Monthly Archives: September 2010

In a Pickle

I get inspired by food in various ways. Sometimes travel will inspire my path of meals and recipes, like my recent trip back to Santa Fe. A visit to a local farmer’s market is always great for inspiration, with their abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients. Other times I will find inspiration online, through a plethora of food sites, blogs and recipes.

growing fresh vegetables in your garden taste great!

Red Jalapeños simply have spent more time in the sun than their green amigos.

But what inspires me most often, is what I already have on hand. Whether that be in the pantry, the fridge or in my own front yard, I try and maintain a fair amount of food staples at the ready. The ability to have choices allows for a more creative kitchen and table. Usually I will sit down over the weekend and ‘guestimate’ what we may have for meals the rest of the week. Depending on the season and weather, that will have the biggest influence on what get’s cookin’.

For example, if it’s 90 degrees outside (and therefore at least 80 degrees inside), the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven. A braise? No way. Casserole? Uh uh. And please, I love salads, but I usually don’t feel satisfied making an entire dinner out of one. And if you have kids in the house, you pretty much know this will never fly. A stove top or outdoor grill is always a good solution.

The New Mexican image for Peppers

Creative Pepper Placement is Phun!

But back to the inspiration part. Last week I was putzing in my very modest garden, the last couple weeks of summer coming to an end, the produce following suit. The remainder of our ‘bounty’ was limited to a few bits of arugula, and some jalapeño peppers. I grew jalapeños this year because it is one of the few peppers that I can actually grow with some success here along the Central Coast.

With all past attempts at cultivating bell peppers, poblanos and various other types of caspius here, it’s just not hot enough for an extended season to get those babies to bust out. They start with the proper growth, blossoms and hearty stocks, then the peppers start to come in, and…

They just never get any bigger. Like they just got tired and gave up. So I gave up too. But jalapeños like it here. And I like them, so it’s been a good match.

However, my use of these little guys hasn’t really been all that, well, here’s the word again: inspiring. They fought so hard just to make themselves big and strong in my little garden, and all I was doing was dicing them up in guacamole. Or slicing a few in a quesadilla. Quite frankly, I think they were a little hurt. Yes, I have a strange relationship with food, I know this. I honestly believe food has a soul, especially food that is grown from the earth, with sun, water and nourishment. Vegetables have souls; yes. Yes, they do.

Last month when I went back to Santa Fe, one of my girlfriends brought over a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles, which she made from my recipe (which I can’t find right now, but I’ll make a post of it later, I promise). Basically, it’s vinegar, pickling spice, sugar, some oil and not much else. Kirby cucumbers are sliced in nice size chunks, the vinegar and spices are brought to a boil, then the chunks of cucumbers are packed tightly in a few mason jars, and the hot liquid goes inside for the ride. After a few days, you have sweet, tangy pickles.

Well, kirby cucumber season is long gone, but I’ve got some cute little jalapeños that might like a vinegar bath, so I gave it a shot. Since I had only a meager pound of peppers (which would hopefully be pickled perfectly), I threw in some carrots and onions too. If I had some fresh cauliflower laying around, I would have put some of those florets in the mix as well.

The recipe came together in about 15 minutes. And no, I didn’t bother with the whole canning process because honestly, for 2 jars of the stuff, I figured the sheer amount of acid from the vinegar and the refrigeration would ward off any spoilage for a couple of months.

I tasted the recipe after a couple days in the fridge. Meh. I was disappointed. Not much flavor from the pickling spice came through; the vinegar was really overpowering and hadn’t mellowed like I had hoped. Boo. I promptly placed the jar back in the cooler and forgot about it until today.

What a difference a week makes. Wow.

I was rummaging through the icebox this afternoon, trying to throw a quick lunch together while watching some football, when I spotted the jars. I knew I had some whole wheat tortillas and some good queso fresco in house, so I whipped up a batch of quesadillas.

