Archive for the 'sauces, salsas, preserves' Category

tomato heaven

I picked the last two ears of sweet corn form the garden last night. They weren’t quite as tender and sweet as the ears from the height of the season, but I’m not complaining. I got them down just fine. And even though I am just the teeniest, tiniest bit tired of tomato sandwiches, I keep right on eating them. As many as I possibly can. Because pretty soon there won’t be any tomato sandwiches. And I know it will be a very long wait until the next one.
sweet corn
I’m getting pretty good at waiting though. My bees have given me plenty of practice lately. That’s right, nine weeks out, and I am STILL waiting to find out if I have a new queen in the mystery hive. The only thing I know for certain is that Freeda’s girls are really putting my patience to the test. The laying workers and/or ill-mated queen that were busy at work a few weeks ago are no longer laying. At last check there was a complete absence of any type brood. I’m still hanging on to a thread of hope that a new queen has hatched and has merely been out and about, taking her sweet time to get settled in. But if there are no new eggs when I check in a few days, I will most likely reunite the queenless hive with the original Queen Freeda and her gang.
After what we’ve been through, all I can do is laugh at the prospect of backtracking and putting them back together as one. But that’s okay. If that’s the case, they will go into winter as a big, strong colony that will most likely be ready to split in the spring. Which means I’ll get to try and do it all over again! I wish I could say with confidence that I’ll have more experience under my belt next time, but I’ve kept bees long enough to know that experience only takes you half way. The rest is a funny combination of great mystery and dumb luck. I respect that.
freeda's hive
The girls have certainly kept me on my toes the past two months. I probably have a little less honey to show for my nine weeks of effort, but it’s a good reminder that I didn’t get into beekeeping so much for the honey harvest as I did just to have some bees to visit with. I’ve spent my fair share of time at the beeyard this summer, and my take-home message for the season is “wait please, be patient.” Pretty good advice, really. And despite everything, there is still plenty of honey to see both me and my bees through the long winter.
Lucky for me, I’ve also got a stockpile of tomatoes. Canned, salsa-ed, slow-roasted, and sauced. It’s nice to watch the pantry and freezer filling up.  On the rare day when I have had one too many tomato sandwiches, I put my tomatoes to work in a 3-ingredient sauce for a fantastically simple dinner. I stumbled across Marcella Hazan’s recipe last summer at Food 52. A find that inadvertently ended my search for the perfect tomato sauce. I don’t see any reason to ever make another sauce. Ever. This is pure, lick your plate, tomato heaven. Although, I did just read about an older, James Beard version of the same sauce that uses garlic instead of onion. I admit that’s a rendition worthy of a try.
I almost always make a double batch of sauce. Whatever doesn’t get slurped up for dinner gets put into the freezer for a cold January night. Having a dozen or so pints tucked away really takes the edge off of waiting for tomato sandwich season. Just as a slather of fresh comb honey on warm toast bolsters my patience for the bees.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

2 pounds fresh, juicy, ripe tomatoes
1 onion, skinned and cut in half
5 tablespoons butter
salt to taste

Blanch the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for one minute. Drain, cool, and slip the sinks off.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes into a sauce pan. Add the butter, onion, and a big pinch or two of salt. Cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir occasionally and mash up tomatoes as they cook with the back of a spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing with pasta. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese for the table. Dresses 1 to 1/12 pounds pasta. Freezes well.

pasta and sauce

the comeback kid

I got the best sort of e-mail last week. It was from a farmer down the road wondering if I wanted to experiment cooking with fresh red currants. I believe my response was something like “heck yeah!” The farm has recently introduced some currant trials into their thriving blueberry and raspberry operation. But the problem with currants is that they have (rather unfortunately) fallen out of fashion. Luckily there are places like Highland Valley Farm that are making an effort to reintroduce them into modern cuisine.

