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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Habanero Strikes Back!

It's peach season here in good ol' PA!! (That's Pennsylvania for all you folks who aren't from here. While the rest of the country refers to their state of residence by its proper name, we tend to use the postal abbreviation.  Don't know's a thing.....) This excites me for many reasons, but mainly because I love peaches.  Although, I love most fruits, especially fresh, local, in-season ones.  And as a bonus, our local orchard has a table where they sell "seconds", which is the fruit that is slightly imperfect, maybe a little bruised, and really really ripe and should be used ASAP, which serves my purposes perfectly. And they sell these for super cheap!  YAY!  I've gotten quarts of peaches for $1 each.  I made a dozen jars of peach jam using about $5 worth of fruit.  Not bad, if you ask me!  This has relevance, I promise...

Right now I have a common theme to my recipes.  And that theme is....THE PEPPER!!  Because it is also pepper season.  Now, this year I went crazy with pepper plants.  I started with 6 sweet bell, 3 jalapenos, 3 cayenne, a habanero and a poblano.  That was supposed to be it.  But I kept adding one more, then 3 more, then one more, etc until I had a plethora of peppers (try saying THAT three times fast).  I just couldn't help myself!  So now my pepper inventory looks like this:

Jalapenos, Habaneros, Poblano, and Cayenne
Sweet Banana
3 Jalapenos
1 Habanero
3 Cayenne
1 Poblano
1 Serrano
1 Anaheim Chili
1 Mexibell
1 Cherry Hot
2 Hungarian Wax
Hot peppers all lined up
1 Sweet Banana
1 Thai Dragon
2 Cubanelle
6 Bells (yes...SIX....I know....)

Sweet Bell, specifically "Blushing Beauty"

Thai Dragon

So, since I have so many peppers, I obviously want to use them.  And what better way to incorporate pepper season AND peach season than with peach habanero hot sauce!!

The sauce I managed to create is hot, don't get me wrong.  But it's not SO hot that it's painful. In my humble opinion, anyway.  But I've said it before...I like spicy food.  If you are not used to spicy, habaneros are probably not for you.

Once again.....this is so easy!  You literally just throw things in a pan, cook them down, and liquefy in blender.  You cannot mess this up!

Peach Habanero Hot Sauce
6-8 Ripe peaches washed, peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks
4 Cloves of garlic, peeled and smooshed
1 Anaheim chili, seeded
4 Habaneros, seeded
1/2 Medium onion, roughly chopped
1-2 Medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 1/4 c Vinegar
1 T sugar
Pinch of salt

Tools needed:
VINYL FOOD SERVICE GLOVES (I cannot stress this enough.....)
Blender's how easy this is.  Add water to the bottom of a small skillet about an inch deep, and bring to a boil.  Place habaneros and anaheim in there just to cook until soft.  Turn off heat and remove peppers from water, setting the water aside.  GET YOUR GLOVES AND PUT THEM ON BEFORE HANDLING THE PEPPERS!!!!  Run the peppers under cold water to cool.  Once cool, remove the stems and seeds from the peppers.  If any skin is peeling, you can remove that too, but it's not necessary.  I kept most of my skin on and it was just fine.  Set seeded peppers aside.

Add the water that the peppers were blanching in into a bigger skillet. (That water picked up some of the pepper flavor and heat, so that's why I used it.  Gotta keep as much flavor as possible!) Add garlic, onion, carrots, peaches, and peppers into the skillet.  Cook on medium to medium high heat until veggies are soft.  Add water if it is needed.  Remember, you can always reduce the sauce and evaporate the water out if you accidentally add too much.

Once veggies are soft, pour mixture into a blender and blend for about 5 minutes.  You want this to be smooth.

After blending, add back into the pan and add vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Simmer (not boil!) on medium heat, stirring often, for 30 - 45 minutes.  If it looks to thick, add water until you get to the desired consistency. Mine looked like this:

Once again, you have the option of storing in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  I, of course, canned mine. I got a yield of nine 4oz cans.  This can vary slightly depending on the size of your peppers.  This is a good sauce for chicken. (Especially wings!)

Voila!  The finished product!

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's not easy being "verde", wait....yes it IS!

First and foremost, there is one thing you should know about my family.  We grow our own vegetables and herbs.  It's true!  All it takes is a little time, a little patience, a little research, and a little space and what some people find to be intimidating is actually pretty easy.  That's not to say that I haven't had some failures (squash vine borers and cabbage worms, anyone?) Coupled with the frequent trips to our local orchard/farm market and generous sharing by my parents and my uncle (thanks, guys!), in the spring, summer, and fall months we always have an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And if you have the time, energy, and patience to preserve them, you can have homegrown and local produce year round.  I have a chest freezer, pressure canner, and vacuum sealer, all purchased to preserve our harvests.  It saves money, tastes way better, and you can avoid all those pesky chemicals that are in some grocery store produce.  When I say my veggies are organic, I actually mean it.  (No pesticides or artificial fertilizers here....which is why I've had some failures.  I added in some natural remedies for them and cleared it right up!)  At some point, I will compile a list of gardening tips that I have learned through research and trial and error, and post it here.  But, for today, our focus will be on.......

