Category: chilies

Ail je ne sais quoi; or “garlic I don’t know what.”

French pickled garlic with herbes de provence.

Garlic. The most potent flavor packed into the teeniest package nature could possibly create.

It’s amazing isn’t it? The things you can do with garlic. The possibilities are endless. Roast it, sauté it, bake it, slice it, crush it, mince it, puree it, whatever it. Clearly, the only thing I can’t do with garlic is write a decent blog post about it. No, really. I have no idea what to write about this. True story.

Usually I just blabber so much I have to stop myself before I write a novel, but for this post- nothin’. Its not that I have something against garlic- I don’t, I love garlic. But I just really have no idea what to say. So with that in mind… I’ll just make up a story. Pretend you’re at your summer house in Provence. Yeah, that Provence (in France). It’s a warm summer day & you’re hosting an outdoor dinner party this evening.

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Ch-ch-ch-chili oil.

Okay, guys. This is another one of those “not really a recipe” recipes. Meaning it’s more like a how-to, not so much a full on recipe, just like that tarragon vinegar I made.

Homemade chili oil how-to.

Yep. Chili oil. An incredibly versatile condiment used for both cooking & as a “garnish” if you will.

Chili oil (also called hot chili oil or hot oil) is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.

Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan peppergarlic, or paprika. The spices are soaked in oil. Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseedgrapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.

Chili oil is commercially available in glass jars, although it may also be made from scratch at home.[1] It is usually available by request at Chinese restaurants.

-Wikipedia

You can use any dried pepper you like, from Habanero (WHOA!) to chipotle to Ancho to Thai chili pepper (WHOA again!). Depending on the pepper you use, your flavor will differ or range from spicy to mild & smoky to hot & fiery. And of course, that depends on your taste. But choose wisely- if you’re not a fan of hot stuff, don’t use a super hot pepper. The internet is a great resource for Scoville scale measurements & also to find out what peppers taste like what.

Ever since my debacle last year with searching for chipotles, I’ve since learned to never be without dried chilies. When I find them, I buy them. I haven’t in a while because it just so happens I have a full stash. But I have noticed that this year, dried peppers are much more common, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding any. If you grow your own peppers, you can dehydrate them yourself to use in flavoring oil or other recipes. I keep my stash in a quart jar, hidden in a cool, dark, dry place so they stay dry.

Dried chilies for homemade chili oil.

The oil you use will also depend on you. What will you be using the oil for? Olive oil is good if you’re using it as a garnish. Vegetable oil, corn oil or peanut oil are best if you plan on cooking with it. Sesame oil is not suitable for high heat, so it’s best used if you’re planning on sprinkling the oil on top of already cooked food (stir fry, maybe? Or fried rice?). Coconut oil can be used over relatively high heat, and has little flavor, so it might be a decent choice as well. Whole Foods Market has a good rundown of oils on their website, you might wanna take a peek.

All I did to make this oil was:

  1. First, I found a bottle to use. I bought this little bottle at Michael’s for like $1.20, but you can find ones like it just about anywhere, or you can use a jar.
  2. Then I heated a 1/4 cup of oil over low heat. I used corn oil myself. Once it was hot but (not scaldingly so), I added a whole dried chili & 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, and then I let the chile get hot. I did NOT let it cook! I just heated it enough to release the oils & flavor.
  3. I removed it from heat & let it cool to room temperature. Then, using tongs, I put the whole chili in the bottle. I poured the chili oil over it, then poured more fresh oil in to fill the bottle, and then I let it sit in a cool, dark place for one week before using. The longer it sits, the hotter/more flavorful it gets.

Obviously, you can add more chilies if you’re using a larger container. And you’d use more oil, as well. Experimentation is the name of the game!

How to make an easy chili oil.

Holy Habaneros!

WOW. It’s September!? Where did the time go?

I never imagined back in February when I first read Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, that in just a few months I’d relate to it so deeply. Literally, about 5 months after finishing it, my life was turned into a chapter from the book. Of course, in the book, Molly chronicles the loss of her father, and I lost my grandmother. But to me it doesn’t matter. When you lose someone who is such a big part of your life, then you can’t possibly be bothered with labels or monikers or anything. It transcends a word like ‘mother’ or ‘father’ and becomes an emotion. A piece of you. A part of your life that’s so much more than just an ambiguous noun or description such as “grandmother.”

So it wasn’t long ago when I spotted the book on my shelf & , remembering what it was about, opened it up again. I started re-reading it, in sporadic blips, a little bit each day. Laughing along with her at some parts, and tearing up (okay, fine- even crying a little bit) with her at others. I wanted to high five her when she wrote:

When your father dies, especially if he is older, people like to say things such as, “He was lucky. He lived a long, full life.” It’s hard to know what to say to that. What often comes to mind is, “Yes, you’re right. He was seventy-three, so I guess it was his time. But did you know him? Did you see how he was? He bought wine futures seven months before he died. He saw patients the afternoon he was diagnosed. He wasn’t finished.

Needless to say, you get that even more when it’s a grandparent, not to mention one who’s over 90. I mean, I have friends who lost parents who were 30+ years younger than that, so I realize she did indeed live a very long life. And yes, she was lucky to have been healthy. And sure, I’m aware of the cycle of life & that this is the ultimate result of everyone’s life. But in reality, those who knew my grandmother knew she was not ready to go. She had no intentions of dying. She was not sick. She wasn’t tired of living. She had a lot to live for. She wasn’t one of these old ladies or men who said “God please take me now.” Nuh uh. Not her. She was present in the here & now. She watched Lady Gaga on American Idol (& loved it). She read about Beyoncé in the July issue of W magazine. Every fashion magazine I subscribe to, I’d pass on to her when I was finished & she’d read them. Speaking of, she read books, magazines & the newspaper every day. She was planning outfits she was going to wear in the winter & fall. She was polishing the lock on her Louis Vuitton bag a few days before she died, because God forbid she went out somewhere & someone thought she looked like “a rag bag.” She wasn’t finished. She was probably just as angry that she had to leave us as we were. What happened to her was a random, unfair, terrible thing that could happen to anyone, at any time, at any age; a fast moving intracerebral brain hemorrhage. It was not related to her health, or lifestyle, or medicine, or anything else. It was not expected. And the fact that she was 93 & “lived a long life” means nothing to me & is of no comfort in terms of her being taken from me so quickly. I took care of her, spent my entire life with her, was with her practically since I was born. I made sure she took pills when she started to forget, took her to the doctor and made sure she was happy & comfortable & had the best quality of life a 93-year-old could possibly have. She was my godmother, my grandmother, my friend, my biggest supporter (other than my parents, of course), my ally, my defender, and the list goes on. The loss of her presence in my life goes beyond losing a grandparent.