pink, red, white currants

I have to admit that a fresh currant has never managed to make its way into my own kitchen. Which of course, made me wonder why. Magdalen, at the farm, directed me to for a brief history lesson. I learned that there was actually a federal ban on growing most strains of currants (and their cousin gooseberries) from 1900 until 1966. And even still, many states prohibit the cultivation of black currants. Evidentially, the shrubs can host a serious disease harmful to white pine trees. And since the white pine was a major player in the timber industry at the turn of the century, currants and gooseberries were forced to take a back seat. In fact, they pretty much got ditched all together. The white pine blister rust that the shrubs can carry is still a concern, but modern day commercially available cultivars generally have a greater resistance to the disease. Whew.
I was now feeling educated enough to head over to the farm to pick up my berries. Magdalen had told me they have a few different varieties, but what she didn’t mention is how positively gorgeous they are. I was expecting a carton of plain-jane little red berries. But what I got was a mix of stunning jewels – Pink Champagne in the most perfect shade of light pink, striking ruby red Rovadas, and almost translucent white Blankas. I had my fingers into each bag before I was even out of the driveway.
All of the berries were juicy and tangy – sort of like miniature grapes with a tiny seed. But right away I could detect subtle differences between the varieties. The white Blanka berries are firm and have a soft, more subtle seed. The lovely Pink Champagne seems the most delicate of the three – soft, but with an exciting flavor twist. Is “pink” a recognized  flavor? Because they taste pink. And the Rovada reds are a perfect blend of both. The berries are tart, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I’m the type that also enjoys sour cherries right off the tree. I love the rush of something tangy on my tongue.
After I ate my fill of them raw, I realized my education was only half complete. I had no clue how I was actually going to cook with them. I flipped through the indexes of about a dozen cookbooks. Nothing. Not even in The Joy – my standard go to for all things old fashioned. Searching on line yielded a bit more, but I was hard pressed to find anything much beyond jam and jelly recipes. Not that I’m opposed to preserves, I just wanted something a little more adventurous. Which meant I was on my own with this comeback kid.
I decided to start by baking them – straight up. I wanted to keep the currants as unadorned as possible to see how their flavor might change in the oven. So I made simple little rustic cornmeal tart shells for the berries to rest in and laced them with just a bit of honey. The tarts were lovely, and as I suspected, the currants mellowed somewhat in the oven. There was more of a caramelized sweetness shinning through, but still enough of a tang to warrant a small scoop of vanilla on the side. I can certainly see kicking this up a notch and making a custard based tart studded with these little gems.
currant tarts
As I was enjoying my tart, pondering what my next experiment might be, I remembered a great appetizer that my friend Kris made a few weeks ago. She simply plated up some soft cheese, scattered red currants about and drizzled honey over the whole shebang. A delicious accompaniment for a basket of pita crackers. So simple, yet elegant and complex tasting. The flavor combo was such a knockout that I decided to take it one step further and turn it into a savory scone. I knew it would involve some Sassy Nanny chev and a bit of honey. But my real dilemma was which variety of currant to use. The bright red Rovadas would be the showiest for sure, but something in me really wanted to use the white Blanka. I liked the idea of a scone riddled with secret little land mines of flavor. It worked, just as I had hoped. A little bit tangy, a little bit sweet, and all with an element of surprise.
currant scones
I had some leftover berries mixed with honey from the tart trial, so next I decided to cook them down a bit on the stove and make a currant syrup. I learned in my online research that currants are naturally high in pectin, meaning the juice thickens up nicely on its own. I opted to slow simmer them just for a bit before taking them off and straining them though a jelly bag. I think you could cook them down longer for a thicker sauce for meats or spooning over yogurt, but I wanted a nice light syrup to add to a glass of soda water or lemonade. I set the syrup in the fridge to chill while I went to the garden for some sprigs of chocolate mint. I muddled a few leaves of mint in the bottom of a glass, filled it with ice, and proceeded as planned. Not only was my drink striking, I felt especially good knowing that I was getting a healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium to boot.
Thinking about the currant’s great nutrient value reminded me that I should not overlook using them raw. They make an amazingly bright addition to my morning granola. And I can easily see tossing them into green salads and grain based pilafs. Which lead me to the idea of using them in a fresh salsa. I had an avocado in waiting on the window sill. So back to the garden I went, for a jalapeño and cilantro. I mixed this all together with my usual culprits – honey and garlic – for a cooling summer salsa. This time around, I knew without hesitation that I wanted to use the Pink Champagne berries, simply for the preppy pink and green color scheme.
chip with salsa
Even after all of this playing around, I still had a few leftover berries for the freezer. Which will be perfect to make a small batch of David Lebovitz’s currant jam. I love the simplicity of his recipe. And If I don’t get to it, that’s okay too. I’m perfectly fine with having a bag of zesty jewels in my freezer. It’s nice to have a secret weapon tucked away.
I’ve had a great week welcoming this newcomer into my kitchen. We are strangers no more. Though I’ll be honest that it took a while to get my head around the little seeds. They add a certain chewiness that can be awkward at first. But it’s sort of refreshing to be introduced to a new texture. And let’s face it, currants haven’t exactly had an easy go of things. I sort of like the notion of eating such a renegade berry. And how lucky we are to even have the chance to do so. I say hats off to places like Highland Valley Farm and home gardeners willing to give currants a second shot.
Fresh Currant Tartlets 
Note: Be sure to use a parchment lined baking sheet. I definitely experienced some honey ooze from the filling. If the thought of this frightens you, and/or your currant/honey mixture seems particularly juicy and runny, you can add a teaspoon or so of cornstarch to thicken it up.

3 cups fresh currants (ideally a mix of varieties)
1/2 cup honey

Gently mix together in a bowl and set aside.

Crust (adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain)
1 1/2 cup very fine cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
2 egg yolks

Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in butter and mix until the butter is coarse and mostly broken in, increasing the speed a bit as you go. Add the cream and egg yolks and mix until combined. The dough will be crumbly, but it should come together nicely when turned out onto a floured work surface. This dough is best shaped right after making while it is still at room temperature. Form the dough into a clump and divide it into 10 equal pieces. Use the heel of your hand to flatten each piece into a 5-inch round circle, making the edges slightly thinner than the middle. Use a bench scraper and flour to aid in working with the dough. Transfer discs to a parchment lined baking sheet. Working with one tart at a time, spoon about 1/4 cup filling onto the dough and gently fold edges up toward the center. You want an imperfect, slightly ruffled looking  edge. The dough is pretty forgiving, so just work with it as you go. When all the tarts are filled and formed, bake in a 375º F oven for about 35 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the edges are slightly browned.  Makes 10 3 1/2-inch tarts.
currant tart

– –

Savory Chev and Currant Scones

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cream
1 egg
3 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup crumbled chev (soft goat cheese)
3/4 cup fresh currants
cream and honey for wash

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream, egg and honey, then stir. Add the butter cubes to the food processor and pulse just long enough to cut in the butter. There should be some pea size pieces of butter remaining. Dump the dry butter mix into the cream and egg bowl, along with the chev and currants and mix until the batter is just combined and comes together. Again, you still want to have some nice flecks of butter. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and pat it into a round disc that is about 1 inch thick. You can make one 8 to 9 inch disc or two smaller 6 inch discs for 2 rounds of slightly smaller scones. Brush the top of each disc with a bit of cream and a drizzle of honey. Cut each round in half and then portion each half into thirds for 6 larger or 12 smaller scones. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and  bake in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes until scones are just slightly golden and brown. Makes 6 large or 12 smaller scones.


– –

Red Currant Syrup

Fresh currants
Honey, to taste

Put currants in a saucepan and drizzle a spoonful or two of honey over berries. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat, sort of mashing up the berries as they cook. Taste occasionally and added enough honey to reach your desired sweetness. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. remove from heat and strain mixture through a jelly bag of fine meshed sieve. Store syrup in fridge. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons syrup to club soda, lemonade, or vodka. Garnish with mint or lime.

Alternatively, cook down the currants further and use it as a sauce for meats, yogurt, or ice cream.

– –

Currant-Avocado Salsa

2 avocados, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
3/4 cup fresh currants
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 minced jalapeño
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix lime juice, honey, and jalapeno together in a bowl until well combined. Stir in remaining ingredients and gently mix. Serve with tortilla chips or pita crisps. Serves 4



Well, I suppose it’s inevitable. When you’re burning the candle at both ends, it’s only a matter of time before you’re immune system gets fed up and throws in the towel. Which is why both my brother (guilty of the same offense) and I spent Christmas day battling over the kleenex box and discussing the merits of liquid DayQuil versus gel caps. (I prefer the ease of the caps, he finds the liquid soothing on his throat. But we both agree the liquid kicks in faster). Tim had it worse than I did, so I really can’t complain. But still, being even a little sick on Christmas is a drag.