I simply took out a few of the peppers, some carrots and onions, diced them all up and threw them into the tortillas with the cheese. As they seared in the pan, I dug my fingers back into the jar, plucked out a pepper and tasted.

The vinegar had mellowed as I had hoped. It now blended with the pickling spices to create an earthy yet bold hit. The heat from the jalapeños were serious, and they had spread their joy to the carrots and onions. This was a hit!

pickling spice, vinegar and love

You can throw this recipe together while drinking beer and watching football. Score!

I can think of many great ways to serve this condiment. Throw some in a bowl the next time you make an antipasti platter. Tuck a few of these spicy treats in a panini before your grill it. Top your favorite burger or roast beef sandwich with a scattering of these delectable delights. Nachos? Oh yes. Jazz up a cheese pizza. Sprinkle some into your next batch of soup just before serving. One taste of these heavenly spiced bombs will hopefully convince you to ignore those jars of green grey, soggy ‘pickled peppers’ that have been camping on a shelf in your local grocery store for the last 18 months. Ick. Really.

Spicy vegetables are yummy

Jalapeños & Vegetables? Meet Acid & Spice. Get cozy.

These babies will make you sweat. They will make you smile. And when they are gone, they will make you sad.

The recipe below will make 2 pints of pickled vegetables. You can double this recipe if desired. And feel free to play with this recipe. Add some cauliflower, sweet peppers and baby corn to the mix. Get inspired. That’s the funnest way to cook!

Pickled Jalapeños and Vegetables makes 2 pints.

Ingredients:

  • Approximately 2 dozen jalapeños
  • 1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1- 1/2 tablespoons pickling spices
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly

Directions:

  • Puncture each jalapeño with a toothpick or skewer, 3 or 4 times. Pack the peppers, carrots, onions and any other vegetables you may be using tightly in pint size mason jars.
  • Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Stir to combine well. Remove from heat and carefully pour hot liquid evenly into jars, to about 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Seal with lids and screw tops tightly. (At this point, if you wish to make a larger batch and extend the shelf life, you can process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Click here for canning tips).
  • After mixture has cooled, place jars in refrigerator, and keep chilled. The mixture will be ready to eat in about 5-7 days. Mixture will keep refrigerated, up to two months.
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Christmas in September.

No, I’m not talking about the holiday itself. I’m talking about the reference to red and green chiles in New Mexican cuisine.

When dining in New Mexico, one can order a number of dishes prepared with red or green chile sauce, such as enchiladas, stuffed sopapillas, burritos, etc. If you wish to get both green and red chile sauce, you simply order ‘Christmas’. And since I’m still undecided which chile I prefer, I usually order my dishes this way. I get the best of both worlds.

New Mexico Red Chile

This is where the love starts.
Just don't breathe in too deeply.

I was lucky to make a quick visit to Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago, just in time for Hatch green chile season which I blogged about here. But red chile gets its due now.

When I first moved to Santa Fe over 20 years ago, I got a job working the ‘front of the house’ at the Ore House on the Plaza. This is where I met my husband. He was the cute bartender I gazed upon as I came into the bar seeking employment. I told my friend Maggie right then and there, “I’m going to marry him.”

And I did.

key ingredients for perfect pesto

KISS - Keep it simple, stupid. Stupid is me, not you.
Just so we're clear. Duh.

I also met some of the best people around. Many are still dear close friends, even though some of us have moved around, moved back, moved to other countries. We still have solid ties and relationships that allow us all to hook up. Once we get together, it’s like no time has passed. We pick up where we left off. There are never odd moments of uncertainty. There is trust. Love. Respect.

The Ore House will always hold a special place in my heart. Even the friends who have come and gone from our lives are revered and remembered.

ready to blend

Have I mentioned how much I love K&K for the Cuisinart? Again...gracias.

As is the Ore House’s Red Chile Piñon Pesto. This signature recipe was developed by the original chef of the Ore House, and despite my insider contacts, no one has the recipe. For years, this was not an issue, as anyone could wander on up the white staircase to the second floor of the restaurant and simply purchase large mason jars of the adored pesto to take home and enjoy for many, many meals.

