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It’s National Coffee Day, and We’re All Thankful

AhCoffee

It’s Monday morning, and it’s National Coffee Day (and, in a fateful alignment of the stars, International Coffee Day). The latter fact makes the former one bearable, maybe even pleasant.

Check around, lots of places will have free coffee today. Get it while you can! Few things beat free caffeine.

I always have half a cup first thing in the morning. Doctor’s orders. Oh, he didn’t order the coffee regimen, but he DID order that I cut my consumption in half. So now I only have half a cup.

The cup this morning is a 32-ounce Disney mug, with Goofy on it. The coffee’s got a bit of Truvia in it, as I like that flavor in hot drinks. (Iced tea, not so much.) And some light creamer.

Just because it’s National Coffee Day I’m going back for seconds, hang Doctor’s orders…

Enjoy the (Caffeine Monday) Heat!

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More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

LovelyPair

You can get almost any fruit you want, whenever you want it, thanks to our grocery industry. But don’t they taste best when they’re in season? That’s why I make so much pepper jelly this time of year…

Dark sweet cherries have been available in our area for a few weeks, but the prices! I didn’t want to sell a car or take out a second mortgage to get a few pounds of these tasty morsels. I was beginning to think the harvest had been poor up north, then the prices dropped a lot. I stocked up! A friend showed us how to quickly pit cherries (Thanks, Kari!), and we worked our way through seven pounds in no time. Fortunately, cherry juice isn’t nearly as staining as others. (Although it was easy to spot who wasn’t putting all their pitted cherries in the bowl, since they sported a deep purple ring on their smug mug.)

I made two big batches of jelly from these cherries, totaling 15 half-pint jars. The first one I used four habaneros, giving the spread a nice, even heat. What I call “stingjam” level. Not enough heat to put anybody off, but if you put too much on the cracker you’ll notice. The second batch got cowhorn cayennes from last year’s bumper crop. I simply grabbed a few frozen peppers out of the freezer, topped them while they were still solid, then ground them up in my trusty little Kitchenaid food processor. I guess there were about eight of these long, red lovelies. The eight half-pints this batch produced have a milder aspect, but every now and again you get a bigger bit of the cayenne and you know it. Nice little surprises!

In case you forgot how I make my jellies, read this post.

Next up, pineapples. It seems that Central America has had a bumper crop of the large, yellow fruit this year. We’ve had them available in our area for a while now, at prices as low as a buck apiece. Mostly they’re going for two-for-three, or sometimes $2 each, but not more. They’ve been in that price range since April! Although the scuttlebutt in our area is that the great prices are about to come to an end. I hope they don’t go back to the $6-8 range, like they were. I’m getting spoiled by having this juicy, sweet produce readily available; I’ve been enjoying pineapple on ice cream, in salsas, and as a snack. Can’t get enough!

I bought two for the pineapple jellies, and made two batches. The difference between them is the alcoholic spirit I infused. One got bourbon, the other got rum. Each batch of six half-pints took a pineapple each, which I cut into pieces and scorched on my new grill to give the fruit some nice marks and added flavor. I added a few ounces of pineapple juice, and I used lemon juice as the acid for these batches. Pretty standard preparation, other than that.

So far that makes about 80 half-pints of jelly this season. And I don’t even have many peppers from this year’s garden yet! Though the number of blooms at the moment is amazing…

Enjoy the (Jars O’ Jelly) Heat!

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The Usual Hot Dog Follies, With a Twist (It Has a Nice Ring to It)

BigDawg

It’s Fourth of July, and guess what? Nathan’s held a hot dog eating contest! Again! No, really; I’m not kidding…

Joey Chestnut, aka “Jaws,” put away the competition again too. He never looked like he was threatening to beat last year’s record of 69 dogs and buns (his own record, of course), but he was quick out of the gate and nobody could catch him. He put down 61 this year, beating second place Matt Stonie by a full five dawgs.

Before downing the competition, though, he had a solemn chore to perform, which he got down on one knee to complete. He asked his long-time girlfriend, and fellow extreme eating enthusiast, to marry him. Neslie Ricasa said yes, and Joey took the emotional high from that into the serious business of capturing the Nathan’s crown once more. After all, he didn’t was to lose after that, did he?

Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas wasn’t on her best game, it seems, and ceded her crown to Miki Sudo. The ladies are much more petite eaters; it only took 34 dogs and buns to win, by 6½. There’s always next year, Sonya. And America loves a good comeback story, so train hard! I’m sure Nathan’s will host this event again next year, same bat time, same bat channel.

In case you’re wondering what does one feel like after consuming 60+ hot dogs in 10 minutes? Consider this: The mass and volume of meat, bread and water is surprisingly similar to that of a full-term baby, if the baby’s on the large size. In other words, Joey got engaged, pregnant AND went to full term on the Fourth of July! All in the space of about 15 minutes.

Only in a free America, I tell you…

The (Extra-Full Tummy) Heat is ON!

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White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

BestPeaches

Some of the fruit available this summer is the best looking and tasting I’ve seen in a while. Large, juicy apricots with a rose and coral blushes on them. Sweet cherries that are blemish-free and ready to make an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Pineapples that are just the right sweetness, and inexpensive too.

