¡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!

NGKG Chef Q & A

Well, I have made an effort to encourage questions, ‘cause I really do want them, so I sure am not gonna pass any up!

PLEASE DO ask questions, comments, offer suggestions, etc! At the bottom of each post in the blog, you’ll see a little bar that separates the post from the last one; kinda in the middle of that there’s a little line that reads ‘comments’; just click on that to ask a question, make a point or comment, etc: A new window will pop up and you can enter your question there. It may ask if you want to follow the blog and the answer is, of course you do! Following the blog means you get notified when new posts are up, etc.

You can also email me; ebena at sbcglobal dot net, (Do that up in typical email format; I just spelled it out here to avoid spam mail…) OK, so down the river!

Got an email that reads “I keep seeing you use the term “Non-reactive pan” or bowl. What exactly does that mean and why do I care?”

That’s a great question, (And a great reminder not to throw cook-speak around too much, Eben!)

A non-reactive bowl or pan is simply one made of stuff that food won’t react with chemically: Aluminum, copper, brass, cast iron, and plastic should all be considered potentially reactive. At issue isn’t the pan or bowl itself so much as it is what you’re putting inside of them: When cooking with high acid foods, like citrus, tomatoes, vinegar and the like, those foods can react with pans and bowls and leave an off taste in your mouth. There is also some discussion to the effect that aluminum, non-stick, and plastic containers can in fact present health hazards simply by their use, so let’s take a look at that stuff.

When high acid foods are cooked in aluminum, certain aluminum salts can form, and there is some evidence that these salts can lead to dementia and impaired vision; in any case, we don’t want to be ingesting them if we can avoid it, right?

Likewise, food wrapped in plastic or placed in plastic containers has potential problems. Fatty foods like meat and cheese can promote the leaching of diethylhexyl adipate from such films and containers; you may have gotten an email to that effect from a well meaning friend. While the FDA claims that the amount of this chemical we’re exposed to is within safe parameters, I say unto you again, is this really something we want in our food and bodies?
Long and drawn out answer; no.

Quick and dirty nonstick Q & A; is nonstick OK for the kitchen? Answer; if you’re really getting health and environment conscious, no. The most commonly used non stick coating is PTFE, the exact same stuff you find in plumber’s tape; do we really wanna eat that? No. The stuff is applied as fluorocarbon layers to pans; remember the ozone layer? Heating nonstick pans can breakdown flouropolymers into such wonderful things as:
Triflouroacetate, (Harms plants and takes decades to break down)
Polyflourocarboxylic acids, (Removed from Scotchguard ‘cause it’s bad for us).
CFCs, (Ozone layer again).

‘Nuff said? Yeah, I think so…
Do yourself and your world a favor and stick to stainless steel and cast iron cookware, glass and stainless bowls, and glass storage containers. Your body and the environment will thank you, big time!

OK, next question:
“I love the blog, but I can cook too! Can I submit recipes and suggestions?”

Answer: YES, and please do! Sharing and learning is what this is all about! We ain’t the end all to be all of food, just one resource among many, so bring it on!

Massive Cuke Attack!

Hey, y’all;

Got great feedback from the Storology post, including this one:
This is John from King Gardens. Thanks for storology 101–good info for folks who are used to veggies lasting like Twinkies because of preservative sprays. Now that you’ve established yourself as an authority, any suggestions on what to do with the wheel borrow load of cucumbers I just picked?? Would send you a picture if I could figure out how to attach it. Some of them are destined for our CSA dinner tomorrow night. Our subscribers will get a full array of veggies, plus pesto cheese cake, Christy’s bread, and possible a beverage or two. Will definitely schedule around your availability next year! Thanks much for doing this blog!

Well, shoot, BIG thanks, first and foremost, John; it is my pleasure, believe me! And it would be a gas to do some live stuff next year, count on us bein’ there, for sure!

OK, well, THE number one way to preserve Cukes is… Pickles of course! If you can do pickles, you MUST do ’em, ’cause we all know there’s nothin’ better. In fact, pickin’ my tiny brain, I cannot think of any other long-term preservation scheme other/better than pickles, so… Pickles it IS!! I don’t know about y’all, but we LOVE ’em; our fridge always contains 4 or 5 varieties and often more; garlic dills, sweet, sweet & sour, hot, etc, etc – So I say if you’re blessed with the best rough stock there is, make ’em happen!!

