Experimental Stuffed Peppers

As promised, I was able to transform my Daring Baker fail into quite a respectable dinner. On a nicely solitary Saturday evening, I ate my pepper alongside the must make braised scallions from Molly Stevens via Food52 (read more on that here), and was quite proud of my restraint from ditching that loaf of failed sprouted wheat, millet and pumpkin quick bread, since it became one of the best stuffed pepper fillings I've ever had.

pepper filling

I browned a pound of Italian sausage from local mom-n-pop Cudahy sausage shop Adamcyk's, and when the sausage drained on towels I fried some leek and onion in the residual fat. When everything cooled, I mixed it carefully by hand using about half of the loaf of failed quick bread and aiming for a chunky, happy homogenization. Then, I hollowed out and filled a single red pepper and propped it up for steaming using a thrift store brioche mold. The single pepper fit nicely in my oatmeal pot, and the shear ease and lack of kitchen mess reminded me yet again why it is such a pleasure to cook only for one once in a while...

steaming pepper rig

Meanwhile, I made economical use of the oven heat by making gorgeous braised green onions along with a few perfect specimens of baby Shanghai greens I found at the Asian market last week. I had no tarragon growing yet in the yard, which actually is currently full of rapidly melting snow, so I braised my greens with a stalk of lemongrass. To the horror of some, a couple of dried bay leaves that I recently replenished from the Spice House also made a way into the braise. (As a side note, I read some geeky talk about bay leaves and trees last Fall, and never quite got over the idea that I wanted fresh bay. My new purchase of dried leaves smelled so good when I was perusing my spice cupboard for suitable accompaniments I couldn't help myself from throwing them in the pan. I'm not sure if I added or subtracted from the flavor, but I will say that braised green onions and baby Shanghais are probably one of my new favorite things.)

baby Shanghai greens.

braised scallions

I love steaming stuffed peppers rather than cooking them in a liquid or sauce so that they become all soft and flabby. Not only do they retain their shape, but the filling steams along with them, keeping it moist and not falling apart. About 30 minutes was all it took for it to cook through, and then I topped it with just a bit of shredded pecorino cheese. I had some strained yogurt in the fridge, and it was also a great idea to use some of that as a sour and tangy garnish.

My gustatory delight, shared via email with a friend (or maybe two), was so winning I surprised myself. The pumpkin in the bread really came through, and the traces of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg were heightened by the pork flavor. It would have been too lean without the sausage, and this is coming from someone who probably eats far less than that of my peers here in Wisconsin, where the regional sausage allotment has to be quite high compared to the national average. My stuffed experiments were a perfect balance of sweet and savory, and a great way to spend a Saturday evening alone. In fact, I'd make another loaf of failed sprouted wheat, millet and pumpkin bread in the future just to make these!

stuffed red pepper

Hot Lunch and Vinegar.

I feel like it's been months since I've eaten lunch. At least, the lunches I was used to eating before my Kiddo went to full-day Kindergarten. While most of the time I do make a point to carve out a proper lunchtime for myself, the past month or so has been bread and cheese eaten on the fly type lunch, or cold whatever I had for dinner last night lunch. I was just telling a new friend how the school lunch time for my son is only about 15 minutes long, and how important meal times are to us. Before the Kiddo went to school, we would frequently sit for an hour around the table for lunch, chatting and lallygagging over a proper meal. How is it I've reduced myself to 10 minutes of cold food?

taco fillingtaco lunch.

This past two weeks, I have been swamped in sugar. I haven't really tried to eat my fill, but it seems that in testing (and you do need to taste things, just to make sure they are good, right?) multiple sweets many times during the morning, my belly was just aching for some real vegetable food. When half of a sweet potato fell out of the Tetris of my refrigerator around lunchtime today, it was as if I was being beckoned to cook for myself. A hot lunch of vegetable drawer items, sauteed in olive oil and finished off with a bit of hot, home-canned jalapeno brine. Lucky for me, I had a couple of pinto bean tortillas hiding in the freezer that quickly came back to life under the steam of the skillet, and the remains of some cotija cheese I found buried in my cheese drawer. I felt lonely at the table by myself, but fortunately, my eyes wandered across the room to the cider vinegar that I've been putting off for a while now...

