Kick the can: the easy way to use dried beans

driedbeans-cup

Back in my single days, I was addicted to a bag of instant beans and rice called Vigo. I’m guessing they only required cooking for 15 minutes or so in boiling water — since that’s about all I could manage in those years — but what I liked about them was the fact that the bag told me to douse them in oil and vinegar, Cuban-style. This dressing made me an addict (nevermind the fact that the brand of beans had nothing to do with this condiment) — I even remember requesting they carry them at my new grocery store when I moved to Tennessee.

Years later, I graduated to canned beans. I’d saute onions, peppers and garlic, and add a can of black beans to the mix, spiced with cumin. A little more homemade, one step less processed.

I think it was our beloved Brazilian Black Beans, from The Joy of Cooking, that first had me buying dried beans. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper it was — I could even afford to buy organic.

But there were still so many recipes that called for a can or two of beans. For both economic and health reasons (home-cooked beans retain more nutrients than canned, contain no BPA, and if pre-soaked are much easier to digest), I decided to try and use dried instead — and finally figured out a way to do it that makes it almost as easy as buying a can.

driedbeans-soaking

Cooking in bulk is the key — and to make it even easier, I usually kill two birds with one stone, and have a bean-cooking day when I need a large quantity of cooked beans for a recipe. These white navy beans were cooked to use in a Tuscan White Bean Stew — and I saved the rest for future use. The instructions below include a long (24-hour) soak, which greatly helps bean digestion and combats anti-nutrients. A slow-cooker is my favorite cooking vessel, as I can leave it on while running errands in the morning. The most important thing to remember about cooking dried beans: do not add salt until beans are cooked. Salt toughens beans, and causes most cases of the dreaded beans-that-never-get-done.

Try this just once, and I guarantee you’ll give serious consideration to kicking this can from your cupboard.*

driedbeans-frozen

Recipe: How to Cook Dried Beans

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds dried beans (black, pinto, kidney, navy)
  • filtered water for soaking & cooking
  • 1 Tbsp whey or lemon juice (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a 2-quart bowl, combine the dried beans with 2 quarts lukewarm water (this will more than cover the beans, but the legumes will swell to several times their size) and optional whey/lemon juice. Let sit for 12-24 hours (you can change the water once during a long soak, but this is optional).
  2. Drain and rinse the beans very well.
  3. Combine rinsed beans in a slow cooker with enough fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Add optional garlic, and cook covered, on high, for 4 hours, or until tender. DO NOT ADD SALT until beans are fully cooked (I freeze mine unsalted and season as used).
  4. Let cool completely. Use immediately, or divide into 1.5 cup (one can of beans) or 3 cup (two cans of beans) portions in freezer bags. Will keep frozen for 6 months. To thaw, submerge in a bowl of lukewarm water for 30 minutes until loose enough to remove from plastic (avoid microwaving in the plastic bag).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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* Confession: I still sometimes have canned beans in my cupboard. I consider it part of our natural disaster plan, kinda like the stores of food hoarded in my basement.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.

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Brown bag lunch: quinoa salad with tasso & citrus vinaigrette

tasso-salad

I’m not a huge fan of the sandwich. I used to be a fan, eating them almost daily at lunch for decades — but it was during one of my pregnancies that I must have crossed a line of sandwich-eating, consuming one too many, saturating my tolerance for the American lunch favorite named for an Earl.

What I am a fan of for lunch is the grain salad. Granted, I’m not personally eating them right now for obvious reasons — but plan to someday reintroduce them to my midday repertoire. They are convenient — you can make a big bowl and eat from it for days, serving it hot or cold. They are inexpensive — grains, even organic ones, are a lot of bang for your buck. And they are infinitely variable, using up leftover bits and pieces of things in your refrigerator that might otherwise go bad. What’s not to love about the grain salad?

So when the folks at the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market asked me to come up with some under-$5 lunch ideas using market-sourced ingredients, this was the first thing that came to mind.

