Posts Tagged peppers

Kicking it up a notch

A while back I made a peach white peppercorn preserve that wowed me with its gentle hint of subtle fire. I tried it again a year later with nectarines and black pepper, and it didn’t quite cut it. But then the peach season rolled around again, and it was time to expermiment.

The main event between times was a short trip to Santa Fe, and its absolutely amazing farmers’ market. The stalls there offered so many different sorts of hot pepper, that my peaches and peppercorns venture seemed sort of tame. So while we redid the white pepper jam because it was so damn good, I voted for something with jalapenos too this time, and because it’s my kitchen when the vote is one-to-one, I win. (Well, if truth be told, canning buddy didn’t actually complain)

I did a bit of internet searching, and rejected everything that used pectin, as well as one recipe that told me to puree the peaches in a food processor before getting the jam under way. (I like chunks in my jam.) But then I blundered into Homesicktexan, who seemed to meet all my peach jalapeno jam criteria, including not proposing an indecently large volume of jam, in case we ended up not liking it.

Here’s what we did, which is close to the recipe in the link, but not quite there because we ran out of peaches, and I wimped out on the jalapeno.

Peach jalapeno jam (based on Homesick Texan’s recipe)
Just over 2 lbs peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
Just under 2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

Add sugar to peaches and let it sit around for a bit until the sugar is mostly dissolved. (It was a hot day, it took about an hour). Add lemon juice and chopped up jalapeno and boil until it sets. Lisa suggests simmering for 40 minutes; ours was ready in about 20. Bottle in hot jars, water bath, if you are waterbathing sort of person.

It’s a little lemony (that was the only bit of the recipe we didn’t change), and it has a very gentle, very subtle bite.

We’re kicking up the jamming, just one notch.

From there we went to the hugely successful apricot lemon chutney from previous years and to a corn red pepper relish, because the corn has just come into season and I wanted to roast peppers on the new gas stove and try out my  new corn zipper.

First off, let me say the corn zipper works like a charm, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

The relish seems a little sweet right now, but it might mature.

Corn, pepper, basil relish (adapted, to add fire and remove celery, from The Complete Book of Pickling)
4 chopped, roasted red peppers, skin removed
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp dill seeds
3 cups cider vinegar
8 cups corn kernels
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped basil (we used a mix of Thai, lemon and regular)

Roast the peppers by putting them directly on the gas burner and turning them round as they sizzle and char. Dunk in cold water, and peel off most of the skin, and then chop them and set aside.

Put all the ingredients except the red pepper and basil in a preserving kettle or heavy saucepan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 30 minutes or so until it thickens. Add the peppers and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in basil and ladle into hot jars. Water bath for 15 minutes.

Aug 3 edit: It might have been a mistake to crack these open while fresh corn is still in season, but I admit I’m underwhelmed. There’s a nice spice undertone, but the overwhelming taste is sugar and bought canned peppers. No indication of the tender loving care that went into the preparation, and far too much sweetness for me.

Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Not one I’m going to bother to make again unless I tweak the recipe very violently.

And finally, I introduced canning buddy to the keep-in-the-fridge bread-and-butter pickles, making my third venture for this one in just three weeks. I’ve been taking slices into the office with me to kick up my lunch, and I even had a very small pickle sandwich (pickles and a single slice of bread) before today’s horribly hot and humid 64km bike ride. It helped keep me going for 47 of those kilometers and then I heat-stroked/bonked.

Here were the pickles, after their first introduction to the spice/vinegar/dill/garlic mix.

And this was the overall fruits of a morning of pretty intensive labor. Canning buddy is away for a month now, so I need to work out what I want to do solo before she returns.

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Mushroom marshmallow

I have never seen puffballs on sale anywhere before, so when one of the stands at St Lawrence Market had a couple of giant ones on offer this weekend, I had to bite. And after two days of cooking with them, I am glad I did.

I knew puffballs as a baseball sized white ‘shroom that experts found in the woods, and I’ve eaten them once, fried with butter. These monsters were almost the size of a soccer ball, and they were selling a quarter of a monster for $10. We peeled them, ate half on Saturday, and the second half today. Two giant meals for two for $10, plus the extras we threw in. Amazing, and amazingly good.

