Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tiny Food in Tiny Jars
I'm pretty much the best ever at picking gifts. I have this unique ability to remember an offhand comment from months before and then seek out the exact thing someone wants. It's pretty amazing actually. But I do have one person in my life who really seems to have everything. She's terribly difficult to find a gift for and ended up purchasing the one idea I had for herself earlier this month. I was at a total loss as to what to give her and her family for Christmas this year until I stumbled upon an article online about making little mini pies in shallow half pint canning jars. I loved the idea but didn't really have any need for making dessert pies so I decided to use the idea to make meals that I could then gift to this person who has everything but hates cooking.
I decided I was going to make chicken pot pies, chili and cornbread, quiche, and lasagnas. I used half pint canning jars that are short and squat rather than the traditional half pint ones most people use for jams and such. Because my gift receiver's family has six members I made six of each meal.
I started with the chili because I wanted to be able to freeze it long enough that I could put the cornbread on top without it just sinking to the bottom. I used some of the black beans I had made the other night with onion and green pepper. I also put in a couple diced tomatoes and extra onion.
I cooked that down for a bit while I waited for Craig to bring me a can opener because I apparently lost mine in my move. I fed him pizza and wine though so I think it was an even trade. Once he arrived I was able to add kidney beans. I also added corn and zucchini.
Next thing to go in was some grated cheddar cheese, cumin, salt and garlic powder. After that melted I took the chili off the heat and Craig and I tried it. This is where I have no shame in bragging about how awesome I am at making food because this chili was amazing. Craig wanted to eat more of it but I hadn't made enough so I promised him I would make it again soon.
I put the chili into the jars leaving enough space to top them off with cornbread batter once they had frozen a bit.
Javi was very loud during this project. Because whenever I am in the kitchen it must mean he gets something except he doesn't like any treats or human food with the exception of ice cream so mostly it's just obnoxious and pointless. He is soft and cute though so he's forgiven.
After they had frozen just enough for there to be a "seal" of sorts over the top of the chili I poured the cornbread batter (which I made from a box) on top of the chili and stuck them back into the freezer. Now when they're heated again in the oven the cornbread will bake.
Next I moved onto the chicken pot pies. If you've ever read any of my cooking adventures before you know I don't follow recipes and even though I have never made chicken pot pie I gambled that I could figure it out. Rather than making gravy (which grosses me out to no end) I used cream of mushroom soup as my base. I added peas and corn first.
I sauteed some red potatoes with diced onion, to which I later added carrots. When that was done I tossed it in the bowl along with some celery. I had bought a chicken breast but had totally accidentally bought the wrong thing and there was bone and skin and it was awful so Craig helped me cut the meat off which I then diced and sauteed in a pan. It went in the bowl too along with some salt, pepper and heavy cream.
I had bought refrigerated pie crust to make things easier. I tore pieces off and just pressed them into the jars to form a crust. I did twelve of these because I was making quiche as well. Also that one picture is in my living room because I needed to get my weekly fix of pregnant teenagers on MTV so I moved my crust making station that way.
Next I filled the jars with the filling and made crusts for the top of the pies. To make the tops I just made a lump of dough then sort of pressed it out between my palms. The tops don't fit perfectly which is actually ideal because then you don't have to cut slits or fancy decorative holes in the tops. I also used an egg wash so the crusts would be all flaky and gorgeous when cooked.
Next up were the quiches. I diced up sun dried tomatoes then used the oil from them to saute leeks and crimini mushrooms separately. Then I realized I forgot to buy gruyere for my quiche so I had to improvise. I ended up making a mixture of cottage cheese and gorgonzola along with the veggies, about six eggs (I also used the leftover egg from the egg wash), and some heavy cream. For anyone unfamiliar with leeks, they're a milder veggie in the onion family and they are delicious. They also have a similar structure to onions so you can just slice them and separate the rings.
I wasn't really sure if I should freeze the quiche uncooked and allow it to cook when it would be heated again or if I should cook it and chance the eggs becoming overcooked when it was reheated. So I turned to the internet and the people there said to cook it just until it starts to set then take it out and freeze it. Which seems super logical now that I know it. So I went ahead and did that. Then let them cool before sticking them in the freezer. It was messy.
Now for the lasagna. I love to make this dish. It's so hard to make bad lasagna.
I made a mixture of cottage cheese (this works as a really good substitute for ricotta if you don't have any or are making for people who don't like ricotta as I was), mozzarella, diced red peppers, zucchini, shredded cooked spinach, a couple eggs, salt, and pepper.
I'd bought fresh lasagna noodles because I figured it'd be easiest to cut circles out of to fit the jars. I was planning on using that glass in the photo next to the package of lasagna to cut out the circles but that didn't really work so I used this weird ice cream scoop I have for serving fancy ice cream. If you have just a circle cookie cutter that would work too but I did not.
From there it was a pretty easy routine of putting layers in the jars. I always put sauce down first to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pan/jar. Next I did a layer of noodle and then filling. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When you get to the top you just put a layer of sauce then sprinkle on some grated mozzarella.
Everything ended up in the freezer for the night and then since it was 1am Javi and I went to bed.
In the morning I made these little labels with instructions on them. I made sure to state that the jars should be put into a cold oven that is then heated rather than a pre-heated oven. That will prevent the jars from being shocked and breaking, although these jars are made for canning so I wouldn't worry about that happening too much.
I gave this gift today since I won't be seeing this person again before Christmas and she loved it. I would like to do this again for myself since I don't usually like to make a whole pan of lasagna or an entire quiche. Living alone means that when I make something like that I eat it for a week or end up throwing it out. If I did this again I would make sure I had a ton of food because once you start it really doesn't take that much longer to fill extra jars whereas making and setting up this whole thing again sort of will take awhile. I started this at about 8pm and worked on it until 1am. Which seems like forever but realistically I made four different meals in that time. In an effort of full disclosure though I did do a lot of multitasking and I definitely thought out how I was going to do this before I started. I grouped the photos together for ease of reading but I worked on the chicken pot pie filling while the chili froze, I baked the quiche while I made the lasagna. I made sure that any dish I had down time with was done earlier so I could work on another then finish the previous one.
But, it was really fun. And now I want to eat quiche. Or chili.