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Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Date with a Pressure Cooker

My dear friend and esteemed photographer in the greater Kansas City area, Jani Bryson, called me one day to talk about a canning project she had.

"I just bought a pressure cooker!" she said. "And I need to know if you know how to use it."

I'm a Culinary student at the Art Institutes International in Kansas City, and I've also modeled for her on several occasions. It makes sense that she'd call me for it. So I was all too ready to help out when she mentioned the need for some people to can some produce for her. I asked why and she said "People are all about preserving and fresh foods and the big farm to table movement right now. I could really use some good stock photos."

Well how could I refuse? When we planned a date to get over there, I couldn't help but be excited for it. I was so excited, however, that I forgot to wash my hair, so I had to find an old tie in the back of my car to push it back. Oh well, I thought to myself. Culinarians looking good is only secondary - it's all about the food, today!

Anyway, lots of fun things were on the agenda: green beans, fingerling potatoes, red onions, jalapenos, strawberries and apples, tomatoes and peaches, and lots and lots more.

I guess that potato didn't want to be canned
Earlier in the month, Jani had gone on location to a place where several families went and picked fruit and veggies together. Now the time came to preserve what they had picked, to show the whole process of Farm to Table. It was really a fun project and I was absolutely thrilled to be involved.

Admit it. You want to try it.
There were lots of things to do with the ingredients, but only a limited amount of time since I still had to come home and cook my man some dinner. So we decided on a menu/schedule:

  1. Green beans
  2. Fingerling Potatoes
  3. Onions
  4. Onion/Jalapeno/Garlic compote
  5. Stewed tomatoes
  6. Apple pie
  7. Peach pie
Granted, this was all done over a span of several days, but we got at least all the vegetables done in one night, which is good because I needed another whole night just to work on the pie crusts and dough alone!

Contrary to popular belief, canning isn't just for Grandma anymore. It's a simple thing that one can very easily do in an afternoon. Canning your own food has great benefits - not only does it cost less, but it's a great family bonding activity, and you can also control EXACTLY what goes in your canned goods. The best part about this, from a health standpoint at least, is that you can control the salt content which goes into your food. High sodium intakes cause a fair amount of problems in your system when not addressed, so why not take this simple step to prevent and control it?
The beginnings of a pie

Canning and preserving is actually very simple. All you have to do is follow these simple steps(and you don't even really NEED a pressure cooker):

  1. Sterelize your jars and lids in screaming hot water. 
  2. Sterelize your tools as well, including your canning funnel and a thin spatula(an offset spatula will work) or a few bamboo chopsticks, still attached at the top to each other will do as well
  3. Prepare your food accordingly, be they cooked or raw, steamed or flashed
  4. Get the big solids in first. Arrange potatoes, pop in tomatoes, pack in green beans, etc. 
  5. Fill the jars with the liquid it was cooked in, usually water-base
  6. Use your thin spatula to get into the sides of the full jar and press in towards the center, so all the air bubbles escape. Get out as MUCH air as humanly possible.
  7. Wipe the tops of the jars dry as well as the insides of the lids. Screw on the lids tight as you can, and prepare your preserving vessel
  8. Using either a pressure cooker or a very large stock pot, boil water and set the jars in them. The jar's tops should be coming out of the water. Cover and let boil for 45 minutes, depending on what kind of produce you are preserving. Most pressure cookers nowadays come with guides for preserving and canning foods, so be sure to follow the instructions on this one.
See? Not hard at all! And I'm just a 23-year-old Culinary student! Isn't it amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it?
Did you know that if you cut an apple crossways you see a star?

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