I’d been keeping busy, my hands & my mind working overtime in the kitchen. Pickles, jams, jellies, sauces, salsas, canned peppers, the list goes on. I was a lunatic for making things. I couldn’t stop. Slowly, things got a little better. I slowed down a little. With the coming of the fall, baking started again, and I finally got into the groove of cooking normal sized dinners. I allowed myself to relax. I’m trying to let myself be excited about Halloween, my favorite holiday, since all the stores are full of the decorations & candy already. But really, the sadness remains. It’s going to be a year of firsts for me, and each one is going to be rough. I let myself be sad, and I let myself have a good cry, but I’m really trying to be positive & enjoy life like she did. However, I still can’t sit down for a few minutes with nothing to do, unless it’s to write an e-mail or a blog post, or watch a TV show or movie, or sew, or read something I’m really into… because if my brain isn’t working it starts to slowly go there. And there is the place I don’t want it to go. So instead of that… I make things like Habanero jelly. Not that I’m avoiding my grief, but I’m trying to avoid the melancholy that accompanies remembering she’s not here. I’d rather think of her in happy times & not be so sad. It’s difficult- and it hasn’t even been two months.

So yes. Clearly, this post is about my crazy need to create things & those super-hot little fiery orange peppers that were hangin’ around in my garden this year- Habaneros. Habanero’s are pretty prolific, so of course I ended up with a lot of them. I wound up making three different recipes to use up all those little balls of fire I harvested. While none of the following three recipes are from Molly’s book, they’re all equally excellent. And easy.

The habanero chilli (play /ˌhɑːbəˈnɛər/; Spanish: [aβaˈneɾo]; Capsicum chinense) is one of the more intensely piquant species of chili peppers of the Capsicum genus. It is sometimes misspelled (and mispronounced) habañero—the diacritical mark being added as a hyperforeignism.[1][2] Unripe habaneros are green, and they color as they mature. Common colors are orange and red, but white, brown, and pink are also seen. Typically a ripe habanero is 2–6 centimetres (0.8–2.4 in) long. Habanero chili peppers are rated 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale.[3]

The exact origins of the pepper are unknown, but some speculate that it originated in South America and migrated north to Mexico and the Caribbean via Colombia; an intact fruit of a small domesticated Habanero was found in Pre-ceramic levels in Guitarrero Cave in the Peruvian highlands and was dated to 6500 B.C.[4] Upon its discovery by Spaniards, it was rapidly disseminated to other adequate climate areas of the world, to the point that 18th-century taxonomists mistook China for its place of origin and called it “Capsicum chinense”—the Chinese pepper.[5][6][7]

The Habanero is often mistakenly referred to as the hottest pepper in the world; that honor currently belongs to the “Butch T” cultivar of Trinidad Scorpion.

Colombia and parts of the United States including Texas, Idaho, and California. While Mexico is the largest consumer of this spicy ingredient, its flavor and aroma have become increasingly popular all over the world.

Habaneros are an integral part of Yucatecan food. Habanero chilies accompany most dishes in Yucatán, either in solid or purée/salsa form.

The Scotch bonnet is often compared to the habanero since they are two varieties of the same species but have different pod types. Both the Scotch bonnet and the habanero have the characteristic thin, waxy flesh. They have a similar heat level and flavor. Although both varieties average around the same level of heat, the actual degree of “heat” varies greatly from one fruit to another with genetics, growing methods, climate, and plant stress.

The habanero’s heat, its fruity, citrus-like flavor, and its floral aroma have made it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and spicy foods. Habaneros are sometime placed in tequila or mezcal bottles, particularly in Mexico, for a period ranging from several days to several weeks, to make a spiced version of the drink.

- Wikipedia

Okay so now let’s get down to brass tacks. I LOVE hot sauce. Tapatio, Cholula, Tabasco, Frank’s Red Hot; you name it, I love it. I put it on french fries, chicken fingers, sometimes burgers or corn on the cob or even pizza. I make hot chicken subs with it (coating fried chicken cutlets with plenty of hot sauce, then putting them on toasted hoagie rolls, covering them with mozzarella & broiling them for a few minutes… yum). I love Buffalo wings. I love salsa or barbecue sauce with a little kick. I like Cajun spicy shrimp & chicken. I’m definitely one of those people who likes some heat, unlike Jay who is hot sauce phobic. He won’t admit it, but he really doesn’t like things that are too hot (except for me- HAHA… kidding) or spicy. He has a more sensitive palate to it I guess, because things that I find somewhat mild he finds pretty hot. He likes mild Buffalo wings or hot sauce, nothing too crazy. Whereas I’m willing to try just about anything with a kick and most of the time I’ll love it. So sadly, I’m the only one around here who really likes the hotter side of things.

The first harvest of 4 Hab’s… the next week gave me 6 more!

..

When I bought my Habanero pepper plant, which was totally on a whim, I brought it home & planted it and then thought, “What am I going to do with this thing!?” It’s not really the kind of pepper most people want to happen upon in their salsa. Habanero’s rate as one of hottest peppers on the Scoville scale at a whopping 100,000–350,000! Just to put that in perspective, a Jalapeno is about 2,500 – 8,000. Habanero’s are pretty intense. There are only 5 things hotter on the Scoville, one of them being 100% pure capsaicin (the element that makes peppers hot) and another is law enforcement grade pepper spray. Think about that for a second. Yeah. Exactly.

Funny thing is, they’re unassuming little things. Small, cute little orange peppers that all but beg you to try them. Even a little backyard creature around here was fooled- one was bitten off the plant and then tossed aside right near it with one teeny little bite mark. I feel bad for that poor rabbit or squirrel. I hope they had some sour cream or whole milk laying around to soothe the burn!

So basically, I was at a loss as to what to do with my Habanero’s. And as they grew & grew, I started to think more about them, and when I realized I’d get way more than one or two this season, I started to really think. There are tons of hot sauce recipes out there, and they’re all awesome sounding. Especially one by Rick Bayless. But I wanted more than just a hot sauce recipe that would make 8 jars of super hot sauce that only I would eat. Plus, isn’t that what everyone would do with hab’s? So cliched. But then… then I found out about this Habanero jelly from the meaning of pie. Habanero jelly, made with sugar. Hot & sweet? Sounds good to me. Not too much crazy mouth-burning heat? Sounds even better, as I can give it as gifts. I quartered this recipe and used quilted 8 oz. jelly jars, which gave me a total of two jars (or 16 ounces). Don’t ask about the math or how that worked out like that. It just did.

Upside down jars..

Right side up jars!

All labeled & ready to go…

HABANERO JELLY (courtesy of the meaning of pie)

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup habanero pepper, seeds and stems removed (please wear gloves while doing this!)*
  • 1 apple, peeled and cut up**
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1-½ packets Certo liquid pectin (6 oz.)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize six 8 oz. jars. Leave the jars in the water until you are ready to use them. You will need tongs or other long grabbing device to remove them from the hot water.
  2. Place the habanero peppers and apple in a food processor. Add the vinegar and process until fine.
  3. In a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, combine the processed peppers and apples, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute (it takes about 15 minutes to get it to simmering and an additional minute to get it to boiling on my stove). Take abundant care at this stage. You need to be present to adjust your stove as the syrup bubbles. It can quickly boil over which is not only exceptionally dangerous, but very messy.
  4. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the lids and screw bands in a small bowl. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
  5. After the syrup has boiled for one minute, remove it from heat and stir in the pectin. Then, return to heat and boil one minute longer.
  6. Remove the mixture from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spatula or other tool, skim off any foam or white film that accumulates on top. Use a light hand when doing this, as a large proportion of the peppers tries to get stuck in the foam. Removing too much of the pepper bits will reduce the heat of the jelly. Stir in chopped rosemary.
  7. Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims of the jars and dry the lids and screw bands. Seal the jars. Place sealed jars upside down on a towel. Leave them inverted for approximately 20 minutes and then turn them upright. To distribute the peppers and rosemary equally, turn the jars occasionally until the jelly sets.
*I quartered the recipe, so I used about 2 habaneros, the full recipe would need 8-9.
**With the apple, I literally peeled it, cored it, halved & then halved it again and used one quarter of it.
 