As for fresh stuff for the CSA dinner, consider the following:

Cucumber/Tomato/Basil salad: 1 to 1 to 1/2, w/ balsamic vinaigrette.
Cucumber Salad: Just cukes, onions, a little parsley or cilantro, oil & vinegar.
Fresh Cuke Pico: Add tomatoes, onions, peppers, chiles and…
Cuke-Mango Salsa: 3 to 1 Mango to Cuke, add jalapeno, onion, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper…
Cuke salad: 5 parts cukes, 1 part onion and bell peppers, salt, pepper, olive oil & vinegar to taste.

Bet some or all of those would float yer boats, eh?



Storology 101

It has been brought to the Chef’s attention that some of y’all might like a few words on care and storage of produce and herbs and such; here goes…

Ok, first and foremost, as you should know, your veggies from The Neighborhood and King’s gardens comes to you without pesticides or herbicides on them; that said, all you really need to do upon receiving them is a quick rinse and inspection for bugs and dirt. The best way to wash veggies is The Restaurant Way; fill a sink with cool water and dunk stuff while agitating gently; this allows dirt and such to fall to the bottom, leaving your goodies nice and clean. Lift your bounty out of the water and dry gently on cloth or paper towels.

Most nice, fresh veggies really don’t care for the fridge, truth be told: Hardier stuff and the most delicate will do fine there; carrots, celery, lettuce and such, but onions and tomatoes and potatoes don’t really like it there and will suffer in relatively short order. It is always best policy, when getting beautiful fresh produce like you are, to use as much as possible right away, and properly store or preserve anything left over. With produce, we’re generally talking about drying and canning as best storage process; if you’re gonna get great stuff, why not make it available all year ’round, right? Face it, our not-too-distant ancestors spent a lot of time canning and preserving, and we’d all do well to learn from that. If you’re getting this wonderful stuff, you obviously enjoy great food, so if you don’t have the ability to can and dry properly, get it and use it; you’ll thank yourself profusely come January or so…

Herbs will store best if left dry, so don’t wash those until you’re ready to use them. Most herbs will do well in about 40 to 45 degrees; if you are blessed with a cool cellar or basement, take advantage of that; if not, and your fridge has a decent crisper, then store your herbs in a clean container, (We use glass, to avoid excess plastic and for taste). Herbs stored thus should be fine for about a week or so; any longer than that and taste and appearance are gonna suffer!

At all cost, avoid cold spots in your fridge if you store this way! Some of our fave herbs, such as basil, (And lemon verbena), don’t like cold at all and will turn black below 40 degrees! The hardier varieties, like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, (Hey, there might just be a song there…), will do fine for a couple weeks, but again, the more delicate ones will definitely not do so well.

Herbs kept dry don’t really need to vent, and will do great in airtight conditions; if yours are wet, then the special veggie bags or containers with air valves will do best. I know some folks like the wrap-it-in-wet-paper-towel concept, but truth be told, it will rob flavor and invite spoilage. Since Monica and I are blessed with fresh herbs out back almost year ‘round, we do use the stand ‘em up in a glass container of water method, and you can too, but only if you’re sure you’re gonna use those guys within two or three days; much more than that and things will get funky, even if you change the water.

Of course for long-term, (AKA over winter) storage, nothing beats drying of herbs and even your favorite produce. Home driers are cheap and do a decent job, and will allow you to enjoy your favorites right through the Dark Ages. As a for instance, we use some of our chiles that are coming ripe now, and dry some for later – The drying process makes your house smell great too! Store dried herbs in air tight glass containers for best results and do not chill or freeze; they’ll be happier at room temp in a nice clean jar. Try drying onions, cilantro, and tomatoes as well as peppers and chiles; they’re a real treat later on! All your herbs can be dried easily; field strip your stuff down the to the form you want for use, (i.e., remove Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Cilantro or Mint leaves from stems, check them for bugs and dirt, and then go ahead and dry ‘em up.

Nothing in the world beats fresh herbs for great cooking, but in the dead of winter, believe you me; the difference between herbs you’ve chosen and preserved yourself and the crap that comes on a grocery store shelf is night and day – You’ll be super happy with the results, and you’ll get that nice little flash of memory back to the summer days when you made it all happen, too!

Holy CRUD!

Just made my fave breakfast, a couple eggs with cilantro, onions, tomatoes and chiles on top, and…


Got surprised by a chile, because I didn’t check carefully enough prior to cooking with them, like I told y’all to do! Ten minutes later and I am still sweating profusely…

Before cooking with them, I bit the end off of one and tasted it – Not hot, so off I went – NOT a smart game plan; I love heat, but when it’s so hot you can’t taste or eat comfortably, it’s TOO hot!