The stone fruits are especially good: Plums, peaches, nectarines, and all those odd cross-breeds, like apriums, pluots and plumcots, peacotums and more. Not all of these are found at your neighborhood grocer’s, though specialty outlets should have most of them this time of year.

I picked up six pounds of apricots (two batches of jelly), three of nectarines and three of white flesh peaches, and nearly seven pounds of sweet dark cherries. Time to get into the kitchen and make some pepper jelly!

If you’ve been following this series, you already have a good idea how to prepare a tasty batch of pepper jelly. I’ll use this post as a refresher, or for those just joining the pepper jelly madness effort. First, the ingredients:

  • 2.5 – 3 pounds fresh fruit, finely chopped or processed until the desired consistency (I never purée)
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 tablespoon Better Stevia liquid concentrate (equivalent to about 3 cups sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin
  • 10 ounces apple cider vinegar (the Real Stuff, not flavored white vinegar)
  • 8-10 ounces of fruit juice (I use grape or apple with most preparations)
  • Sweet Spices: Nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and such, to taste
  • 2 habanero chiles, puréed with a small amount of fruit and some of the juice

You can use about 6 ounces or so of fresh lemon juice in place of the cider vinegar, if you prefer. Go light on the spices, or you’ll cover the delightful flavor of the fruit. I normally use about 1/2 teaspoon of each of two or three, like cinnamon and cloves. In fact, these two will give the peaches a flavor similar to top-quality spiced peaches, a Christmas favorite in many households.

Please Continue Reading White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping

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He’s BAAaaack…

BeerSpaAustria

Well, that was a bit longer outage than intended. Things happen, though. Like working undercover. Yep, that’s right folks, the Chile Doctor has been doing Serious Investigative Work.

Sounds a lot better than slacking off, doesn’t it…

Actually, I did something I said I’d never do again. I took a job. Talk about messing up one’s life! The good news is, it’s a cooking job.

The bad news is, it’s a job.

I’ve about got the requirements figured out, though. Cooking’s a key component, with sales the primary function. It’s fun, and it has its moments. The other employees (and there are lots of them!) are like family, provided that family’s a box of mixed nuts.

It’s also interesting how so many of the folks think I actually know what I’m doing. Who am I to argue the point?

All in all, it’s been an interesting (almost a) year. With consulting gaining traction once again, I’m not sure how much longer this fun can continue; we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m getting back into the blogiverse, with upcoming reviews, garden insights and more. Stay tuned!

The (Summer Restart) Heat is ON!

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Ahoy, Matey! Time for a Barrrrgh-B-Q…

Arrrgh Boy

Yep, it’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” once again. Snuck up on you didn’t it…

Since this is a food blog, let’s talk about what pirates eat (besides BBQ). Pirates like corn. Unless it’s high-priced, like a buccaneer or something. After all, they like to get their food cheap; as in on sail. They’re starving all the time, though; they even show it with their flag, it’s got a skull and bones. Unless they are marooned on a desert isle. They’re never hungry there, because of all the sand which is present.

What’s a pirate’s favorite cookie? Ships Ahoy! Where do they keep these cookies? In a jaarrrrgh.

Where does a pirate with a wooden leg eat out? IHOP, of course. And what do they ask the waiter to put on their meal? A gaarrrgghhnish, of course. If they go for fast food, they always go to Aarrrby’s.

Why are there no vegan pirates? They all staarrrrrved.

After all this, I think I need a vacation. Guess I’ll take some Aarrrggh and Aarrrggh…

Enjoy the (Aye for an Aye) Heat!

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Four Pickles and a Funeral

Fresh Cukes

Yes, I’ve been absent a while. All I’ll say for now is, I’ve been busy. Way too busy…

That doesn’t mean I’ve been out of the kitchen, though! Summertime means lots of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, among other tasty veggies. The garden’s been producing all sorts of chiles, from golden cayennes to bananas (hot and mild) and colored bell peppers. Habaneros, red Caribs, Gypsy and Cajun bells, with plenty of cayenne, kung pao and Cubanelles. Only the production of the serranos has been disappointing, likely due to the terrific heat and drought throughout August and September. (Or maybe I bought lazy plants; I dunno.)

Pickling StuffI dried both red and hot yellow peppers, in batches, and turned them into powders. I saved some dried reds and made pepper flakes too. I now have chile powders that are hot enough they need a special license from the fire department. (Not really, but don’t tell them, they might inspect.) I used small amounts of these powders to make some tasty burrito beef, for example.

Pepper jellies have been a big part of the summer’s production. Cherry ones, plum and apricot and peach varieties, and prickly pear tries as well. I’ll have more on all those in a later post.

I’ve also gone on a pickle-canning rampage. Okay, not a rampage, exactly, although PJ thinks that’s a reasonable assessment. The assortment of quality pickling cucumbers, at both the neighborhood groceries and the farmers markets, got me to thinking. Then I tasted a couple of specialty dills at some food events and I got moving.

