Guide to Water Bath Canning

Canning equipment

A couple of summers ago, I started a small backyard garden. You would be amazed how much one or two plants can produce over the course of the season. Despite adding cucumbers to everything I ate and giving some away to my coworkers, I still had a huge number left over. As a result, I got into something I hadn’t thought about since I was a child in my grandmother’s garden—canning.

The first thing I did was head to the grocery store for a canning kit. In terms of equipment, all you really need are some jars, lids, and something to lower and raise the jars from the water bath. I also bought some special pickling spices that give flavor to the pickles while helping keep them crunchy. It really was that simple. Of course, there are other considerations depending on what you are looking to can.

Pickles and other high-acid foods do well with water bath canning, a shorter, lower-temperature canning process. Other foods that work well with this process include jams, salsas, and chutneys. Another technique called pressure canning works in preserving low-acid foods like certain vegetables and meats. Pressure canning works at a higher temperature that kills the bacteria. I like the simpler method. Plus, I find the idea of canned meat to be a bit gross.

When it comes to ingredients, use only the best, freshest vegetables, spices, and herbs. I always use the things I’ve grown, but if you’re purchasing the items you will can, examine them carefully.

Canned pickles

Once you have all your ingredients together, the process is straightforward.

  • Check the jars and lids to make sure there are no cracks or problems that will prevent sealing
  • Clean your jars—I like to use very hot water at this step just to make sure that nothing is in the jar that I don’t want to be there
  • Prep the ingredients—slice, dice, mix the herbs and/or spices
  • Fill the jars
  • Wipe the rims clean—using a funnel makes it easier to avoid the rims when filling the jars
  • Screw on the lids and bands
  • Place in boiling water, making sure to have at least one inch of water above the jar
  • Boil for the suggested amount of time
  • Remove the jars and cool
  • Wait for that wonderful popping sound when you know the deal has formed

After that, store your jars upright and enjoy at your leisure. It’s so great to be able to enjoy the literal fruits of my labor year-round.

What to Eat in Germany

schnitzel

It is common for a visitor in Germany to imagine food revolves around sausage, potatoes, and beer. While Germans have their specialties (as the Vietnamese do), there are hundreds of other German dishes that are just as delicious. If you are a fan of seafood, Hamburg City is your best bet for fresh fish dishes. Southern regions have pork heavy dishes. The next time you are in Germany, be sure to sample these dishes.

Spaetzle
This is probably the most popular dish in Germany. It is a kind of pasta made from flour, eggs, salt and a little fizzy water to fluff up the dough. It is traditionally taken with meat dishes but can also be had as a main dish by adding Emmentaler or Swiss cheese.

Schnitzel
Although associated with Austria, there is a difference in German and Austrian Schnitzel. In Austria, it is made with veal, but in Germany it is made with tenderized pork. It is accompanied by different sauces and drinks. Rahmschnitzel comes with a creamy sauce, Jägerschnitzel comes with mushroom sauce, and Zigeunerschnitzel with bell pepper sauce. In Frankfurt/, ask for the local Apple wine (Ebbelwoi).

Currywurst
This popular snack is covered with ketchup and then sprinkled with curry powder. Traditionally, currywurst is taken with French fries or white bread. It’s simple, but it is absolutely one of my favorites.

Schweinsbraten
This is a roasted pork dish with a salted and pickled taste. The taste is a holdover from the early days when there were no refrigerators and meat was preserved by salting. It is prepared with different herbs and served with dishes like dumplings.

Bratwurst
This is another famous German sausage made from pork. Different areas make their bratwurst differently. In Nurnberg, the bratwurst is made thin and short while in other areas it is bigger and has higher fat content. The bratwurst is an almost mandatory feature in a German barbecue party.

Maultaschen
Folklore has it that monks discovered the Maultaschen when they covered meat with pasta to hide it from God during lent. The stuffing in the Maultaschen can be pork, beef or vegetables. Herbs and spices like nutmeg, parsley, and pepper are added for flavor. The Maultaschen can be fried or boiled but it is a delicacy either way.