Blame my cold or the NyQuil induced fog, but I’m sad to say my camera barely made it out of my bag this Christmas. Which is too bad, because my family has recently started a tradition of a fonduing for Christmas dinner. Talk about a photo op. As it is though, you’re just going to have to image the piles of bright peppers, the perfectly browned-bubbly Raclette cheese, the itty-bitty zucchinis, the mounds of sausages and shrimp, and the lemon slices daintily bobbing in a silver pot of steaming broth.
This year my mom went all out. She did away with the old avocado green Goodwill fondue pots and upgraded to a cast enamel flame pot for oil, an electric pot for broth, and a fancy Raclette grill for cheese. As we cooked and ate, my mom explained the traditional Swiss method of heating an entire wheel of Raclette cheese and scraping slices directly onto plates of steamed potatoes, cornichons and onions.
The modern-day Raclette setup allows individual slices of cheese to broil underneath a grill of hot vegetables. Each diner gets a handsome little scraper to slide their bubbly cheese onto their plate. Keeping in the true spirit of things, we served our cheese atop fingerling potatoes, onions, and pickles. And let me tell you, the Swiss have this flavor combination figured out! The cornichons in particular we’re such an amazing taste perk. It certainly woke up my cold-ridden taste buds.
As for the standard fondue, we always do a pot of sizzling oil for meats, but we’ve also experimented with a few different broths. We’ve come to favor a ginger infused chicken broth. It’s a lovely cooking medium for broccoli, pea pods, mushrooms, and cauliflower. And my personal favorite is plump sea scallops simmered in the ginger broth with a side of Asian dipping sauce. It’s a combination I look forward to all year. That’s what I love about traditions – the anticipation.
Best wishes to you and yours for a bright new year ahead!
Ginger Fondue Broth

4 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup white wine OR 1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 lemon slices
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 – 4 tablespoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons sugar

Combine stock, wine, lemon slices, garlic ginger and sugar in a saucepan. Just before serving heat to simmer and transfer to a warm fondue pot. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer while fonduing. Wonderful with veggies and seafood.

Spicy Asian Dipping Sauce 

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 lemon zested and juiced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons grated carrots
1-2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

In small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, soy sauce, salt, fish sauce, ginger and garlic.  Bring to a boil, stirring often.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Pour  into serving dish and add the crushed red pepper flakes.  Allow sauce to cool completely before adding the carrots and cilantro. (For a smoother texture, strain the sauce as you pour it into the bowl.) Makes about 1 cup.

living proof

I’m busy. Have I mentioned that? I have temporarily bitten off way more than I can chew. I’m not complaining – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s dim, but if I squint, it’s there.

My primary source of entertainment for the last 2 months has come in random 28 minute snippets when I sneak off to stream old Office episodes. I’m pretty sure I’ve subconsciously started channeling Dwight Shrute. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I am considering painting my office walls black to intimidate my subordinates. Wait. I don’t have any subordinates. Damn. Maybe I’ll just put a bouncy castle outside my office instead.
The other night I put on a pot of brown rice, sauteed up some garlic and kale, fried a few eggs, piled it all together and topped the whole shebang with a mound of spicy kimchi. I was so pleased with my accomplishment, I thought I was worthy of a James Beard award. That’s how much cooking I’ve been doing lately. The kimchi was homemade though. It was my last kitchen fun before all hell broke loose. I often find myself going to the fridge mid-day for a forkful, dreamily recalling the days when the produce was plentiful and I had time to spend in the kitchen.
Last night I bundled up at dusk to harvest the last of the kale, chard, and brussel sprouts. I’ve kept them covered with tattered bed sheets, but the jig is finally up. The temperature has been hovering at 26º F for the last few days and the skies have been grey and laden with snow flurries. I’m pretty sure I audibly sighed as I put the last of our bounty into the crisper drawer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate winter and everything it brings, it’s just so hard to say good-bye to the garden. On the most basic level it’s like my own little convenience mart, ready to serve me 24/7. But on a deeper level, it’s my place to go. My reprieve.
But still, I guess I have the crock pickles, the kraut, and the kimchi. Actual living proof of the garden. Sure, there’s squash, potatoes, and beets too. But somehow those seem less dramatic. Less zingy. My foray into fermentation as a preservation method is relatively new one, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. First off, it’s easy. Way less fuss than canning. But more importantly, the food tastes different. It tastes, well, alive. Because it is. And it fills that deep craving I have for fresh, home-grown food.
This wasn’t always the case, mind you. For the first half of my life, I wouldn’t go near sauerkraut. And kimch? Never heard of it. When I eventually did, I didn’t really want to know anymore. At some point I got radical and granted them “condiment status” on my plate. And luckily, somewhere in there, I was treated to tasting real, home-made versions. They were like completely different foods. And now – now I generously pile them onto sandwiches, stir them into rice, mash ’em into potatoes, top off meat dishes, and stand at the the open fridge door for a quick forkful.
My go to fermentation book is Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before, but one of the things I appreciate is his simplistic, small scale approach. I can crank out a quart of kraut or kimchi in less than a half hour of real work, and even then, my Cuisnart does most of it. There is some checking and periodic tasting involved, but if you forget about it for a few days, it doesn’t matter. For the most part, it just sits inconspicuously in the corner while the fermentation does all of the real work.

Spicy Cabbage Kimchi 
(adapted from Wild Fermentation)

1 pound napa cabbage
a handful of red radishes
2 carrots
sea salt and water

Grate or chop the vegetables. I think kimchi is traditionally pretty coarse, but I prefer a finer version (a Cuisnart does a marvelous job at this – especially if you happen to be busy!) Mix up a brine by combining about 4 cups cold water and 4 tablespoons salt water. Make sure all the salt dissolves and then taste it. It should taste like the sea. Put your vegetables in a large ceramic bowl and pour the brine over them. Use a plate with a weight on it to completely submerse the vegetable. Cover with a clean dish towel and let soak over night.

