Saturday, August 23, 2008

Our Habanero problem...

A few months ago, early in the summer Court and I were idling through the Carrboro Farmer's Market. We were hunting out something to plant in our garden. Specifically we were looking for some fun, hot chiles to plant. We had had a rough start to the season, losing a Cayenne plant and nearly losing another to the depredations of the local rabbit and groundhog population.

Jokingly, I looked at a rack of innocently looking pepper plants and said, "How 'bout some of those Habaneros?" I laughed... then Court said, "Do you want to? I think it would be fun."

So we set about trying to find a healthy plant, but immediately ran into a problem. They only came in four packs. I figured, given my luck that we'd lose a few so that was fine. At the time of writing this we have 2 cayenne, 3 Jalepeño and 4... yes, 4... Habanero plants producing. I had seen Cayenne and Jalapeño plants before and figure the same numbers of fruit would be produced by a Habanero plant. Silly man. Below I will give you a couple of recipes and some advice on working with Habaneros

I would estimate that I have harvested 20-30 chiles off each Habanero plant and at least 100 are still on the plants! We have been searching for recipes to use these in. I mentioned the Jerk marinade in my last post so here's that recipe:

Jerk Marinade


2-3 Habanero peppers, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely
2 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 tbsp. cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine these ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until relatively smooth. A few chunks are okay. If possible, marinate your meat in this for 24-36 hours to get good penetration of the flavor. If you are using a denser meat like a pork chop, it may be a good idea to pierce the meat in a few places to allow the marinade to get into the meat.

The amounts here are sufficient to marinate a whole chicken that has been processed into pieces. It worked well for 3 pork chops, as well. Meats like pork chops and steaks can be cooked over a grill or on a grill pan. Pork roasts or tenderloins, chicken and fish can be similarly grilled or roaste/baked as appropriate.

HOWEVER... 2-3 Habaneros just ain't cuttin' it! We have a hundred viciously hot peppers staring at us and we needed to come up with a big Habanero sink . Now some of these peppers will be getting sliced and then pickled using the dilly bean pickling method in an earlier post (I will leave out most of the ingredients other than the vinegar, water, salt and garlic). But today Court and I had a brainstorm. In case some of you don't know, both Court and I have spent extended periods of time in the Central American country of Belize. Both of us love that place and have many fond memories (although for some reason we've never managed to get there together) there. Anyone who's been to Belize can attest to the fact that there are three things that everyone encounters in Belize: Belikan Beer, beans and coconut rice (a great side for Jerk chicken, incidentally) and Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce.

Marie Sharps is a fantastic hot sauce, packing in both wonderful flavor and a powerful kick. What is the main ingredient of Marie Sharp's classic hot sauce? You guessed it: Habanero chiles. The other great thing about Marie Sharps Hot Sauces is that they are relatively simple when it comes and so have wonderful, clean flavors, unlike a lot of fancy hot sauces that sacrifice taste for heat. We don't, of course, know what the exact recipe the Marie Sharps company uses but we've come up with an approximation that we like. This recipe makes about 12-15 oz. of a great and flavorful Hot Sauce. It won't replace Marie Sharps for those special occasions, but if you have too many Habaneros, it is a great way to use them.

Nick and Court's Habanero Hot Sauce

8 Habanero chiles, cored seeded and finely chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 small yellow onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
Lime juice (from 3 limes)
1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar
salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. This hot sauce doesn't have a completely liquid consistency. Because of the fresh ingredients there will be a pulpy consistency. Test the salt and spice to see if it's to your taste. If it's too spicy you can counteract that with more carrot. The carrot gives the sauce a great sweetness while cutting the pain. When you have the flavor and consistency right, move the sauce to a small sauce pan and bring up to a low simmer for a couple minutes to make sure you kill off any bacteria. Then put the sauce in a clean container (we used a sterilized 20 oz. resealable beer bottle, but a jar or tupperware is fine). I'm not 100% on how long this stuff will last, but given that the sauce that we love so much and gave us the idea for this has identical ingredients and lasts for a year or two in the fridge, I figure you're good for a few months at least.