Day one was fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil, with lots of garlic and some leftover red peppers and sugar snap peas, and mixed in with scrambled eggs, for breakfast in the evening.

And day two was ‘shrooms and bacon, with broccoli for greens.

The taste, rich and earthy, but absorbing the flavors you cook it with. Texture is almost melt-in-the-mouth.

And yes, they look scarily like hugely overgrown marshmallows on steroids.

Here is half of the quarter, posing with my biggest knife.

And here today’s supper.

We ate it with the dried fruit chutney from the winter.


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Is there such a thing as too many tomatoes?

This year, rather distressingly, I ran out of canned tomatoes in April, which led to a long and rather anxious wait until the tomato season rolled around again.

Yes, you can buy canned tomatoes, and no, I probably can’t tell the difference, once they are all mushed up in sauce or stew or soup. But I still prefer my own. I know the ingredients (tomatoes, lemon juice, perhaps some salt), I like knowing where they came from, and I like the taste.

So while last year we made up half a bushel of the stuff, this year we upped that to 1.5 bushels and I still fret it won’t be enough, especially as the spoils get split three ways this year compared to two in 2010.

But three people definitely make life easier when you’re talking bulk like this, and we got quite a production line going for peeling, crushing, chopping and juicing.

We started with simple crushed tomatoes, because they are so easy and they taste so good, although all the books warn you to be careful with the quantities to avoid botulusm contamination. It’s really simple. Peel and crush tomatoes, cook them down a little, perhaps with salt and slosh them into jars which each have a spoonful of bottled lemon juice at the bottom.

Then boil the living daylights out of the sealed up jars — 35 minutes for the 500 ml jars — and save for the days when tomatoes in the store taste of nothing and you want to remember what they really should be like.

After that we switched to Italian tomato sauce, which tastes wonderful, but takes forever because there’s so much deseeding, chopping, boiling and simmering. It had onion, garlic, carrots and peppers, as well as salt and pepper. The recipe said celery, but I vetoed that. Celery, someone once told me, is the only thing that actually takes more calories to digest than you get from eating it, and I can’t stand the stuff.

A couple of tips for next time, which is actually tomorrow because we couldn’t face finishing off that final box and need to try again.

  • Give yourself a couple of days between buying tomatoes and canning them to give them a chance to ripen a little more. They will taste better and they might even be easier to peel.
  • And nick each tomato after you toss it in boiling water for its deskinning bath. I started doing that midway through and was amazed how much easier it was they were to peel. We could have saved a lot of time and energy.
  • Save the seeds/liquid that comes when you poke the seeds out to make the sauce. It makes a wonderful home made tomato juice, but it’s not just that. I used it instead of stock or water for an amazing tomato shrimp risotto today, with fresh corn and zucchini and jumbo shrimp added right at the end.

In fact, because I’m going to forget what I did if I don’t write it down, here’s the recipe for that risotto. All measurements  are approximate.

Shrimp tomato risotto

olive oil
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
spices to taste (I used cumin, black pepper and a little cinnamon)
2 handfuls of arborio rice
2 cups of the liquid that comes from seeding half a bushel of tomatoes
a squirt of sriracha (or something else to give it a kick)
fresh vegetables (I used 1 orange pepper, 1 zucchini and kernels cut from one ear of corn)
6-12 raw shrimp (I used thawed frozen)
chopped cilantro (I could have used parsley)

Fry onion gently in olive oil until soft, then add garlic. Add whatever spice you are using (saffron would have been good too, but I didn’t have saffron), then add rice and fry until coated. Add tomato liquid, bit by bit, and when that runs out keep going with stock or water. Toward the end of the cooking, when the rice is tasting almost cooked, add sriracha, then vegetables. Just before it’s done, bury the shrimp in the hot rice, cover the dish and leave on a very, very low heat for another 10 minutes or so. Stir in cilantro right at the end and eat.

Sorry. No picture. You’ll have to make do with lots and lots of jars instead.