But alas, some good things come to an end. After over two decades of success, the Ore House on the Plaza will close its doors. In an attempt to gain a surplus of pesto bliss, my amigo Cristòbal made a run out to the restaurant recently and discovered that our beloved pesto is no longer available. Not on the menu, not in jars.

¡Que lastima! When Chris broke the news to me, I nearly wept. Honestly. People who are ‘in the know’ about this pesto will verify its magic. There is something medicinal about it. You eat it, you sweat. Your tongue begs you to stop, begs you for more. Slather it on a burger, and I swear you’ll never eat a burger any other way (unless it’s already covered in green chile. Then you are forgiven). Combine it with butter and add to seared shrimp or scallops? Died and gone to chile heaven, my friends. You’re just a better person after eating it.

Jar O Love

If you're lucky, you have one (or two) of these in your fridge.

Just knowing I have a jar or two in my fridge just makes me sleep better at night. I know, it’s really absurd, but there you have it. So I knew I had to find a way to keep me and my familia in the red, with the red. I’ve been playing around with the ingredients – chile, cheeses, oil, and nuts for a while now.

And I think I’ve got it.

Now, I am not going to be as selfish and elusive as the original masters. Oh no. I think great food should be enjoyed, not hoarded. I gladly share my recipe with all of you, and encourage the Red Chile Piñon Pesto diehards to give it a try. All of the ingredients can be found easily in your own home towns and cities. Except perhaps, for the red chile pods. But that’s okay, because I can hook you up, my compadres. Just email me and I will be happy to send you some of the good stuff. Soon, you too can be putting up jars of ‘liquid gold’.

And, if for any reason you just don’t have it in you to whip up a batch, you can always wait until Christmas. The actual holiday this time. I think I may be making up a shwack for gifts. Just stay on my good side, and all good tidings will come.

Red Chile Piñon Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound dried New Mexican red chile pods
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cups grated parmesan and romano cheeses (about 6 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

  • Spread dried chile pods on a large baking sheet and heat in a 300 degree oven for 3 minutes. Remove stems, but do not seed.
  • Combine all ingredients in food processor, except for oil and salt. Add 1 cup of the oil, and then pulse to combine. Slow stream the additional oil as needed to form a chunky ‘pesto-like’ mixture. Taste for seasoning, and add up to 1 teaspoon of salt as needed. The cheeses are naturally salty, so you want to be careful with this. I did find that despite the cheese, a teaspoon of kosher salt was helpful. Be careful if you are using regular table salt. If you are, perhaps half is fine.
  • Store pesto in a mason jar (preferred), or covered container and refrigerate. Mixture will keep for several months. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Go Green.

Last month I was lucky enough to arrange a quick, last-minute get away to Santa Fe for 4 days. A cheap flight, an open schedule with friends and familia and some fall sunsets were just in order. Oh, and green chile season is in full force right now. Bonus!

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure to sample this beloved fruit, I will pray that you, one day can experience a true New Mexican crop. And yes, chile is a fruit:

Chili pepper (from Nahuatl chilli, chilli pepper, chilli, chillie, chili, and chile) is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.

New Mexico grows the best chiles, hands down. The tiny town of Hatch, located approximately 200 miles south of Santa Fe, produces the ever popular green chile, named after its place of origin. The flavor is smoky, slightly sweet and pungent. Its heat is undeniable. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s also highly addictive. Once you give in to the pain, the pleasure is so keen and sharp; there really is no way to describe the feeling.

You want more. Now. Then, later. The next hour. The next day. Next week. Oh yeah. You have a green chile monkey on your back, big time. And the only thing you can do, is feed it. More chile.

The best chile. Ever.

Green chile can be red too. Who knew?

