Monday, October 18, 2010

CanJam #10 Chili Peppers

The CanJam ingredient this month is chili peppers and I had a bumper crop of them this year; jalapeno/ habanero/ cayenne overload! Colette grew some very hot Portuguese peppers this year so we had those as well. The hardest part was picking a recipe - I have list on my fridge currently of things I still need to preserve and most of them involve hot peppers in some form. Kim chi is on the list but it's a fermentation process, not hot water bath. I made chili garlic paste earlier this month but such a small batch I didn't bother canning it, just stuck it in the fridge. It came down to salsa verde or hot pepper jelly, favourites for both Colette and I- so we decided to do both!

Salsa verde is a perennial favourite around here. We've been making this for so long I don't even remember how many years ago we started making it. It's always very popular; one year we had a exchange student from Mexico staying with us and he ate my year's supply in a matter of weeks while the canned version his mother shipped him from home collected dust on the shelf. We usually try to grow the tomatillos ourselves with moderate success- some years I actually get enough before the possums steal them all. This was not one of those years sadly -I harvested barely a pint! But at least most of the peppers are home grown!

Salsa Verde

1 lb tomatillos, husked and blanched for 5 minutes in boiling water.
1-3 jalapenos seeded and chopped
1/2 cup red or yellow peppers diced fine ( we used poblanos but any mild pepper will work)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tsp lime juice ( preferably fresh)
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove of garlic ( optional)
chopped cilantro ( optional)

Blanch tomatillos as directed and coursely chop.
In food processor or with a hand blender, puree tomatillos, jalapenos (and garlic if using ).
In a large sauce pan add puree, red onions, vinegar, peppers and salt. Cook at a slow boil, about 5 minutes until slightly reduced. Turn off heat, add lime juice and cilantro and stir well. Pour in 250 ml jars and add sterilized lids. Can for ten minutes in hot water bath.

Salsa verde can be used in any dish that calls for tomato salsa but I like it best with chicken enchilladas.

Anther annual favourite is hot pepper jelly. Usually we do a jalapeno jelly but with all the lovely peppers to choose from (and the poblanos I found at the market), we decided to do a multi pepper version - a seriously hot jelly this time!

Red Hot Chili Jelly

1 1/2 cups of mixed hot and sweet peppers ( we used red bell, poblanos, Portuguese hot, red and green jalapenos- ratio of hot to sweet can be adjusted to taste)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
5 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 pk pectin crystals.

Dice peppers very finely ( use gloves for hot peppers!)
Saute peppers and vinegar until softened, then slowly bring to a boil.
Add pectin according to manufacturer's directions and bring to a rolling boil.
Add sugar and boil hard for 1 minute.
Turn off heat and continue to stir for 5 minutes, skimming foam.
Pour in jars and add sterilized lids
Can for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Makes ten 125 ml jars.

This is a lot thicker than our usual jelly. The colour is absolutely gorgeous, the peppers are beautifully suspended and this is one seriously hot jelly! We ended up with a slight problem with the pectin tho - it gelled but it's a bit grainy although it doesn't affect the taste. Popular wisdom suggests that it will dissipate in the jar but I made the mistake of trying to 'fix' it and failed miserably ( for more on that see here )

At least Colette will get to enjoy her share.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to screw up a recipe - twice!

It seems this is not my month. Colette and I did our latest Canjam creation last night ( recipe and more on that in another post) and we had a minor glitch. Our jelly was gorgeous and delicious but the pectin was granulated and it remained gritty even after processing. This was likely because we used a no sugar version of pectin in a recipe that required a ton of sugar. This is a rookie mistake; we both know better but we used what we had on hand and hoped for the best. And in all honesty it wasn't terrible. The texture was not the best but it was certainly edible. But I wasn't content- since I started teaching canning workshops this summer I've become a lot more picky about the results. In addition, I have begun to sell some of my preserves at local markets so my standards have gotten higher. In addition to proper sterilization techniques, which I have always be strict about, I am also more concerned with things like appearance and texture. After all if someone is going to pay for one of my products they deserve the best quality I can make. I do all my canning for sale in a commercial kitchen (to abide by local health regulations) but a lot of my test runs are still done at home, where we can taste the results ( and the mistakes.)

So when I checked the jelly this morning and it was no better, I decided to see what could be done to fix it. First I called the pectin manufacturer and was thoroughly chastised by the rep for using the wrong product- very helpful. She actually had no answers and was unable to comment on my suggestions, thanks for nothing. I tried the internets with similar results- no help there. So I decided to empty all the jars back into a pot and reheat it. Sure enough, all the granules began to homogenize, but now there's another problem. Reheating destroyed the pectin so now I had a lovely runny syrup. The instructions that come inside the pectin do have advice on what do if your jelly doesn't set. You use another package of pectin, dissolved in water and heated to boiling and add it back to the jelly. Boil the jelly for 30 secs, then turn off heat and stir for 5 more minutes. I used only half the package ( and water), followed the instructions to the letter and got something that no longer even resembles food! I'm serious- this stuff began to gel as soon as I turned the heat off and stirring only made it worse. When I attempted to pour it in jars it fell in chunks. I processed it anyhow in case the heat of the canner would help somehow but there is no saving this stuff. It resembles chunks of rubber cement with bits of pepper and tastes about the same.

This is one batch that is headed straight for the green bin - but at least I can reuse the jars!

On that appetizing note, I will be selling my Backyard Farms preserves at the Drake Hotel in Toronto this weekend as part of their Fall Market. The market is free and happens rain or shine - I will be there Saturday and Sunday from 10 -4 so if you are in the area, come by and say hi!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Settling In

Fall is upon us and as much as I try to deny it, the growing season is done for another year. Some years we get lucky and warm temps continue well into October and the summer crops linger for bit. Last year I ate my last fresh tomato salad in November! This year we've gone straight from 30 degree days to temperatures in the teens or lower, and the gardens are pretty much done. The remaining tomatoes are ever so slowly ripening but there are many left on the vines that won't make it before the first frost. I've been picking some under ripe to finish inside but the flavour is never quite the same.

Preserving is slowing down as well, but I still have a lot to do: I've yet to make salsa verde with my tomatillos, there are still apples and pears to finish, hot sauce to make, and I froze some peaches and plums for more jam making now that the kitchen isn't too hot to move in. And the farmer's markets are teeming with produce that I don't grow (yet!), like cauliflower and leeks. I still need to roast more peppers while they are cheap and I never make pickled beets or carrots until after first frost- they seem sweeter to me then. Thankfully most of this can be done gradually over the next month or so.

I'm also working on some fermentation projects this year for the first time.In the summer I pickled grape leaves using a lacto fermentation method with great results. More recently I accidently fermented some grape juice that is well on it's way to vinegar now. I'll post more on these and other things like kimchi in another post.

So now it's time to slow down a bit and even tho I wish it were otherwise I've been forced to concede. A spectacular rodeo dismount ( accidental of course!) from my bike has left me with a broken right wrist and the resulting cast has made me halt the hectic pace. I can still do most things but I'm much slower at the moment- it's a good reminder that I am not invincible. It's also a great excuse to curl up in a chair with a blanket, a good book and a mug of tea.