Total haul:

  • 30 jars crushed tomatoes
  • 11 jars tomato sauce
  • 3 tupperware boxes of tomato seeds/juice
  • another half box of tomatoes waiting to be attacked

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Shame about the salsa

A tomato pepper salsa made with the summer’s tomato glut is really one of the prettiest can-stuff I’ve made for ages, with a deep red-orange base with flecks of green chile and stripes of deeper red from the roasted red peppers. But to be honest, I just don’t like the taste.

I mean this baby looks beautiful, and I’m glad we gave it a go. But to me it just tastes of heat, while a chutney, even one with chile, has a far more rounded sugar-spice-vinegar offering.

Or maybe it was that ready-made spicing that did it. It’s a first time, and maybe a last, but we used a mix. I admit it made things easier.

But never again. That’s all I can say.


1 (out of five). It gets a point for looking so beautiful. It loses four because I don’t like it.

Please note: these ratings are deeply personal. The spouse, who likes his food spicier than I do, thinks this one is just fine.

Anyone want the final jar?

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Travel broadens the eating horizons

There’s nothing like an out of town trip to make you realize what you are missing in terms of foods and fruits. I feel that each time I visit somewhere like Zabars in New York, and I felt it again in today, with a glorious visit to the even more glorious Santa Fe farmers market , which describes itself as one of the top farmers’ markets in the country. Well I’ve not been to that many U.S. farmers’ markets, but this one made me want to buy up strings of garlic and wreaths of chili to take home, as well as investing in pans, spices and ingredients and get to work here in a tiny rental apartment. Luckily reality sank in before I could get that far. Canadian customs probably wouldn’t take kindly to New Mexico garlic or pimentos, and the TSA would definitely turn their noses up at dangerous home-made chutney. So I looked and longed and bought four ounces of beautifully bitter arugula to have with a cheese sandwich tonight.

There were many highlights, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Why can’t we get all that in my part of the world?

Marvelous misshapen peppers

Marvelous multicolored peppers

More multicolored peppers

And tomatoes (also multicolored)

What about garlic?
Chili peppers?

And some flowers to round it all off.

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Red shirt day

Thought for the day: When canning tomatoes, it really helps to wear a red t-shirt.

Saturday was the second of two tomato sessions, as canning buddy and I transformed a half bushel of Roma tomatoes into stuff that will keep us in pasta sauce for a while, liaising from time to time with a parallel can-o-rama venture over in New Jersey. There were jars of tomato sauce, with carrots, peppers and onions, jars of tomato salsa, with peppers, onions and spices, and a few more jars of plain old crushed tomatoes when we got fed up with looking up recipes. We made tomato jam too, but more of that anon. And of course there were spatters of tomato over clothes, and every surface of the kitchen. Why is tomato juice so much more likely to end up sliding down the white rim of the stove than on the black cooking surface itself?

Mindful of dire internet warnings about nasty bugs growing in canned tomatoes, we kept to the recipes pretty religiously, using bought lemon juice instead of fresh (apparently the acid content is more reliable) and using a package for the spicing in the salsa (I know, I’m shocked too, but it was an experiment). The only change was omitting celery and adding red pepper to the main sauce. It’s curious, but celery is one of the few things that I really detest.  Strong taste, lots of water and nothing but crunch.

And then, thanks to the Internet, there was a glorious green-flecked, rust-red tomato-basil jam, where three pounds of ripe tomatoes melt down to just two jars of something that seems to be half way between a jam and a chutney, with ingredients that include vinegar, sugar and lots of basil.  I was aiming to open that solitary jar for a celebration dinner last night, but forgot, so guidance on the taste will come a little later.

I can, however, offer a taste test of that zucchini lemon jam from a few weeks back. It’s heavy on the lemon and somewhat chewy from the lemon peel, with a perfect set and a few strands of zucchini that don’t actually taste of zucchini at all. There’s not much of a basil taste, perhaps because I actually used lemon basil rather than actual basil.

Rating: 4 (out of 5). It gets points for taste, set, novelty value, and for the color, which is a delicate shade of kiwi green with flecks of dark (basil) and light (zucchini). But it loses a point because it just doesn’t wow me as much as I thought it would. Shame.

So let’s see. I did jam from tomatoes and zucchini already. Is there an eggplant jam that I could use to complete the ratatouille?

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