Next you need a spice mix. Definitely tailor this to your taste buds. This is my latest favorite combination.

1 small onion plus a handful of shallots, chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped
4 hot chilies (in my last batch I used Chillipeños, but use whatever you have, fresh, or dried, seeded or not)
2-3 tablespoons fresh gingeroot, grated
a splash of fish sauce

You want everything in the spice mix all pretty finally minced and mixed together into a paste. Again, the Cuisnart is invaluable for this.

Drain the brine from the veggies, reserving it. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. You want them to be decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If the seem way too salty, give them a rinse under cold water. If they don’t seem quite salty enough, sprinkle a few teaspoons of sea alt on them.

Mix the spice paste in to the veggies and work it in so everything is combined. pack the mixture tightly into a quart jar, pressing down on it as you go so that the brine begins to rise above the vegetables. And that’s it, your work is basically done. Now the jar sits in a quiet, out of the way place in your kitchen for 1 to 3 weeks. The only ting you have to be sure of is that the vegetables stay below the brine. You can do this by just plunging them down back into the brine every day with your hands, or use a weight – like a smaller jar or ziplock filled with some of the reserved brine. Cover the jar with a clean towel and check it every few days to see how it is progressing. Over the corse of a week or more (depending on temperature) the kimchi will start to ripen and get that nice little zing. When it gets to tasting how you like it, cap the jar with a lid and store it in the fridge.

garlic pusher

I fear that I’ve been a little remiss at promoting the planting of garlic. Now is the time people! At least in the northern hemisphere. Really anytime between the end of September and right up until the ground freezes works. I shoot for mid-October here in northern Wisonsin. It doesn’t always work out that way, but fortunately, garlic is pretty forgiving.

Ideally you want the garlic to get a jump on growing and set down a few roots before winter sets in. Then come spring it will shoot up as the ground thaws and be on its way. It’s really a glorious sight. If push comes to shove, you can even plant in the early spring, but who really  wants to stick their fingers into icy cold soil? Do it now, while there is a least a glimmer of summer left.

Ready for a garlic planting crash course? It’s really easy, I promise.

1. Find yourself a few nice heads of garlic – ideally of a variety you enjoy.

2. Break apart the head into individual cloves. Pick out the largest ones and set aside any itty-bitty ones for eating. Leave the paper skin intact, but don’t worry if a bit of it pulls away.

3. Find yourself a patch of loosely fluffed soil – even a big pot on the deck or in the garage will work. Maybe work in a bit of compost if you have it.

4. Poke each clove in (root end down, pointy tip up) about twice as deep as the clove itself, 6 to 8 inches apart. Give a little pat of encouragement to each clove as you fill in the soil around it.

5. Put a good layer of mulch (by good, I mean 6-8 inches worth) over the top of your patch. I use straw, but leaves would work too. If you are leaving a pot on the deck, mulch it extra well around the sides too so it doesn’t freeze too hard. I think a shed or garage would be the best bet. Then just drag the pot outside in the spring.

And that’s it. I assure you that the hardest part is waiting. But it’s so worth it. Because if you’ve planted a little extra (did I mention you should plant a little extra?) you can harvest a few shoots of pencil-thick green garlic in the early spring and make amazing things with them. Even if you didn’t plant a little extra, you’ll still be okay. Come June you’ll get a fine crop of twirly scapes that you can make more amazing things with.

If all goes well, by late summer you’ll have significantly more garlic than the few heads you started out with. Which means fewer vampires and more amazing things in the kitchen. Like this garlic sauce, which is deliciously good on almost everything. Just keep an eye out for the devil.

The Devil’s Sauce
(adapted from Chester Aaron’s Garlic is Life)

2 red or mild banana peppers, coarsely chopped
1/2 – 1 habañero chile, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon adobo seasoning (or use all cumin)
4 tablespoons red pepper flakes (aleppo if you have it)
10 large garlic cloves (about 3-4 ounces), roasted*
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
black pepper to taste

*I use Romanian Red garlic, which has fairly large cloves. If you’re using a variety with smaller cloves, you may need way more than 10 cloves to make 3-4 ounces. To roast it, put the individual cloves in a little foil packet, drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 350ºF for 45 minutes to an hour until cloves are tender and can squeeze easily out of their papers.

For the sauce, blend the peppers, chile, and onions in a food processor to make a purée. Transfer to a saucepan and add the vinegar, oil, sugar, cumin, and adobo, and pepper flakes. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes before adding in the roasted garlic. Mash everything up a bit and simmer for about 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper and adjust to taste. Makes about 2 cups. Store in fridge, freeze, or pressure can (15 minutes at 10 psi).

another keeper

Finally. Something has diverted my attention away from the mighty garlic scape. The tart cherries are lining up for their moment of fame. And they are so excited about it that they are nearly bouncing off their branches. Our cherry trees are conveniently planted along the path we take to get to our cars and shed. Which means I almost always pop a few in my mouth en route. They are so tricky, those cherries. Sun warmed and fruity, but with a tang that makes your mouth stand up and say “Howdy!” Such a tease.

My new favorite smoothie is a simple affair involving kefir, a big handful of tart cherries, a spoonful of finely shredded coconut and a bit of honey to sweeten things up. Now that is a way to start the day.