Satiated with my wholesome, non-sugared lunch, I started my afternoon by tasting the jars of vinegar. The larger of the two jars I started first, just after pressing the apples for the first time this fall with my Parents. It was pleasantly floral, vinegary but still gracefully reminiscent of the apples we picked. Since I plan to use these vinegars to cook with or dress salads (or drink with seltzer), I am not worried so much that they aren't very strong, not nearly as strong as Bragg's cider vinegar. The smaller of the two jars was considerably weaker but still a bit acidic. I figured it could benefit to stand longer, but I decided to use some right away in my fermented hot sauce I had all but forgotten about.

apple cider vinegar

The vinegar mat that formed on the tops of the smaller diameter jar was much thicker than the larger, shallower jar. I'm not sure if the type of jars I used contributed to the time frames that the vinegars took to complete. I almost suspect so. I saved my "mothers" (if you are local and want some, let me know...), and I'm saving them not quite sure where my vinegar adventures will take me going into the new year. I have taken a break from kombucha brewing, in part because I don't have a huge space to store all my projects and I was a bit worried about cross-contamination. I'd like to get back to daily kombucha consumption, especially since I have quite a cache of tested fruit syrups that have made their way to my freezer!

the mothers of vinegar.

I had quite a time finding jalapenos this summer, which I remembered when I was eating my taco lunch devoid of any additional peppers. I was able to find an ice cream pail of mixed hot peppers, and I got to pick them alongside an Amish man as we talked about his family and who in it liked hot food. The Amish, for the most part, like spicy things which is kind of surprising to me. I didn't get to make as many candied jalapenos as I had hoped this year, instead I got a pint of wicked orange pepper paste. It was much too hot to eat a spoonful on anything (and I can handle things pretty warm, mind you), so after I fermented it I left it in the fridge for months where I nearly forgot about it. (You can read more about my search for peppers this year over here. The recipe link that I loosely followed to lacto-fermenting my hot sauce is there as well.)

fermented hot peppers

I transferred it to my VitaMix, and added some of the mild vinegar to taste. Taste testing hot sauce is a difficult thing, but I did my best. I threw in a casual soup spoonful of honey and added more of the mild vinegar. This is a pretty hefty heat, but one that hits the front of your tongue first and then moves on fairly quickly. It's not the lingering, throat coating heat of a jalapeno, and it's a good thing, since it's maybe 10 times hotter. I think I got my sauce to a good flavor, but it's nearly water in consistency. No matter, since just a few drops of this stuff will enliven anything I can throw at it for the next year or so. I got one old Frank's Red Hot bottle full, plus two small 8 oz. vanilla extract jars. Even though they were washed thoroughly, I wonder if a nuance of vanilla will be found in the sauce after it sits, or if that hot sauce will just eat its way through any residual vanilla perfume. Time will tell.

fermented hot pepper sauce

I sat down last night to make a quick label for some Blueberry Vinegar, this was the only vinegar success I had after obtaining my original mother of vinegar from Lizzy, my Parents neighbor. I had 3 half pint jars, plus this little re-purposed vial:

blueberry (apple) vinegar
I clarified this vinegar by bringing it up to 140 degrees. It's no longer raw, but very pretty!

Since my Husband has been working more evenings, I have lately felt ravenously hungry by the time 5 o'clock hits, too hungry to wait for him for supper. But not so much today. Hot lunch is something I'll have to implement for myself again on a regular basis. I've talked before on the pleasures of cooking for one, and it is such a good feeling. I had no idea what would become of throwing vegetables into my cast iron skillet, and then miraculously tacos appeared. Even eating alone didn't feel quite so lonely when contemplating the vinegar and all of its complexities, though I still felt the pangs of aging as I remembered the solemn fact that my son is now going to be in school, unable to spend the lunch hour with me for most of the year from here on out. I suspect I'll be making labels now for my hot sauce, provided I can think of a clever name that isn't too trite. Maybe I'll ponder that over tomorrow's lunch.

vinegar creations.

Preservation by Any Means Possible (and... a Lahey Bread, if you are still keeping track)

I like to think of words in the English language, and how they look or "feel" like their spellings... my favorite examples: laugh, quiet, grumpy. When I see the word 'August' in type it evokes this feeling of exhaustion, of exhaling with a sigh, of brevity. In the Midwest, our most prolific season is August and the aforementioned descriptions sum it up well. Pretty much any vegetable that grows in our zone is on and ripe for the preservation, and while I don't preserve as much as some, I still feel that pang of tiredness. I wonder if I am doing as much as I can do, wondering if I am doing too much for the food-eating conundrum I find myself in (a.k.a. my picky boys).