 
 
 

The coolest thing was that the peppers & the rosemary both came from my own garden (yes, the photo up there is my hab plant, and those perfect little habanero’s are actually mine!). What a feeling of accomplishment that is.

After making that jelly, I brainstormed another. I ended up with 6 more hab’s not long after and I needed to use them up. I decided to make something even sweeter, a little tangy-er, a little more like a salsa/jelly hybrid. I decided after doing some research to use pineapple. Pineapple & habanero is a fantastic combination. Of course, the pineapple did not come from my garden, it came from Dole. I’m not giving that recipe because it needs a little work & a little tweaking. It was delicious, but needs something else. But if you’re a habanero fan who likes to make jellies, you can probably figure out how to make it without my instructions. Anyway I still had a habanero (actually two) left over, so I made some hot pickle chips, except I didn’t make them into chips, just halves. What can I say? I had to. I had to make pickles. One jar I cut off the ends, the other I left them on. I’m curious to see the difference in texture, since I’ve always read that the blossom ends left on make a mushy pickle. Hmm. We shall see!

Marc’s spicy pickle chips recipe can be found here!

One little phrase of valuable advice: when cutting hot peppers, wear gloves. Thick gloves. Do not cut hot peppers without gloves on. And if you’re really sensitive, wear goggles. No shit. I also recommend you have unflavored vodka nearby just in case you get any pepper on your body. Alcohol dissolves the capsaicin (so do fats, like high-fat sour cream & whole milk, which you could also use). Regular hand soap will not help you. Trust me on this one. If you do happen to get it on your hands or arms, soak ‘em in vodka or milk for a while, rinse, repeat, and then wash them. You shouldn’t smell the pepper smell or sense a ‘burning’ anymore. Also, thoroughly clean your blender/food processor. The last thing you want is to make a smoothie or grind up some almonds & get a nasty surprise.

I haven’t tried the rosemary Habanero jelly yet, but supposedly spread on a Triscuit with cream cheese, it’s divine. My mother tells me the pineapple-habanero one is terrific with tortilla chips; surprisingly sweet as well as hot.

As far as the pickles.. well… They’re really hot (and aren’t mushy, either). Tears came to my dads eyes. So unless you really love hot stuff, it might be a bit much. Maybe use half a hab in each jar? The sugar really balances the other two of these recipes out, so give them a shot with all those Habanero’s you probably have ready to go in your garden! I promise, you won’t need to drink a half-gallon of milk afterwards.

The call of nature.

  “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” - William Wordsworth

My trusty gardening shoes; falling apart Chuck Taylor’s I’ve had since 8th grade, the laces have been replaced 4 times

The Victory Garden is back in full effect, and of course I’m going to show it all to you! Some people show photos of their children, I show photos of my vegetables, herbs, pets and cupcakes. As far as the garden goes, things are going really well so far. No tragedies, like last year’s zucchini “abortions.” *knocks on wood* I mentioned a few posts back that I bought a blueberry bush, so that’ my newest addition, although I’m well aware I’ll see no fruit this season. I’ve been using my herbs to cook with almost every night, which is so nice. Plus, the smell of the fresh basil, cilantro, dill & rosemary is so awesome, when I’m sitting on my patio on a hot day & the breeze blows, you get such a whiff of it. I can’t stress enough the convenience & enjoyment there is in my garden. It’s also like therapy, cheap therapy, relatively. I can go out there and lose myself in the dirt, all the weeding & trimming & picking and planting (and photographing). I recommend it highly. Same reason I recommend having a pet- taking care of something dependent on you is crucial to remembering the world is bigger than just you & your selfish bullshit. You can’t spend all day in bed when you have a pet to feed, or a garden to take care of, etc. It saves you from yourself. There’s a quote by an unknown author that goes something like “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.” Unlike blogging, which just inflates your self-indulgence & self-importance to levels beyond all comprehension & has the tendency of blowing everything out of proportion, right into the stratosphere of insanity (if you let it). I know this firsthand. Everyone’s important on the internet, right? In that same vein, I’m no expert when it comes to gardening, or “micro-farming” or anything. I just enjoy it.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, ever since my mom taught me how to dig a hole & “tuck the baby plant” into the soil, safe & sound. Then in a few weeks, it’d be twice the size! Ever since then I was hooked. Just me, the sunshine, & a bit of water, making beautiful things grow.

Some things never change.

The past few weeks for me have been so hard, my only consolation in all of it has been losing myself in this garden, and in my baking & cooking & jarring. It helps so much, really. My grandma loved to come see my garden, and talk about the vegetables, and she loved to eat a fresh tomato… just cut off the vine, with salt & pepper. So I know she’s happy when I’m out there doing my thing, but my heart is still heavy. Very, very heavy. Everything reminds me of her. She used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ referring to my ‘Victory Garden’ and all my from-scratch baking, cooking, canning, etc. She’d say how amazing I was, say how did I know how to do all of this. And I miss her saying all those things, and asking questions about each plant, how big will it get, etc. I miss that desperately. But life goes on, and she’d be the first one to tell me that.

And nowhere is the phrase “Life goes on” more clear than in nature. Buds on a plant die, the rest still stretch to meet the suns rays. The wind damages half a tomato vine, yet the rest of it tries desperately to cling to life. And when one entire plant turns brown, from disease or bugs or just nature itself… and it can’t hang on anymore, and it dies… the sun still comes up the next day to greet the rest of the plants. Life continues. The cycle keeps going. My garden is the closest I get to believing in a God. I don’t, but by being outside & watching things grow, I feel like I understand why people do. It doesn’t change my beliefs, as I’m a believer in nature not God. But I get it. I see why it’s such a popular notion. And sometimes I wish that the thought of a God comforted me or that I did really believe in it. But I don’t, and that’s okay. I’m happy with my belief in nature. The Bible has (very) few decent quotes in it that I can get behind, one of them being “You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”

Everyone who has a few feet of space can have a container garden, and if you only have a flower box you can certainly grow some herbs, so I encourage you all to do so. It’s not too late; go buy some big pots, potting soil & some herbs & veggies at Home Depot, Lowe’s or a garden center. I had to stop myself at Home Depot around the middle of July, I saw three tomato varieties I wanted to buy; German Queen, a purple & a yellow … but I had no more big pots! And then I’d have to buy three new pots, a couple of bags of potting soil… and on and on we go. I get so excited about it, I can’t help it. Especially when I see some blooms starting! Whatever is left at this point might be a bit run-down, but I’m a firm believer that with a little TLC you can coax some beauty out of anything before the season is over. I check my garden everyday, mainly for bugs/mites/disease, but also to see the progress. Of course, I take photos of the progress to share with you (and also for my own edification). I love this kind of thing, and I have this silly idea some people out there reading this might too. It may even encourage people to grow their own food. Be self-sufficient & self-reliant as much as you can. But never make it a chore. It should always be enjoyable, never like work. The day I’m no longer excited about my garden is the day I stop doing it; same goes for baking or cooking or anything else. Why do something if it’s not gratifying and fun?