But wait. Before I get all wrapped up with the cherries, I promised the sugar snap peas that I would put in a word for them. They were a little late to the party this year, but they are now coming on hot and heavy – as if to make up for lost time. We had our first official pea feast on Saturday night. I heated a couple of tablespoons of butter in the wok, added about a pound of stringed peas and seared them for a minute or so before tossing in a small handful of chopped thyme, sea salt and fresh pepper. I gave them one more minute on the heat to let everything meld and turned them out onto a platter. Then I blew the whistle and it was an all out, no holds barred situation at the dinner table. Yum.
Okay, where were we? Cherries, right. My friend Gina makes the most lovely tart cherry jelly. Ruby red and clear as glass. I knew I would love Gina forever after the first time I attended an annual Winter Solstice party that she and her husband Olaf throw each year on December 21. On the darkest and deepest night of winter, their house overflows with warmth, coziness and light. Heartfelt toasts with Aquavit – the Scandinavian “water of life” spirit – flow freely. It is truly a joyous night. But here’s how I really know Gina is a keeper. As each guest gets ready to depart into the cold winter night, she discreetly slips a small jar of tart cherry jelly into their hands. A little gem. A little ray of sweet light.
It’s been a good 8 or 9 years since my first taste of Gina’s cherry jelly, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was January. It was cold. Her cherries transformed my english muffin and my day. I was so inspired by it that I went up to my desk and composed a cherry haiku for her. And I have never missed a Winter Solstice party since. Which is a good thing for many reasons, one being that I don’t have the patience for making jelly. It just seems so fussy, with the straining and all. So I typically stick to the more unrefined, rustic jams and preserves.
Cherry season began as usual for me this year, with a batch of Cherry Honey Jam. But then I got a little crazy and made a zingy Cherry and White Pepper Preserve. And I think it is going to be a rising star in the kitchen. Just like Gina, this one’s a keeper. It’s such a simple recipe, but there is so much going on. The heat of the pepper and the intense cherry flavor mixed with just enough sweet to take the edge off. Zowie. I can already taste it on a pork tenderloin, smeared into barbecued ribs, or dotted on goat cheese crostini. Or how about a spoonful of it mixed in with a batch of stir-fried sturdy greens and garlic? And just think what it might do to a savory stuffed squash. I can almost not wait for the first brisk fall night when it seems right to try it. Almost.
I use Pomona’s Pectin for the jam and pretty much follow the recipe that comes with it. The preserve recipe is adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ’em Up! I used raw sugar instead of refined and also added a bit of honey. And I opted for white pepper instead of black. I thought its richer and spicier flavor might be a nice touch – and it was.
Tart Cherry Jam
From Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 pounds of tart cherries (for 4 cups mashed fruit)
1 cup honey (more or less to taste)
2 teaspoons pectin Pomona’s pectin powder
2 teaspoons calcium water
Makes approximately 4 – 5 cups
Wash and sterilize your jars. Clean the cherries if necessary and stem and pit them. There is no denying that this is a bit of a messy job – the deck is a perfect place for it. Lightly crush the cherries with your fingers or a fork. You want to end up with 4 cups of mashed cherries and juice. Place cherries in a non-reactive pot over low heat, and add the calcium water to the fruit. Measure room temperature honey into a separate bowl and stir in the pectin powder.  Bring the cherries to a boil. Add the pectin-honey mixture and stir vigorously for 1 – 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin and honey. Return mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace. Attach sterile 2 piece lids and process in a boiling hot water bath process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner, label, and store in a cool dark place without rings.
Cherry and White Pepper Preserves
Adapted from Put ’em Up!
3 pounds of tart cherries
1 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoons fresh ground white pepper
Makes approximately 3-4 cups
Wash and sterilize your jars. Put 2 or 3 small saucers in the freezer. Clean the cherries if necessary and stem and pit them. Again, I recommend somewhere outside for this job. Place cherries in a non-reactive pot over low heat, stirring and lightly crushing the fruit a bit. Add in the sugar, honey, and lemon juice and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-hot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, adjust the heat to keep the mixture at a nice boil and cook for about 25 minutes. Give it a stir every now and again to make sure nothing is sticking. After 25 minutes  you can start testing for gel set. To test for set remove pan from heat and put a spoonful of fruit on one of your frozen saucers. Return the plate to freezer for about a minute, then take it out and run your finger through the fruit. If it wrinkles or shows the slightest bit of resistance, the preserves are good to go. If the fruit is still runny and loose when you slide your finger through it, return the pan to heat and boil for another couple of minutes. Test again and repeat if necessary. Timing will vary depending on the amount of natural pectin in the fruit. Once gel set is reached, remove from heat, ladle into prepared jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace. Attach sterile 2 piece lids and process in a boiling hot water bath process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner, label, and store in a cool dark place without rings.

the great e-scape (project picnic.4)