I love quinoa — a seed-grain that contains not only lots of protein, but all of the amino acids, and is lower-carb than most other grains. It has a stronger flavor than rice, which for some takes a while to get used to — and while I’m not a fan of eating it plain, I do love using it in salads.

Today’s recipe is Cajun-inspired, with its star ingredient being Smoking Goose’s spicy, smoky cured pork tasso. The strong, salty flavor of the pork is tempered by roasted bell peppers, celery, and the subtle sweetness of an orange vinaigrette. The perfect salad to carry to lunch, as it does well at room-temperature — and it comes in at about $2.50 for a lunch serving. Mission accomplished.

tasso

If you’re interested, I’ll be showcasing this and a couple other lunches (with at least one sandwich) at tomorrow’s market. Sonja of A Couple Cooks will be there with her vegetarian lunches, and a raw food chef will showcase options as well. I think the party starts at 10 am — so if you’ve not made it to the market, come tomorrow and say hello! I’ll be the one with the southern drawl, breaking out into hives if I have to speak publicly.

Thanks to the IWFM for supplying ingredients for this and the other lunches on display tomorrow. You can find the tasso, quinoa, honey, olive oil, and perhaps the parsley & scallions at tomorrow’s market, all from local vendors.

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Recipe: Quinoa Salad with Tasso and Citrus Vinaigrette

: Feel free to substitute leftover cooked quinoa (use about 4 cups cooked instead of 1 cup dry) or another grain such as cooked rice, barley, etc. You can use any smoked ham or other cured meat instead of tasso.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water or stock
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 pound tasso (or other smoked meat), cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced (most of a 7-oz jar)
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 3 Tbsp freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey

Instructions

  1. In a fine-meshed colander, rinse the quinoa well, and drain thoroughly.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil or butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the quinoa and stir to coat with oil and separate grains.
  3. Add the water and 1/2 tsp salt, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a small bowl or jar, combine orange juice, vinegar, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, honey, and olive oil. Whisk or shake well to combine.
  6. Once quinoa is just barely warm, combine with the tasso, peppers, scallions, celery, and parsley. Pour vinaigrette over the top, and toss to combine.
  7. Taste for seasoning, adding additional splash of vinegar or salt if necessary.
  8. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Store in a refrigerated airtight container for up to 5 days.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Lara Bars

larabars

Ever looked at the ingredients list on a LaraBar? It’s basically just dried fruit and nuts — nothing else. I think my favorite flavor (Cherry Pie) lists cherries, cashews. That’s my kind of convenience food.

But there’s that matter of the price tag. While I’ve no problem grabbing one when on-the-go and in need of a blood-sugar fix, I don’t want to drop the cash to unwrap a bar every day. Plus, my kids like them. And we all know the pain of watching your children discover a delicious mommy-treat, becoming fierce competition in the pantry habitat (I still rue the day I encouraged my kids to choose dark over milk chocolate — now none of them will touch a Hershey’s kiss, but they’ll scrap for my Chocolove bar).

Many months ago, I found a post that gave a formula, of sorts, for making your own. I’ve been using it since then, never making the same bars twice (and yes, I finally made my own version of Cherry Pie, but didn’t write down what I used, and curse if I’ve not been able to repeat them).

The great thing about it is that you can throw in whatever you have. At a bare minimum, you need dried fruit and nuts. Preferably, you have at least a cup of pitted dates — I’ve started keeping them in my pantry for this reason — because they are full of digestive enzymes that take the benefits of these bars up a notch  (about $5/pound in bulk at your health food store). My luxury additions include — you guessed it — dried cherries, since those are a thing of which I apparently cannot get enough.

A food processor makes these a breeze, but you could likely get away with a mini-prep processor or other chopper, working in batches. If you have neither of those, but are adventurous and looking for a bicep workout, go at the fruit and nuts with a chef’s knife until they are pulverized.

Just be ready to stash these somewhere, or make up a mystifying name for them, or in some other way deflect questions of their existence. Otherwise, it’ll be survival of the fittest — may the most snack-desperate mom/dad/chef win.

