Saved by the Squees!

Almost nothing about moving from Texas to The Great Northwet struck as deep as chiles, or rather, the sudden lack thereof…

Used to growing a veritable cornucopia of our own, as well as being able to find damn near anything in the store, we were faced with no crop and slim pickings up here.

As the first hints of fall drift in the morning air, we contemplated accepting what was and heading for Whole Foods to grab some long-distance Hatches for a bare bones tied-me-over.

Imagine then our surprise and delight when a package from our dear friends at Neighborhood Gardens arrived from Hackensack MN; we truly had no idea what they’d sent, but knew that every care package was delicious to a T. The Squees moniker, BTW, comes from the fact that our pals Grant and Christie who own and run NG live on Squeedunk Lake up there in Cass Co., MN.

When I cut the first line of tape and the scent of fresh chiles escaped, I couldn’t believe my nose! Digging in further, here we’re bags of Hatch, Jalapeño, Super Chile, Cherry, Poblano, Serrano, and Pasilla, all gorgeous and ready to preserve – Heaven!

How they knew I don’t know, but bless their hearts! If ever there was a ringing endorsement of Community Supported Agriculture, this is it – Fresh, organic, varietal and right on time!

We got busy ASAP, and divided things up for storage; large chiles went to the grill for roasting, and then were vacuum sealed and sent to the freezer. the vacuum sealing virtually assures that no freezer burn will dim the flavor or appearance of these beauties over the long winter months, and they take up a lot less freezer room processed this way. A basic vacuum sealer is very affordable, and even better, this is one of those kitchen gadgets that’s often bought or received and never used, so you can find them cheaper yet on eBay, Craig’s List, etc.

The smaller varieties went into the dehydrator with the thermostat set for 145 F and were dried thoroughly. The chiles can then be vacuum sealed if not needed in short order, or stored in glass jars, out of direct sun; they’ll last a year or two easily.

To use frozen, roasted chiles, just pull them out and let them reach room temperature. It’s generally best to seed, strip membranes and skins prior to use, but if we’re making a sauce that will be blended and strained and the variety isn’t too hot, we’ll just pull the stems and seed base and call it good.

Dried chiles can be tossed into the spice grinder and processed into anything from a rough grind to a powder depending on what you’re making. We keep shakers of fine ground Tabasco and Jalapeño chiles handy at all times, as we find they add a very nice brightness to a myriad of dishes.

If your proposed dish needs the chiles whole and/or reconstituted, just plunk the desired amount into clean, tasty water and allow them to return to their natural state. Depending on how hot the chosen chile is and your desired heat level, you may want to remove stems, seeds and veins prior to soaking. By the same token, you might want to use the tea you infused while rehydrating your chiles as part of a sauce or salsa as well.

As always, be careful when handling hot chiles. Everyone has a different threshold, but prudent and cautious are always the bywords when handling a hot variety like Habanero or Ghost chiles. Always jeep in mind that damn near any variety can and will produce the occasional mutant, so even mild varieties can sometimes back a wallop. It’s always better to be age than sorry, so use gloves, keep your hands away from sensitive body parts after handling, and thoroughly clean any and all tools used in processing chiles.

Google CSA (Your town) and see what’s out the waiting for you!

Thanks again Squees, we love y’all!

It’s Harvest Time!

Well, it hit the low 30s last night and its supposed to be high 20s tonight, so M hit the chiles for the last time this year. In case you were wondering, that, my friends, is a fine chile harvest indeed! So, if anyone tells you that you can’t grow abundant, great veggies on a postage stamp lot, you tell ’em bunk! If we can do it in Cowtown, especially after a summer like this last one, you can do it too!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

State of the Herbs Address

7 pm, north Texas, late July, 107 degrees in the shade, (Too hot in the shade…). Is there a oasis in all this heat? Yep, but it’s still mighty hot – If you don’t move too much, you don’t sweat too much.

Several friends with nice gardens all say the same thing – “It’s so hot, I don’t even want to go out to water…”

Job #1 is balancing water use, remaining responsible given our drought conditions, and the cost thereof, of course – We’re on a city water supply, so it does indeed cost ya. We’ve given up watering the grass out front; the back has none to speak of, it’s all planted in one form or another, the lion’s share of which is veggies and herbs. Our priorities are keeping our foundation moist enough to avoid cracking, then the gardens next, catch as catch can.