Working with Habaneros
These are good rules for working with any hot chile, but Habaneros are as hot as most of us are likely to see. They are the second spiciest chiles in the world (the spiciest on record is the Dorset Naga, a cultivar of the South Asian Naga Jolokia chile, that was created in, of all places, Dorset, England). According to Wikipedia the Habanero's spiciness is somewhat dependent on the soil they grow in but, on average, they sit anywhere from 350,000 to 580,000 Scoville units. To put it in perspective this is 44 to 290 times as spicy as a Jalapeño, so care must be taken. Even if you aren't too senstive to working with peppers, I suggest wearing gloves to handle these. Latex or vinyl food prep gloves will protect you. If you are cutting up a lot of the peppers

I also recommend a well ventilated area. I notice a burning in my lungs and frequent coughing when working with these guys.

If you do decide not to where gloves I suggest smearing your hands with a little vegetable or olive oil. The capsaicin that gives chiles their spiciness is not water soluble and it will tend to hang out in the oil, making it easier to wash off.

Be careful of touching the area around your eyes (God help you if you get this stuff on your fingers and you wear contact lenses) and any sensitive skin, like around your nostrils.

Finally, after you've blended your jerk marinade or your Habanero hot sauce, DO NOT for the love of all that's loveable put your nose in the blender and sniff. I did this... it isn't fun...


Thursday, July 24, 2008


I know we haven't been very good about updating here, but the past 6 months has been pretty hectic for both of us. We haven't given up on new food and recipes and several times have said, "We should put this in the blog!". Obviously, though, it's easier to say that than sit down and type it out (not much easier, but apparently there is significant enough activation energy that we aren't getting to it).

That all said, I am planning to get in here and add some updates to the food we've been experimenting with. For instance, we have made Jerk Chicken several times, recently. Jerk Chicken is an attractive recipe for us because it uses Habanero peppers. Currently we have 4 large Habanero plants producing, along with 2 Cayenne and 3 Jalapeno plants. Unfortunately, these are our seemingly only successful gardening this year.

We did get one of our tomatoes, beating last year's total by one. We have discovered that green tomatoes are a delicacy to the colony of groundhogs that live in the woods behind our house. Our landlords are trying an organic animal repellent that seems to be having some success as the predation has dropped off. Hopefully, now we'll see some tomatoes ripening. Emma (our little black kitty) would really appreciate this, as she has a connoisseur's taste for heirloom tomatoes.

Anyway, like I said, I plan on getting some more updates here. I'll get the Jerk Chicken recipe up soon, hopefully, and then move into some of the other neat foods we've been trying.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

How to hock your ham

While perusing the Dean & Deluca cookbook the other day, Court came across a recipe for the traditional New Years Day dish Hoppin' John. This dish is supposed to give good luck for the New Year. If you've never had (or heard of) this dish, I highly recommend it. It is a dish made up of black eyed peas (or a similar bean) cooked in a mildly spiced boiling liquid consisting of water, sweated onion and celery, crushed red pepper, spices and a smoked ham hock. Once the peas/beans have cooked through you cook rice in the liquid with the beans and shred the meat from the ham hock into the dish. The resultant dish is reminiscent of a red beans and rice, though the spice essences are less on the hot side and are more typically Caribbean with strong notes of clove.

The real impetus behind this post was that our local meat provider (the Whole Foods in Chapel Hill) had apparently had a big run on ham hock that day. Additionally, I'm not sure they carry smoked ham hock at all. Though I could be mistaken on that note. One of the guys in the butchers department, which I should note is a generally very helpful group of guys and gals, suggested that we get a couple country pork ribs and put a dry rub on them. Court and I put our heads together and came up with a solution that I think worked really well:

Faux Ham Hock:
2 pork country ribs
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
good pinch of salt
several grinds of a pepper mill
tbsp or 2 of Worcestershire sauce (yes, I had to spell check that)

