Massive Cuke Attack!

Hey, y’all;

Got great feedback from the Storology post, including this one:
“Eben,
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!
John”

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?

CHEERS!!

Urb

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…

HOLY CRUD!!

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!)

Enjoy!

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

Dressing:
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.

Enjoy!

Chiles Rellenos

OK, now don’t get skeert – We’re gonna open with the mother of all chile dishes, the Relleno! This is one of the finest uses for great peppers and this is my take on an all time fave style.

You’ll see that I’m offering the complete homemade version, but listen, if you don’t wanna go whole hog right off the bat, just buy some sausage and some cheese and do the relleno part; just make sure you do the whole thing afore too long, hear? So, get you some of those HUGE, beautiful Poblanos I saw over at Grant and Christy’s and get to stuffin’, y’all!

😉

REMEMBER: This is interactive as you want it to be, so if you got questions, ask ’em!

Eben’s Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos

Chorizo:

2 lbs pork butt
1 pound beef chuck

3 Tbsp salt
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp chipotle, flaked or ground
4 cloves garlic, fine diced
1 Tspn Mexican Oregano
1 Tspn ground black pepper
½ cup water

Grind the meat, add all ingredients to that in a non-metallic bowl.

Stuff into 1.5”/40mm hog casings.

Allow to hang and dry overnight.

Queso Blanco:

One gallon whole milk
1/2 cup lime juice
Salt to taste

Heat the milk in a non-aluminum pot on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until it looks like it’s just about to boil (DON’T let it boil!); temperature should be 185 degrees.

Add lime juice. The curds will separate from the whey and the mixture will look grainy, kind of like you’ve just thrown a bunch of corn meal into a pot of skim milk. Simmer for a few minutes.

Pour contents into a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain thoroughly: To save the whey to make ricotta, put the colander over a pot.

Sprinkle the curds with salt; go saltier than you normally would; the salt will drain from the cheese as it dries. Now is the time to add any herbs, spices or chopped chiles if you like.

Gather the curds in the center of the cheesecloth and tie the ends; hang the cloth on the faucet to drain for a few hours, (At least four hours, overnight is better.

Refrigerated, it keeps about the same as fresh milk.


Oaxacan Rellenos:

Sauté chorizo and allow to cool; combine with queso 50/50;
add ¼ cup fine diced roasted or sautéed almonds and set aside.

Heat 3 Tbsp of lard or pork fat in a sauté pan top medium heat.

Add 1 medium onion, diced; sauté onions until well browned.

Puree 6 medium tomatoes and add to onions.
Add:
½ tspn cinnamon
½ tspn ground black pepper

Raise heat to medium high and reduce to a thick tomato sauce consistency, then reduce heat to low.

Prep fresh Poblano chiles, and heat a skillet with at least 1” of oil to 350º F and fry the chiles for a minute or two until well blistered. Remove and cool chiles.

Stuff chiles with filling mixture and stitch with a tooth pick.

Separate the whites and yolks of 6 eggs; add ½ tspn salt to the whites and whip until they hold a stiff peak; beat the yolks into the whites until thoroughly blended and then beat in 2 Tbsps flour.

Set 1 cup of flour on a plate as a dredge.

Take each chile, roll it on the flour dredge, and then dip it thoroughly into the batter, and then fry about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Heat oven to 375 and place chiles on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes to heat thoroughly.

Bring tomato sauce to a low boil.

Ladle sauce into a bowl and place a relleno on top of the broth. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot!

Chileheads of the world, unite!

Just got the pepper list from the gang; didn’t really need it myself – When we were up the other week, Grant asked, “Wanna come look at the peppers?”
Answer; do bears poop behind trees?

I nosed all through the little buggers, and I promise you, they are magnificent and we are gonna have a ball with them. Gonna just publish the list here in a sec, but a few words first: We LOVE chiles and peppers, and we want you to also! We are gonna do a good few entries on chiles covering cooking with fresh, preserving, using for spicing and anything else we can think of or you ask until we exhaust the topic, (FAT chance!)

OK, so for now, the list, and then onward and upward in a little bit!

THE NEIGHBORHOOD GARDENER-KING GARDENS PEPPER LIST FOR 2010

We grow all of the major types of peppers, but there are many more varieties in each category than we could ever grow. There is a lot of variation in flavors, texture, thickness and thinness of walls, heat, etc. If you are not familiar with a particular type of pepper, start by tasting a small piece raw. Then consider various uses (suggested below) and sauté a small piece to judge texture, flavor, and toughness of skin for the use you have in mind.