So is this possible? Can you grow stuff in heat like this? This question’s not solely pertinent to north Texas, of course. A look at the national weather map today shows 70’s in some coastal and mountain areas, but 80s, 90s and 100+s predominate across the whole shebang. Our forecast for the next week shows projected temps of 105 to 109 for seven days straight…

The answer is yes, but it takes work. We don’t broadcast water anything, no sprinklers, just careful hand watering. We could probably do better with a drip system, but here, anyway, we have to move things from time to time, if they’re not thriving in any given micro-climate – Yes, moving from one small bed to another six feet away can make a difference, for a myriad of reasons.

Monica works her butt off to juggle all this; thank God she has the persistence, expertise and will to do it! Many folks I talk to here and elsewhere ask, “How do you guys still have stuff thriving? Ours has died, even though we watered.” The answer is soil, soil and more soil – We’ve brought literally tons of it to our growing spaces. The so-called ‘top soil’ we had here when we moved in was maybe an inch deep and crap quality. M has built up fantastic beds, tailored to what they grow, (i.e., the chile beds have more lava sand, etc). She also rotates beds, allowing one to lie fallow, in a miniature version of smart farming. One of the larger beds is covered with compost and growing nothing, recovering its potency for the next season.

Here you can see the fallow bed, which is actually about 8′ x 6′ – The cukes have over run it somewhat, but the bed is covered in compost and then she’s stored her spare pots on top of that.

So far, herbs are hanging in there. The cilantro has gone to seed and died, which is fine – We let it do so, then cut the dried stuff and separate the coriander seeds from the chaff. We’ll save some seeds for replanting, (Almost not necessary, as this stuff will come back given a fraction of a chance), and bottling the rest for use. We’ll most dry these, but some will go into infused oils and vinegars as well.

Other than that, we’re moving our herb and spice preserving up in the calendar, rather than letting anything else die. Meal planning and prep shifts a bit also, to take advantage of the soft-stemmed herbs that just don’t dry all that well, Parsley, garlic chive, dill, etc. The Dill and Parsley went first, and although the dried version are a shadow of the real thing in potency and flavor, they still beat the pants off of 90% of what you find in stores, so dry them we do!

Here’s what things look like in general:

The chiles are pretty robust, as you can see – Constant watering causes a micro version of what happens in big fields, water pulling soil away from the plant bases, so she actively mounds them back up periodically.

This small bed held Tabasco chiles, beets and carrots, but the heat is simply too much for those crops. M has transplanted the chiles and abandoned the others, covering the bed with compost awaiting a (Hopefully) cooler fall.

Here are the transplanted Tabascos, much happier than they were, along side tomatoes. M chose varieties that bear small fruit, to allow for less water demand and less stress on the plants; they’re bearing steadily and holding up fine – so far, so good.

Mint is a beast – You don’t grow it, you subdue it… The basil likes this southern exposure under the house eaves and is thriving.

Umm, do ya think these cukes are happy, or what? Insane is more like it… We planted Armenian and Lemon cukes. Both have done, ah, fine, as the second pic confirms. Their water use proves to be just to high to justify, though, so we’ve picked them clean and will let them go fallow.

This beast, which M literally tripped over, shows what I mean – 24″ long, 5.5″ diameter, and 6.5 pound Armenian, with some lemons beside that. We’ve had beacoup salads, Tzatziki, and everything else we can think of, and of course, the neighbors are all supplied as well – Not as ubiquitous and zucchini, but durn close!

Forge on, stay cool, and pray for rain!

Pickling Two – The Sequel…

Had a bunch of gorgeous jalapenos hanging around the fridge, (Summer vacation, you know – They were bored because “there’s nothing for them to do” – Sheesh…). So I did a variation of the quick pickle brine recipe I posted the other day for these beauties – It’s been three days tonight, so they’re coming out with some green chile & chicken enchiladas for dindin!

