Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em! Anaheim Chili-Corn Relish

My friend Jennie gave me a grocery bag full of gorgeous Anaheim chilies from her garden.  She also gave me a bag of pared jalapeño peppers she wanted smoked so she could make some jalapeño mustard (more on homemade mustard, later).   I decided to smoke the Anaheims along with the others peppers on the grill with its maximum surface area and easier reach than the cylindrical smoker.  Peppers are small and will burn to a crisp in a short time if not tended a lot.

I let them smoke at a low temperature for about an hour, then turned up the heat to blister the skins.  It was my initial thought, once skinned and seeded, to freeze them for use in making chili relleños.  Then I realized that we really don’t eat them at home.  I rarely deep-fry foods, and really, I like to use things in a variety of ways that gets the most out of the flavor without boring us to death.  I am not one of those “If it’s Wednesday, it’s Prince Spaghetti Day” types.

Thus the idea of canning them began to roll around.  And while that idea rolled around in my head, half a dozen ears of corn were rolling around on the grill with the apple wood.  And so the two items became one.  Romantic, eh?  Heres what I came up with for a recipe:

75 Anaheim chilies, smoked, skinned, seeded and chopped
Corn from 4 smoked/roasted ears, removed from the cob
6 bell peppers – I used an heirloom variety with a beautiful garnet-bordering-on-chocolate color, seeded and chopped
1 yellow onion, pretty finely chopped
1 tsp canning salt
1 Tbsp Celery Seed
3 Tbsp Cumin
4 ounces Lime juice.  I used bottled
About a cup of apple cider vinegar – enough to provide a nice liquid for the relish without turning it into salsa.

Into a pot the ingredients went to be heated and poured into sterilized jars and processed in a water bath for 15 minutes.  This amount made 7 half-pints and 2 pints.

This relish is going to look and taste fantastic this winter, topping some chicken, cheese, or vegetable enchiladas, or added to corn muffins, or tossed in with some black beans, or chili, or baked eggs.  The Anaheims pack just enough heat to warm the body and the soul!

By Request – Polenta with Apples

It was a couple years ago, about this time of year.  It was time for the monthly FPCe Women’s Group gathering, and it was a cool, crisp, late-summer evening such as this.  I wanted to make something apple-y, in celebration of fall, and I had a TON of apples to use up.  So, apple cobbler came to mind first.  But shoot!  At least three of the women in the group were not able to eat gluten.  Being a gluten glutton, myself, I did not have any of the many flours and things needed to make a gluten-free dough.  What to do, what to do?

Oatmeal, I thought.  I can make oat bars with apple filling!  Yeah, nice try.  Still need wheat flour for that.  Rice pudding?  Maybe.  If only I had enough eggs.  Crap!  Then I thought of polenta.  Normally I make polenta with a combination of broth and milk.  And most people think of it as a savory item.  But why not?  Corn cakes are often sweet.  Here in Appalachia, old-timers eat fried mush with sorghum molasses or maple syrup, right?  Why not polenta?

Rather than cooking the polenta with milk, I decided to use apple juice that I had canned.  Polenta calls for a grain to liquid ratio of anywhere from 1:3 to 1:6, depending how thick you want it.  I wanted it pretty thick, so I cooked 2 cups of polenta with a quart of apple juice, and just a quarter cup of 1/2 and 1/2 for fun.  I also added about a teaspoon of cinnamon.

While that cooked, I chopped ten or so apples to get about 8 cups of pieces.  I wanted the apples to be small, but not so small that they would turn to mush when cooked.  So, about 1/2 inch pieces worked well.

I melted 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in my big cast iron skillet and added about 1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, and another 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  I like to heat my spices first to get as much flavor out of them as possible.  The kitchen smelled like a bear hug!

I tossed in the apples and 1/4 cup each molasses and honey, and cooked the apples until they were just getting tender.  By that time the polenta was done.