Mix all the dry ingredients together and rub all over the the country ribs until well coated. Place the coated ribs in a plastic bag and pour in the Worcestershire sauce. Move the ribs around until well coated with the liquid. There shouldn't be too much liquid or you'll leave the rub in the bag when you take out the ribs. You want the consistency of a thickish paste. Put the bag in the fridge and leave for 20-30 minutes to marinate. Towards the end of your marinating time turn on the broiler in your oven and set a wrack 4-6" below it. Take the pork out and arrange on tin foil on a baking sheet. Broil the ribs until a good carmelization forms on the first side. Flip the meat over and repeat on the second side. You now have a good smoked ham hock substitute! The carmelization of the Worcestershire sauce in combination with the rub ingredients adds a nice smoky flavor to the meat. Keep in mind though that if you want to immediately eat the ribs on their own, you need to check them for doneness. We tossed our ribs in simmering liquid for 30 minutes so we knew they would be completely cooked. In the final Hoppin' John dish the meat had the great texture of shredded pork and a great smoky flavor that enhanced the dish a lot. Thanks to the gentlemen in the meat department at Whole Foods for pointing us in the right direction and coming up with a good substitute for a difficult ingredient to find on New Years Eve.

As another side note: we had run out of dried red pepper for the dish and substituted an Ethiopian spice mixture Berbere for the crushed red peppers. This addition probably added a bit more smokiness and all the "heat" to the dish.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


This week Court and I decided to try a new cooking experience (new for me not for her): Canning. For those of you who don't really know how it works, canning is actually fairly straightforward. The goal is to generate relatively sterile goods that have a long shelf life. We chose two recipes that come from my relatives in New Brunswick, Canada. The first recipe is an old family favorite that my grandmother makes: dilly beans (really they are called dilled beans but we always called them dilly beans as kids). The second recipe we canned was my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Lenny's tomato salsa. We were lucky enough to get to try some of this salsa when we were recently up in Canada for my cousin Megan's wedding.

To begin with, we heated water in a large (18 qts. I think) pot to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Into this water we added all of the canning jars and lids we were going to use. The reason for not boiling the jars is that the lids have a rubberized seal that doesn't like temperatures that high. However, 180 degrees is sufficient to kill most bacteria (there is a notable exception that I will discuss later). We held the jars at 180 for 10-15 minutes (until immediately before we needed them). We then added the ingredients into the jars. The ingredients were all either boiled or covered with a boiling liquid to about 1/2" from the top. Being careful not to touch the inside or the seal of the lids we put a lid on each jar and then screwed on the threaded lid until they were finger tight. The jars are then dropped into boiling water in the big pot for several minutes (5 in our case) to "process" the jars. Basically you are raising the temperature in the jar to do two things. First you are essentially Pasteurizing the contents of the jar to kill any bacteria that have snuck in, and second you are heating the air in the jar, which expands and when the jar cools creates a vacuum seal. The jars are then allowed to cool and you now have a canned food with a longer shelf life.

The type of canning we used is boiling canning. This type of canning is good for high acid foods like tomatoes, pickles, jams and jellies and acidic fruits. For low acid foods like vegetables you have to use a pressure canning method. Pressure canning utilizes what is essentially a pressure cooker to raise the temperature of the cans above the 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is that nastiest of nasties, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum is the causative agent of botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning. Why is the boiling method of canning not sufficient to combat C. botulinum? It has to do with the biology of this specific bacteria. Clostridia family members belong to a group of bacteria that under adverse environmental conditions form what is called a "spore". This spore is highly resistant to the things we like to use to kill bacteria. As a side note Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax also belongs to this group of bacteria. Boiling is not sufficient to kill C. botulinum spores, which if they get into your canned goods will hatch out into mature bacteria that will produce the toxin that gives you botulism. High acid foods are safe because C. botulinum can't grow in acidic environments, so boiling is sufficient.

We are waiting to see how the dilly beans turn out (they need some time to pickle) but we know the salsa is good. If I get a chance I'll put the recipes we used up on the blog sometime in the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rosemary-Thyme Bread

This weekend Court and I tried our first modification of the "Perfect Loaf" recipe that was posted here on September 9th. One of the nice things about the recipe is that you can make a lot of changes or additions to make specialty breads. We chose to add some fresh herbs from the garden. After mixing the ingredients we added 2 tablespoons of minced rosemary and about a teaspoon of minced thyme (prior to the first rise). We have heard that bigger more dense ingredients (e.g. nuts or olives) should be added right before the second rise to prevent them from settling to the bottom of the loaf. Adding the minced herbs before the first rise worked well, however. After the first rise we could see the small flecks of rosemary and thyme throughout the sponge. Already the smell of the fresh herbs was permeating the bread.