So, a couple more points about chiles:

Tasting for heat: The very end is gonna have the least amount of heat; it’s farthest from the membrane and seeds, so, duh, Eben, not a good test. Chopping off the top, wiping a finger over the seeds and touching that to your lip will tell you what you got.

Respect the variety: What I used this am was a Serrano; they ARE generally hot, so I should have expected hot, and not been fooled by a bad test.

Field Strip ’em:
Membranes and seeds out, plain and simple!

Sweeten their temper: Soak field stripped chiles in a bath of 2 tblspns sugar dissolved in 2 cups of water; it won’t impact the taste profile much and it does help chill ’em out a tad.

If all else fails: Do what I did, pick the little buggers out, add some sour cream and mild tomato salsa, and let those help cool things off.

Oh, and bring lots of paper towels to the table with ya…

Classic Bruschetta

OK, well tomatoes are coming, and I have seen the variety and tasted the quality, so y’all are up for some wonderful treats! We’ll start into tomato dishes with a classic Bruschetta, perfect for a summer evening.

Classic Tomato Bruschetta

3 or 4 ripe tomatoes of your choice
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tblspns extra virgin olive oil
1 tblspns balsamic vinegar
3 or 4 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade cut
Salt and pepper to taste

To chiffonade:
Stack your leaves so they’re all lined up the same way. Now roll the leaves into a nice, tightly rolled bundle. Start at one end with a sharp parking knife and make cuts clean through the roll, about 1/8″ apart – The tighter the roll, the finer your cut – You can go thinner than an 1/8″ as you see fit!

1 loaf of Focaccia, Ciabatta, or French bread

scald your tomatoes by dropping them in water that you’ve just brought to a boil and then removed from the heat. Let ’em sit for about a minute and then pull ’em out and pat ’em dry. use the edge of a paring knife to peel the skins off the ‘maters.

After you’ve skinned ’em, cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the centers and seeds. Now cut your bounty into a rough 1/4″ dice.

Combine the minced garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil in a non-reactive bowl, toss to coat everything thoroughly, cover and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Slice your bread into nice, grab-able slices and arrange on a cookie sheet. Brush each slice lightly with extra virgin olive oil and put ’em under your oven broiler until golden brown.

Keep the bread and bruschetta separate, so that folks can spoon up their own, and to keep the bread from gettin’ soggy.

Serve with a nice, cool bottle of white wine and enjoy!

Gotta have Tzatziki!

If you’ve never had Tzatziki sauce before, we’ve got a real treat in store for you! Here is one of the finest uses for cucumber and a wonderful, cool sauce for summer dishes. In Greek restaurants, its often served with lamb, but I’m here to tell y’all that Tzatziki is excellent on eggs, fantastic on flat bread, pleasant on poultry, and beautiful on burgers; in other words, like hot sauce, it’s good on durn near everything!

Classic Tzatziki Sauce

1 8 oz container of Greek Yogurt, (You can use regular too)
1 med cucumber
2 tbspn olive oil
Juice from 1/2 to 3/4 lemon, (Your taste)
1 tspn dill, chopped fine, (You can also use mint instead)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste

Line a colander or strainer with paper towel and drain your yogurt for around 30 minutes, (Critical step to avoid runny Tzatziki).
Peel, seed and grate cucumber.
Combine everything and mix well by hand, (Blending or processing makes your yogurt break down).
Place in a non-metallic bowl and refrigerate, covered for 2 hours.
Serve chilled

For a first taste, try it with lightly toasted pita bread and a little crumbled feta cheese – εύγευστος! (Delicious!)


Great Summer Salad

We’re enjoying Reuben sandwiches tonight with homemade pastrami and homemade thousand island dressing. They’re great, but you really want a nice light salad as a counterpoint, and to help break up the heavier flavors of the sandwich. Here’s what Monica came up with. For the record, we used lemon cukes and roma tomatoes from our garden; y’all use whatever the gang provides that floats your boats!

Cucumber Tomato Salad

For the salad, prep and combine in a non-metallic bowl:
2 Med. cucumbers; peeled, seeded and sliced thin.
1 large tomato; cored, seeded and 1/4″ diced
1 tspn minced shallot
1/4 cup chopped garlic chives

Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon, (As you prefer!)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbspns olive oil
2 tblspn white balsamic vinegar, (You can also use rice or apple cider vinegar)
1 tblspn cold water

Whisk dressing briskly, then add to veggies and toss to thoroughly coat veggies; let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes

Shred a bed of lettuce/greens of your choice.
Spoon salad over greens, garnish with feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.