Monday, October 22, 2007

Cooking with dried chilis from your garden

As gardening winds down for the season, it's time to start cooking with the produce we have preserved. Many people only use fresh chilis because they aren't sure how to work with dried chilis. I took pictures as I made an enchilada sauce this weekend.

First you want to wash the dried chilis to remove any dust that may have settled on them, break the tops off and remove the seeds. Make sure you wear rubber gloves while you are doing this. Then place in a pot and cover with water with several cloves of garlic. How much water to use depends on the heat of your chilis and how hot you want the finished sauce. If you have really hot chilis - use more water for a milder sauce and less for a really hot sauce. If your chilis are not as hot, use less water - you really need to experiment to find the right taste since tastes vary so much. I have a young child in the household so I make a more mild sauce. My chilis were pretty hot and I used 12 chilis and 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil.

When it comes to a boil, cover and turn off. Allow to sit and steep for several hours.

The next step is another one that varies by how hot you want the finished product. I am going for a very mild sauce so I use a slotted spoon and remove the chilis and garlic from the water and I'm left with a milder chili sauce. Before I had a child in the household I made a hotter sauce by putting on rubber gloves and putting my hands into the water (make sure it has cooled!) and squishing the chilis to remove lots of hot goodness into the water. You can also use a blender or a food processor. The way I do it provides a very mild sauce.

At this point, freeze the extra chili water that you aren't going to use right away. I prefer to freeze in glass - if you do, make sure you leave enough headroom - they will expand and you don't want the jars to break.

To make red sauce - melt lard or shortening in a skillet.

Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to the lard (I used gf flour since we are a gluten free household).

Stir like you would if you were making a brown gravy.

Add the chili water and whisk until smooth and cook until thick.

You can use the sauce now for enchiladas or tamales or anything that calls for a red chili sauce.

When I'm making enchiladas I stir (fake) sour cream (we're also dairy free) into the sauce before pouring it over the enchiladas.

Here is my son's plate with a finished enchilada on it. They were super yummy even if they were mild.

To make enchiladas - just soften corn tortillas in hot oil. Fill with your choice of filling (I used shredded chicken, onions and fake cheese) and roll up. Place in pan and spoon enchilada sauce over them. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes or until heated through.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In my garden - Saturday October 13, 2007

The cabbage continues to do well

I am very disappointed in the brussels sprouts - I tried a new variety this year and I'm just not happy - no sprouts big enough to pick - the plants are healthy and tall - but I want sprouts!

The bell peppers don't seem to know that it is fall and just continue to flower and are still loaded with peppers!

I have a couple of nice looking heads of cauliflower!

I think the green beans are finally done for the season. I'm going to cut them down in the next few days.

Checking in on Andy's garlic experiment

Garlic B is all up and looking healthy

Garlic A on the other hand, didn't fair so well - only one very weak shoot.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making Apple Pie Filling to Can

Today was a nice cool fall day - a perfect day to heat up the kitchen by canning.

First slice up the apples - I do this over several days and store in the fridge. I don't know exactly how many I cut up - I just keep cutting - if I end up with too many I can always throw them in the dehydrator. When I first starting playing with this recipe, it said to cut up 16 cups of apples and it would yield 4 quarts of apple pie filling - well, what I ended up with was more filling than apples and they would float to the top - the apples shrink as they cook and different varieties of apples cook up differently - so you really just have to experiment for yourself. I probably had 4 two and three quart bowls full of sliced apples when I started this morning.

This recipe calls for quick cooking tapioca and a lot of people aren't sure what that is - so here is a picture of the Minute Tapioca that I use.

In a large stock pot, mix 4 1/2 cups sugar (I use a combination of rapadura and white sugar - I am moving towards totally eliminating white sugar from our diet), 1 cup quick cooking tapioca, 4 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon nutmeg.

Stir in 10 cups of water.

Cook on medium high heat - you will see the little beads of tapioca in it - they will thicken as it cooks and you will not see them in the finished product - it will just be a thick syrup.

Make sure you stir it so it doesn't stick to the bottom and burn - you can see the beads are starting to thicken.

When it comes to a boil, boil and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the apples.

I add as many apples as I can and still have room to stir in the pot - if you fill it too full you don't have any room to manipulate the apples around.

Bring to a full rolling boil and cook 1 minute. A full rolling boil is one that you cannot stir down - in other words if you stir it while it is boiling, it continues to boil.

Ladle into jars and run a knife or spatula along the edges to release any trapped air bubbles.

Wipe the tops clean (I use a disposable paper towel) - if there is any sticky residue on the tops, it will interfer with the seals.

Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes.

And here is the finished product.

Now, I had a little bit of the sauce left over so I mixed it with the sliced apples that I hadn't used and cooked them up all nice and soft. I divided them into 8 custard cups and topped with a crumb topping. I put them in the oven and baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

And I have dessert for tonight.

For the crumb topping I used:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cold margarine
Mix the flour and sugar and then cut in the margarine until crumbly.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Occupational hazzards of gardening

At least if you have an apple tree that is. I've been taking advantage of the nice weather and getting the last of the apples picked so I can get them all canned.