Most of my little container garden outside the porch (taken a while back in late June, before things really grew like crazy)

So many things have changed, it seems like forever ago that I first posted about my garden this season, although it’s only 2 months ago. People might scoff at container gardening, they might say there’s no way you can achieve results this way like you can by growing in the ground. I say they’re wrong. I have proof. Last year my harvests were tiny, really, but this year already things are growing twice as big with twice as many (in some cases three times as many) buds/fruits. I may have only gotten a few peppers/one eggplant/4 or 5 tomatoes from each plant last summer, but this year I already have 6 buds on my eggplant, and at least 20+ buds and about 8 or 9 growing fruits on each of my tomatoes, not to mention my insane peppers. Okay, well, let’s start with those peppers. I was so excited to get some Habanero’s & make some hot sauce, since those were the first of my peppers to “bloom” I had already planned what I was going to do with them. But then I saw how many there were & I realized I can only eat so much hot sauce! So many people are anti-hot anything, and won’t use hot peppers. You may not realize it, but there are so many health benefits in hot peppers (just be sure to wear gloves when cutting them)! Plus, hot peppers can increase metabolism.

  • All chili peppers contain phytochemicals substances called capsaicinoids that produce capsicum. The capsicum is the ingredient that gives heat intensity when habanero chili peppers are ingested or applied topically.
  • When habanero chile is consumed, it binds with the mouth and throat which are the pain receptors of the heat. Once it is transmitted to the brain, it responds to this burning sensation by increasing heart rate perspiration and releasing body’s natural endorphin.
  • Researches have shown that habanero chiles may have some beneficial properties as an anticoagulant. Small amounts of capsicum may help prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clot.
  • In cases of cardiovascular diseases, some doctors recommend a bit of habanero chiles in dairy dishes because bad cholesterol could resist oxidation for a longer period of time and delay the development of a major risk.
  • Habanero chili peppers can provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis and possibly bronchitis by clearing mucus from stuffed noses or congested lungs.
  • Some studies in mice show that capsicum products in particular as could help people suffering from obesity to lose weight, even though this is not proved yet with human beings.
  • Capsicum peppers or Capsaicin in general are also a good substance for diabetes control by creating new cells that start producing insulin again.
  • In some countries, chilis are used in salves due to their slight anti-inflammatory and anesthetic effect. Some researches have proved in rats that capsicum products can block pain without causing temporary paralysis.
  • Habanero chiles consumption does not cause stomach aches or cancer even though people usually used to associate them. It has been proved there is not any relationship between them unless capsicum peppers have been adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red and other illegal carcinogenic substances as aflatoxins and N-nitroso.
  • Several studies confirm that capsicum varieties could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori
  • Jalapeño and habanero chili peppers are a good source of vitamins as well as they are very high in potassium, magnesium and iron, which in turn, may be effective in protecting against cancer. They contain 357% more vitamin C than an orange: green habanero has twice as much as citrus fruit and red ones have three times more, plus an important amount of provitamin A. Moreover, they are a good source of most B vitamins in particular vitamin B6.
  • All kind of chili pepper powder and fresh habanero chiles may help control food contamination in countries where there is a minimal or even no refrigeration.

-(source)

As pretty as they are, I’m actually kind of scared to cut those guys, haha. I’ve been burned (literally) by peppers before. I am really excited to make some hot sauce & Habanero jelly, though. Anyway, the second to start blooming were my Red Bell peppers. Last year I only got one really nice one, between storms & a little animal that hangs around here (no names mentioned *ahem*THUMPER*ahem*), so I have high hopes this year. I’ve promised stuffed peppers to some very important people. So far, so good. Red peppers are so good for you…

Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, like lycopene, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers.[5] Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is almost three times the 70 mg of an average orange.

-(source Wikipedia)

 

My Cowhorn’s were the last to bloom. Slow little guy, huh? Ironically, though, while he was the last to bloom, he was the first to actually grow what resembled a “pepper” and the first ones that I actually cut & used (more about that later this week).

I cut those babies off before they were even matured and made this with them! Insane. My dad used some of them (& the basil) in his spaghetti sauce & said smoke came out of his ears. Bwahahahaha

That one… right there in the middle… he may look benign sitting on his little shelf, but he’ll burn your hair right off your head.

I felt the need to label it appropriately.

..

I think it’s amazing to see the growth in just a few days of each bud. Nature never fails to just floor me. It’s fucking beautiful. I know, I sound like such a hippie (which I AM NOT), but it’s true. If you can’t find beauty in a little seedling that grows to be a large, glossy green plant, bloom little flowers & then, from the ruins of those flowers, grow big shiny fruit or vegetables that we can eat, save the seeds from, and continue the cycle… then you’re just plain crazy. CRAZY, I say.

My romaine is getting quite large too. I love Romaine, it’s my favorite lettuce (I like Iceberg too, though). Romaine is full of antioxidants, which, like other leafy greens, are known to help prevent cancer. Also, it’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol, as well as being a good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, thiamine, folate, iron, potassium and manganese. On top of that, it’s mildly anti-inflammatory. Ya get all that?

All that in this little guy, who  actually grew like seven times this size before he was eaten.

And of course, true to form, basil is getting huge. I used some of it in that jar up there with the Cowhorn’s. Basil, like most things that grow in the ground, also has health benefits.

Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits conferred by the essential oils found in basil. Scientific studies in vitro have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.[8][9][10][11] In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice.[12] It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India.

-(source Wikipedia)


….
Variegated oregano, from last summer, is doing amazing. Since this photo, it’s tripled in size (so has the basil).

 

And of course, my tomatoes! Two out of the three (Roma & Better Boy) I have are well on the way to giving me lots of beautiful fruits. The third, Beefsteak, is plodding along… quite slowly, I must say. It’s my first time with all three, so I have no experience with them. But the Better Boy seems like the winner when it comes to the amount of tomatoes! I’m thinking that I’ll use a few of the Beefsteak to make some fried green tomatoes. Tomatoes are good for you too:

Their consumption is believed to benefit the heart, among other organs. They contain the carotene lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. In some studies, lycopene, especially in cooked tomatoes, has been found to help prevent prostate cancer,[21] but other research contradicts this claim.[22] Lycopene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays.[23] Natural genetic variation in tomatoes and their wild relatives has given a genetic plethora of genes that produce lycopene, carotene, anthocyanin, and other antioxidants. Tomato varieties are available with double the normal vitamin C (Doublerich), 40 times normal vitamin A (97L97), high levels of anthocyanin (resulting in blue tomatoes), and two to four times the normal amount of lycopene (numerous available cultivars with the high crimson gene).

-(source Wikipedia)

And of course, here are pics of the tomatoes that are budding so far.

Better Boy is budding, and… we have tons of tomatoes!! That’s oregano at the bottom… here are 2 more views of more fruits growing:

So cute.

Beefsteak is a little slow going, I’ve got buds but tiny ones. Sadly when I transplanted it, I knocked off a branch that had buds on it so the little guy had to start over. But he’ll catch up!