I poured the polenta into a baking dish – 9X13, greased – and poured the cooked apples over that.  Then I made a fairly traditional crumble topping, but without the flour that you would normally use.  I chopped a cup of walnuts in the food processor, took half of them out and processed the rest until it was almost like flour.  Back in went the larger pieces, along with 1/3 cup brown sugar, more cinnamon, 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter that I had diced, and 1/2 cup oats.  The pulse setting turned that into a nice crumbly topping.

That went over the apples, which went into a 350ºF oven for about 20 minutes, just enough to get the apples fully cooked and their juices bubbling up through the oat-walnut topping.

It was pretty tasty – an earthier taste than a normal cobbler, but also more substantial.  It went over well at the gathering, and Mr. Dewey took care of the rest.  He’s good for that.

NOTE: if you really need to make sure this is completely gluten free, be certain the oats are gluten free.  Some oats are processed in the same facilities as wheat, and so can contain trace amounts of gluten; enough to affect a Celiac or someone with severe gluten sensitivities.

Buggy for Broccoli

My friend Dan made a comment today, as a result of my post on sauerkraut, about wanting pesticide-free organic red cabbage.  My first thought when I read the comment was “yeah, me too.  I can live with a bug or two in my kraut if it means not poisoning myself and the environment.”

And this thought led to a memory too good to not share.

Many years ago, on our Ma’s farm, on a mid-summer night, Ma asked me to go cut some broccoli for dinner.  It was done.  I brought it in, and she rinsed it well, pulled out 7 or 8 little green worms, and tossed it into a pot of boiling water.  A few more little worms rose to the top of the water.  She pulled them out.  Nothing unusual there.

That broccoli was incredible.  It tasted like the first broccoli ever.  Like the first bite of real food after 15 months in space must taste to an astronaut.  That fresh-from-the garden, pesticide-free broccoli is the only thing I remember from a meal that I know included something like juicy, tender ham with red-eye gravy, biscuits, and who knows what else.  I think my brother, Eric, ate two-thirds of the bowl, himself.

That broccoli was so good that the next night we knew we would be eating more of it.  So out to the garden I went for another batch.  This time, though, my sister Karin, and her youngun’s were over.  I brought the broccoli in and once again, Ma started to rinse it.  But wait!  Sister had a trick!  “Lemme show ya, Ma, how to get the worms out real quick.”

She filled the sink with water and added a good palmful of salt to it, mixed it around, and plunged the broccoli in.  Before our eyes, worm after worm after worm floated to the top of the water.  There were 50 of them, if I remember correctly.  I think one of us weirdos actually counted.  A good trick!  Onto the stove went the broccoli, and another of Ma’s fabulous farmhouse feasts was set before us.  In comes Eric, who proceeded to set to and tuck in, going for the broccoli first.

He took a couple of bites of the broccoli, ruminated as he, well, ruminated, and then asked, “Did you do something different?  It just doesn’t taste as good as it did last night.”  I thought Ma was going to stop breathing – she was laughing so hard.  She and I were the only two who knew what had happened the night before.  We confessed.  We knew it wouldn’t bother him, or any of us, to think that we had eaten, oh, probably 7 or 8 worms apiece the night before.  After all, this was the guy who ate a Daddy Longlegs off the wall outside the high school cafeteria, once.

So, the next time you enjoy your pesticide-free produce, think of the added protein you’re likely getting, and enjoy!

 

The Sweet Joy of Sauerkraut

I am canning sauerkraut today, for the first time.  I’ve made it several times, but never in a quantity great enough to warrant canning.  I’m excited about it.  It will go very nicely with the cubed pork tenderloin I canned earlier this year.  Now, on busy evenings when I am late in getting home, or just don’t have the supplies, mental of physical, to make supper, I will be able to open a pint each of kraut and pork, and with the addition of a few crushed juniper berries, and either potatoes or dumplings, will have a fantastic supper for two, with enough left over for a lunch for Mr. Dewey.

“Did she say ‘Dumplings’?”