I have good news people. It’s twirly-dip season. More commonly known as garlic scape season. I adopted the twirly-dip nickname many years ago, long before I knew my garlic plant anatomy. I now know that the “scape” is really a flowering seed head. It’s the garlic’s natural way of reproducing. Each flowering pod contains a handful of “bulbils,” a fancy name for itty-bitty garlic cloves. If left to its own devices, the garlic scape matures and waits for its bulbils to be scatterd. Assuming all goes well, each bulbil matures into a small head of garlic the following year. And yes, humans can do the same thing and intentionally plant the bulbils, but it takes a good three years of planting and replanting the resulting cloves of garlic to get a decent size head. Still, that’s pretty cool.
Now, back to the botany lesson. About a month or so before the underground bulb fully matures, a garlic plant heeds the call to send up a flowering scape. It starts as a little sprout emerging from the top part of the plant. Over the course of a week or so, it begins to lengthen and curl around into a spiral. Hence the “twirly-dip” terminology. It really is a thing of beauty. Left intact, the curlycue will eventually straighten itself back out and shoot skyward. The garlic plant puts energy into developing its seed head – at the expense of the bulb below ground. Which means if large, plump heads of garlic is your goal (and you’re willing to do the work of the bulbil), then trimming the scapes off is in your best intrest. To me this is a win-win situation. My garlic heads grow larger, and I’m left with a culinary treat that is especially fun to cook with. Which is pretty much how I spent my entire holiday weekend. You have been warned. Prepare to be inundated with garlic scape recipes.
But first, let’s cover a few garlic scape practicalities:
1. If you’re harvesting scapes from your own garden, it is best to pick them when they are in full curl, between 1/2 and 3/4 turn (like in the photo above). If you pick them too young, it potentially shocks the plant and may cause secondary sprouting or formation of side cloves off the main bulb. If you wait until they start straightening out, the stalks will be tough and unappetizing. Trim or snap the scapes off just above the top leaf of the plant.
2. Scapes store well – up to 3 weeks in the crisper drawer. So if you come across a source, stock up! For those of you with your own garlic patch, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, scapes are becoming more and more popular and can often be found this time of year at farmer’s markets and natural food stores.
3. When cooking with scapes, it is best to trim the actual seed pod off and use the section of stalk below it. In other words, you want to cook with the portion of the scape that emerges from the top of the garlic plant to where the seed pod starts to bulge out. The top part of the scape is more grass like and stringy. There is no harm in eating it, but you might find yourself doing a considerable amount of chewing. Plus, there is a much better use for them. Slow simmered with water, a splash of white wine, a few greens, and a handful of fresh herbs, they make a lovely garlic soup stock. I keep a bag going in the fridge and when scape season comes to an end I make a big pot of stock for the freezer. Full recipe forthcoming…
4. Left raw, scapes are tender and garlicky, but are less pungent than an actual clove of garlic. Finely chopped, they make a lovely addition to green salads, egg salad, tuna salad, any salad really. Think of them like a scallion. When cooked, the scapes become creamy and nutty, with just a slight hint of garlic flavor. Which makes them perfect for stir-frys, fritattas, scrambled eggs, and pasta dishes. It’s important not to overcook them though, as they tend to get tough.
My first scape harvest of the season almost always goes straight over hot coals. This is my favorite way to prepare them. Toss them with a little olive oil, fresh pepper and sea salt and lay them on the grill or fire pit. I use a finer mesh screen over the grate to save anyone from an untimely death. It takes about 8 – 10 minutes for them to soften up and get a little char. Turn them once or twice and when they look tender, transfer to a platter, give them a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili pepper flakes. If you’re anything like me, they will disappear faster than one would think possible. (You’ll see in the photo that I have grilled the whole scape, even though I just got through telling you to cut the top part off. I almost always follow my own advice, but still there is no denying how artistic the entire scape looks – sometimes it’s fun just to cook the whole package).
Once I get the craving for grilled scapes out of my system, I move onto other things. This year I decided to start with garlic scape pesto. Mixed with some chunky penne pasta, it was the star of our June picnic. Actually, I take that back. The real star of the picnic was a thunderstorm, complete with green skies, quarter size hail, and straight line winds. Mark and I had decided to take an “extended picnic” and turn it into an overnight camping excursion. We packed our picnic tin, loaded the kayaks on the roof, threw in a blanket and some books, and headed for Lake Superior’s Bark Bay. We managed to score a tent camping site on the Herbster beach and geared up for a much needed day of play.
Well fortified with pasta bathed in twirly-dip pesto, we ventured out for a late afternoon paddle on the lake. Sunny skies, slight breeze, calm waters. All good. Back on land we had just settled in with gin and tonics (car camping has its merits) when we noticed some ominous clouds gathering off to the southwest. Sure enough a few minutes later the county sheriff was easing his way though the camp ground alerting campers of a severe weather system on it’s way from Superior. We packed things up as best we could and headed for the tent, fully expecting to resume our evening after the storm blew through.
But there was the problem. The storm didn’t exactly “blow through.” The traveling warm air mass hit the cool wall of Lake Superior and stopped – for a good long while. We laid in the tent, watching the sky outside do amazing things, occasionally exchanging a silent worried look, and listening to the sound of hail ricocheting off of our poor little picnic tin. I didn’t have high hopes.
Hours later we emerged from our abode (which was still standing and still mostly dry inside) to assess the situation. It was dark now and still raining, but the brunt of the storm had finally passed. Lake Superior was positively roaring. We learned that the majority of tenters had been evacuated to the local high school for the night. We also heard rumors of another cell coming through at 4:30 a.m. Hmmm. This news prompted us to do something we have never done before while camping. We decided to plan our escape. Mark went for the car while I packed up the sleeping gear. We rolled up the tent into a sopping heap, threw it in the back of the car and drove the 30 minutes back home. I was stunned to find the picnic tote still dry inside. We had a late night snack and retreated to the quietness of our bedroom.
We awoke to sunny skies, refreshed and ready to resume. With a thermos of coffee for the road we made the return trip back to our boats and other belongings. As we suspected, the bay was a churning chocolate brown soup and the campground was littered with upside down tents drying out (some considerably more worse for the wear than others). After a hearty breakfast we headed out for a paddle through the Bark Bay Slough – a costal barrier spit and lagoon that feeds into Lake Superior. Water lilies were blooming, dragon and butterflies were out joy riding, and we enjoyed several fine turtle sightings as we paddled our way back towards land. What a way to ring in the season’s first twirly-dips!
I should warn you that this pesto is indeed garlicky. To me though, it strong and flavorful without an overbearing garlic heat. I love to eat it straight on salty pita crackers or bread. It also works well to cut it with créme fraîche, yogurt, and/or sour cream and use it as a vegetable dip or pasta sauce. And, like most pestos, it freezes well for an excellent winter treat – or pull it out even sooner and pair it with fresh summer tomatoes. I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Washington Post several years ago. I find it works best to use a food processor to really grind up the scapes and nuts. But if you’ve got determination, you could do it by hand with a mortar and pestle.
Stay tuned. Recipes for pickled dilly scapes, beer-battered scapes (oh-my!), and garlic soup stock are on their way later this week.
Garlic Scape (twirly-dip) Pesto

1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped, flower portion removed (about 10 scapes)
1/3 cup almonds or walnuts
1 teaspoon lemon zest
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil (I use more oil if the pesto is going over pasta)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
large pinch of sea salt

Process the scapes, nuts, lemon zest and juice in a food processor until they are somewhat smooth and the texture is to your liking. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, pulsing the machine as you go. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and fold in the Parmesan and salt by hand. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Makes about 1 cup.

pulling trump

I have sort of a guilty, tenuous relationship with cranberries. I like them – quite a bit actually. The problem is that just about the time I learned to appreciate cranberries for something more than a red glossy tube that comes sliding out of a can, my father decided to get into the tart cherry business. Never one to do things in a small way, he set to planting tees – and lots of them. He had designs on becoming the Tart Cherry King of southeast Minnesota. Life can be sadly unpredictable though, and regrettably, he did not live to see the word “king” associated with his name. He did, however, manage to leave a legacy of tart cherries behind him. The months of June and July typically turn into one big red blur of a cherry harvest for my mother. Friends come. Family comes. Neighbors come. Restaurateurs come. Friends come again. And still, after all that, my mom generally maintains a freezer full of cherries.

