September 19, 2012 § 5 Comments
Peppers. Vinegar. Salt.
If you are from Louisiana, you have strong feelings about hot sauce. Lester is from Louisiana. While the outside world may think that Tabasco is the king of hot sauce because of its strong brand familiarity and market presence around the country, we personally (and many others from around New Orleans) find it too vinegary and prefer the stronger pepper taste and decreased sourness of Crystal. Look at the label: Crystal lists “aged cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, salt.” That’s it. In that order. That means the peppers outweigh the vinegar. In Tabasco, vinegar comes first. So on this family’s table, you are going to find a bottle of Crystal every time. Or would, if they sold Crystal up here… That’s the problem with a Southern boy falling in love with a wannabe-New-Englander, and I owe him forever for dragging him up here and away from the land of crawfish boils. So when the CSA offered up some gorgeous hot peppers (“take as many as you like”), I set out to create something that even if it isn’t the same taste of home, is at least a hot sauce just the way we like it.
Peppers Come First Hot Sauce
based on Emeril’s recipe but even more simplified, and scaled up to 4.5 cups of hot sauce.
about a pound of hot peppers of your choice, stemmed and (optional) seeded and membranes removed, chopped into 1/4″ slices – I wound up with 8.7 ounces cherry, 3.7 ounces ancho, 2.45 ounces red jalapeno, and one single habanero (I chickened out)
1-1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 cups water
12 ounces distilled white vinegar
Combine the peppers, garlic, onions, salt and oil in a non-reactive saucepan over high heat. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the water and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until peppers are very soft and almost all of the liquid has evaporated. (Note: this should be done in a very well-ventilated area!) Remove from the heat and allow to steep until mixture comes to room temperature. In a food processor, puree the mixture for 15 seconds, or until smooth. With the food processor running, add the vinegar through the feed tube in a steady stream.
Taste and season with more salt, if necessary. (This will depend on the heat level of the peppers you use as well as the brand of vinegar used.) Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and then transfer to a sterilized pint jar or bottle and secure with an airtight lid. Refrigerate. Let age at least 2 weeks before using. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
August 5, 2012 § 8 Comments
the first eggplants – ratatouille time!
It was one of those weeks work-wise, and we had some fun too that took us out of the house at mealtime. There is not much I like better than fresh summer corn on the cob, yet somehow we managed to still have neglected ears all boiled and foil-wrapped in the fridge waiting for some love at the end of the week.
Thank goodness for this recipe (see also this recipe) and a cast iron skillet. I adapted things a little bit to avoid turning on the broiler and to fit what I had pepper-wise. This recipe also didn’t call for fresh cilantro, which is good because my first sowing of seedlings totally evaporated into thin air and my second sowing of seedlings is still cilantro-babies.
(Pan) Roasted Corn Salsa
adapted from Marisa McClellan’s
3 half-pints plus a little extra
- four ears of corn, or about 1.5 cups of kernels
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes – I halved or quartered all my ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes from the garden and a couple miscellaneous Tumbling Tigers and New Yorkers
- 1/2 cup chopped white onion
- 1 diced jalapeño*
- 3/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground or crushed
- 3/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 T lime juice
- 1/3 cup sugar (or less, to taste*)
I had already boiled my corn, but you could start from raw. Stand the cobs up on a cutting board or in a shallow pan, with a corn cob holder on the top end if you have it. Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife – serrated worked well for me. Roast them in a dry skillet for a few minutes, stirring only every couple of minutes, until the kernels are browned on a few sides. Then you just mix in all the rest of the ingredients (in another pan, not your cast iron skillet), bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, and water bath process for 15 minutes with 1/2 inch headspace.
The salsa turned out beautiful and tangy. *It was too sweet for my taste so I would reduce the sugar next time, and it wasn’t super spicy but my little pepper plant had only put out the one jalapeño so far. Huevos rancheros!
And then our next box came and we got more corn. And I was too tired after a long day at work to fire up the grill. And then my work schedule got even worse, so those new ears sat on the counter… and sat… and sat… until they were looking a little dry and shrively. Oh, the shame. I figured I could at least try to plump up those kernels again, even if they would never be as good as they once were. Maybe I’ll boil them…
Roasted Corn and Shrimp Chowder
adapted from Mark Bittman
six to eight servings
- six ears of corn, plus I pulled out the four leftover cobs I had in the freezer from the salsa
- 4 T butter, oil, or a mix
- 1/2 an onion
- 4 T flour
- 1 pint cream
- about 2 tsp Cajun spice mix – purchased, or make your own with help from everyone’s favorite New-Englander-turned-Southerner – bam!