Yes. Yes, I did.  It is a dish Mr. Dewey said his mother made when they were kids.  I was skeptical.  Of course I grew up on Chicken and Dumplings.  It never occurred to me that dumplings could go anywhere else, much less on something as exotic as sauerkraut.  As a matter if fact, it seemed WRONG.  Almost insulting; like ketchup on oatmeal.  So, I resisted.  Finally, one night, I tried it.

I am hooked.  The juniper berries were an inspiration.  I simply can’t leave well enough along.  And that is sometimes a good thing.

But, I digress.  I am canning homemade sauerkraut.  It is easy to make at home.  Sandor Katz, author of “The Art of Fermentation,” makes the process of fermentation almost playful.  So, I played.  With the old, cracked crock I found at the Tree Streets sale a couple of years ago, and with a couple of large glass jars; those big olive or pickle jars that you find in the “Institutional” section of the grocery store.  I had purchased a giant jar of dill pickles, and ended up tossing out the pickles once about three-quarters of them molded in the fridge.  Ah well; so much for that idea.  At least I got a great jar for making a couple pints of kraut.  The cracked crock was rendered useable, thanks to Katz, with the application of melted food-grade wax in the cracks on the outside.  If I can get a few more uses out of it that way, great!  So, I started a jar for Mike, one for us, and the crock for canning.

The kraut in the jars was ready to eat in only a few weeks.  The larger crock took about 5.  But it was no work at all.  The only thing to do I did was unscrew the caps on the jars every day so gas didn’t build up and cause an explosion, and check the crock to make sure there was nothing unsightly growing around the edges.  I’d pull a few strands of questionable looking kraut off the edges, and put the plate and dish towel back over the top.

And now I have nine pints of goodness – complete with probiotics for digestive happiness (from that which I did not can)- bubbling away on the stove.

Welcome to My Morning

Since Mr. Dewey works nights, and I work part-time in the afternoons, we often have the opportunity to luxuriate over brekkist.  Over the last couple of years I’ve worked on expanding my brekkist menu to incorporate a variety of ingredients, nutrients, and just plain old good stuff.  We eat a lot of eggs.  I don’t worry about cholesterol because we buy organic, fresh eggs from friends who raise chickens when possible, and from our local Earth Fare the rest of the time.  Organic eggs have less cholesterol, and more healthy fats than “normal” commercial eggs – and less guilt, too, when they are from free range chickens.  However, we do occasionally use an egg substitute, in the form of tofu.  I first tried tofu for breakfast years ago, using a product called “Tofu Scrambler.”  It was tasty, but at about $2.80 a box (two meal), it seemed too expensive for me.  So, I played around with flavors and came up with a pretty tasty version without the packaging and expense.

First, I finely chop a bit of onion – maybe 2 tablespoons – and sauté that in olive oil.  When the onions start to soften, I add a teaspoon or so of chopped garlic, maybe half a teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander, fresh black pepper, and a good tablespoon or more of turmeric.  This gets stirred around until it forms a nice paste and fills the kitchen with the smells of, well, heaven.  I will often add a pinch of salt, simply because the turmeric can taste a little bitter, and the salt cuts that back a bit.  I also add whatever veggies I have on hand at the time.  Some favorites are shredded zucchini, mushrooms, sweet peppers, carrots, arugula – whatever.  I typically don’t add tomatoes because they produce a lot of moisture, which can make the dish a little soupy.  Sometimes I will add a diced plum tomato after the dish is cooked, just for fun.

Then I drain and crumble an 8 ounce package of sprouted tofu and add it, stirring well so all those wonderful spices mix in.  Turmeric’s color makes the dish resemble scrambled eggs, too.  It’s a healthy, tasty and easy breakfast, and a great way to use up little dabs of vegetables.

Beans!

Beans are great.  They are flexible.  They are nutritious.  They are cheap as dirt when you buy them dried and cook them yourself.  But, they take forever to cook.  You really need to plan ahead.  And you probably don’t want the stove going for four hours when it’s 90°F outside.  Well, I don’t.