Pickled Jalapenos

4 Cups Jalapenos, whole, cleaned and topped.
2 Cups white vinegar.
2 teaspoons sea salt.
1 teaspoon granulated sugar.
1 Tablespoon whole peppercorns, (I used our favorite black/red/green/white blend).
1 teaspoon of Dill.
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and quartered.

Bring vinegar and seasonings to a low boil.

Place Jalapenos in a clean, glass container.

Pour hot solution over veggies to cover. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, and 3 days are even better. Kept refrigerated, they’ll last a good couple of weeks, if you don’t devour them first, of course!

We’ll let ya know the verdict after dinner!

Chilled Out Radishes

We love radishes, and always plant a couple of varieties at least. This year, the nice little red and white ones came in well, but it’s been unusually warm and dry, (OK, hot, actually), and the little buggers started getting real hot themselves.

We initially tamed them by blending 50%-50% with sweet onion, but we had a bunch coming in and needed to do something more broad scale.

Our solution? Pickling! After a couple days in the fridge, these came out cool, crisp and tangy – Fabulous in salads, or as part of a nice, fresh antipasto!

Easy Pickled Radishes

2 Cups Radishes, whole, cleaned and topped.
1 Cup white vinegar
2-3 Sprigs cilantro
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Dash of Salt, pepper, onion powder and celery seed

Bring vinegar, salt, sugar and spices to a low boil.

Place radishes and cilantro in a clean, glass container.

Pour hot solution over veggies to cover. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, and 3 days are even better. Kept refrigerated, they’ll last a good couple of weeks, if you don’t devour them first, of course!


Mint, Rosemary, Garlic Chives and Zinnias

Funny thing, some of the herbs that may be considered aggressive from a taste standpoint can also be quite aggressive in their growth habits; stuff we call herbs can spend a great deal of their time engaged in weed-like activity. Basil, Mint, Thyme, Rosemary, just to name a few; these guys will not only grace a nice dish, they’ll make serious inroads on your backyard if ya let ‘em.

Granted, of those, most can be killed if you really go after ‘em. Only mint has survived pretty much every attempt I made to off it: That circumstance came about not because I don’t like the mint, (I do and ours is exemplary), but because it had worked its way under the back door jam and walls and was growing through and out of the house as opposed to merely beside it. Mint, I have come to realize, like bamboo, is never to be trusted…

Point is, all this wonderful stuff will grow for you darn near wherever you live and probably grow well with minimal attention, and as such, you need to grow it. The bottom line here is taste, and when it comes to herbs, as with any seasoning we want to use regularly, the fresher and higher the quality, the better.

Do a little bit of research and find what you can grow yourself; granted, your gardeners up there have herbs, and you can get ‘em, and you should but, you should also grow your own. Even in a cold climate, herbs don’t take up much room and can even be grown indoors during winter months. There is nothing that I know in cooking quite so satisfying as deciding what herbs you need for a dish, and then simply heading out the back door with a paring knife.

This brings us to the not-so-delicate question; “What about stuff from the supermarket?” Answer; what about it? They’re doing a fine job of holding shelves down, so leave ‘em to it… Seriously, even ‘gourmet’ seasonings from a supermarket are suspect to me. At our house, we treat herbs like we do coffee, and frankly, we buy green beans from very well known and trusted sources and roast our own, so…

Granted, you cannot grow everything you want – Just look at this spice cabinet and you’ll see what I mean:

What you see there also tells a few important stories about storing herbs:
1. There are good places to buy herbs you need to check out. fact is, almost all our stuff comes from two sources: World Spice and Butcher & Packer. As far as I am concerned, you rarely need to go further to find dang near anything, and the quality is as good as it gets.
2. How you store your herbs matters a lot. Glass jars with a very good seal are a must: World Spice sells jars, (As you can see from our cabinet) that are a great size and sport a fine seal. For the stuff you grow and process, you’ll want more. If you have a bunch of spice from the store, you can still put it to good use; toss all the spice, wash the jars and re-use ‘em. 😉 If you’re OCD like me, you can buy new jars with tight fitting lids and various shaker tops for not much dough; I got a set of 16 from Amazon for about $12.
3. Herbs are indeed fun to look at, but sunlight ain’t their friend; keep yours in a cool, dry place out of direct sun and they’ll last longer and stay fresher.

