Solving a canning conundrum

THE WASHINGTON POST- The Post Food staff fielded questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from a recent chat.

Q: I’ve been canning since 2007, and I find myself beyond frustrated this summer. We have two favourite recipes that I can in large quantities – a pasta sauce and a salsa. I can fit seven jars at a time in my canning pot, and this year I am averaging two failures for every five lids that seal. Reprocessing the failed jars with new lids has so far only had a 50-per-cent success rate. What is going on? Can you suggest anything that I might do to improve my results?

A: I sent your question to Julie Garden-Robinson, an extension food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University. Here’s what she had to say: How were the lids prepared prior to placing them on the jars?

Most lids do not require heating in water prior to applying them to the jars. If they are overheated, often they will not seal. Most of the time, washing and rinsing them is all you need to do. If the package does not say to heat them, then I would not suggest heating
the lids.

Another issue that can cause seal failure is overtightening of the lids. The person with the question has a lot of experience, so this probably isn’t the issue. The rule of thumb is “fingertip tight” using your thumb and ring finger.

The Washington Post Food staff helps a reader troubleshoot failing canning lids. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

You have 24 hours to reprocess canned goods. If this problem continues I would suggest freezing in freezer bags or freezer containers. – Becky Krystal

Q: I cannot, no matter how hard I try, get roasted broccoli to work. It either chars but is totally raw inside, or else I cook it into a brownish mess. What am I doing wrong? I can roast peppers, eggplants, and mushrooms, but not broccoli.

A: I find that I like to blanch broccoli briefly before roasting it. It makes it a little more yielding and tender. In case that’s helpful. – Olga Massov

A: I find the key is to make sure the pieces are not too big and roasting at a relatively high temperature, 425 to 450 even. That gets me some really great crispy bits, but not burned, and also cooks them through well. Also, preheat the pan. – BK

Q: I watched Food Network’s Battle of the Brothers this week and Michael Voltaggio was showing his protege how to make fondant potatoes. They used a biscuit cutter to make perfectly even portions from the sliced potatoes. But it seemed like at least half of each potato would go to waste. How would you salvage those potato scraps and repurpose them? I’m thinking potatoes O’Brien or a hash, but how would you preserve the scraps till you were ready to cook them? Toss them in salted water for a while, then drain, blot dry,
and freeze?

A: It’s not recommended to freeze raw potatoes for texture reasons. However, you can cook them however you’d like and then freeze the cooked potatoes for later. – Aaron Hutcherson

Q: I’m making a cheddar potato casserole to take to a dinner party. There’s a 45 minute to an hour interval first. I don’t want a dried out, overbaked casserole and I do want the crunchy edges. Do I bake completely at home and let it sit in the hostess’s oven on warm during intervals? Covered or uncovered?

Bake it for half an hour, and stick it in her 400 degree oven uncovered for that 45 minute second half of baking?

How does one plan for extended hold times? Add a little extra cream or broth?
Any advice?

A: All of the options you presented should work out just fine, but if you are able to take over their oven (check with the host first), then doing the second half of baking at their house will likely produce the best results. If not, bake it completely at home and then partway through, head to the kitchen to pop it in the oven uncovered to warm up. (I wouldn’t keep it the oven that entire time if possible. But if you must, then I would cover it). – AH