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Recipe: Homemade Lara Bars

: based on this post at GNOWFGLINS

makes about 20 1×1/5″ bars

I like to use at least 1 cup dates in every batch I make, then use a mix of fruits for the additional necessary cup. If you like the flavor of cherries, but not the price, try starting with just a quarter-cup, using dates and raisins as the rest of the fruit. If the cherry flavor isn’t strong enough, use more on your next batch. Feel free to make up recipes — try a pinch of cinnamon with dried apples for an Apple Pie flavor, or maybe a little lemon zest with apricots & golden raisins to make a Lemon Chiffon. This recipe is meant to be a base for experimentation — with the ratios below you really can’t go wrong.

I use raw nuts and seeds that have been soaked & dehydrated, to help nutrient absorption and digestion. You can also use roasted nuts, but look for those that have no additional flavorings and are naturally-roasted (if salted, be careful adding salt in step 1). If you can find it, look for fruit with no sulfites or sugar added.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsulphured, unsweetened dried fruit
  • pinch sea salt (may omit if nuts are salted)
  • 1-2 Tbsp cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1 1/3 cups nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, or a mix)
  • 1/3 cup optional additions (dried unsweetened coconut, seeds such as flax, sesame, pumpkin)
  • 1 Tbsp (or more) water, if necessary

Instructions

  1. Chop large pieces of fruit into smaller pieces. Place the dried fruit, salt, and optional cocoa powder in workbowl of a food processor. Process until fruit is finely chopped and begins to form a ball. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add nuts and any optional additions to empty workbowl, and process until finely-ground.
  3. Return fruit to bowl with the nuts. Process to combine. Squeeze the mixture — if it doesn’t stick together, add water, 1 Tbsp at a time, and process. Dough is ready when it holds together.
  4. Press dough into an 8×8″ baking pan. Refrigerate for about half an hour, or until firm enough to cut into bars.
  5. Store bars in an airtight container for up to a week.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Tea strainer **giveaway**

I’ve hosted a grand total of 2 giveaways on this little blog.

The first was eons ago, I fell in love with a milk frother, so much so, that I bought one on Amazon to give away (how’re you liking it, Rebecca?). This was long before I had a single PR pitch in my inbox, before anyone offered me anything at all to review, ever. It was simply an obsession that I wanted to share, and it felt good to do it.

And it’s not like I’m getting showered in freebies now — but occasionally I do get an offer for a product or book to review, and such is the situation that led to my second giveaway. I wrote an honest review about a book I was really excited about, and a lucky reader got a copy.

But — I’ll admit it — the whole process just felt a little weird to me. I felt pressure to write a positive review — and even though no one asked me or directly influenced me to do that, I felt it just the same.*

So I’ve decided that, for the time being, I’m no longer doing those. But what I can & will do is find random cheap stuff that I can buy, and give it away to whomever might be interested.

Case in point: today’s tea strainer. The source? My favorite Fall-Off-The-Truck Store, Angelo’s. I paid $4 for it. No, I am not PioneerWoman (but how I love her in all her unmatched hilarity), and will not be giving away Kitchenaid mixers or trips to my ranch (you did know I had a ranch, didn’t you? I just like to keep it all to my lonesome is all). But, on the bright side, you probably have a 1-in-15-ish chance of winning my $4 discount tea strainer, versus a chance somewhat equal to getting struck by lightening whilst finding a needle in The World’s Largest Haystack (I believe that’s somewhere in rural Ohio, by the way).

Come on. You know you want to win, even if it’s just a little tiny something. Don’t you.

I love this strainer. How completely adorable is it? (though, admittedly, not this adorable). And, true to its word, the tea leaves stay in the stainless basket. It even comes with a little stand to catch the drippings after steeping. It likely cost way more than $4 on its original shelf. Probably even, like, $10. And it kind of looks like a witch’s hat, which is seasonally appropriate.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll start giving away items I dig out of the bin at Goodwill. That’s the underwhelming reach of my generosity. And pocketbook.