Processing herbs is really pretty darn easy, as you’d expect. Drying them is the best trick, of course, so once again, a cheap dehydrator comes in real handy. The sooner you process after harvesting, the better the flavor and punch, of course. Many herbs can be air dried with great success as well, and a few stems of rosemary or whatnot will smell wonderful as they do their thing.

Inspect your stuff for critters and dirt after harvesting. Don’t strip leaves from stems if your herb is a leafy one; dry ’em with minimal stems attached and you;ll get more flavor. For berries, such as pepper, coriander and the like, keep and store ‘em whole; you can whack ‘em into whatever form you need with that spare coffee bean grinder right before you’re ready to use them. Same goes for ordering spices and herbs from World Spice or whomever: You’ll note that they offer to sell pure spices and blends whole or ground – Get ‘em whole and grind ‘em as you use ‘em and you’ll get longer lasting product and better flavor and intensity.

Some herbs lend themselves wonderfully to flavoring oils and vinegars, as I’m sure you know. Rather than buying Tarragon vinegar, grow and make your own; you’ll get much better flavor, quality and satisfaction, guaranteed. Be careful about sanitation when doing these infusions, of course; being sunk into oil or vinegar does not guarantee safe eating!

Oil in and of itself isn’t prone to growing bacteria, but the stuff we may want to infuse in it is, so proper caution is a must: Your greatest possible concern is Botulism, (Botulinum). With that in mind, blending your own stuff and leaving it out for any length of time is not a great idea. If you’re making oils to be used right away, there’s no concern, but again, if you’re planning on keeping it around, ya gotta be careful: The key is water, ‘cause that’s what the bad bug needs to do its thing. If you have your infusing herbs 100% dried out, you’re fine, but realistically, how likely are we to achieve that? The easy solution is to refrigerate, and by so doing, assuming you’ve kept everything clean, you can store your infusions for a week or two without a hitch. Make sure, of course, that you’re using high quality oil and vinegar! If you’re giving stuff away, include a little card to explain to the uninitiated how to store and when to discard.

Vinegar, on the other hand, is a purty fine preservative; if your herbs are clean and fresh, you should be fine making infusions. Again, drying your herbs is best, just to be super safe, if you plan on keeping them around for a while. Although I’ve never seen it said you should do so, I discard anything over a month old, just to be on the safe side, and besides, after a month things are bound to be getting a bit funky, right?

If you’re making mixes of oil and vinegar, then the caution signs go back up, and the more stringent storage and discard rules apply once again.

For my mind, infused oils and vinegars should be predominantly single note creatures, like rosemary or tarragon solo. Simple mixes, following the Rule Of Three, are just fine too. By this, I mean no more than three spice notes; garlic/lime/dill, lemon/sage/rosemary, tomato/oregano/dill, etc. In all flavoring/infusing considerations, a teaspoon of herb/spice to a cup of oil or vinegar is a good starting point, then adjust as you see fit.

And while we’re talking mixes and blends… Checking into World Spice and Butcher & Packer, you’ll find a bunch of blends from all over the world; I encourage you to try some and then extrapolate on your own from that starting point.

Using spices and herbs can be fraught with danger, mostly from the too-much-and-too-many camp! Granted, some things need myriad ingredients to be what they are, black mole, as a fer instance; but if you watch food TV at all, especially something like Chopped, you’ll notice a pervasive and recurrent theme, wherein a competitor loads 12 different spices and herbs and liquors and such into one dish; invariably, the savvy restaurant pro judges always say “WAY too many spices/herbs/flavors/ideas going on here,” and they’re right.

Here’s my basic philosophy on creating and cooking great food; keep these tenets in mind and I think you can’t really ever go wrong:
1. First and foremost, eat and serve the highest quality ingredients you can find and afford; that really is job #1.
2. That said, let the taste, smell, appearance and overall impact of a great food speak; we choose what we do because we want to taste that, not spice covering that or anything else that masks, detracts or otherwise diminishes the taste of great food.
3. Balance a meal sensibly; be it portions or courses, folks like a nice variety and balance to a meal. Think not only about what folks like to eat, but how much and when. It’s actually for my mind much easier to serve big, multi course meals to a lot of folks then a couple, so plan and execute accordingly.

