Best of Pinterest: Arugula Salad with Penne, Garbanzo Beans, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

It dawned on me as I have been “Cooking Through My Cookbooks” that I should add some Pinterest recipes.  My Pinterest pages are almost entirely recipe based, and I have almost 1,700 pins!  You can find my Pinterest here.

This vegetarian salad is a HUGE hit here at my place.  I make it about once a month.  It’s a great summer dish, as it is nice and filling and best served at room temp or slightly colder.   And it’s super easy to make!  It has basically all my favorite things at once–fresh parmesan, chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, pasta, baby arugula, and so on.


And you can get the recipe from SkinnyTaste here!

A get-started guide to home waterbath canning

Have you wanted to start canning but didn’t know how to get going?  I can foods pretty regularly, and I often hear from people that they want to can but the process of getting started can be really intimidating.  I canned some pizza sauce back in March, and as I was doing so I realized it was the perfect beginner project.  Here’s why:

  1. A quarter pint jar is the perfect size of pizza sauce for one pizza.  The whole point of canning foods is to prevent waste, right?  It doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to can pizza sauce in jars that hold more than one serving’s worth, when I only cook for myself and J.  Plus, if I want two pizzas I can just open two jars.
  2. Pizza sauce is SUPER easy to make, and it’s obvious how to use it.  Lots of canning recipes are for jams and jellies which people in small households or households without kids might not have regular use for.
  3. If you prepare your dough in advance and freeze it (the Craftsy class I reviewed here has instructions on how to do so, plus I’m using the pizza sauce recipe from there as well) then putting pizza together is very easy.  Just defrost the dough the day before and you can throw it together the night you want it in a matter of minutes.  It is faster than getting delivery!
  4. Canning in quarter pint jars is really easy because most every kitchen has a pot large enough to process them.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the pizza sauce:

28 oz crushed tomatoes

1/2 T Red Wine Vinegar

1/4 t pepper

1 t dried basil (optional)

1/2 t dried oregano (optional)

1/2 t garlic powder (optional)

water to thin it out to the consistency you want

salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  That’s it!  No cooking required.

For canning the pizza sauce:

Quarter pint jars (they sell them in packages of 12, and if you buy them this way they’ll come with the rings and lids already)

The Ball Canning starter kit.  I highly recommend this kit.  The items in it are really helpful and it’s not all that expensive for what you get.  And I use the funnel that came with it for other purposes too.

Two pots.  One pot needs to be deep enough to hold the quarter pint jars with at least three inches to spare.  But any stock or soup pot should do the trick, really.  Quarter pint jars are only about 2-3 inches tall.  The other pot is to warm up the lids and rings prior to canning.  I use a regular old sauce pan for this, as you can see in my picture.

A bottle of lemon juice (you’ll see)

What you do when you water bath can foods is fill the jars, measure the headspace, put on your warmed up lid and tighten the ring so it’s very secure, then submerge the jar in boiling water for a given period of time.  Now that you have the gist of it I’ll spell it out in detail.

First, fill up the large pot with water and put it on high heat with the lid on.  The water needs to be boiling when you start timing your canning, and this much water takes a while, so I always get this going first.  It needs to be enough water so that when you drop your jars in the water bath they are covered by another two-ish inches of water.  So factor that in when you fill up your pot.

Next you’ll want to fill up the smaller pot with water and get that warming on the stove too—but on medium to medium-low.  Wash your lids and rings well and add them to your saucepan of water on the stove.  You want to get them warmed up so the material on the rings softens—hotter than a bath, but not a rolling boil.  Give your rings and lids about 10 minutes in the warm water before you begin filling your jars.


You also need to wash out your jars.  You may have heard that you are supposed to sterilize your jars.  This is true—for items that are water bath processed less than 15 minutes.  We’re going to process for 15 minutes here, so hot soapy water is enough.

Then you’ll mix up all ingredients for the sauce in a food processor.  That’s all there is to it—no cooking!

Now you fill your jars. Add about a half tablespoon of lemon juice to your jar, this does not affect the taste but raises the acidity level of the foods for processing.  Using the funnel, fill up the clean jars with ½ inch headspace.  That little tool in your Ball starter kit that has the notches on it?  That’s what you use to measure headspace.  Keep an eye out for air bubbles (but you shouldn’t see much in jars so small) and wipe the rims with a damp paper towel to make sure they’re clean.  Repeat the process for each jar until you’ve used up your sauce.  Note that you CANNOT process a jar that has more than the ½ inch headspace.  If you have a little extra sauce at the end and it is not enough to fill a jar, just stick it in the fridge or freezer.


