Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tutorial: Making basil pesto

I planted six basil plants this year.

Every year I say I'm going to plant more basil; this year, I actually did it.  And boy.....are we currently up to our ears in it!!

We love basil. We use it in so many things--one of our favorites being pesto.  In case you've never tried making your own, I thought I would show you just how easy it really is! With the help of three very cute boys*, of course.

*cute boys optional in your kitchen

When I brought in our latest load of leaves from the garden, it almost filled our entire dining room table! If I had to do all that leaf-picking myself, it would take me forever. Luckily, I have three amazing helpers--and it only took about 20 minutes.

Cameron was much happier about this process than he looks. 

The boys are young yet, but they really are very capable in the kitchen. 
Even Ethan gets a lot done all by himself!

{Stop it, Colin! Okay, I promise this is NOT child labor!}

We have a leaf pile and a 'garbage' pile...and we pickpickpick until everything is in one those piles!

I wash the basil (in several batches) in the sink....

....then run it through the salad spinner to get most of the moisture off.

I add about 4 cups of leaves to my food processor.... 
(which promptly DIED about half way through making this batch--I nearly died with it!)

....some kosher salt....

....and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

A side note here: you actually can make pesto without a food processor, just using a large kitchen knife and chopping everything well by hand. I speak from experience on this--I had to do more than half of my batch this way after my processor died. It is a lot more work, and you won't get the emulsification like you would in a processor--but the flavor is still incredible. We had some of the hand-chopped stuff that very night, on some pizza--and it was just as good! So: no food processor? No excuse! *grin*

Now, 1/2 cup of pine nuts--you can add these raw if you'd like; 
I toast mine in a dry pan for a couple of minutes, to bring out the flavor!

And 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

Next? Garlic.
Ahhhhh.  Garlic.

Another side note: I grew garlic for the very first time in my garden this year, and it could not have been easier. You start garlic in the fall--so if you'd like to grow your own, start thinking about it now! You simply purchase garlic (either online, which is where I got mine, or some even say in the grocery store bulk bin--but I have a friend who has not had great success with that) and divide up the bulb into cloves. You plant the cloves a couple of inches into the ground, and the following July/August, each clove will have turned into a whole head!! It is incredible, really--and hardly takes up any space in the ground. I am so glad I tried it last year and will never not grow it again! One of the bonuses--I will take 3 or 4 heads that I grew this year, dry them out, and plant them again...so it's a gift that keeps on giving! *grin*

I use about 2-4 cloves for a batch this size, depending on how big they are.
The nice thing is, the garlic doesn't need to be chopped. Just lay it down on a cutting board...

....lay your knife--blade side facing away from you--across the top of it....

...and give it a quick but sturdy whack with your fist. 
As Rachael Ray says, you accomplish your job and let out some frustration!

You end up with a clove that is slightly mushed (technical term)....

...and whose skin just peels right off.
As Colin would say: easy peasy, lemon squeezie!
{Please take note of the meticulous manicure. That's just how I roll.}

Once you have all those goodies in your processor, start pulsing.

A little more....

A little more....


Right about here. See? It's not all ground to pieces, which is what you want.

Now, start a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil into the hopper, and turn the processor to on.

About 3/4 cup of olive oil and 15/20 seconds later, you'll have this! Perfect.

Like I said, I make a bunch at a time--you can see the pile of leaves still on my counter 
behind the bowl--so I pour each batch from my processor into a giant bowl. 

Batch by batch, I combine it all; then, at the end, I scoop it into jars and freeze.

You want to cover your pesto with a thin layer (maybe 1/4 inch thick) of olive oil before freezing it--it will help protect against freezer burn.  Make sure you use a proper freezable jar (the freezable canning jars have straight sides, unlike your normal curve-top ones) and leave about an inch headspace in the jar for expansion.

That's it! Easy and delicious!

Friday, July 22, 2011


 Some one has pigtails!
{cute ladybug pigtails, at that}

And she's happier about it than she looks.


{Grandma 'Nette gave her her first ever piggies, but this is the first time they've been captured by the camera. Thanks for the inspiration, Grandma--we didn't think we could do it!--and thanks to Aunt Aimee for the adorable lady bug clips!}

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I see....

some pesto....

in our future!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Funny

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin, Haley--who is really more like a sister to me--went to Florida. She brought the boys some really cool shark-tooth necklaces back as souvenirs...but was 'stumped' on what to do for Lola.

Haley has quite the sense of humor....and this is what she came up with.

And, wait for it....the back.