To Enter this Mind-Boggling Giveaway:

1) leave a comment, telling me what you would buy if you had $4 burning a hole in your pocket.

2) for a second entry, follow me on twitter, and tweet the following: “I just entered an amazing FOUR DOLLAR GIVEAWAY from @katyshecooks [insert link to this post]!!!!” If you want the tweet to count as an entry, you must leave a comment here w/ a link, or else I’ll never know. I’m just not that organized.

3) can’t think of another way to self-promote at the expense of your energy. So, just review numbers 1 & 2.

A winner will be selected, at random, via random.org, randomly, at 9pm (or maybe 10? whenever I remember to do it) on Sunday, October 16. Winner will be notified by email sometime in the early days of next week.

Also, no choice on color. All they had was yellow.

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* This is totally my issue. Many, many bloggers do giveaways with honesty and generosity and without having to spend their own money at junk stores. You should definitely be reading their blogs, not mine.

** Congrats to OrdinarySarah, who’s lifelong dream was realized the day I told her she won the strainer. Ok, maybe not lifelong dream… but apparently she did dream that she was at my house, asking about the strainer, the day before she won it. This did not in any way influence the contest, unless random.org is able to be controlled by the dreams of pregnant women. Thanks to all of you who confessed your love of $4 coffee drinks, I’m right there with ya.

I might have a problem

thrift-enamelware-before

I’ve covered before my love of thrifting. But recently I have harbored a suspicion that my quaint hobby could actually be a clinical problem.

I’ve been caught sneaking thrift trips. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hey, do you have plans tonight? I need to run to Target — we’re completely out of toilet paper (which may or may not have happened due to intentional oversight on my part).

Tim: Uh, sure. I mean, we can’t be without toilet paper.

(we eat dinner, I leave, return in two hours)

Tim: Get lost on the way to Target?

Me: I know! Traffic was so bizarrely heavy for 8pm on a Wednesday! And Target? It was a total mess! And, well, you know, I was just driving right by Value World, so I just ran in for a second.

(At this point, I sheepishly bring in the piles of junk discoveries, eager to win him over to my cause by telling how little I spent after using my 50% off coupon. He is not convinced, and just responds with something completely oblique like where are we going to put all that crap or did you really need another enameled pan we already have five that look just like it.)

The past couple of weeks, my obsession has been fueled to new, dangerous levels. We have a Goodwill Outlet in town — and if you’ve never been to one, I’ll offer a description: a huge warehouse room, where big bins of junk are wheeled out 4 times a day. People literally run to the bins, to be the first to start digging. After my first visit, I stashed a pair of rubber gloves in my purse for future trips. It’s junk, it’s trash. But in there, buried, is sometimes a treasure. They price it by the pound — 69¢.

I think of it like stopping at one of those kitschy mines in the mountains, to pay to pan for gold.

I’ve been subconsciously rearranging my schedule in order to have reasons to drive by the outlet. I might not get in a trip this week, and — no exaggeration — this is causing much anxiety.

And I’m not alone. My friend Erin (her blog brings me joy every single time I read it, she is both magical and real, and has a knack for making everything beautiful) has started a weekly post called Out of the Bin — where she shows a photo of her recent Goodwill find as she first sees it in the bin, and then a photo of the item in her home. She’s the one who introduced me to The Outlet — rumor has it she can go 3 times in one week — and has found (or witnessed others finding) things such as brand-new Danskos and Phil & Ted strollers.

And while I would not think twice about scooping up a $500 stroller to resell on Craigslist, when thrifting I am mostly looking for kitchen goods.

