Russ Kent: Can it! These are a few of my favorite things

If you know me, you know I love to cook.

I also like to write, read, watch TV and eat.

When I can combine all of those things, a lot of my problems seem to fade away.

I’m not a five-star cook, but most of the things I create in my kitchen taste pretty good.

My favorite thing to watch on TV is the Food Network.

I get a lot of ideas from TV shows and cookbooks. I’ve watched thousands of cooking shows on TV, from the Frugal Gourmet and Justin Wilson on PBS to when Emiril Lagasse was filmed cooking in one of his restaurants for a show on the Discovery Channel. This was several years before the Food Network made him a huge star and multi-millionaire.

But I take recipes I see and change and experiment to put my brand on my own creations.

I do use recipes when I bake or when I am canning

I have a pretty large cooking library when you consider the TV and the internet. But I also have more than 40 cookbooks from authors as varied as Bobby Flay to Betty Crocker to one from St. Paul United Methodist Church in Galion. My mother, who used to cook a lot, even put together a notebook of family recipes that was passed down to different siblings and siblings-in-law.

If I’m at a bookstore, I’m looking at fiction or cookbooks.

Which one day a couple weeks ago took me to the book section at Ollie’s on Lexington Avenue in Mansfield. I’ve been to Ollie’s dozens of times over the years, but somehow, I have always skipped the cookbook section. I look for pots and pans and toaster ovens and utensils and muffin pans and soup bowls, but never cookbooks, until this time.

That place is a treasure.

My find on that day was the “Complete Canning Guide” from Better Homes and Gardens.

I’ve done some canning in the past. I make a multi-purpose marinara sauce with meat that is good for spagetti, lasagna, pizzas … well anything Italian.

I’ve done some salsas and jams and jellies. The jams and the jellies I’m not good at. And salsa? I’d rather have a fresh pico de gallo or I just buy some at the store.

Except for a sweet and very spicy hot pepper relish/jam I made for five or six years in a row. I’d put up a 10 or 12 jars each year and eat them myself or give they away to friends. It was great on crackers and cheese, or just crackers and it paired great with burgers and hot dogs and other sausages.

I have to use a recipe when canning. I tried making strawberry jelly without a recipe last year, and I ended up with 16 half-pint jars of strawberry mush and juice. It was a colossal failure, as it never set up properly.

So back to my pepper relish. I found the recipe in softback book 20 years ago. I loved it. I got married, moved to Chippewa Lake … and never saw that recipe again. I have made many dozens of trips to book stores and food stores and libraries looking for the cookbook that contained that recipe. It was a fruitless search, much like the search for strawberry jelly in my pantry.

So for the past seven or eight years, I’ve done very little canning, except for my red sauce.

I didn’t find that recipe in my new “Complete Canning Guide” which retailed for $25.99, but was just $6.99 at Ollies. But what I did find were ideas .. and a passion to do some canning again this summer and fall.

There are dozens of recipes I wish to try. I think I’ll try 10, maybe 12 … and, well, friends and family, guess what you’re receiving for Christmas this year?

Jellies are on my list. My mom used to make grape jelly from grapes we picked on our own property. I think I’ll try strawberry and blackberry, too. Plus a small batch or two of freezer jams. There is a reciple for a jalapeno/peach jam, that I think would be great on ribs or a pork roast.

Bread and butter pickles, garlic dill pickles and a mustard and onion melange are on the list.

How about garlic, pickled mixed veggies, or a poblano/jalapeno jelly?

Sounds good to me.

There are recipes for some exotic meet and vegetable stocks and syrups and a pineapple compote that I have to make. Tell me that wouldn’t be a hit at my favorite meal of all-time: brunch.

I still haven’t found my recipe for my sweet and spicy and vinegar pepper relish. But I’ll keep looking.

But I have regained my appetite for canning.

So in August, or September … if you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, you know what I’ll be doing.

Email Russ Kent at [email protected] with comments or story ideas.


Email Russ Kent at [email protected] with comments or story ideas.