Last weekend, the Kiddo and I spent time at my Parents' farm. My only food goal was finding a peck of jalapeno peppers. Last year's peppers were excruciatingly hot, so hot that I actually still have a number of jars leftover despite the near 3 pints of candied jalapenos I ingested myself. When considering my preserving tactics this Summer, I thought of an uncle - since I could justify doing more if I had someone with the fortitude to eat the last of the super hot peppers. And he must have a stomach of steel. Last Summer, I traded some canning for some upholstery work, and when my Mom gave him the peppers he ate almost half a jar immediately.

Finding jalapenos this year was more difficult, and after some hunting, we found a farm with them. I helped an Amish man pick a gallon pail full of mixed peppers. This was after a misunderstanding at a different farm that landed me a peck of crisp green bell peppers. Monday morning before leaving, 4 dozen corn appeared tidily bundled in a green mesh sack, the result of tasting some bi-color corn we got from another Amish neighbor on Saturday during our quest. It was the sweetest corn I've had this year, and now 10 1/2 lbs. are resting in the deep freeze.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I decided before I left that I needed to make proper lacto-ferment crock pickles this year. This beautiful photo from Chiot's Run was what did it; after reading the post, I went down to the basement and brought up the crock my Mom gave me a year ago that belonged to my Gram. I re-washed it and sterilized it for fear of mold spores (my poisoned vinegar was in the basement) and then left it on my kitchen counter open to the air for the weekend. Tuesday, I picked up some pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market, exactly 5 lbs. when I weighed them.

I decided not to can vinegar pickles this year, but couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't have any until next year so these traditional pickles are a welcome addition. So is the handsome crock on the floor of my kitchen.

hitchhiking caterpillar on the dill.

The recipe that Suzy at Chiot's Run used was from Linda Ziedrich's pickle book, which I do not have but intend to pick up soon. I followed the recipe, but I had no allspice. I may pick some up and add it after a trip to the co-op tomorrow... if I remember, that is. I also added just a few more hot chiles de arbol. I felt proud that my coriander seed was saved from my garden last year, I measured it out of an origami packet I made to conceal it.

my salad plate was exactly the right size to keep everything submerged.

Pickles done, I turned my attention to this gem of a recipe: lacto-fermented peppers from the Woodwife's Journal. At the farmer's market I also picked up some other green peppers of varying heats, poblanos, serranos, Aneheims, a few extra jalapenos since I was feeling a bit on the shy side with them. These are so delicious straight away, and I can only imagine they will get better with time. I had a few more alterations with this recipe since I was almost out of live cider vinegar (Bragg's, and I ordered another gallon today).

I eyeballed a half peck each of hot (green) mixed peppers and sweet bell peppers, but used only 1 1/3 c. of the cider vinegar and topped it off with plain white vinegar. I also used part olive oil and part grapeseed oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. Try to find Mexican oregano if you can, because that really makes these I think. They are the perfect kind of mild heat, slightly oily and herby, and just plain addicting. I had a half gallon jar and two quart jars, and already I'm wondering if I shouldn't do a second batch because I want everyone I know to try these. And unlike last year, the jalapenos are approachable.

The two larger projects out of the way, I turned my attention to these crazy, bright peppers. When I stood along this long row of mixed hot peppers of various types with an Amish man and picked these, he told me he planted them for the produce auction since their family doesn't much care for the super hot peppers. The auction draws both retailers and individual buyers, and many of the local Amish have gotten rather diverse in the things they grow to sell there. The most fascinating variety I thought were the tiny purple "ornamental" ones, which he assured me were edible, though he didn't remember the name. I bit into one and let my tongue discover the Scoville Heat Units. It was hot.

Last year, I remembered seeing this lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and cataloged it. I grew a single plant of cayenne peppers and another of habanero, planning to make a smaller batch after they ripen. I may still do that, but meanwhile I used the whole lot that we picked for my bucket, 11 oz., to make a trial batch. It's fairly thick, bordering more on a salsa consistency and I'm actually not sure that I'll strain it. I have a week to think about it.

This isn't just hot. It's mind-numbingly hot. But it's fruity, and the heat doesn't last long which is kind of strange for something with all the visual warning of a traffic cone.

I saved all of the jalapenos, which worked out to exactly 3 lbs. (enough for one batch of candied jalapenos) for tomorrow and moved on to the corn. According to an old preserving book my Mom has, when blanching corn for freezing, you should boil for just as long as you soak in an ice bath - 4 minutes in the case of sweet corn. I filled up my sink with icy water and boiled 6 ears at a time. My rhythm was so efficient that before the next batch was done in the boiling pot, I had 6 of the drained ears sheared clean of kernels - in part to the bundt pan corn removal method I've been seeing around the Internet.