Yesterday the occupational hazzard was bees. I got stung 7 times! Luckily I'm not allergic, but two of them swelled up pretty good. I decided I needed to hang up another of the Raid Yellow Jacket Traps - unfortunately they only work on yellow jackets and there were also hornets around. Good to have a kid that sees things on a different level - Andy spotted a couple of nests under the steps leading to our storage in the upper part of our garage. So we sprayed the nests as well.

Today it rained most of the day, but it cleared up in the afternoon and I thought I'd get out there again. There weren't anywhere near as many bees around so I thought I could get the rest of the apples picked. All of the apples that I could reach with the apple picker from the ground had been picked so it was time to get out the ladder. We have a very nice and sturdy ladder, but being up a little higher always makes me nervous. Can you guess what's coming? I lost my balance trying to hook the picker on an apple and fell. Andy was so good - he used to not understand when someone is hurt (he has autism remember), but he didn't hesitate - he ran inside right away to get his Daddy.

I'm okay. But I'm sore. I'm sitting here with ice on my ankle because it hurts, but it's not swollen and there is no bruise. I have several bruises elsewhere and my shoulder hurts too. Luckily I only fell about 3 or 4 feet.

Maybe I'll get the rest of the apples tomorrow - or maybe I'll leave them to come down naturally and just decide I've picked enough. I guess I'll wait and see how sore I feel tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Green Beans in October?

Crazy, isn't it? I know I should pull the plants up - but this is what I am still getting every day - and that's dinner.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Grapes, grapes, where are the grapes?

My family likes all fruit and we eat a lot of jelly, but Andy's all time favorite jelly is grape. I haven't really had a good crop of grapes in several years. I live in the suburbs and the grapes were planted before I lived here. Two different grapes grow (concord and red swanson) and both are on fences shared with neighbors.

On the side with the concord grapes, the neighbors put in a retaining wall a few years ago - they only had rocks on it and didn't care if the grapes grew down because they provided a great privacy screen - they only complained if they grew too long and went all the way down into their yard. Then 3 years ago they started planting veggies there and I had to trim the grapes way back several times a year to keep them out of their veggies. The pruning during the growing season pretty much destroyed any chance of getting any grapes on them. Then another neighbor told me that I wasn't pruning them back far enough in the winter and if I prune them back much much further then they won't grow down in the neighbor's yard and I would get some grapes. So I did that this year - didn't work - grapes got off to a late start, but I was still pruing them away from the neighbor's tomatoes. And while it did set a few grapes, they were set so late they are still green now while they should be purple. There will be no concord grapes this year. And I think it might be time to cut the grapes down totally. They are more maintenance than they are worth if I'm not going to get any grapes from them.

On the other fence shared with different neighbors are the Red Swanson - a sweeter eating grape (but it still has seeds, I don't know of a seedless variety that grows this far north). The first couple of years that I lived here the vines were still too young to produce much. Once they started producing, Andy and the little boy that lived in that house were big enough to discover them. The boys ate them as they ripened and I have rarely been able to get enough for a batch of grape jelly. I finally got Andy trained to leave them alone so we could make jelly, but the neighbor boy kept picking them green and using them as weapons. For that reason and countless others, I was not all that sad when they put their house up for sale. Andy was very sad to lose a friend so close in age, but I was secretly very glad to see them go. So this year we have new neighbors. Neighbors without any children. And the grapes were looking beautiful. They started ripening and I was watching them thinking about grape jelly. Then one day - I noticed that about half of the grapes were missing. They were missing from both sides of the fence - if they just disappeared from the one side I would think the neighbors picked the ones that fell on their side of the fence (which would be fair), but they were gone from both sides. I questioned Andy - he had not picked any. Perplexed, I started checking the grapes daily - planning to harvest them all the minute they were ripe. One day about two weeks ago I told Dan, I'm picking grapes tomorrow - I'm going to make some grape jelly. The next day when I went to pick grapes they were all gone! Where did they go? Dan thinks I should ask the neighbors, but I don't know them at all and I think that would be a weird way to open a conversation. They don't appear to be the gardening types at all - don't have anything planted - flowers or veggies - and these are seeded grapes - I just can't see someone taking them all unless they are going to cook with them. So, I'm wondering if squirrels eat grapes. That some sort of animal got them makes more sense. I have also seen raccoons in the yard from time to time (we are not very far from the Mississippi River and they come up from the river) - perhaps they took them. So, another grapeless year.

But this tale does have a happy ending. I went to my brother's house in Wisconsin this past weekend and his grapes (which my father planted years and years ago) were loaded. He is too busy with his new restuarant to do much canning this year. So I picked enough to make two batches of jelly and still left plenty for him or for any other siblings who might be wanting some grapes (I know at least two of my other brothers also raid his grapes). And I made my grape jelly.

Now, I just have to decide if I want to move the grapes and try and grow them on an arbor totally within my yard (where would I have room) or just dig them up and cut them down. Grapes don't really make for good neighbors when they are on shared fences (the fence is ours - neither of the neighbors have a fenced yard, but the grapes still grow over into their yards) - maybe grapes aren't meant to be grown in the suburbs. I don't really have a long enough section of fence on the two sides that I don't share with neighbors to move the grapes to.

Decisions to ponder over the winter......