- 1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled – optional
Cut the kernels off and roast them as above. Meanwhile, cover the cobs with water in a large stockpot and bring it to a boil. Boil for about thirty minutes, then let it sit until you are ready to make the rest of the soup. Sweat the onions in the butter in a large pot until they are soft. Add the flour and stir constantly for a few minutes to take the raw edge off, then add the cream and the corncob stock minus the cobs (I had about six cups but use however much you have, you can always adjust later). Add the Cajun spice mix – I used about 2 tsp of mine, but taste as you go to get the right spiciness and saltiness. Bring the soup to a boil, and add the roasted corn kernels, stirring to make sure the flour is fully dissolved. The soup will thicken a bit, and it will boil up easily because of the cream. Bring it back down to a simmer and let it simmer for as little as 10 minutes or as long as you want to get it to the thickness you like – this is where you can let some of the water boil off if your stock was thin, but mine worked just fine as is. Add the shrimp just before serving and cook just until pink.
This New Orleans variation on a classic corn chowder was right up our alleys (Lester is a Southern gentleman, after all, but New England is home now) and made up for neglected corn. I am sure it would be extra amazing with fresh ears, or even frozen. And yes you can make it healthier and even vegetarian or vegan by nixing the shrimp and the cream but sometimes when it’s summer produce season you have to celebrate.
What do you do with past-its-prime corn?
June 18, 2012 § 5 Comments
Our favorite restaurant in Lester’s hometown of New Orleans is Boucherie. They do amazing new takes on Southern classics and everything is just really, really good. Case in point: smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle. It was the first time I had ever had watermelon pickle, but since it was Boucherie one taste was enough. I had to try pickling my own, and I wanted to put my own spin on this Southern classic too. This recipe is based on the Gingery Watermelon Pickle from The Joy of Pickling, which has not one but three watermelon pickle recipes. I stuck close to her technique but made up my own spice mixes: one more Southern, and one more Asian-influenced. Unfortunately a number of my spices were ground, not whole, and weren’t super fresh (my mother would not approve), so keep that in mind as you make up your own syrups and consider changing the measurements accordingly.
Now you know why I had so much watermelon.
rind of one 12-15″ spherical watermelon: about 12 cups of rind (3 quarts)
8 cups of water (2 quarts)
6 oz kosher salt by weight – the original called for half a cup of pickling salt (8 tablespoons) so I used 1 tablespoon pickling salt by volumes = 3/4 oz by weight
7 whole star anise
1.5 inch piece ginger thinly sliced
1 tsp whole cardamom
1 tsp whole coriander
1 cup white vinegar plus 1.5 T (because this one didn’t have lemon)
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar
1T ground cinnamon
1/2 lemon thin sliced
1 tsp whole mustard
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar
1. Prepare the rind. The easiest way for me was to quarter the whole melon, peel the green part off with a vegetable peeler, and then slice the quarter into smaller slivers and cut out the pink flesh for another use. Cut the rind (the white part) into about one-inch squares.
2. Soak rind in salt water for eight hours with a plate on top to keep it submerged.
3. Rinse and drain twice.
4. Make syrup, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. I put the spices in tea filter bags, which completely fell apart. You should use cheesecloth.
5. Remove from heat, add rind, soak in syrup for 24 hours with a plate on top. I had only about 8 cups of rind at this point.
6. Bring to a boil then simmer until the rind is translucent – this took about two hours!
7. Fill jars with rind then add syrup to cover with 1/2″ headspace. Process for ten minutes.
In the end this only made 2 pint jars (4 cups) plus another cup or so for the fridge. Any other watermelon picklers out there who can comment on this low yield? Did I cook it too long? Do you fill your jars with rind and then add syrup or do you just pour it all in?
At this point I was pretty disappointed that I had gone to all that trouble of peeling and slicing and soaking and boiling and only had these two pints. I was also worried about how cloudy my brine was, because of having ground spices and having the spice bags explode. I doubted myself: I had only tasted watermelon pickle once, and here I was making it myself, and I didn’t know if it looked right, and what if it turned out mushy and awful? I fretted as the jars rested on the counter and I listened for that “ping ping” of the lids.
But then things started to look up. I actually tasted my second-ever and third-ever watermelon pickles. And they were delicious! Somehow they stayed just a bit crisp despite all that boiling. And I had worried they would be too bland and syrupy-sweet but the flavor of each of the two batches was actually very complex. I think the Asian one would be really interesting with a plainly grilled fish, rice, and bok choy. And the Southern one is going with some kind of smoky fatty pork, of course. Conclusion: do not doubt your pickling abilities until you open a jar and taste. But still use whole spices.
Then things started looking up even further. I realized that the sweet, spicy brine is basically a simple syrup, but with vinegar instead of water. It turns out this is actually a legit cocktail ingredient (more often made with fruit) called a shrub syrup, also known as a drinking vinegar, and that shrub cocktails with homemade or artisanal syrups are making a big comeback on the cocktail scene. Not that I would know, because I don’t know anything about cocktails. Anyway, I mixed the leftover Southern Syrup including the almost-candied lemon slices with cognac (because I had some on hand for Julia’s French onion soup) and a squeeze of lemon juice for a nice Southern cocktail with layers of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. I’m going to try the Asian syrup with sake. Shrubs are also great for mixing with soda water as a soda or cocktail alternative. I think I just found my new go-to summer drink. And something else to put up!