I apologize for the varying photo quality… but mother nature doesn’t care about anyone’s photography needs, so when the sun ain’t out- it ain’t out

 

My Black Beauty eggplant has just started to get some buds going too. This excites me, last year my eggplant only gave me two, one of which was knocked off the vine prematurely, the other of which was delicious in eggplant parmigiana. Like I said above, nature is beautiful, but can also be cruel. And so can I, when I want to smother you in bread crumbs, fry your ass up and serve you with homemade tomato sauce. But I’m already ahead of the game this time around, ’cause I’ve got tons of buds.

Eggplant’s fiber content is high, which helps our digestive process and also acts against coronary heart disease. Eggplants not only feature a number of vitamins, proteins and minerals but also contain important phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are known to act as antioxidant. In phytonutrients found in eggplants, there are phenolic compounds, such as caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, like nasunin. Potassium in eggplants brings a balance in salt intake and maintains a nice level of hydration. It also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Eggplants also contain folate, magnesium and niacin as well as copper, manganese and thiamine (vitamin B1).

-(source)


As far as my cucumber (Burpless Hybrid), he was the second the latest bloomer I have, no pun intended. But finally, there were signs of little teeny cukes! Cucumbers also can be beneficial to your diet/health:

  • Very low in calories; provides just 15 calories per 100 g. Contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.
  • It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte; helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
  • It contains unique anti-oxidants in good ratios such as ß-carotene and a-carotene, vitamin-C, vitamin-A, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Cucumbers have mild diuretic property probably due to their high water content, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • Cucumbers surprisingly have high amount of vitamin K, provides about 17 mcg of this vitamin per 100 g. Vitamin-K has been found to have potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

-(source)

 

I can’t wait to pickle these guys!

Popular for it mild taste, Burpless Hybrid matures early for fresh cukes, fast. The fruit is straight, cylindrical, and excellent sliced, though it’s also good for pickling. Burpless varieties contain less curcurbitacin, a naturally occuring chemical that causes some cuke eaters to burp.

- source

So that’s what’s happening around here. Of course, by the time this posts, these will be even bigger & there will be even more of them… considering at this point is when they grow like weeds (pun intended, ha) and just take off.

And the absolute best part of growing my own food? NO PESTICIDES. Pesticides have known health effects on humans & animals, you can read a bit about some of the registered ones here at the EPA website. I never use any kind of bug spray at all, not even the “super safe organic non-toxic” kinds. All I use is a mixture of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water or dish soap and water. Of course, I usually never spray the vegetable or fruit itself, just the plant, and I probably wouldn’t unless there are significant bugs on the fruit itself (which I’ve never had, honestly). And when it comes to herbs, make sure you wash them (and dry them) thoroughly before using. This Peppermint Castile soap spray sounds like an excellent idea too. The concept is that the soap dehydrates the insects & drowns it, it doesn’t poison. This website has a great resource for alternative methods to the soap/water bug spray.

My dill & cilantro went to seed and in turn are now brown & no longer growing. My rosemary, Italian oregano & parsley are all doing great, though. My chives are the craziest! I’ve cut them down 2 times so far, and they’re still massive. My parsley is getting there in size too, and considering it was a weakling when I transplanted it that’s saying something. I love having these fresh herbs right outside my door. But really, I’m just excited to start canning some more pickles with my own cucumbers & some tomato sauce/tomato jam with my tomatoes.

I love my garden. I’m only sorry that this year my grandma didn’t get a chance to taste my tomatoes, or eggplant, or peppers. I know life goes on… it’s just hard right now. Please excuse my temporary insanity. I know things will get easier with time.

Sadness & Peperoncini Sott’Olio.

Ever have one of those days where you really have no idea what to do with yourself? Well since my grandma passed away, I’ve had a lot.

Needless to say, that’s me & my nana, Nov. 1981

We were very close, and I took care of her above & beyond what most grandkids do, so it’s been very hard on me. I must say, people have been wonderful. Incredible. We’ve received such an amazing & overwhelming outpouring of love & support. Every day since July 16th we’ve had tons of phone calls, not to mention all the flowers & cards delivered every day (plus one hugely fantastic Harry & David candy/cookie basket) and almost every day there’s an e-mail in my inbox or a voicemail on my cell phone of people giving their condolences, asking if I’m okay, or just people saying “If there’s anything I can do.” And that’s sweet, and so appreciated.

But the bottom line is, unless you work miracles & can erase the past few weeks- there ain’t shit you can do. Don’t get me wrong: I love the fact that we’re thought of, and that everyone thought so much of her that they’ve been donating money in her memory or sending things in her memory, etc. I love that people care about us. But basically, I have to fend for myself, and figure out how to live with the grief and cope with this on my own, and nobody can help me with that. I found it was best to keep myself busy, and the best way to do that was to do my favorite thing since I’m a child: create. However this time I chose culinary creations; I baked very little, since it was over 100° degrees most days & the sweat poured off my forehead just from watering my garden. So I made tons of pickles, jams, jellies. I immersed myself in homemade sauces, salsas and curds. I read an old cookbook of hers that my grandmother had just given me at Christmas, called The American Woman’s Cookbook, and devoured the section on relishes & chutney’s. I read Food in Jars religiously & scoured Punk Domestics for ideas. I had nothing else to do. My heart was broken (*and still is) and I had no idea how to cope other than to keep my hands & mind busy & to just fill my fridge & cabinets, and everyone else’s, with homemade goods. I went through case after case of jars & lids & bottles of vinegar like it was nobody’s business. I should’ve bought stock in Heinz since my recycling bin was overflowing with Heinz vinegar jugs & bottles. I made so many pickles & jams that I have enough to keep us going through a nuclear war, & gave so many away I showed up at my aunt’s house with a shopping bag of jars & sent my father home with another. Then I just ran out of ideas.

This is all maybe half of what I’ve done. Did you doubt my insanity?

I remembered that my friend Chrisie had sent me her grandma’s recipe for hot Italian peppers in oil. I thought, what better way to give tribute to both our grandma’s who’ve passed away; hers whose recipe it was & mine who loved everything I made & was so proud of it, than to make a few jars of them. Besides, my mother was taking it so hard, obviously, and I knew she loved hot peppers in oil on a sandwich or even a snack. So I made some for her. There are no specific measurements, but it’s easy enough to figure out how much you’ll need. Just buy your peppers first, then figure everything else out as you go. I also had another recipe bookmarked, which I included here, that’s very similar.

I wasn’t going to come back and start writing posts. I wasn’t going to do anything normal for a while. I wasn’t planning on doing any of this. But I really do find it helps me… to write, to create, to do things like everything is normal. I’m not an expert. I did not get a degree in this (or baking), and honestly, if you’re coming here for perfection or all the answers you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway. I find this makes me feel somewhat normal right now, so peperoncini it is.

Peperoncini (or pepperoncini), common names Tuscan peppers, sweet Italian peppers and golden Greek peppers, are a variety of the species Capsicum annuum. While called peperoncini in American English, in Italy these particular kind of peppers are called friggitello (plural friggitelli) or more generally peperone (plural peperoni) like other sweet varieties of peppers, while the term peperoncini (singular peperoncino) is used for hotter varieties of chili peppers.[1] The Greek varieties are sweeter and less bitter than the Italian varieties grown in Tuscany. Peperoncini are mild with a slight heat and a hint of bitterness, and are commonly pickled and sold packaged in jars.