I crafted a "knife protector" out of a plastic lid, however. and it worked really well!

With all of the aroma of sweet corn in the air, no bread in the house, and a starter that had just recently emerged from refrigerated weekend slumber, I decided to tackle the long-lost and maybe somewhat forgotten task of making all of Jim Lahey's bread for what I affectionately coined The Lahey Project. I saved out 4 ears of corn, stripped them, and blended them smooth. Then I used my new favorite purchase, a nut milk bag, to drain out corn juice that was used for the liquid in the bread.

It rose, sweet and earthy and super sticky and I formed it, messily, into a ball. It rose for a couple more hours surrounded by large amounts of cornmeal to ward off some of the inevitable stickiness and when the time came to drop it into my pot, I of course slipped and mostly deflated it. It's been so long since I have done a no-knead bread, and forgot about the somewhat delicate nature of the risen dough. I baked it anyway. It was delicious. It may not be the most picturesque loaf, but I certainly got the gist of what flavors bread can take on when the liquid is replaced with juice.

So, August. It was midnight before I slipped into bed, finally finished my book, and then had trouble winding down into sleep mode. I love working this way, until I'm so tired I'm not really tired any more. It's all self-imposed now, which makes it feel so much more rewarding than when I made an hourly amount which never seemed to measure enough for the precious time I gave to others. (I'm not talking about you though, GOP...) The hot water bath will bubble with more hot peppers tomorrow and I'll continue to take stock and see what else I should be doing to ready myself for the days when things aren't growing and thriving. When August leaves us as quickly as the sigh that it feels like, and Fall stands proud and cold and begs you to turn on the oven.

Newspaper Recipes: Fire Roasted Pepper Salsa

I think I would need to live 3 lifetimes in order to be able to try every recipe I have ever clipped from the newspaper. Lately I've been trying even harder to pare down my ever-growing collection using the following criteria:

a.) Is it too high in fat.

b.) Does it use ingredients that I usually do not have in the fridge or pantry.

c.) Is it so complex that I may only make it once (or have only made it once).

d.) Am I never going to make it, so that the little scrap of paper will end up in the endless purgatory of my hutch drawer.

Roasted peppers: like saturated pigment paints.

This recipe soared its way past my criteria, and even made its way into my handwritten moleskine notebook that I carry with me when I travel. It's so easy that it can be made in 10 minutes (not including the roasting...but you could roast the peppers anytime and even freeze them roasted), it's so versatile, that you can pretty much throw in whatever you love, and it can be served with or on top of anything and everything. Pretty much a winner all the way around.

As I recall, it was found about 2 years ago in a local free paper that I used to toss right into the recycle bin. After finding it, I then eagerly perused the paper each time it came before tossing it directly into the recycle bin. We don't seem to get that many free papers or even mail that much anymore, so I haven't seen any more free recipes from Mollie Katzen, who appeared at the time to have a syndicated recipe column. I have several of her cookbooks, so it was no surprise really that this recipe fit all of my keeping criteria.

So, here it is: keep in mind that really every ingredient is optional, and you can use whichever peppers you choose. I used some poblanos today, so I omitted the cayenne.

Fire Roasted Pepper Salsa - Mollie Katzen

  • 2 lbs red, yellow and/or orange peppers, broiled or grilled
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t. minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. salt or to taste
  • 2 t. cider vinegar
  • 1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1/2 t. sugar, optional
  • 1/2 t. cumin, optional

Grill (or broil, or roast at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until blackened in spots) peppers, discard seeds, and reserve any juice. Mince pepper flesh, stir in the rest of the ingredients. That's it. I don't even measure anything, just eyeball. Mollie's notes say you can add finely minced cucumber and diced avocado, but when I tucked it into the fridge next to some corn on the cob leftover from last night's dinner, I was thinking that may be a good addition as well.

I love this on eggs, grilled cheese or other sandwiches or on fish and added to miscellaneous taco fillings that make up the bulk of my diet.

And I love how it looks waiting to be used in the refrigerator. I love vinegar, and like to imagine that I could get about 2 weeks durability out of this salsa due to its addition...but it never lasts that long. I have to get a new pressure canner lid and experiment with canning some of this up. But I do believe that will be a project for next year.