About HOT Peppers:
Capsaicin is what gives chiles their heat. Pepper hotness is rated in Scoville Units or the Heat Scale. The Scoville scale is somewhat subjective, and rates peppers in multiples of 100. The Heat Scale is determined by HPLC (high-pressure liquid chromatography). But—and most important to the cook—heat can vary widely within any category of chile due to variety, growing conditions, etc. and the amount of heat in a pod can vary from pod to pod on the same plant! Always taste your hot chiles first and adjust accordingly. Remember, you can always add more!

Although we equate hot peppers with Mexican cuisine, you can use them with many other types of cooking such as Cajun, Indian (think hot curry), Chinese, and South Asian.

What to do if a chile is too hot to use in a particular recipe?

Removing the placental tissue (seeds and those white inner membranes) will reduce the heat considerably. If you are using with tomatoes, increase the amount of tomato products. Add sour cream or yogurt. Soak the chiles in salted ice water before using. Add Bell peppers.

What to do if you’ve already eaten something too hot?
The absolute best solution is to immediately eat dairy products such as sour cream, yogurt, or ice cream. Starchy foods such as bread or potatoes will also dilute or absorb the capsaicin. In India you will find bananas on the table to quench the fire of curry. And if you drink enough beer or margaritas, you won’t care how hot the chiles are!

The worst thing to do: drink water. It will only spread the capsaicin around in your mouth. Water does not dilute the hotness of capsaicin!

PEPPER HANDLING TIPS

Always wear gloves when preparing very hot chiles, such as Habaneros, Serranos, or even Jalapenos. You can get a very bad burn from hot chiles and you can also spread the capsaicin to your eyes or things such as doorknobs and switches.

If you do get capsaicin on your hands, rubbing with oil (not water) will help the most, as capsaicin is oil soluble.

Most hot chiles will cool down a bit after cooking, pickling, or melding into a dish. If you add some minced Jalapeno to cold slaw, for example, you may want to taste it again before serving to see if you want to add more.

Most New Mexican varieties and sometimes Ancho/Poblanos are peeled before being used in cooked recipes. You can blister the skin over a gas flame on your stove, over a grill, or in a broiler. Blister then all over. A little charring is fine, but don’t let them blacken too much. Wrap in a damp towel and let steam for a few minutes. If you want them to be crisper and less cooked, put them in cold water right away. You can peel the skins off by rubbing with your hands or the blunt side of a knife. Don’t worry about getting every little bit of the skin off—a little smoky charred flavor tastes great. You can then freeze them for future use. This is also a good way to prepare Sweet Italians, or even Bells. After you’ve removed the skin, cut into pieces and freeze in olive oil for a great appetizer with crackers.

You can freeze bell peppers or smaller hot chiles very easily. Just wash small chiles and freeze whole. Chop bell peppers, freeze on a cookie sheet and then transfer to a freezer bag.

All peppers pickle well. Check out any pickling/canning book.

You can use chiles in vinegars or make chile oil. The uses for peppers are endless!

OUR VARIETIES:

SWEET PEPPERS

BELL
Various kinds, most are sweet with no pungency at all. We grow kinds that are green, light green, red, brown (aka “chocolate”), orange, yellow, cream, purple, and multicolored. You undoubtedly already know how to use these.

SWEET ITALIAN
Sweeter than most bells, even in the green stage, and without the aftertaste that most bells have. They are generally more elongated than bells, with a tapered end, and have a nice thick flesh. The candy of sweet peppers! They start out green and turn red, yellow, or orange as they ripen. They are rarely found in supermarkets.

CUBANELLES
Similar to Italians, but not as sweet. The Gypsy pepper is probably the best known in this category, but we usually grow a couple types. They are perfect for salads. Most are a light green, ripening to reddish, and are elongated like Sweet Italians but are smaller and have thinner walls.

ITALIAN ROASTERS
These are all heirloom types, not found in supermarkets. They are long and skinny and sometimes have a little zip to them, but are really neither sweet nor hot. They are the pepper you find on Italian sandwiches if you go to an authentic Italian restaurant. They are typically used for frying and roasting. You do not need to remove the seeds in these. These peppers are thin-walled and cook quickly. Use either green or red.

PEPPERONCINI
The salad bar pepper. Makes a wonderful overnight pickle. Just slice in rings and marinate in pickle juice from a commercial pickle jar, or mix salt, vinegar, and spices. Often canned whole when they are small. Like Italian Roasters, they are neither very sweet nor pungent and have thin walls. Also good used like Cubanelles in salads.