Then take the stick with the magnet on the end and lift out one lid at a time from the lid/ring bath and put it right on your jar.  Then lift out a ring and secure the lid.  Try not to tilt the jar much while you do this—you want to minimize any of the sauce getting on the lid as possible.  You also want the ring to be on there pretty tight.

When your jars are filled and lidded, place them in your boiling water bath using the jar lifter in the Ball kit.  Is your water not at a boil yet?  That’s OK.  Put them in there anyways and wait until your water bath is at a full rolling boil.  Do you not have enough water to cover the jars by two inches?  Add more, and wait until you reach a rolling boil until you set the timer.  Only when it is boiling do you set a timer for 15 minutes.  I’ll reiterate, because this is important:  Your jars will be in a full, rolling water bath for 15 minutes.  They will be in the pot longer than 15 minutes total, but 15 of those minutes must be at a rolling boil.  And if they’re in there for more than 15 minutes at a rolling boil, that’s OK too—but you must not do for less.  I like to keep a lid on my pot while I do this so the water doesn’t evaporate, and I know my water level stays stable.


After the 15 minutes is up, cut the heat on your burner.  Give it another 10 minutes or so, and while you’re waiting set out a towel on the counter nearby in a place where the jars can rest uninterrupted for 24 hours.  Then, using the jar lifter carefully remove the jars and let them rest on a towel.  Do not tilt the jars—again, you want to avoid sauce getting in the seal.  During this 24 hour period is when you’ll hear the lids ping.

Next day, 24 hours later: check and see if all your jars sealed.  If they did not, just put them in the fridge and use up.  However, I’ve never in all my canning had a jar not seal after coming out of the canner.  You can remove the rings now, and the lid will stay put.  You’re supposed to store your jars with the rings off—the seal should be strong enough to keep the lid secure to the point that if you wanted to (not that I’m advising this) you could turn the jar upside down and it would not come off.  I find that the seal is so strong I need to use the edge of a knife or bottle opener to pry the lids off when I go to open them.

This strong seal is what makes the food shelf stable.  However, due to things like extreme heat, or food getting between the jar and the lid, or other Acts of God, sometimes the seal will come loose over time.  If you lose this seal, and the lid comes loose, then the food isn’t safe to eat any more.  I have had this happen exactly once in my canning life and I’ve canned probably 300+ jars of food.  It really sucked to have to throw out a quart of chili but better safe than sorry!  Had I kept the ring on that jar, the pressure from the ring would have prevented me from realizing the seal loosened up, and I could have eaten unsafe food.

The jars and rings can be reused, but not the lids.  However, if you put too many lids in your lid bath at the beginning and did not use them all to seal up your sauce, you can dry those lids and reuse those.  It’s only when they’ve been through the boiling water bath that they cannot be reused.

Your food is shelf stable for, well, really however long your seal stays put, but for best results use it in a year’s time.  Store it in a place where it stays between 40-70 degrees if you can as those temps help hold the seal the best.  I admit sometimes it gets warmer than that in my place, however, since I store with the rings off, I am able to identify if the seal ever becomes loose due to heat.

That’s it!  Once you run through it once you will see really how easy it is.  And between the premade frozen pizza dough and the canned pizza sauce, making pizza at home is super easy and quick.


Quinoa and black bean salad with mole dressing


Here’s a quick post while I’m on my phone….I’ve got a whole backlog of recipes to share but need to take time to write them up!

This quinoa and black bean salad had a really interesting mole dressing, with orange zest and cocoa powder.  I find the recipe in the may 2014 issue of Cooking Light.

It was a pretty tasty way to use up some quinoa!  I would recommend it if you like the flavors of mole.

You can find the recipe here.

Cooking for a crowd: 2 minute, 24 hour pasta (AKA the easiest baked penne you’ll ever make!)

I got a text from my friend’s boyfriend last week asking my attendance at a surprise 40th birthday party for her.   And, could I also bring a casserole for 12?  Sure, why not.  I can throw something together.  It didn’t take much Googling to find a list of casseroles on Cooking Light’s website, including this one.  It couldn’t be easier, and you don’t even have to cook the pasta!  I’ll definitely be making this again the next time I have to feed a crowd.