Needless to say, I sort of have unlimited access to a lot of tart cherries. And I love them. To me, they are the perfect juicy blend of sweet and sour. This is where things get dicey with the cranberries. It has gotten to the point that when I come across a recipe involving cranberries, I almost inadvertently substitute the word cherry for cranberry. It’s easy – try it. “Cranberry hazelnut granola,” “cranberry upside down cake,” “cranberry almond muffins.” See? I mean it’s not that cranberries don’t sound good, but tart cherries? Now we’re talkin’ about something. And so it was no different with my favorite spicy cranberry chutney recipe. I think I made it one year using cranberries before the tart cherries pulled trump.

The original recipe came via my friend Julie who must have heard a Thanksgiving piece on NPR, because it came with a note that it is Susan Stamberg’s favorite cranberry side dish (unless Julie is holding out on me, I don’t believe she’s ever had Ms. Stamberg over for Thanksgiving dinner). Like a lot of recipes, I’ve adjusted it here and there – and in this case made a substitution of a homemade tart cherry sauce for the can of cranberry sauce originally called for. I highly recommend seeking out some frozen tart cherries, but if unlike me, you feel obliged to remain steadfast and loyal to the cranberry, the chutney will be almost as good. But not quite.

Guilty Garlicky Tart Cherry Chutney

16 oz frozen tart cherries
3/4 cup honey
1 rounded tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in about 1/4 cup of cold water

1 tablespoon of ginger – grated (a microplane works great for this)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
ground white pepper (to taste)

Put frozen cherries and honey in a heavy sauce pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Let the cherries cook and bubble, stirring occasionally, for about 15 – 20 minutes. While they cook, periodically take a fork to the cherries and mash them up to your desired consistency. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and cook a for a few minutes longer until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.

In another sauce pan, combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, honey and cayenne. Bring to a simmer, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or until there is roughly 1/4 cup of thick liquid left.

Add in the cherry sauce, salt, and pepper. Mix and bring to a gentle simmer fro about 5 -10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding a touch more honey, salt, or pepper if needed. Cool, store and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

Don’t just limit this to holiday feasts! This chutney is great in sandwiches and with all kinds of meat – pork, chicken, turkey, roast beef. It is also quite lovely with a smear of goat cheese on a cracker.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

oh yes mustard!

I sent my husband out the door this morning with a shopping list that had a rough total of about $87. Eighty seven dollars worth of mustard, that is. Yes, mustard. He is going south to Milwaukee, which means he’ll pass through Madison, which means there is no excuse not to stop off at the National Mustard Museum in downtown Middelton. But I should back up. Until recently – say with the last six or so years – I have not particularly liked mustard. I always kept the obligatory jar of Dijon in the fridge for dressings and marinades, and when forced to, I’d eat it if it came pre-applied on a bratwurst, but really I went out of my way to avoid it. My childhood memory of that strange smelling, yellow sauce really stuck with me hard.

Enter Delouis Fils Dijon ‘a L’ancienne’.  Not coincidentally, about six years ago I was visiting my friend Laura who then lived in Mount Horeb, WI – the former home of the Mustard Museum. It turns out that there isn’t all that much to do in Mount Horeb, so a tour of the Mustard Museum made the cut. I must have been in a particularly open-minded mood because for whatever reason, I voluntarily chose, by my own free will, to taste mustard. Several of them. And one in particular – the Delouis Fils Dijon ‘a L’ancienne’ – won me over. I left with three jars of it. Its taste is smooth yet its texture rough – I suppose “grainy” is the technical term.  It isn’t sharp. It isn’t smelly. The flavors meld together and melt in your mouth. I didn’t know mustard could do that. Ever since then, my idea of a good lunch often involves a baguette, some good hard cheese, sliced onion and a jar of Delouis Fils Dijon ‘a L’ancienne’.

And evidently, that was my jumping off point. The list I handed over to Mark included three jars of my standby, two jars of Saucy Sisters Golden Honey Russian Mustard, a garlic mustard from Obester Winery, several jars of Dijon, and a new one that I’ve been dying to dip into  – Aunty Lilikoi’s Passion Habeñero Mustard. The name alone makes it a worth try, but something tells me the fruitiness of the passion flower combined with the heat of the habeñero will be stupendous as a salmon rub. Cell coverage was dicey when Mark checked in this afternoon, but I thought he mumbled something about an amazing new walnut Dijon to boot.

Rest assured I am not purchasing upward of a hundred dollars worth of mustard just for us. This trip is kicking off our holiday shopping – what Christmas stocking is complete without a little jar of pungent bliss? And those cute hexagon jars of spicy, Russian honey mustard make the perfect host/hostess gift. My go to appetizer in a pinch is thick Bavarian pretzels with a perky mustard. So you see, it’s good to have a few jars on hand.  All I can say is thank goodness  I’ve come to my senses. Literally, in this case. Luckily I seem to be making up for lost time just fine.

Here is my favorite mustard sauce to spread on salmon fillets about 10 – 15 minutes before grilling. I can’t wait to try it with the Aunty Lilikoi’s. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mustard Sauce

Combine and heat gently:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic

tomato bliss

The garden has set  a new record. It’s the 24th of October and I’m still (gleefully) processing tomatoes. Canned, roasted, frozen, dried, you name it. I’d say I’m almost tired of them, but I know better than that. In the height of the tomato frenzy, my friend Michael came for cocktails, bearing with him our regular delivery of fresh goat cheese and milk. If I recall, that week’s delights included feta, chev, and queso fresco. Michael hand crafts these amazing cheeses with milk from his herd of 20 some dairy goats in Herbster, WI. I am plain giddy to have this incredible cheese and milk produced just up the shore from me. But, back to the tomatoes. Since September my kitchen has been a war zone of chili peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos. So the rows of salsa laden jars lined up like soldiers and the pressure canner canner on the counter sparked an unusual cocktail conversation topic for us – botulism.