-Wikipedia

These may not be made with actual peperoncini, but for lack of a better term it’s a suitable enough name. Or you could just say ‘peppers in oil.’ That’s easy enough.

Taken immediately after canning… red, yellow & orange bell pepper strips; left & right, and stuffed long hot peppers; middle

CHRISIE’S GRANDMA’S HOT ITALIAN PEPPERS

Ingredients:

  • red, green (or a mixture of both) hot Italian peppers, free of brown spots or bruises (this recipe can also work with jalapenos, sweet or hot banana peppers or chili peppers)
  • white vinegar
  • good olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic per jar (optional, my addition)
  • seasoned breadcrumbs or anchovies (optional, for stuffing)

Directions:

  1. First, wash peppers remove seeds. If you want to keep them very hot, this step isn’t necessary.
  2. Then blanch peppers in boiling white vinegar. After 2-3 mins in the vinegar, remove immediately. If you choose to stuff them, allow them to cool enough and stuff them tightly with either anchovies or seasoned breadcrumbs, pushing the stuffing down so it’s packed.
  3. Tightly pack the peppers into jars and pour olive oil in leaving a ½ inch headspace. Close jars and use the hot water bath method to create a vacuum seal, processing for 15 minutes for a pint jar, 20 minutes for a quart.
  4. Once sealed, allow jars to cool completely, place in a cool, dark place, and allow 2 weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening.

CANNED  PEPPERS IN OIL

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ pounds fresh, blemish-free peppers of the kind you prefer (I used Bell peppers in orange, yellow and red)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt (or other salt without additives)
  • an onion, peeled and finely sliced (optional, I didn’t use one)
  • olive oil (see note)
  • enough jars with lids to contain your peppers, cleaned and sterilized (I used wide mouth pints)

Preparation:

  1. Wash the peppers and pat them dry. Next, stem them, split them open lengthwise, seed them, rib them, and cut them into strips (if desired).
  2. Put the vinegar, salt and onion (if you are using it) in a pot over a brisk flame. Add the peppers and heat until the vinegar comes to a boil. Boil the peppers for 3-5 minutes, stirring them about gently. Drain them and dry them — I lined a cookie sheet with paper towels and heated them in a slow oven for about 10 minutes. Pack the peppers in your clean jars and fill them with olive oil, shaking the jars and tapping at their sides to dislodge air bubbles.
  3. Seal the jars, and put them on a rack in a sterilizer (or a large pot) with cold water to cover. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer the peppers for 20 minutes to sterilize them. Let the pot cool, and when you can safely dip a hand into the water remove the jars. Check the seals of the lids, and put the jars in a cool dark place. They’ll be ready in a couple of weeks, and will keep for a year.
Immediately after the waterbath

I used some hot long green peppers (which I stuffed) and some red, yellow and orange peppers (which I cut into strips). I made one jar of stuffed, two of the strips. But you could do a jar of a sort of mixed bag of peppers, too, whatever you like. I used a clove of garlic in with the long peppers and I also stuffed them with breadcrumbs. The strips are more for sandwich purposes, the other are more of a “snack.” I’d recommend waiting at least two weeks before opening for both recipes to optimize the flavor. The oil remaining in the jars is supposedly excellent drizzled on anything. Imagine a garlic bread made with this oil?

Please wear gloves when working with hot peppers. I don’t want anyone to lose an eye or end up in the ER because they wanted to make hot peppers in oil and rubbed their eye – or heaven forbid- their no-no parts with hands that had capsacin on them. And please be aware that the risk of botulism is very high when using oil for canning. DO NOT skip the vinegar step, blanch the peppers in water or rinse them after the vinegar. You need that acidity in the vinegar to keep the spores of nasty stuff out or kill them. The USDA would probably say this is only safe for pressure canning, not water bath canning. Obviously, don’t plan on storing these for a long time. They should be used fairly quickly. And yes, there are going to be people who get crazy over this & tell me I’m going to die if I eat them. But I’m going to go with the fact that as long as I don’t plan on saving them for use as sustenance during the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll be okay. Also, don’t bother using really high-quality fancy schmancy good-tasting olive oil, the flavor of the peppers will overwhelm any subtle nuances in the olive flavor. Just use a good-quality basic virgin oil, as opposed to extra virgin. If you use Bell peppers cut in strips or small peppers, then you can use half-pint jars just as well without wasting larger jars. I chose to use pint jars for the strips myself but it’s really up to you- hell, you could certainly make a quart or two if you felt like it.

After a few days of “settling”, how gorgeous do those look? Like floating jewels…

……

This is a really easy idea to build on. You could use whole peppers, sliced peppers, stuffed peppers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, mild peppers, etc. You could even roast the peppers first, before or after blanching them, to give a smokier flavor, or add a dash of liquid smoke to the jar. Add garlic, onion, anchovy… whatever. Go nuts.

I promise the cupcakes will be back soon. Just as soon as the weather gives me a break. I can’t wait to bake something.

I got myself in a pickle, again.

Not really, don’t worry. I just made some pickles, that’s all. The only “pickle” I might be in is making too much preserved/canned/jarred items- now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. Before I start talking about pickles, though, I want to wish Jay luck on playing his first official “gig” this weekend with his band at the Central Illinois Metalfest. What a first gig, huh? way to get baptized by fire. Anywho, I love him, I’m proud of him, wish I could be there to see him, & I also miss him. And I’m going through a terrible time missing my grandmother, and him not being here makes it so much harder on me. I didn’t want to start posting yet. I had all intentions of just putting this site on hold for a while.  But this post was written before she passed, and she loved my baking, my cooking, and really anything I made… but she especially loved my homemade pickles. Sadly, she never got a chance to try my newest batch, so I’m posting this for her, also because she loved the idea of my blog & was one of my biggest fans. So this one’s for you, Nana.

See, first, here’s just a little update on my refrigerator pickles

The opening dates were June 24th at the earliest (1 week of fermentation), July 1st (2 weeks of fermentation; what I recommended), or July 7th at the latest (3 weeks of fermentation; the optimal time to wait). My dad opened his jar on the 1st, and called to say they were amazing. So we opened them. Consensus was: at 2 weeks, they got 2 huge thumbs up! Amazing crunch, amazing dill taste, just perfect. My grandmother said it was better than any Kosher dill deli pickle she ever ate; like I said, my homemade pickles were her favorite thing ever. I’m not even kidding when I say her and my mother ate the entire jar on the 4th of July. So once my cucumbers are ready, they’ll become pickles, but until then, I already made some more using Kirby’s and a new method for me- canning, and that’s what I’m posting here today.

I’m new to canning & jarring, so I’m certainly no expert on all this. I will say that I did my research thoroughly beforehand, both here and here, on top of doing some other pickling inquiries at other sources (like Practical Preserving, Food In Jars & Tigress in a Pickle). I’ve always wanted to can my own stuff, for years now, and I thought it was the time. I bought a Ball® starter canning kit (free shipping! came with salsa mix & pectin! so exciting!) and some jars and went to work. Before I get to the pickles, I just wanna say that August 13 is National Can-It-Forward Day! Sponsored by Ball®, it’s a way to celebrate the “bounties of summer” through canning. So get all your friends & family together, can up some goodies & share them.

