time for your cooking (and speed is the main advantage of pressure cooking if you ask me)  and therefore you will spend more energy and money. Furthermore, the more you cook your food the less will be the nutritional value of the food you are preparing. Usually the cheaper pressure cookers have a lower operating pressure. So, beware to check this important factor before buying your pressure cooker or you’ll end up with a pressure cooker that won’t cook fast enough.

2. Does the pressure cooker have a dual pressure setting? Dual pressure means that the pressure cooker has both a high and a low pressure setting. The high pressure setting (ideal if 15 psi) is used more often while the low pressure setting (usually 8 psi) is used for cooking delicate foods like fish, spinach, some fruits etc.

3.  The material of the pressure cooker. As far as the material goes the ideal combination is stainless steel and aluminum. Stainless steel is durable (it doesn’t dent, scratch or rust) and is non reactive with foods. Aluminum is a great conductor of heat and it’s lightweight. In this combination stainless steel is in the outer layers while aluminum is in the center (to avoid contact with food and aluminum leakages). An all aluminum pot is great for pressure canning but for pressure cooking, rather go with a stainless steel – aluminum combination.

4. Is the pressure cooker easy to use and read? First of all the pressure cooker should have a easy closing lid. Avoid the pressure cookers that have complicated locking systems. Your pressure cooker should have an easy to read pressure indicator so you will know exactly when the need pressure is reached. Pressure releasing should be simple as well, usually you just have to turn or touch the valve (or pressure selector) to do it.  Look at the handle of the cooker as well. Choose a cooker with a longer handle because it will not be directly over the heat source and therefore cooler.

As far as safety and cleaning goes, most pressure cookers on the market have high safety standards. Still, choose a pressure cooker that is UL listed. Pressure cookers that are stainless steel or have and outer layer in this material are dishwasher safe.

Read here the review for the Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker.

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Pressure cooker cheese cake recipe

This is a really simple and fast recipe you can making using your pressure cooker.

I make mine using a 7-inch springform pan and my 7-quart pressure cooker (you can use 6-quart or larger pressure cookers).   First of all you will need some butter for the pan. For the crust I mix 2 tablespoons of melted butter a ½ cup of cookie crumbs (some use chocolate cookies but I prefer the “regular” ones).

For the filling I mix 2 large eggs, 16 ounces of cream cheese, ½ cup of brown sugar, some lemon juice and grated lemon zest, ½ teaspoon vanilla.
Use a little bit of butter to coat the bottom of the springform. Then press the melted butter/cookies mixture onto the bottom of the springform and a little way up the sides.

With an electric mixer mix the ingredients for the filling and then pour the mixture in the pan.

Take some aluminum foil ( 1 ½ foot long) and fold it lengthwise to create a strip. Pour 2 cups of water into the cooker. Place the springform pan in the steaming trivet of the cooker (or in  a rack) so the cheesecake is above water. Fold the aluminum foil’s ends so they don’t interfere when closing the cooker.

Lock the pressure cooker’s lid and using high heat bring the cooker to high pressure (15 psi).  When the right pressure is reached, reduce the heat enough to maintain high pressure and cook the cake for 15 minutes. After that turn off the heat and, using the natural release method, allow the pressure to subside naturally. Then remove the lid. After the steam has escaped lift the pan from the cooker using the folded aluminum foil.

This cake can be served warm, at room temperature or after you have cooled it to room temperature. You can garnish the cake with berries, apricots, strawberries, or other fresh fruits (I prefer it plain and simple).

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