So, when it comes to seasoning, I’ll refer back once again to The Rule of Three; no more than three major notes in any one dish is a great general rule of thumb. Yes, it can and sometimes must be broken, and yes, salt and pepper do count… Is this for real? Yeah, it is. Love the high-end steakhouse taste and wonder what they do differently than you do? Great quality meat, properly butchered, stored and aged, usually nothing more than salt and pepper on it for seasoning, and done quickly over super high heat. Blown away by that green bean amusé bouche; fresh beans, lightly roasted, with butter, lemon, and salt. Crudité radish to die for; salt and good butter. Guacamole got your tongue; salt, lemon, chile; that’s it…

Get the picture? there are classic combos of course; garlic, lime, dill; lemon, thyme, pepper; basil, parsley, pepper; salt, cumin, oregano, and on and on. Pick some favorite notes, try some blending and tasting, and see where it takes you!

Pesto Power

Pesto Power

This just in! Hey E, you got a recipe for pesto to die for, (or kill for – that is, cut down the basil plants)?

OK, wrinkle: how about vegan, i.e. minus the Parmesan?

And, further from tradition, but more in line with folks that just can’t afford $30 a pound pine nuts, how about with walnuts?

My pleasure, buddy; this one’s right in my wheelhouse! When it comes to delicious, nothin’ tops simple and good; like a stripped down tomato sauce from primo fruit, a basic basil pesto is hard to beat. Keep in mind that ‘pesto’ stems from the verb pestâ, to pound, hence pesto can be made from many things other than basil. That said, ya gotta start somewhere and basil pesto is that place!

Classic Basil Pesto
1 well-packed cup of fresh basil leaves
¼ cup Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, fine grated
3 or 5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 small garlic clove, fine diced
Salt to taste

Basil requires gentle handling; it doesn’t care for being doused, so don’t if you don’t need to. Inspect your basil and brush clean of dirt, etc.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, toast pine nuts until they just start to turn golden brown. Don’t walk away during the process; nothing burns faster than nuts!

I use a molcajete for grinding stuff in lieu of a standard mortar and pestle; I like the rough granite texture and find that it gets ingredients to the consistency I like faster and more uniformly than any other hand grinder. Just as guacamole really needs to be made by hand in a molcajete to taste right, so pesto must be ground by hand!

Put basil, toasted nuts, and garlic into your molcajete and gently but firmly grind the ingredients against the wall of the vessel until you get a nice, uniform paste.

Add grated cheese and combine with a fork or spoon.

Add olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the consistency you like; a little more or less is fine, do it the way you wanna eat it!

Add a little salt just to brighten and raise flavors and blend, not to make it salty!

Serve pesto right away, mixed with pasta of your choice, (It’s great with angel hair, or with tortellini, etc.

Recipe makes about a cup of finished pesto.

In keeping with Dennis’ request, a vegan alternative to traditional pesto, aka, a no-cheese version: I’d say a few tablespoons of miso would get you to a very decent alternative!

Now, once again, almost anything goes with a pesto; your main criteria are tastes you like and ingredients that will bind and stay together for service. You can use any nut or cheese you like, and I’d substitute at the same volume as the original recipe calls for.

I’ve done a mint/pecan/feta version that was fantastic, as a for instance. Also, sun dried tomato pesto is spectacular and a real treat; I’ve done that with fresh, (Soft), mozzarella with great success as well.

Bottom line, experiment in small batches and have some fun!

¡Save The Chiles!

Out watering this morning, and I know, since our peppers are very happy, that yours are too! So time for some thoughts on chile preservation. If you get lots of chiles and peppers, (And if you can, you should, plain and simple), you need to think about preserving them. Here again, two time honored methods come into play; drying and canning.

Canning Chiles:

General Notes:
1. If you don’t have canning equipment, ask around, check Craigs list, etc; even in the 21st century, lots of folks have them and of those, most don’t use them!