I love my Montgomery Wards, No 7-16 Magic Seal pressure cooker. I consider it one of my prized possessions – which I have my mother to thank for. She scooped it up for a song at an estate sale years ago. I’ve never been a fan of the vinegary tasting salsa that boiling hot water baths yield. Which is where my love affair with the Magic Seal comes in. It absolves my salsas of vinegar and lemon juice – and hopefully botulism. The problem is that it is nearly impossible to find salsa and chutney recipes developed specifically for pressure canning. Which has left me to crossing my fingers and winging it. Armed with the 1950’s era recipe book that came with my canner as my guide, I have created a handful of recipes that I feel fairly confident will not kill anyone. Still, Michael brought that little lingering question of doubt that lurks in the back of my mind to the forefront, forcing me to scour the internet once more for some “approved” pressure canning recipes. Turning up empty handed yet again, I put the latest batch of salsa away in the pantry with a slightly raised eyebrow. But they have to go somewhere, I rationalize.  I need the counter space for the next basket of tomatillos waiting to be turned into salsa verde.

My favorite, and less riskier way to make use of these late season tomatoes is roast them.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

I cut the small to mid-size tomatoes in half and quarter the larger ones. I put them in a single layer, skin side down on a heavy baking sheet. I then drizzle them with olive oil, followed by a second drizzling of honey (probably a couple of tablespoons of each I’d guess). Topped with some sea salt, ground black pepper, and if I’m feeling really fancy, some fresh thyme leaves scatted about. Then I roast them pretty much all day in a preheated 200ºF oven. I check on them everyone and a while, but for the most part I just let them be. Once they look gooey and caramelized (anywhere form 4 to 8 hours) I take them out and let them cool before bagging them for the freezer. Not of course without eating several spoonfuls fresh. For an even more savory tomato treat, I accidentally discovered the merits of baking them on a roasting sheet that had previously cooked the Sunday morning bacon. Oh my. These gems got a special asterisks on the freezer bag and will be used to flavor rich soups and stews this winter. The rest of them will go on pizza, into sauces, or be eaten on a good chunk on bread with a smear of that delightful chev.

And although it is probably a little late in this year’s season for canning, here are two salsa recipes – one tomato based and the other a tomatillo hot sauce – that I have made and pressure canned (without incident!) for years. But since I am not a USDA food science specialist, and nor can I find any concrete information to back up my recipes, I can’t in good conscious tell you to do the same. I can say however, that these are perfectly safe for the freezer! But for those of you with pressure canners who know what you are doing, I’ll just mutter under my breath 15 minutes at 10 PSI. I stress that any sort of canning (hot water bath or pressure) is not something to take lightly. Being quick, sterile and conscientious is critical at every step. Don’t mess around. Period. I highly recommend investing in a copy of the Ball Blue Book – a thick magazine like book available for about 8 bucks. In addition to loads of recipes it has very thorough instructions for both hot-water and pressure canning.

Thirteen Pepper (plus one more) Salsa

10 pounds of high quality tomatoes
1 pound onions
3 tablespoons salt
13 serrano peppers
1 small habeñero pepper
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and dried

Bring a large stock pot of water to boil. Carefully drop in the tomatoes and let simmer for about a minute. Pour off water and let the tomatoes cool until you can comfortably handle them. Slip off their skins, remove any core and cut the tomatoes into fairly large chunks. I do this right over a colander so any excess seeds and juice drain away. As the colander fills up, drain off as much juice as you can and empty the tomatoes into your cooking pot (I use a stainless 6 quart). Once all the tomatoes are chopped and in the pan get them simmering gently, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, chop the onions and add to the tomatoes along with the slat. Continue to let everything gently simmer, stirring occasionally. I use my trusty Cuisanart food processor to chop my peppers. I remove the stem with a knife and roughly chop them before whizzing them up – seeds and all. If you prefer a more mild salsa, you might want to remove the seeds and ribs from some or all of the peppers and omit the habeñero. I would recommend donning gloves for this job. Pulse the peppers to your desired size. A spoonful of tomatoes from the pot will help this process if you want to get the pepper chunks particularly small. Add the peppers and chopped onions to the tomatoes and simmer until you reach your desired consistency. Depending on how much time I have I will sometimes cook them down a bit for a thicker salsa, or, if I am short on time, I settle for a slightly thinner salsa. Both have their merits. Bring the mixture to a good boil and stir in the chopped cilantro just before putting it in jars (or freezer bags). Yields about 6 to 7 pints, depending on how far you cooked it down)

Dragon’s Milk Hot Sauce
(also known as “AH·HOO·AH” Sauce – a sound that my father coined and is often times involuntarily emitted through one’s lips after eating)

3 pounds high quality tomatillos
2 – 3 medium onions
4-6 cloves garlic
1 small organic lime (juice and zest)
15 hot peppers (I use a variety – jalepeños, orange thai, chillipeños, hot wax, etc.)
5 – 25 habeñeros
1 tablespoon salt

Peel the husks from the tomatillos and arrange them in a single layer on one or two baking sheets. Roast them in a preheated oven at 325ºF for about 25 minutes. I like them oozy and a little bit charred here and there.While the tomatillos roast, you can begin preparing the peppers. (Again, remove the seeds and ribs if you like, but bare in mind that you are making hot sauce after all). Using a food processor or blender, whiz the garlic, lime juice, lime zest, and peppers together. You can also puree the onions in this mixture, but I prefer larger pieces of onion in the finished sauce, so I add them directly to the cooking pot. Once the tomatillos are roasted you can begin dropping them into the puree and pulsing to your desired consistency. I like a fairly smooth hot sauce. The tomatillos will be hot and juicy, so take care not to get spattered. Start transferring the mixture to your cooking pot (I use a stainless 6 quart) when the processor gets full. Once everything is processed to your liking and all in the cooking pot, bring it to a simmer. Add the onions if you haven’t done so already. Bring it to a nice hot boil before jarring (or freezing). Yields about 5 to 6 half pints (since this is hotter and people generally tend to use less of it, I preserve it in smaller portions)

* You can also turn this into a more mild mannered tomatillo salsa by cutting way back on the hot peppers. I think the habeñeros contribute the best flavor, so I would use 4 or 5 seeded peppers total.


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