We got an awfully big kick out of it....and I hope it brightens your Friday too!
I mean--how could this face not brighten your day?

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tutorial: How to can or preserve green beans

Canning is one of those things that seems daunting at first, but after a time or two, becomes very simple and easy! It is a lot of fun for me and soooooo very rewarding.

Today, I thought I'd go through a step by step tutorial of how I preserve my garden's green beans. So far this year, we have picked beans three times, and I have been able to can 16 1/2 quarts of beans!

Side note--There are two different canning methods: hot water (or boiling water) bath and pressure canning. For low acid foods, which is what green beans are, you must use a pressure canner. You can read about why that is here.

{Disclaimer: This is a rough outline of canning. If you are going to begin canning for yourself at home, please do not pull up this tutorial and use it as a guide--I'm giving general guidelines where, in some cases, there are more specific instructions--and following each step exactly is very important. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving is an excellent resource, and what I refer to each and every time I get out the canner!}

Here we go!
Get'cha a big ol' pile of beans.
Clean them well....

....snap the ends off....

...and then snap them in half. You want about two inch or less pieces.

I will be honest here.  Most of the work, I feel, of canning beans is in the above two pictures.
It takes a while (especially when you have a giant pile) to snap all of the beans.
Once you have this done, truly--the rest flies!
{General rule of thumb: a pound of beans (pre-snapping) makes about a quart.}

You'll need to start heating your jars at this point.
 I have very hot tap water, so I just fill up my sink and submerge my jars for several minutes.
You want them hot so that they don't break when they go into the hot canner.

Pull your hot jar out of the water to start filling.
A canning funnel is a very useful tool.
Take your hot jar, load your funnel up on top....
....add one teaspoon of salt for a quart jar....

....then start dropping in your beans.

Fill your jar, leaving one inch headspace.

Pour boiling water over the beans (I am using a raw pack method here)....

...and then slide a non-metalic spatula down three or four sides of the jar.
Gently press to the middle to release any air bubbles that may have gotten trapped.
Next, take a clean cloth and wipe down the rims and threads of the jar, so than any bits
of food/gunk that may have gotten on the rim do not get in the way of the sealing compound
that is on the lid you are about to put on.

You'll want to have your lids in just-below-simmering water during this time.

When you are done filling your first jar, grab a lid
(this is a handy tool for that, but I don't have one, so I just use tongs)....

....and then place it on the top of the jar.

After putting the lid on the jar, secure a band until it is finger tip tight--not too tight.

Using a jar lifter, load your jars into your canner.....


...by one.

Your water should be just below a simmer the entire time you are loading your jars.

Put your lid on and secure it in place.
I have mine marked where it should line up, so that I always know it is secure.

Now, turn your burner up to high....

....and wait for the water to boil and steam to begin escaping out of the vent.

Let the steam escape for 10 minutes.
Yes, I have to set a timer for everything or else I would forget about it.

After 10 minutes, put your weight on your canner for....

....10 pounds of pressure.

{If you have a dial gauge canner, you would need to consult the
Ball book on getting your canner to the proper pressure.}

At this point, I turn my heat down to about a seven on a one-to-ten scale.
This is after some trial and error--but I know that for this burner, this is the level of heat it needs to be at to keep a boil the entire processing time and maintain 10 pounds of pressure inside the canner.

Process quart jars--that's code for walk away now-- for 25 minutes.
{Set that timer.}

At the end of the 25 minutes, turn off the heat.
After two minutes, remove the weight with a heat proof object.

After all of the steam has escaped and the pressure has returned to zero, you can remove your canner lid. You will know if there is still pressure if you try to turn the lid and it will not budge. When there is no pressure remaining, the lid will turn easily. Let the jars sit for about 10 minutes to adjust to the lower air temperature, and then remove with a jar lifter onto a heat proof surface.

Within a few minutes, you will hopefully start to hear one of the most glorious sounds a canner will ever hear--the PING! of the lids as they seal!

At this point, yell "Wooooot!" for everyone in the house to hear.

Ah. Success.

Let the jars rest and cool over night. The next day, you can remove the bands (you don't want to store them with the bands on). Double check your seal--don't rely on that PING! noise. It should be concave, and when you gently lift up on the edge, it should not budge.

At this point, you are DONE!

Label your jars with the contents and date you canned them, and store in a cool place until you are ready to eat them.

That's it!

It may seem like a lot of steps, but I can preserve a batch of beans like this--from cleaning to snapping to loading jars and processing--in about two hours. For me and my family, it is more than worth my time and effort.

I'm dying to hear your thoughts and questions....