MODERATELY HOT

PASILLA
When used in the fresh stage, these are called chilaca, and when dried, they are used in mole~ sauce. Use them in enchilada sauces or most any Mexican type sauces where they will add a depth of flavor. They measure between 1,000 and 1,500 on the Scoville scale and 3 on the Heat Scale.

ANCHO/POBLANO
In the US, the green fresh chile is called Poblano, while its mature red version (usually dried) is called Ancho. However, in Mexico it may be the other way around, and in most of California both green and red pods are called Ancho. Whatever you call it, this is one versatile pepper. It’s our favorite hot pepper. These can be stuffed for chiles rellenos, or used in casseroles and sauces. We recommend removing the skin by blistering it first. They are approximately 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Units or 3 on the Heat Scale.

NEW MEXICAN (aka ANAHEIM, HATCH)
This is the state vegetable of New Mexico. We love this pepper! They can be used in chili, sauces, salsas, stews, casseroles. You can stuff them for chiles rellenos, where we recommend removing the skin by blistering first. This chile is a must-have for any Mexican type cooking. Use them green for a classic green chile sauce. They have a wide range of heat—between 100 and 10,000 Scoville Units, or 2 to 4 on the Heat Scale. If adding to casseroles or salsas, be sure to taste first. If stuffing for rellenos, you’ll just have to take your chances—one person might get a very mild pepper while the next will be reaching for the beer.

WAX OR “HUNGARIAN WAX”
There are many different varieties, usually yellow maturing to orange or red. These are great in salsa and make a fantastic pickled pepper. These have the widest heat range of any chile. Some have no heat at all, others may range from 3 to 8 on the heat scale. We grow the Hungarian Wax and Volcano types, which are similar in heat—generally less than a jalapeno, or about 4 on the Heat Scale. Be sure to check the heat in each pepper before you use it.

HOT TO REALLY HOT

JALAPENO
Can be used fresh, pickled, or smoked (then called chipotle). The main hot pepper used in salsas in the USA. Can be stuffed and baked or grilled, sliced into rings and pickled, used as a topping for nachos, minced and added to cold slaw—a million uses. Heat will vary by variety and where it’s grown, so always check before adding to a dish. 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Units, about 5 on the Heat Scale.

SERRANO
Small green or red, commonly used fresh in salsa. Be sure to mince finely. Great in sauces of all kinds. 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville Units; 6-7 on the Heat Scale.

CAYENNE
We grow a number of oriental peppers that are cayenne types. Can be used fresh, or dried or powdered. An essential ingredient in Cajun cooking and in many Asian stir-fries. To use in Asian dishes, fry in oil, then take the pepper out and use the oil. Very hot—30,000-50,000 Scoville Units or 8 on the Heat Scale. Only Habanera types are hotter.

HABANERO
Sometimes called Scotch Bonnet or Bahamian. It is the main ingredient in jerk sauces, and is generally made into hot sauce. It has a distinct fruity flavor. It’s the hottest: 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units, or a 10 on the Heat Scale.

Now a brief postscript: TAKE HEED of the warnings regarding heat, and especially the fact that almost any chile with heat potential can go nuts now and then; two of THE hottest chiles we’ve ever had were jalapenos, which we eat like candy and expect to usually be moderate in heat at best – One of them literally drove us OUT OF THE HOUSE when cooking; we had to open all the windows and doors and vent liberally before we could even breathe in there again, no BS! SO, test BEFORE you use, and unless you’re a real glutton for punishment, when using hot peppers, vein and seed them before use!

Neeeeeext!

Well, went and opened my big mouth about the corn pico, so gotta provide the full meal deal on that! Here ya go:

Roasted Corn Pico de Gallo

Rinse clean and dice:

½ onion
1 cup cilantro
3 medium-sized tomatoes
Kernels from 1 ear roasted corn
Juice of 1 large lime
Splash of orange or grapefruit juice
Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

Add a chile or pepper, as desired; if you’re a heat weenie, (And you know who you are), dice bell pepper and go with that. For you Chileheads, anything from Jalapeno to Serrano to Habanera will do – Once again though, TASTE YOUR CHILE BEFORE YOU ADD IT, so you don’t make stuff too hot to enjoy! With the hotter chiles, always vein and seed ‘em before dicing and don’t go to the bathroom right after preparation….

Incorporate all ingredients in a non-metallic bowl; let sit for an hour for taste to mingle and develop. Keeps for a couple days refrigerated.

One additional note on beans; you CAN freeze ’em, ya know. If you put ’em in a good sealing freezer bag and suck all the air out, (Poor man’s vacuum packaging), they’ll last for 90 days easily and still maintain their taste. Of course, canning is much preferred, but sometimes ya gotta do whatcha gotta do, right?