In my 2 trips to the Goodwill Outlet, I’ve yet to be coordinated enough to snap a photo of an item before I grab it out of the bin (if you read Erin’s post, she too might start second-guessing this habit, as it can be risky). But I did snap a semi-before and after photo of a recent thrifting find — not at Goodwill, but at another chain of stores called Value World. First stop is kitchen wares — quirky vintage, high-end pots and pans, old popcorn poppers to use as coffee roasters. I came across a pile of vintage enamelware — 16 pieces in all — for $7.50. Why buy 16 pieces of enamelware? The plan is to fill my kitchen with vintage items that are often better quality than modern-day counterparts, on the cheap. A bonus would be to sell things in my Etsy Store (don’t bother browsing, there are currently no items), and make my millions.

A perfectly logical fantasy from a woman who spends her time donning gloves and digging through other people’s junk.

Next stop, dumpster-diving.

thrift-enamelware-after1
{you can put your weed in there}

The story on the bins.

(As promised, a real explanation for stockpiling.)

I grew up in Mississippi. When I went to grad school in Tennessee, I met other new students from Canada, the Pacific northwest, and New England — and when a few of them found out I was from Mississippi, they seemed to look upon me as a curious specimen, something of a southern-belle mystery, to be studied anthropologically.

Mind you, we were in Tennessee.

Erroneous perceptions and pre-conceived notions aside, there’s something mystical about a state that produces the likes of Eudora Welty, Oprah, Faulkner, BB King, and Sweet Potato Queens. My entire family is still there — and while there are many things I decidedly don’t miss about my deep-southern home (6-months of perpetual outdoor sauna, cat-sized cockroaches), there are also things I do occasionally pine for, and seek out on our return. One of those things is a chain of salvage stores called Hudson’s.

Hudson’s buys stocks of goods from stores that have gone bankrupt, had fire/water/whatever damage, etc., and sells them for big discounts. At your high-end Hudson’s, you might walk in and find a stock of designer clothes for 50% off, or an entire big-chain bookstore stock going at 70% off retail. At the low-end Hudson’s (called “Dirt Cheap,” for real), you walk into what looks like a warehouse-sized garage sale. You dig through damaged clothes, broken furniture, and opened toiletry boxes looking for that gem — that repairable designer silk blouse (retail $450) for $10.

My blood runs Hudson’s blue. I can find ways to pacify my thrifting needs here in Indiana, but nothing compares to that chain of stores.

So imagine my delight when I came across a new salvage store right here in Indianapolis — for dry goods. A place where a guy buys out-of-date and/or damaged-out stock from grocery stores. And one of the grocery stores with which he has a contract is our local Whole Foods.

Angelo’s is a small warehouse with odd hours, and they don’t take plastic. You never know what you’ll find — unless you get on Tony’s good side and he gives you a call when a new shipment’s coming (I’m not quite there yet, apparently). But when he goes to pick up a dozen palettes from Whole Foods, you can end up walking out of his store with everything from Himalayan salt to organic coconut water to chlorine-free feminine products. But if you’re like me, you’re really there for the 25- and 50-pound bags of bulk items.

You know the section in Whole Foods where you buy grains, beans, etc. by the pound in bulk? All of that comes to them direct from the mill, in huge sewn bags. If these bags sit too long in their storeroom, or if they happen to be on a truck that was involved in a fender-bender, it all goes to Angelo’s, unopened. And he sells everything for under 50¢/pound.

In this utopian world of food bargains, there are some rules I choose to live by. First, I am careful not to buy processed whole grains; so no wheat flour, no oat bran, no flax seed mill — these items go rancid so quickly, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t buying food unfit to eat. Instead, I buy whole wheat berries (one of my kitchen indulgences is a grain mill), dried beans, dry natural sweeteners, rice, and oats. Also, I try to show restraint and not buy things that we don’t already regularly use — so a few weeks ago I passed up 25# of dry pintos, since my kids won’t currently eat them (without lots of blood, sweat, tears, and potential years off my life).

Since finding Angelo’s, I’ve finally been able to stay in our grocery budget. Since I bake much of our bread, make a weekly half-gallon of granola, and use rice as a staple, the ingredients are no longer weekly needs costing up to $3/pound — they are in my basement, in those glistening plastic bins from my local restaurant-supply store.

