Forgive me father for I have sinned (I imagine the late James Beard to be looking down at me with disdain from his kitchen in the sky). It has been two weeks since my last post, and in that time I have twice eaten takeout pizza, and once I even had Taco Bell. But it has been very difficult to have home cooked meals now that I am working more nights at the restaurant. The powers that be have decided to expand the dining room, and add 50 more seats. So after the departure of the Hulk, they have brought on a second, more experienced chef to help run the kitchen. He and I have cooked together before, and as his sous chef I get to play more of a supporting role. Remember that episode of Battlestar Galactica (the newer series) when Colonel Tigh had to run the ship while Commander Adama was recovering from a gunshot wound? And remember the relief that he felt when he was able to return command to Adama? Well, color me Tigh. Now I get two full days off, but the other 5 nights are spent in the trenches, on the line, cooking with my crew until close. So when I get home late and starving, pizza and nachos sound like a really good midnight meal. The problem is that I always wake up in the morning feeling kind of crappy and regretting it.
Fast food and takeout are not cheap eats either, especially here in New York. So I am on a new mission: to take a little time on my days off to stock my larder with fresh homemade goods from which I can make quick, delicious, and healthy midnight meals during the rest of the week. Having already discovered how easy it is to make home-cured meats, I figured I would add home-canned goods to my routine.
To that end, please allow me to introduce you to my newest friend – the Ball plastic canning rack. Last summer (having been overly optimistic about the success of my garden), I bought a full sized water bath canner, with all the gadgets, the jar lifer, the little magnetic stick to retrieve lids and bands from boiling water and a stockpile of wide mouth jars. I have used it once. It’s just the pot is so big, takes so much water, and takes sooooo long to boil, that to make a couple jars of pickles at a time, I usually ended up using a standard 10 quart stock pot with a makeshift rack in the bottom anyway.
This rack holds up to three pint jars, and comes as part of the Ball Home Discovery canning kit. The kit also includes three mason jars with matching bands and lids, and a small recipe booklet. At only 11.50 it was a serious bargain, so I thought, what the heck, and ordered one of these babies. It arrived last Monday, and one night last week when I came home from work, I decided to take it for a test run. Pickled jalapenos are something we always have around, so I figured making some of my own would be a good recipe to start with. Besides, throwing together a few pints of pickled jalapenos is so quick and easy, the entire process takes about a half hour – even less if you forget canning and just refrigerate the pickles instead.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering if these are worth making yourself, here are the numbers: A 12 oz. jar of pickled jalapenos costs $2.19 at the supermarket. Using fresh jalapenos and supermarket brand vinegar, a 16 oz. pint jar of the homemade stuff cost me only $2.02. That’s a difference of almost a dollar per pint. Using name brand vinegar would increase your cost by 43 cents per jar, but would still be a savings of 47 cents per jar. I didn’t include the cost of the equipment since you could skip the canning process altogether and store your pickles in the fridge. And well, less wasted packaging is always a good thing in my opinion.
Easy Pickled Jalapenos
INGREDIENTS (for 3 pints)
1-1/2 lbs. jalapeno peppers
4 cups distilled white vinegar
1-1/3 cups water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
kosher salt, to taste
3 pint sized canning jars with bands and lids
1 large stockpot, a least 9-1/2″ in diameter and 7-1/2″ tall or tall enough to accomodate the jars covered by at least 1 inch of boiling water.
A rack to elevate the jars from the bottom of the stockpot while they are processing.
1 2-3 quart saucepan
1 strainer (needed only if you choose to include the garlic)
Step 1: Heat jars and lids.
Wash and clean your jars, bands, and a new set of lids in hot soapy water. The Ball Blue Book Guide states that it is only necessary to sterilize jars if they are being used for products processed for less than 10 minutes, and since pickled jalapenos are processed for 10 minutes, there is no need to sterilize the jars. You should however, heat them to insure that they don’t crack when you pour hot pickling liquid into them. You also have to heat the lids in order make the seal. To do this place open jars in a rack face down in the your stock pot along with the lids. If you don’t have a rack, just use something that will elevate and keep the jars from contact with the bottom of the pot. Cover the jars and lids with water and bring the pot to a bare simmer (about 180 degrees) for 10 minutes, then shut off the heat. The Guide advises not to let the lids boil (that is, a rolling boil, 212 degrees), as this might compromise their ability to seal properly. Leave the jars and lids in the water to stay warm.
If you choose to make refrigerator pickles you can store them in a large crock or plastic container, and skip this step. If you want to use glass jars, you will at least have to heat them so they don’t break when you pour hot liquid into them. I would also advise you to use canning jars made for this purpose, and advise against re-using jars from supermarket pantry items, as they may crack if you try to heat them.
Step 2: Prepare your goods.
While the lids and jars are heating, wash your jalapenos and slice them if you wish. Combine water, vinegar in a saucepan. If you choose to, add garlic and salt, and and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pack your jalapenos into the hot jars, leaving about a 1/4 inch of headspace. Headspace refers to the space between the level of your product and the rim of the jar. Strain the boiling liquid over the peppers, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace and remove any air bubbles. Place the hot lids on the jars and screw the bands on with your fingertips so they are just closed but not too tight. Air needs to be able to escape from the jar during processing.
For refrigerator pickles, simply pack your jalapenos into containers or hot glass jars and pour the hot pickling liquid over them. You may want to use a small cup or saucer or something to weigh the jalapenos down so they stay submerged – they will absorb the liquid as they cool. Once they come to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Step 3: Process and seal the jars.
Stand the jars upright in the rack and lower them into the stockpot. Make sure they are covered but at least an inch of hot water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady boil, and for 10 minutes, starting from the time the water comes to a boil. Shut off the heat and let the jars remain the the water for 5 minutes. Remove the jars from the pot and stand them on a kitchen towel to cool at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
After 12-24 hours, remove the band and test the seal by either pressing in the center of the lid to see if it flexes, or lifting the jar by the lid to see if it holds. If the lid flexes or comes off when you try to lift the jar, then the seal (obviously) has failed. If this happens, fear not. You can refrigerate the pickles. Refrigerator pickles should keep for up to 2 weeks. You can store properly sealed jars with or without their bands, in a cool, dark place until ready to use. Don’t try to re-tighten the bands since this could break the seal.