Ta Da!!
Now, don't be fooled.  Even though the name SOUNDS like tomato, it is not.  The tomatillo, also called the husk tomato, is a distant cousin to the tomato and part of the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant).  But unlike it's saucy cousin, the tomatillo is self infertile.  This is important to know if you plan on growing any of these bad boys.  You must have 2 or more plants to have fruit set, or hope that someone near you is growing one too and that you are lucky enough to have insects that carry their pollen to yours.  Either way, I made the rookie mistake of only planting one, and by the time I went back to get another, our local nursery was out.  But....I am part of that fortunate group of people that SOMEHOW got pollinated and I am getting little fruits!  Yay!  This tomatillo ,however, is not mine.  This one was acquired from the local orchard because I am impatient. 

Top is husked, bottom is unhusked
When working with these little guys, first thing you have to do is remove the husks.  This is really easy, because the only place they are actually attached is at the top, so just grab, peel, and tear, and you will have a tomatillo ready to use.  And what do we use them for?  Salsa verde, of course! 

Now, I have had salsa verde (literally means "green salsa") many different ways. Salsa verde is, in fact, one of my favorite things in the universe!  And even though I have eaten it a thousand times, I have never actually MADE it.  Or ever cooked with a tomatillo.  So, the one thing I was not prepared for is the aroma of the tomatillo.  It wasn't bad...not at all!  It's just that even though I realized it is a tomaTILLO, not a tomaTO, you expect a tomato-y smell because of how they look.  What you are hit with instead is a floral, citrusy smell that is completely unique.  Blended with the other flavors (like a medley of our homegrown peppers), you come out with an acidic, spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y flavor that is completely unique and muy delicioso! Since I was a salsa verde virgin, I had to play with the flavors a bit to get the desired taste, but wrote down what I did so I could share.  All in all, I'd say it was a success!  Which means...recipe time! (You had to know this was coming....)

Senora Smith's Salsa Verde (ha!  See what I did there?)

1 Cup Water
2 Dozen Tomatillos, husked, washed, cored, and quartered
10 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and smooshed
1 Poblano Pepper rough chopped, seeds and all
6 Jalapeno Peppers, rough chopped, seeds and all
6 Serrano Peppers, rough chopped, seeds and all
1 Medium White Onion, rough chopped
1 Cup Cilantro, lightly packed
Juice and Zest of 2 Limes
Salt to taste

Tools needed:
Food Processor

Now for the hard part.  Dump all of these things in a pot.  I like to keep seeds and ribbing to keep the heat.  Bring to a boil and simmer until veggies are soft.
This was pre-food processor

Dump in food processor and pulse until desired consistency.  No seriously.  That's IT!  I smooshed the garlic and roughly chopped all the veggies so it would infuse while cooking, but all of your chopping and blending will take place in the food processor.  Once the salsa is run through the food processor, put it back in the pot and simmer for about 30 - 40 minutes.  Enough to reduce it a bit and thicken it up.

Finished product! Ole!
I canned mine using 8 oz jars.  From this recipe I got 8 jars.  Not bad for about $11 worth of produce! (plus my homegrown peppers, but, hey, those are free!)

 The verdict?  My hubby LOVED it!  And I couldn't stop dipping pieces of tortilla in the warm salsa.  To taste and test for quality and freshness, of course!  I'm sure if I actually get any of my own tomatillos, I will be making more of these.  Cause, you know, Christmas gifts! 

Monday, August 12, 2013

All hail the mighty habanero!!