During the few short weeks of chile season in Santa Fe, you can drive through town and stop along the roadsides, the sights (and smells) of heavy iron roasting barrels, filled with bushels of freshly picked whole green chile. As the barrels spin and turn, the aroma wafting through the air is a cross between a crisp fall leaf and some stinky uh… leaf. Honestly, when I first moved to Santa Fe over 20 years ago, I moved up on Zozobra weekend, a ritual of burning “Old Man Gloom” and I swore every neighborhood I drove through was burning some seriously stinky bud. Turns out, this green crop is way better, more profound; much more coveted.

And, it’s actually good for you. Chile is high in Vitamin C, boasts a hefty dose of anti-oxidants, and has been proven to ward off irregular cell production and cancers. And, the Capsicum levels in chiles encourage the brain to release endorphins, nature’s pain killers and mood enhancing chemicals throughout the body. So you see, I’m not kidding when I talk about the addiction part. But it’s a good addiction, understand?

While in Santa Fe last week, my familia and I sat down to peel, seed and bag 2 beautiful bushels (about 40 pounds) of chile. This has become somewhat of a tradition at the Casa de Pearson-Kramer. This year the crew were few (perhaps the party the night before which ended at 4am had something to with it), but hey – if you can’t run with the big dogs…. then get off the porch.

More chile for us.

chile mis en place

No glove? No love. Well, love in all the wrong places. Cuidado my friends, cuidado.

Fortified with some blazing Bloody Marys (thank you Julie!), latex gloves and endless ziplock bags, our newspaper lined table quickly filled with bowls of charred skins and seeds, whole chiles for rellenos later, and 40 precious bags of MH and H (medium hot and hot) love.

The process isn’t rocket science. Don your gloves, have a bowl to dump the unwanted seeds and skins, a bowl for the cleaned chile, a plate for the large, pristine chiles which will become rellenos if desired, and another bowl of cool, clean water. Occasionally dip your gloved hands in the water to keep the seeds at a minimum.

At no time, ever, should a chile pass through the said water bowl. This is known as a dipper, or a dunker. It is wrong, wrong wrong. It’s like drowning your food before you eat it. I mean, honestly, would you drop a steak in a tub of water after throwing it on the grill? I didn’t think so. It’s really the same thing. It drowns the poor chile of its flavor, its zip. I know perfectly sane folks who will go ballistic if they witness this heinous practice while in their presence. I mean, I would never lose it like that. No way. Not me, uh uh. I am way too Zen for that.

But please don’t be a dipper. I beg of you. Thank you.

Green Chile. Bagged and Tagged.

Green Chile. Bagged and Tagged. That's wrong, huh?

After all the chile has been cleaned, bagged and labeled (remember, you have a bushel of both medium hot, and hot. It is very important to keep these separate and correctly labeled). This way, you can mix the heat up a bit, depending on what and whom you are cooking for.

However, it does appear that this years roasting party may be a mix of proper and improper sorting. Both Lori and myself have been privy to ‘medium hot’ chile that nearly blew our pants off, so I am actually a little afraid to try the hot. I’ll report back when I get the nerve to open one of those babies. Chris on the other hand, dove right off the high board and piled the ‘hot’ onto some cheese quesadillas the other night and is still here, so who knows. But, this guy is a die-hard chile pro, for reals. Tread lightly new chile fans. Tread lightly.

Now, what to do with said chiles you ask? First, put all those lovely little bags in your freezer. Then, when your craving for chile hits, you are locked and loaded my friends. I have been successful with freezing my chile for over a year, but at the rate I’m going, the freezer longevity test will be unnecessary.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting some of my favorite recipes using the beloved pod, such as Green Chile Sauce, Green Chile Stew and more. But you don’t need a recipe to use these lovely little bags. Simple thaw, chop some chile on a board, and tip them into a flour tortilla with eggs and cheese. Or slide a mound of chile on top of your next grilled burger. Grilled cheese and green chile sammies? Si, claro!

The possibilities are endless. Too bad the supply of Hatch Green Chile isn’t.