Store-bought cans of beans can be pricey – especially the organic brands.  And the cheap, store-label brands can be pretty mushy.  You open a can of beans thinking you’re going to toss them with a little dressing, some fresh veggies, and garlic and have a nice salad, and you end up with refried bean paste mush.  Yum!

That’s why I started canning my own.  In the time it takes to cook a pot of beans for chili or soup beans, I am able to put 7 quarts or 10 pints on the shelf.  And I can reuse the jars.  And they are perfect, whether I want them for soup beans, salad, or if I really do want refried bean paste mush.

I do pinto beans and garbanzo beans in quarts.  One quart of pintos is perfect for a nice big pot of chili that will feed 6.  That size is also perfect for a dinner of soup beans and cornbread for Mr. Dewey and I.  Not so much left over that you get sick of eating them before they’re gone.  A quart of garbanzo beans makes a perfect amount of hummus, too.

The black beans go in pints.  I can add a pint to my chili if I want, or toss them with veggies, a little cumin, coriander, and garlic, and make burritos, enchiladas, and so forth.  The canning process makes them perfect for cold salads, too.  They stay firm and pretty, but are perfectly cooked.

And they cost about a quarter the amount of store-bought canned beans, including the cost of the energy to process them.

Tonight I tossed a can of black beans in with some leftover rice, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeños and garlic from the garden, and just for fun added a quart or so of roasted veggies I had on hand.  Plenty of cumin, coriander, garlic, and we had a great vegetarian dinner for a cool, late summer evening.

How Do You Stretch a Duck?

We have a little bitty Farmers Market in town, and a larger, growing one in Johnson City, and a decent one in nearby Jonesborough.  It makes me happy to see them growing.  But on occasion, Mr. Dewey and I will drive across the mountains, over the state line, and into Abingdon, to their Saturday morning Farmers Market.  We make a day out of it – bracketing it with brekkist at Zazzy’z and a nice walk on the Creeper Trail with Chester.  In addition to produce, they have craftspeople selling their wares and a larger selection of locally raised, free-range meats and poultry.

One day a few years ago, in early Autumn, I purchased a frozen duck from a farmer who raises heirloom varieties.  It was pricey – $28 for a 3 pound bird.  But I wanted to give it a try.  I like duck.  My sister, Karin, raised Muscovies on her farm in Wisconsin.  They were delicious; moist but not greasy, and with a flavor more exotic than chicken or turkey, but not musky.  So home we went with our duck and a few other fun things.

Here’s Daffy after a few hours in the smoker.

So, now that I had a 3-pound bird, what would I do with it?  Sure, I could simply roast it, or grill it, and have dinner, but in one meal, the duck would be gone.  I wanted to stretch it out a bit.  And, being newly graced with a smoker, which I had gotten in trade for an extra iPod stereo player we had, I decided to give that method a go.  With 5 apple trees, we had the perfect wood at hand.  After the duck was smoked, I carved it and wrapped it in phyllo dough, layered with some sautéed leeks from the garden.  Baked in a hot oven just long enough to give the phyllo a crisp, brown exterior, I had a dozen lovely packets.  Served with a salad or light soup, my duck would be stretched out to 3 meals for Mr. Dewey and I.

My last adventure related to the duck was to create a sauce for the packets.  Feta cheese comes to mind whenever phyllo dough is mentioned, but I wanted something that would complement, not override the flavor of that applewood smoked meat.  It just so happened that I had made another exploratory purchase at the Farmers Market: Autumn Olives.  Also known as Autumnberries, they grow wild in the mountain forests all around us, and are considered a bit of a nuisance plant.  It was simple enough to cook them down and run them through a sieve, adding just a little sugar and some lemon juice to preserve their bright color.  A sauce was born!

We keep missing the duck guy when we go to Abingdon, so I have not repeated this meal since that first adventure.  But the next time we see him, we will get his card!

Smoked Duck and Leek Packets with Autumn Olive Sauce.