Ahhhh, the habanero.  These little beauties are full of flavor and full of heat.  When I was first learning how to cook, I made the unfortunate mistake of putting three of them (seeds and all) into a pot of Jambalaya, because ya know, they're small, right?  And since I put all the time and effort into making it, I was determined to eat it (even if it meant drinking a half gallon of milk and eating 3 pieces of bread while doing it....).  This was years ago, and since I haven't used them in quite some time, I had forgotten exactly how hot they actually were.  Imagine my excitement when I pulled that first little orange guy off my pepper plant.  I was so excited I decided to make salsa with it.  Now, my husband and I both like spicy food.  I, however, tolerate mine a bit spicier than he does.  I love love LOVE sriricha sauce (that Asian hot sauce with the rooster on the bottle).  I eat hot pepper flakes on my pizza.  I've been known to just pop a piece of jalapeno or two in my mouth while cooking.  So when I decided to use my first little habanero in the fresh salsa I was making, I decided I needed to test the heat so as not to kill my hubby's taste buds.  I painstakingly roasted it on the grill along with my other veggies and brought it inside.  I then took the tiniest most microscopic little taste of it.  Out of my mouth comes "Oooh, that's del - OHMYGOD!".  Cue the binge milk drinking and eating sour cream directly out of the container with a spoon.  I was actually talking funny and my mouth burned for roughly an hour.  Believe me when I say habaneros are not toys.  I repeat - Habaneros. Are.  NOT.  Toys.  These little buggers are hot hot HOT.  Their Scoville scale rating is 100,000 - 300,000.  Bear in mind that a jalapeno is rated about 2,500 - 10,000 and the dreaded ghost chili comes in at a whopping 330,000 - about 1,000,000, if that puts it into perspective.  Bottom line - they are hot.  As hot as they are, unless you like things really spicy, you do not need more than half of one to spice up a dish.  So, imagine my "problem" when I looked at my beautiful habanero and saw this:
So pretty!
What in the world is a girl to do with this many habaneros?  Sure, I could freeze them, but am I really going to use all those?  Remember, this is just the beginning of my harvest - pepper season is now in full swing and I have so many more hanging, waiting to ripen.  I contemplated putting them in my food dehydrator and making habanero flakes, but I feared what concentrating those oils mixed with the heat of the dehydrator would do to my eyes and nose.  So I settled on the next logical thing - hot sauce!  I started researching recipes, seeing how others made use of these little guys.  So many possibilities!  What I was looking for was something sweet and hot, but not so hot that I wouldn't want to eat it. I decided to cut the habaneros with hungarian wax peppers and carrots.  The wax peppers kept the pepper flavor I wanted and the carrots added body and sweetness and maintained the beautiful orange color.  I managed to concoct what I think is the perfect blend of spice, flavor, sweetness, and heat - hot enough to feed my craving for spicy food, but not so hot that don't want to actually eat it.  So without further ado, here is my version of Honey Habanero Hot Sauce!

Honey Habanero Hot sauce
8 Habanero Peppers
3 Hungarian Wax Peppers
1 Medium Onion
1-2 Carrots
1 Head of Garlic
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup molasses
Honey to taste
Dash of salt

Tools needed:
Vinyl food service gloves

About 16 oz of delicious hot sauce, give or take.  It depends on how big your peppers are. 

- Roast the peppers, onion, carrot and garlic.  I built a small fire on my charcoal grill and roasted them over coals.  You could also do it in the oven.  Roast until veggies are soft and skin is slightly brown. Let veggies cool.  (Not completely, but enough that you can tolerate handling them). And now, the gratuitous pictures of roasting veggies because they're pretty.

See?  I told you they were pretty!

- This next step is extremely important. DO NOT skip this step.  Put on vinyl food service gloves.  I promise you will regret it if you don't.  When handling habaneros (or any hot pepper for that matter) the oils will get on your hands.  And they will not come off, no matter how much you wash, scrub, beg, bargain, or soak.  And eventually you will do something that is ordinarily harmless like rub your eye or scratch your nose, or if you're a get the point.  And it will hurt.  Trust me - I speak from experience. 

- Now that your GLOVES ARE ON (I'm serious!), carefully peel the skin off your peppers.  You can run them under cold water to help the skin come off.  Once the skin is peeled off, just kind of tear the pepper open and run the pepper under water, running your (GLOVED!) finger over the inside to remove the seeds.  Put the skinned and seeded peppers in your blender. I also skinned my carrots (just took the brown outside off.  Really I just cut them in half and scraped out the soft inside), my onion (again, just took off the outside layer), and garlic and put in blender with the peppers.  Add the rest of the ingredients and puree for about 5 minutes.  You want to make sure this is a liquid.

- Transfer the mixture to a sauce pan and bring to a boil on medium to medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Remember, there is sugar in this.  You don't want to accidentally make habanero hard candy.  As soon as it starts boiling, turn it on low and simmer, stirring often, for about 45 minutes to an hour.  The color will change a bit as it cooks, so don't be alarmed.

And that's it.  No, seriously.  That is really it.  Now, you can store it one of two ways.  You can put it in the fridge in a container or jar if you are planning on using it within the next couple weeks.  You can also can it, which is what I did.  I used 4 oz canning jars and processed in a boiling water bath, covered for 10 minutes.  I got 4 4oz jars of the stuff.  My result looked like this:
Come on....say it with me!  "Ooooh!  Aaaaaah!"  You know you want to....

Last night I made wings for dinner.  And I coated some of them with my hot sauce.  And it was delicious!  The habaneros actually taste like habaneros instead of just burning.  The sweetness was amazing!  I could really taste the honey in this, which I loved.  Now, don't get me wrong, 5 wings in I could really feel the heat.  But it wasn't unbearable.  And besides - it gave me the perfect excuse to eat ice cream right after dinner.  I had to cool my mouth down, after all.