Alright. So last year I made some quick 24-hour pickles, and everyone really liked ‘em. As a matter of fact, I made three batches (all with my own cucumbers that I grew!), although I was asked to “lower the heat” on the last two. Heh. Also, back in June, I made a different refrigerator pickle recipe that was an even bigger hit than the first (probably because that one you could keep longer than a week… and they weren’t hot, pfft… pusscakes). I got so many requests for more pickles I thought I’d up the ante a bit on the next batch. I’ve had this recipe saved for about a year now. I first saw it on Flowers and Sausages last summer & I’d been waiting patiently to get my canning materials & make it, ’cause it’s a “real” pickle recipe, not one of those 24-hour quick jobs or refrigerator pickles (although there’s nothing wrong with those, at all, trust me, those fridge pickles were one of my biggest hits ever). So here we are! It definitely was not as hard as I thought it was going to be. I used my Cowhorn peppers as opposed to chili peppers, so I can’t for sure say what the difference in heat is because I harvested young Cowhorn’s that were still green, just to avoid any “OH MY GOD THIS IS WAY TOO HOT” complaints from these lame-asses around here. I also made some without the pepper, just as garlic pickles for the even lamer lame-ass people (hi, Jay). However, supposedly you can harvest these peppers at any point during their growth to find the level of heat you like, from mild (immature/lighter green) to hot (fully mature/bright red). That said- I haven’t tasted them at any stage, so I have no idea from personal experience the amount of heat they give. I’ve read some conflicting reports, but apparently fully mature it’s around 15,000 – 30,000 (and perhaps up to 50,000) Scoville units. Take that as you will. Nobody here complained about them being too hot.

Clearly, I cut mine into spears, not slices

You can see a green Cowhorn in that picture, if you look carefully..

…..

Before I start getting into the canning do’s & don’ts, let me just give you a reason to cut off those nibbly-bits on the end of the cucumbers; the blossom end contains an enzyme that will make your pickles mushy & soggy. Seriously. So always cut off both ends and ditch ‘em before you slice your cukes. Okay, now let’s get to the canning. First thing I feel the need to discuss is the whole “nonreactive” pot thing. I’d suggest stainless steel, seeing as how it’s common & readily available. Both aluminum & copper are both reactive. As this website says:

Reactive Pan: It is one made from a material that reacts chemically with other foods. Aluminum and copper, metals that conduct heat extremely well, are the 2 most common reactive materials used to make in cookware. Lightweight aluminum, second only to copper in conducting heat, reacts with acidic foods, imparting a metallic taste, and can discolor light-colored soups and sauces, especially if you stir them with a metal spoon or whisk (it is a very soft metal). For that reason, you should neither cook nor store light-colored foods in aluminum cookware. Anodized aluminum has a hard, corrosion-resistant surface that helps prevent discoloration. Most copper pots and pans are lined with tin to prevent reaction. However, tin is a very soft metal, so it scratches easily and then exposes foods to the copper underneath.

Non-Reactive Pan: When a recipe calls for a non-reactive cookware, use clay, enamel, glass, plastic, or stainless steel. Stainless steel is the most common non-reactive cookware available. Since it does not conduct or retain heat well, it frequently has aluminum or copper bonded to the bottom or a core of aluminum between layers of stainless steel. Although expensive, this kind of cookware offers the benefits of a durable, non-reactive surface and rapid, uniform heat conductivity.Glass cookware is non-reactive and although it retains heat well it conducts it poorly. Enamelware is non-reactive as long as the enamel is not scratched or chipped. Cast-iron is considered reactive; however, we have to say that our extremely well-seasoned pans seem to do fine with tomato sauce and other acidic foods as long as they do not stay in contact with one another for extended periods.

Also, there’s the pickling salt. I personally just used a table salt that was non-iodized, because pickling salt is:

a salt that is used mainly for canning and manufacturing pickles. It is made without iodine or any anti-caking products added.[1] If pickles are made with table salt, they will have dark and cloudy juice, due to the iodide in the salt, although the flavour should be about the same. Pickling salt is very fine grained, to speed up dissolving in water to create a brine, so it is useful for solutions needing salt.

Thanks, Wikipedia! Of course, you can buy pickling salt if you want. Hell, you can even use regular Iodized salt… the worst that will happen is your “pickle juice” will be cloudy. It won’t affect the taste, I promise.

I suggest that if you’re going to start doing this stuff, you research the hell out of it. It’s like chemistry class the way certain things work & others don’t. There are also a few steps to take before you put the stuff in the jars, i.e. sanitizing the jars, so make sure you look into it. It isn’t hard, but you have to know what you’re doing so you can safely process your food the right way. Food safety is very important, you want to make sure you’re preserving it properly so you don’t get sick, etc. That said… it really isn’t that difficult. Just do your homework, the websites I referenced in the top paragraph are all good places to start.


HOT GARLIC PICKLES (from Better Homes and Gardens July 2010, courtesy of Flowers and Sausages)

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 3 ¼ lbs small pickling cucumbers
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup pickling salt
  • 6 tbsp dill seeds
  • chili peppers (1 per jar)
  • garlic (1 to 2 cloves per jar, halved, so 6 – 12 cloves total)

Directions:

  1. While you are preparing and sterilizing your jars, rinse the cucumbers & peppers and peel & halve the garlic cloves. Cut off a thin slice from the end of each cucumber and slice into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. In a large nonreactive pot, combine water, vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt, and bring to a boil.
  2. Pack cucumbers loosely into hot pint canning jars, leaving a ½-inch headspace. Add 1 to 2 peppers, 1 to 2 garlic cloves (halved) and 1 tablespoon dill seeds to each jar. Pour hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Discard any remaining vinegar mixture. Wipe jar rims and top with lids.
  3. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes – start the timer when the water returns to a boil. The water should cover the jars by at least 1″ and the water should be a rolling boil. Remove cans from water bath and let stand for 1 week.

Like my labels? I kinda love them… self made, of course

I assumed given the amount of dill seeds and the instruction to use 1 tablespoon per jar that the recipe calls for 6 jars… I ended up using 5 pint-size jars, because I only bought about 2.5 pounds of Kirby’s (my bad, I know about 4 Kirby’s equal a pound, & I counted about 12 Kirby’s, but some were tiny). I also ended up with about ¼ cup vinegar brine left, which if I had some half-pint jars I could’ve used to make some pickle slices. I used two immature Cowhorns, making only 2 jars of “hot” garlic pickles, which I’m guessing was a good thing if they really are as hot as I’ve read. Although I added about a ¼ teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes to those two jars too, as an added ‘kick.’ This was my first harvest of them so I haven’t even really tasted them yet! For the rest of the jars, like I said, I just omitted the pepper and used garlic, about 2 cloves per jar unless the cloves were large. I figured they’d still be good without the ‘heat’ even if the heat really wasn’t even that bad because the peppers weren’t mature. Am I making ANY sense at all here? At any rate, they had to sit for a week before anyone even thought about opening/eating them, and then they were INHALED. My dad didn’t even wait the full week, and he may have even eaten the pickled pepper! He said the “hot” ones weren’t that hot, probably because the peppers were young. When I make these again, I’ll use the mature peppers. Heh heh heh.