Bratkartoffeln
Potatoes (Kartoffeln) are a feature in many German meals. The Bratkartoffeln is made by slicing up boiled potatoes, then frying them in a pan with bacon and onions. Watch out for this delicacy but watch your weight, too.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Growing up in the South, I always loved cooking with my grandmother’s cast iron pan. I finally decided it was time to buy one of my own, so I went with Lodge, of course. I’m sure it will be great as soon as I can figure out this seasoning thing. Since a cast iron skillet is literally a hunk of metal, the seasoning process is important. There is advice all over the internet about how best to season a cast iron skillet, and it’s all a little confusing because none of it agrees 100%. Here’s the method I ultimately went with, and I’m happy to say, so far so good.

What is Seasoning?
When you buy a new cast iron skillet, it will likely come with some degree of pre-seasoning, but you’ll want to add more layers to make sure it’s in good shape What does this all mean? In a cast iron skillet, when oil is heated to its smoke point, its fatty acids oxidize into a plastic-like layer of molecules that essentially becomes part of the pan and creates the slick coating known as seasoning. Adding layer after layer makes it even more non-stick—this is the seasoning process.

How to Season Cast Iron
This seasoning method takes a while, but it’s pretty straight forward. Here are my best recommendations:
1. Wash and dry your pan—ALWAYS by hand and never in the dishwasher, which will strip all the seasoning
2. To open up the surface, warm the pan for 15 minutes in a 200-degree oven.
3. Remove the pan from the oven. Rub the oil (vegetable, canola, or corn) all over the pan—inside and out, including the handle—using paper towels. With fresh paper towels, buff the pan to remove excess oil so it no longer looks shiny.
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5. Place the pan upside down on a baking sheet and insert into heated oven. Heat the pan for a half-hour and then let cool.
6. Rub the pan with oil as before and repeat the process up to four more times to set your initial layer of seasoning. The pan should develop a dark surface at looks vaguely like non-stick coating.

The Best Dishes in Vietnam

pho

Vietnamese dishes can be said to be the hidden culinary treasures of the Far East. There is an astounding variety of dishes that focus heavily on rice, seafood, and plenty of herbs. As a tourist in Vietnam, you get closely acquainted with nuoc cham, which is a combination of garlic, chili, sugar, and lime juice and fish sauce. Whatever dish you are having, you can be sure there will be a bowl of this delightfully tasty sauce to dunk, dip, or sip. Next time you are in Vietnam, try out these dishes.

Cao lau
This dish is from central Vietnam and is a dish of thick rice flour noodles, pork rind croutons, and bean sprouts. This is served in a bowl with a light spicy soup with star anise and mint. It is eaten with grilled rice crackers or crispy rice paper topped with thin slices of pork.

Bahn mi
Bahn loosely translates to bread. Bahn Mi is easily the most popular Vietnamese dish known to the world. It is basically a baguette sandwich filled with greens, some meat, and sauce. Bahn Mi carts are ubiquitous in Ho Chi Minh City and other cities.

Goi cuon
This dish is highly popular in Vietnam and is very visually interesting with translucent spring rolls. The rolls are packed with coriander, greens, and a combination of minced pork and shrimp or crab. The rolls are served with a bowl of mint or lettuce. The southern Goi Cuon is made by wrapping barbecued strips of pork with green banana and star fruit.

Bahn Xeo
This loosely translates into ‘sizzling pancake.’ These enormous pancakes contain eggs, shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. The pancake is wrapped in rice paper and greens. This is dunked into nuoc cham sauce when eating.

Pho
This dish is Vietnam’s staple dish. It is eaten at any time of the day—good for breakfast or as a snack. It is basically noodles served in broth. The light broth can be beef- or chicken-flavored with coriander or ginger. Flat rice noodles are added to the broth along with pieces of chicken, beef, or pork.

Cha ca
This is one of the more popular seafood dishes. It is white fish sautéed in butter with onions and dill. It served with rice noodles and a handful of peanuts.

Bun cha
Bun Cha is a Hanoi specialty. It is a small hamburger with pork patties barbecued on an open charcoal grill. The patties are laid on rice noodles and filled with different vegetables. Like so many other things, it is dunked in the nuoc cham.