I like a dill pickle with a bit of crunch. That’s actually harder to produce than you might think, in a canned pickle. There are some ideas out there, though, that improve the chances you’ll get a pickle that resists your teeth a bit better than some of those limp, wimpy ones you buy in the store. One I’d never heard of was placing grape leaves (or cherry leaves) in the jar with the canned pickles. The concept here is that the tannins leach out and make the cucumber crunchier. Of course, using little or no heat prevents cooking of the cukes, making them crunchier when you eat them; however, that requires cold-aging, and these pickles aren’t shelf-stable.

Another important part of making crunchy dills: Cut off the blossom end of the cucumber! There’s an enzyme in there which softens the fruit (yes, cukes are fruit), and if you leave that in there you’ll get very soft pickles. If you don’t know how to tell which end had the blossom, play safe and trim both ends, about 1/2 inch back.

There’s a DIY site I enjoy that shows complete steps for quick process dills, and these will have fair crispiness.

Market ProduceThe experimental scientist in me wanted to try some controlled conditions, but once I got going I simply canned and relied on my experience and the new information to guide me. I really like the flavors of lime and ginger together, and of course, these pickles had to have some kick to them. (After all, what else can I do with the ground mound of hot peppers that are taking over my counters and all of my fridge space?)

I tried the following sets: Ginger-Lime Cayenne Kosher Dills, as both spears and waffle-cut hamburger chips; Ginger-Lime Habanero Kosher Dills, ditto on the types. I also made a few jars without any peppers, as a control on the heat level, and I made a batch of Red Carib-Ginger-Lime Kosher Dills with the grape leaf trick, to see how much the crunch would be improved. I quick-processed at 4-5 minutes in the canner, to try to get added chewiness into these pickles.

4525306-1800x1197The brine was simple to make: 3 parts white vinegar (5% acidity, or 50 grain), two parts water, and about 3 tablespoons of salt per quart of brine. You can make this solution up in larger quantity and use whatever you need for a batch of pickles, saving back the rest. You can add sugar, but I prefer my kosher dills without; your choice. If you add sugar, I don’t recommend going beyond about 1/2 cup per quart of brine, and you should use any sweet brine fairly quickly; it doesn’t store as well as the other.

Other ingredients, besides a big mound of pickling cucumbers (I prefer the Kirby variety), include peeled garlic cloves, pickling spice, and plenty of fresh dill. I also had fresh-squeezed lime juice ready, and about a cup or so of fresh ginger pieces. Remember to peel the ginger; that skin makes the brine ugly and the taste very bitter.

I set up for canning and got some pint jars, flats and rings ready. For the spears I used the wide-mouth jars; hamburg chips go fine into regular pints. I had the brine heated to boiling, and when it was time to process I used these steps: Put lime juice in the brine, to taste (about 1/4 cup per quart of brine worked for me); place some ginger pieces in the bottom of the jars; stack in as many cucumber pieces as you can fit; lightly crush a couple cloves of garlic for each jar, and add a big sprig of dill to each one as well; put a good dose (I used a heaping tablespoon) of pickling spice into each container; pour in very hot brine, leaving the required headspace. At this point you simply seal finger-tight with flats and rings and process in the canner for 4-5 minutes.

Here’s a key point: Usually the food authorities say you should process at least 10 minutes to get shelf-stable, safe product. However, these pickles have lots of acid, so they’re not likely to go bad soon. If you’ve been diligent on sanitation leading up to processing, then a short time in the boiling bath, just enough to cause the jars to seal when taken out to cool, will work. Don’t try this on low-acid food! I don’t want to attend any more funerals soon, okay?

The end-product of a couple days of leisurely kitchen work led to a nice shelf full of tart, pungent pickles. A friend tried some, and he said he hadn’t had pickles this tasty since he left California years ago. He used to get them (hand-made ones, of course) at a small deli in Hayward, and he missed them. How much did he miss them? He ate a whole pint in one afternoon. (I’ve had to hide the rest for his protection.)

As for the funeral: It was a fine send-off for Dr. Bier, who I’ll miss dearly. RIP, old friend; you lived well…

Enjoy the (Pickles Galore) Heat!

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Echos of Father’s Day: Whacked-Out Bacon Ideas for Next Year

Big Bacon

Just in case you missed the opportunity to share bacon gifts with your dad this past Father’s Day, here’s a slide show of some great ideas for next time! Heck, why wait until Father’s Day? There’s something like 85 more opportunities during the next year, if you total up all the holidays in the European Union and the USA. Not to mention my birthday, which you can send me a gift for anytime, as I’ve quit celebrating that milestone on a given day. (The fire department’s tired of detailing enough manpower and gear to keep the birthday cake candles in check.)

Looking through the list, I’m not sure I’d go for the bacon-and-eggs nail paintjob; I’m not saying it’s not interesting, just that I can’t type if my nails are that long. (Yeah, that’s it! Too long!) And the bacon-themed coffin is a bit premature, if not outright creepy. The gym sneakers would totally work, though. (And I already have the soap and toothpaste, which explains the shiny teeth and well-scrubbed cheeks.)

Whatever you do, don’t lose this list…

Enjoy the (Pig Out on Bacon) Heat!

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