2. When canning, use good quality cooking or canning salt ONLY, NEVER table salt; table salt is most often iodized and will turn your stuff black and make it taste funky!

3. Best canning vinegar is white, because it does the job and doesn’t add color; be careful with cider or balsamic or anything with color in it, unless you maybe want some, ahhh, unusual color results…

4. ALWAYS practice safe canning; follow sterilization routines to the letter and without fail, each and every time!

5. Always leave enough headspace in your canning jars; 1” for low acid foods like chiles, ½” for high acid fruits and tomatoes, ¼” for jams and jellies and whatnot.

When canning chiles, you have the option of pickling or not; that said, doing them up fresh is gonna require pressure canning capability. Let me say that again; if you choose not to, you MUST pressure can your chiles. Chiles are not a high-acid food, (Like tomatoes for instance), so there are many more opportunities for bacteria to grow in the canned product. If you like your chiles as they are and have the ability to pressure can, then DO, ‘cause this is the best way to preserve great chile taste long-term. If you want to add a little salt for taste ¼ tspn per pint is plenty.

You certainly can roast your chiles and can them that way as well, they are wonderful in cold weather favorites like enchiladas, soups, chili and lots of other things as well.

In all options for canning, pick your best, freshest chiles for the show. Discolored or bruised chiles will likely make mushy canned chiles, and nobody wants that…

Follow the guidelines for your pressure canner, but in general, fresh processed chiles need to reach an internal temp of 240º F and maintain a boil for at least 10 minutes below 1000 ft. in altitude, (Which I believe y’all are all a bit above); add another minute to the boil for each additional 1000 ft.

If you decide to pickle, I strongly recommend brining them overnight. This will help keep them crisp and to maintain their best color. A brine solution of 3 parts water to 1 part salt works well. I use a 5 gallon food-grade bucket and cover it tightly for the process. Make sure you rinse your chiles thoroughly before processing, (As in several times, until they neither feel, smell nor taste salty!)

Also, prick your chiles with a pin before canning, so they don’t collapse on ya.

Here’s a few of my fave variations on the theme for y’all:

Pickled Jalapenos

We LOVE Jalapenos; they are, in fact, our go-to chile here. We use ’em in eggs, salads, almost everything. Good ones have a mild bite and a fresh chile taste that lends it self well to many, many dishes.

1 lb of fresh jalapenos, whole, pricked

Have prepared the following:
¼ cup rough chopped onion
1 cinnamon stick, busted into pieces
2 tbspns mustard seed
2 tspns whole allspice
2 tbspns whole peppercorns
1 tspn whole clove
2 tspns dill seed
2 tspns whole coriander seed
2 tspns whole mace
6 – 8 whole bay leaves, busted into pieces
Optional: 1/4 to 1/2 clove peeled garlic per jar

(Note: This is a good, general purpose pickling mix for dang near anything!)

Prepare a brine solution as follows:
3 tbspns sugar
9 tbspns salt
2 pints water
2 pints 5% vinegar

Toss jalapenos in water at a rolling boil and blanch for a couple minutes, (See below on Blanching!)

Your chiles must be hot when you brine them, so take them right from the blanch and stuff them into jars – not too packed but not too loose; they will lose some volume during processing, so err to the side of full, but leave at least ¾” headroom in each jar.

Divide your pickling spice up by number of jars and spoon even amounts into each, (Just scale your recipe up or back as needed for more or less spice).

Bring the brine to a boil and then carefully pour it into each jar. You want to leave a good 1” of headspace in these jars, it’s very important!

Process for 12 minutes and then set out to cool. These are best if left for at least a month to get acquainted before eating.

Pickled California or Garden Mix

Prepare by cutting into roughly 1” to 2” pieces and chunks:
Chiles of your choice, (Careful, remember heat guidelines!)
Bell Peppers
Small garlic cloves, peeled and halved, (½ to 1 per jar)

Use pickling mix and process as shown above and go wild!