Per my last post — in theory, I could feed my neighborhood in the case of a natural disaster. The question is, would I. Because you never know how long it will be before Tony heads back to the Whole Foods warehouse. I’ve entertained the idea of arranging an “accident” on a city street — perhaps a mild scratch-up with a Whole Foods delivery truck at a 4-way stop? But then I realize that intentionally crashing into a semi in order to get cheap bulk food items is just a tad bit irrational.

But if we get that grid failure? The neighborhood kids might be on their own.

Crock-pot Apple Butter

After last year’s last-minute teacher-gift debacle just before the holidays, I vowed to be more prepared in 2010. Because as much as I love going to thrift stores, I don’t particularly enjoy scouring all of them in the metro Indianapolis area in a 24-hour period  in order to find adequate vessels for holding homemade tea blends. In the end, last year’s gift-giving went ok, excepting the loss of hair (I pulled it out) and emotional energy (it was The Holidays, after all).

This year, I’m rocking it. I’m so on top of things, I’m honestly waiting for the ball to drop; looking for ways it can all go wrong. One scenario involves my walking to the basement to bring up the jarred gifts to wrap, and none of the jars are sealed anymore (can that happen? anyone?). In another nightmare fantasy, a house fire consumes the jars, and their contents and glass explosions feed the flames (because, if my house burned down, at the very top of my worries would be the botched teacher gifts).

But the jars. They are filled with homemade apple butter. After my first (somewhat) failed attempt, I made a second go, inspired by my friend Jane’s crockpot recipe. I am still tweaking the spices in my recipe, but each batch has been delicious, and quite worthy of a jar. Since fruits are acidic enough to be safely water-bath canned, no pressure canner is necessary, and the canning is a breeze. The very best part is the price: I bought 40 pounds of apples (“seconds” — which means they’re not very pretty, but make great apple sauce and butter) from our local orchard (Wilds Apple Farm) for $20. From that investment, I’ll probably end up with 18 pints of apple butter and a dozen or so quarts of apple sauce. That’s a twenty well-spent.

There are a couple of catches. As far as equipment, a food mill makes your job a lot easier. Mainly because it relieves you of the necessity of peeling or coring your apples. If you don’t have one, you can still make wonderful butter, but you might have an acute case of carpal-tunnel to go with. Probably a worthy trade-off, in the long-run. If you can the jars*, it’ll help to have a canning kit and a very large stockpot. This recipe uses sucanat (“SUgar CAne NATural” sold under brand name Rapadura, or in bulk at a health food store), which lends a slight molasses-y flavor and allows the finished product to be completely free of refined sugars.

* If you don’t want to bother with canning, you can simply freeze the apple butter in jars or bags; it’ll last a few weeks, once thawed, in your refrigerator.

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Crock-pot Apple Butter
(a marriage of recipes from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook and Jane Moore)

makes about 3 pints, with some leftover

  • about 6 pounds apples (any variety — seconds are cheaper and work great)
  • 2 1/2 cups sucanat (Rapadura) or combination of white and brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider, apple juice, or water
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (raw, unfiltered is best)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Wash apples well (peel and core if you won’t be using a food mill), and cut into small chunks (I quarter the apple, then cut each quarter in half). Fill your crock pot with the apples.

Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and turn on high. Let cook for one hour, then turn heat down to low, and cook for another 8 hours (remove lid during last hour of cooking). Can stir occasionally, but it’s not necessary.

Let cool, and run mixture through a food mill (I use the biggest grated screen first, then run it through again on the medium-grate).  If your apples were already peeled and cored, you can simply mash with a potato masher, or for smoother texture use a hand-held stick blender or food processor.

For canning, use a water bath process for 10 minutes (I bring the apple butter back to a simmer in a stockpot on the stove before pouring it into hot jars).

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday, hosted by GNOWFGLINS, A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, Sustainable Eats, and Culinary Bliss.