I followed the recipe as written but with the following changes:

1.  I had about a cup left of my edamame pesto, so I added that in with the pasta sauce.

2.  I forgot to spray the baking dish before adding the pasta.  But no worry, the pasta didn’t stick anyways, so I would say you can skip that step if you have no cooking spray around.

3.  This isn’t a change so much, but I figured that 2 jars of pasta sauce at the store would be close enough to 7.5 cups, since a quart is four cups and pasta jars are close to a quart in size.  So I didn’t bother measuring out the sauce, I just used two jars worth!


Recipe: 2 Minute, 24 Hour Casserole

April Books

Wow, I can’t believe we’re already through April.   It feels like it went really fast, but I managed to get through a lot of reading this month!  Let’s get started:

The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld


Here we have a solid contender for best of 2014, at minimum top five.  Set on Death Row, The Enchanted is the story of an inmate nearing his execution date, only unlike the other inmates, he claims he does  want to die.  A woman is sent to investigate his case, and as she does she learns of some dark similarities between herself and the inmate.  The story is narrated by a mute inmate, also on death row.  The material is dark but truly beautifully written.  Probably the most uplifting story about the bleakest world I can imagine.  Highly recommended.

The Night Gwen Stacy Died, Sarah Bruni


Sheila is almost 18, living in boring Iowa and dreaming of the day she graduates and heads to Paris.  Until she meets the mysterious Peter Parker….wait, isn’t that the guy from Spider-Man?  Peter captures Sheila at gunpoint and takes her to Chicago where their adventure unfolds.  While the ending felt kind of rushed, overall this is a quick, enjoyable, emotional read.

Oxygen, Carol Cassella


Marie is an anesthesiologist who faces pressure in her personal and professional life when a routine surgery hits crisis mode.  I found the professional side of this story to be compelling, but too much of this story revolved around Marie’s relationship with her family, which bored me.  This is decent beach or plane reading, but I wouldn’t rush to put it on your to-read list.

Tenth of December, George Saunders


Finally got around to reading this huge hit from 2013!  It’s a collection of short stories, my favorite being The Semplica Girl Diaries.  Saunders’ ability to create such depth in so few pages per story is really amazing.  This collection made many top ten lists of 2013 and with good reason.  An excellent read.

The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud


Is it just me or is the latest thing to have your main character be your antagonist too?  Like Walter White in Breaking Bad?  Nora, our narrator, is one miserable, unlikeable character.  She’s middle aged and feeling angry and invisible.  At times her anger feels realistic, but at other times it seems over the top.  But despite this, I found myself completely wrapped up in this story….until the ending, which left me saying “Oh, come on!”.  I felt it was pretty unrealistic…don’t want to give it away though!  Nora is a teacher who befriends the  professional artist mother of one of her students, which inspires her to become more passionate and to focus more  on her artwork.  But with a first sentence like “How angry am I?  You don’t want to know.” you know this isn’t gonna end well.  I don’t know if I’d recommend this one either.  If you like the antagonist as narrator format, then go for it.  But if you don’t have time for angst, skip this.

Strike for America, Micah Uetricht


Finally, a non-fiction book this month!  I signed up for a six book non-fiction set through Jacobin and this is one of the first three they sent me…the other two will be reviewed later this spring (or, as my knitting group discussed, it’s not really spring in Chicago but postwinter) Here’s the story of the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012.  Informative and fast for educators, Chicagoans, and those interested in union history.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy


I read this book while on my NY vacation–J’s sister has lots of books around her place and so when I visit I know there will be something interesting for me to pick up.  I found this book to start off slow but it became more and more interesting–it’s about the tragedy that unfolds around a family in India when the ex-wife and daughter of the family’s son come to visit.  It’s a really interesting read about what life is like in India, about feeling inferior to a person with white skin, about the caste system, child abuse, worker’s struggles.  It’s one of those books you could read a second time and realize how much you missed the first.  Roy has a new nonfiction book out which is going into the queue now!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , Mark Haddon


Christopher is a 15 year old autistic boy who decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog.  But he ends up learning a whole lot more than he bargained for.  The narrator is also a math genius, and the story is peppered with lots of interesting math and logic puzzles.  It’s an extremely fast read, written for young adults, also one of those good summer mindless reading days.

Night, Elie Wiesel


I was thinking I should add some classics into my reading as I generally stick to more contemporary things.  At only 100 pages, Night definitely gets a full, detailed account of Wiesel’s life in the concentration camps across.  I had never read this in school like many people do, but I learned quite a bit.

Total books read in 2014: 22