Drying Chiles:

Ever had killer Molé, that food of the Gods from south of the border? IN some of the legendary red and black Molés, say from Oaxaca, might have anywhere from 20 to over 40 ingredients, and you know what the real key to them is, the Corazon? Dried chiles, and that’s no lie. Ancho, Pasilla, Mulato, Chipotle, Guajillo, Costeño, all those famous and mysterious chile names; know what they are? Various forms of dried and sometimes smoked chiles, and that’s a fact. Ancho and Mulato are dried Poblanos, which y’all have, and Pasilla is a dried Chilaca: These three dried chiles are kind of the Big Three for Molés, and you can and should make them yourselves!

Drying chiles ain’t hard, but to get really good, consistent results that will last, taste, smell and look best, I really think you need a food dehydrator. Let’s face it; humidity isn’t something we can control outdoors, or inside all that well. In a pinch, you can use an oven, but it’s really too hot, even on warm. I know folks who have done homemade rigs using light bulbs, but I have safety concerns about that: Fortunately, dehydrators are cheap and also happen to be another thing that many folks have and few use; you should be able to snag a used one quite easily.

To simply dry chiles, set them out with plenty of air space all around and let them dry thoroughly and completely. We have an early rush of Tabasco peppers this year, so I dried a bunch the other day; the smell is outta this world!
To add smoke to dried chiles, I smoke them prior to drying, which you can do too. I have a smoker, of course, (That and a tiny rat dog are required for Texas residency, FYI), so I use that most often. I also have some very high quality smoke powder, made from nothing but water and wood smoke run through it, that I use when I don’t want to smoke, (Like now, when it’s 106 outside, fer instance). I’ll rub the chiles with a little olive oil and sprinkle or roll smoke powder on ‘em, and then dehydrate and there ya go!

Question o’ de Day: What is blanching and why do I care about it?

Great question! 😉

Blanching is the process of plunging stuff into boiling water, (And sometimes steam), very quickly, after which you pluck ‘em out and stuff ‘em under an ice water bath; yes, it is that simple!

The process of blanching is used for several reasons, most importantly that this simple little trick enhances flavor, color and texture of veggies and fruit like nobody’s business: This IS one of those little restaurant tricks that pays big dividends and is super easy to do: Ever been at a nice place and noted how great their simple veggies taste and look and smell so much better than yours at home? Now you know a big reason why…

Blanching also makes peeling a bunch easier for things like tomatoes, peaches, or really annoying stuff like Fava Beans.

Blanching is considered a must-do step in good restaurants prior to serving veggies as a crudité, (Fancy French word for raw veggies served, sliced or whole, as a nice, simple meal course, with a little salt, butter, olive oil, vinaigrette, etc), or if they are to be used later for various dishes, or stored for any length of time.

Blanching and peeling is a great way to treat fruit and veggies that DON’T come from NG or KG, that maybe have been treated with various crap we don’t really wanna eat, capiche? Even if we are working with great veggies or fruit form the gang, blanching and peeling, (When called for), is the way to prepare stuff for freezing: Blanching kills bacteria and also slows down the enzymes that cause stuff to go bad. When blanching to freeze, put a little salt in the blanching water to help further preserve color, flavor and crispness.

Blanching also comes into play when prepping a bunch of things that are gonna go together in a dish, like for a stir fry or pasta dish. Blanching helps the constituents stay crisp and pretty, and don’t get mushed out or lost in other flavors once they’re combined.

Finally, taking the boiling a bit further, we can parboil stuff, (AKA, partially cooked), which speeds up and/or equalizes cooking time for disparate components in a dish; there’s another restaurant secret for ya. This is how stuff like carrots and diced onions come out ‘perfect’ and at the same level of doneness when cooked together.

Big Finale To Bring Everything Together:
Quite a few chiles freeze really well, so don’t discount this method for long-term storage; Every year down here, we get Hatch chiles from New Mexico about this time of year. I split mine between canning, drying and freezing, with the majority roasted. They are the core of winter chile sauces for me, and the frozen ones lend themselves perfectly to a quick menu selection.

While with the roasted chiles, I prefer to leave the skins on for flavor and remove them after thawing, for plain ol’ chiles, you’re best plan is to blanch ’em, skin ’em and freeze away. Here again, glass is way better than plastic!