Jay’s jar, no peppers, just garlic, tied up all pretty-like for him.

General things you’ll need to start canning:

Where to buy the jars, you ask? I bought mine at my local Ace Hardware. I paid about $11.00 for 12 of them, plus tax, because I had a coupon that was sent with my canning kit. Ace has pretty good prices on all sizes of jars, and they sell the lids as well, if you’re planning on reusing your jars. Also if you don’t live close to an Ace, and you only want to make one trip for a lot of jars, you can order them online and have them shipped to the store, then you can make one trip just to pick them up without paying for shipping costs. Also, Walmart sells jars for good prices, not just Ball® but also they carry a “generic” brand of their own. So if you shop in that “evil” store, then give it a shot. My store doesn’t usually carry them except for around this time of year, unfortunately. So if you live in an area, like me, where canning isn’t a popular thing year-round, you might want to take advantage of their prices now & stock up. Long story not-so-short: I absolutely LOVE canning. It was way, way, WAY easier than I thought. I have no idea why I thought it was so involved & complicated. Although, this was just an easy pickle recipe. I’m planning on a whole bunch of other interesting canned items for the rest of the summer & fall, so stay tuned for that.

That’s all for now. Luckily this post was written already, because I really don’t think I’d have had the frame of mind to write it at this moment (other than the first paragraph, which I had to add). Grieving is a shitty process, but somehow I feel better keeping up with the blog than if I didn’t.

You’re so fresh… you salsa fresca, you.

I mentioned this weekend that I can’t stand to have the oven on in hot weather. I need fresh, cold (or cool, or at least room temperature) food this time of year: salads, etc. Salsa is included in that list of cold foods. A jar of salsa & a bag of chips & I’m all set. Although the past 2 days have been pretty cool, temperature wise, I made this on one of the hottest days on record in New York.

I should state before continuing with the post/recipe for salsa that I am indeed a salsa fanatic. Salsa in almost any shape & form- salsa verde, chunky salsa, mild salsa, hot salsa, salsa with lots of cilantro, salsa with corn & black beans- you name it, I will love it. Except for peach or mango salsas. My salsa has to have tomato or tomatillo in it. So when I happened upon my new favorite blog (thanks mom), Food In Jars, I immediately looked for a quick salsa recipe. Salsa means ‘sauce’ in Spanish, and it’s basically a cold version of an Italian tomato sauce with different herbs, and often no cooking required, particularly with ‘salsa fresca’ or ‘fresh sauce.’ Salsa fresca is also sometimes referred to as ‘pico de gallo’ or ‘the rooster’s beak’, referring either to way it was eaten (with the thumb and forefinger, mimicking a rooster pecking) or the shape of the chili peppers used to make it. Although according to the almighty and always correct Wikipedia:

Another suggested etymology is that pico is derived from the verb picar, which has two meanings: 1) to mince or chop, and 2) to bite, sting or peck. The rooster, gallo in Spanish, is a common metaphor for the hyper-masculine (“macho“) male in Mexican culture. One example of such machismo is taking pride in withstanding the spicy burn of chilis.

However, neither theory can be considered definite, as they assume the use of hot chilis. In many regions of Mexico the term “pico de gallo” refers to any of a variety of salads, condiments or fillings made with sweet fruits, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocado or mild chilis — not necessarily with hot chilis, or any chilis at all. Thus, the name could be a simple allusion to the bird feed-like minced texture and appearance of the sauce.[2]

Although I always considered pico de gallo to be drier, drier as in not as liquidy as regular salsa, and this salsa is liquidy. However I chopped my onion kind of rough, not very fine, so I made it more like a pico. I also added a ton more cilantro because I love it. I also used two pretty small organic “on the vine” tomatoes as opposed to one large one, so it was definitely not as tomato-y. Yes, I know, there isn’t really much to making salsa, and yes, I could’ve figured it out on my own without a recipe (especially since it’s essentially the same as the pico de gallo I’ve made before… but I digress). But it’s easier when you’ve got an idea of exactly how much of what to put in the first time. I plan on experimenting with this, for sure. And next time I make those chicken flautas, I’ll have this on the side & in the filling, thankyouverymuch.

But for now, here’s the basic Salsa Fresca recipe from Marisa at FIJ. Make it & revel in the mouth-puckeringly acidic deliciousness.

HOMEMADE SALSA FRESCA (from Food In Jars)

Makes approximately one pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ½ white/yellow onion, finely minced (I used about a little over ¼ of an extremely large white onion)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ bunch of cilantro, washed and chopped (I just tore the leaves off, I didn’t chop)
  • 1 – 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced (you can leave the seeds in if you want a hotter flavor, I used one & omitted the seeds)
  • 1 lime, juiced (about 2 – 2 ½ tablespoons, for you measurement-obsessed freaks)
  • 2 big pinches of salt

Directions:

  1. Mix everything together in a glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving, but half an hour is even better.
  2. Store leftovers (if there are any) in a glass canning jar.

I used a washed-out spaghetti sauce jar to save the leftovers in, although the recipe’s author is right: there isn’t much left. Let me just say this is amazingly excellent with some Garden of Eatin’ blue corn tortilla chips. Heavenly, as a matter of fact. Or rather, since I don’t really believe in “heaven”, I’d like to think that my version of heaven would be unlimited fresh salsa & chips. Not sure how long this would last in the fridge, but mine didn’t even make it past the next afternoon. Also, if you’re new to cooking, and you aren’t sure how to dice a tomato, here’s a quick rundown of how it’s done; no judgement here. We all start somewhere! And make sure you roll your lime firmly on the counter before cutting & juicing it, that releases all the juice from the pulp and makes it easier to get every last bit out.

Also, an interesting fact I ran into on Wikipedia that I’d like to share with you all:

In a 2010 press release the Centers for Disease Control reported that during the 1998-to-2008 period, 1 out of 25 foodborne illnesses with identified food sources was traced back to restaurant salsa or guacamole.[5] According to a 2010 July 13 news item by journalist Elizabeth Weise, a 2008 outbreak of Salmonella was traced back to the peppers used in salsa.[6] Originally reported to the CDC by the New Mexico Department of Health, over the course of several months, the outbreak sickened a total of 1,442 people in 43 states and resulted in 286 hospitalizations.[7] Weise reports:

 

“Refrigeration is the key to safe salsa, says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, who published a paper on the topic earlier this year.[8] ‘An unusual finding was if you used fresh garlic and fresh lime juice, it prevented the growth’ of bacteria. ‘You couldn’t use powdered, it had to be fresh,’ he says.”

Crazy, huh? You learn something new everyday. That should ease the fears of some of you germ-phobes, though. Just make sure your salsa’s are made with fresh ingredients and you’re good. Besides, who’s afraid of a little E. Coli or Salmonella?

OH! I almost forgot: I am also now a member at Punk Domestics. So come see me over there & we can discuss canning & pickling & micro-farming. You know, all that hardcore punk rock stuff.