The second rise, third rise and baking went off normally and we were rewarded with a wonderful savory, herb bread. It is great on its own and it makes excellent toast. This morning I added a little grated asiago cheese at the end of the toasting... very good.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Korean spicy paste

Ever since I was introduced to it in college, I've loved dishes that use Korean spicy paste (sometimes also called gochujang). It's very spicy, but is also made with rice and a bit of sugar, so it's sticky and a little sweet as well. I usually just put it in stir fries, but we recently tried this healthy and easy recipe from Gourmet magazine. Here's the link to and here's our version of the receipe as well (the original isn't very spicy)

Spicy soba noodles with mushrooms and cabbage

1/2 cup warm water
2 Tsp soy sauce
3 or more Tbs of Korean spicy paste
1 Tbs honey
3 Tbs sesame seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs finely chopped or grated ginger
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 lb stemmed and sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 smaller (1 lb) napa cabbage, thinly sliced
6 scallions, thinly sliced
8 oz soba noodles
1 cup shelled frozen edamame

Stir together all of the sauce ingredients and set aside. Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet until they start to turn golden (burnt come fairly rapidly after this, so watch them), and then move a bowl. Set some water to boil for the noodles, and add some salt. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and then saute the ginger and garlic until they release fragrance, around 30 seconds to a minute. Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushroom start to become tender. Reduce the heat and the add the scallions and cabbage, and cook down 6-8 minutes.

While the cabbage is cooking down, add the soba noodles and edamame to the boiling water. Cook this ~6 minutes or according to the instructions on the package. Drain when done, and add to a large bowl. Add the sesame seeds and veggies and stir.

Baking the perfect loaf

I'm sure I'm the last person to blog about this amazing bread reciepe, but here is goes if you're not familiar with it. This is a modified version of a receipe printed in the New York Times earlier this year, and disscussed at length by Jeffrey Steingarten in Vogue. The trick is that it's a very wet dough that undergoes the first rise for 18-24 hours, and is then baked in a very hot oven in a oven-proof casserole to bake consistently all around. There is no kneading. Which sounds crazy, but it produces a perfect country loaf with a hard exterior and spongy holey bread inside.
Here is is:
3 cups bread flour (can substitue some all-purpose)
3 tsp kosher salt (less if using fine salt)
1 package of dry active yeast or 1 tsp of instant yeast
1 1/2 cup of room temperature water
coarse wheat bran or semolina
You'll also need an ovenproof casserole and a clean tea towel

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. If you're using instant yeast, add it as well. If you're using dry active yeast, proof the yeast (you're "proving" that it works) in 1/2 cup of tepid water (yeast grow at 30 degrees C, and you're at 37 degrees C, so warm but not as hot as you are!), and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Combine the yeast water/ and the other cup of water (do 1 1/2 cups total) with the flour with your fingers or a wooden spoon, just so all of the flour is rehydrated. Cover the bowl well with cling wrap and leave leave in a warm place for 18-24 hours.

The second rise and baking take around 3 hours, so plan accordingly. Thoroughly flour a surface to work on (I meant it about the wet dough), and roll the dought out on it. Dust the dough with flour, and then attempt to spread into a 10 x 10 inch square. Fold this into thirds (over itself) and let sit 15 minutes. Fold in thirds again in the other direction (vertically if the first was folded horizontally) to make a cube. Tuck the folds under the sides so it looks like a smooth ball on top. Heavily flour the middle of your tea towel and sprinkle some of the bran or semolina. Move the dough onto the floured towel and cover with the rest of the towel or some cling wrap. Leave for 2 hours. In the second hour heat your oven as high as it will go (500-550 degrees F) and put the empty casserole inside. After the two hour rise, carefully take the dough away from the towel and put the ball into the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes with the cover on, then another 20-30 (20 is usually enough in our not very hot oven) to finish. Let this sit for 45 minutes or until cool before cutting into it. You won't want to do this, but if you cut right in the steam will escape and you'll end up with a lot of dry bread.

I haven't tried adding much to the bread yet, but some obvious possible additions are pepper, rosemary, nuts, dried fruit, or whatever herbs you have growing in the garden.