October 7, 2010

Hellfire Salsa -- if you dare!

Here's a really hot one for you!  
I developed this recipe 15 years ago when I started growing Habanero peppers in my garden. Since then, I have included a wide variety of hot peppers along with the Habaneros to vary the heat sensation -  Jalapenos, Cayenne, Anaheim, Hot Cherry, Ancho and Big Chile peppers.

Here's a great link which describes hot pepper varieties @ tomatogrowers.com

"HELLFIRE" INGREDIENTS:(makes about 6 - 16 ounce jars)

1 cup HOT PEPPERS finely ground
2 quarts pureed tomatoes, peeled 
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup minced cilantro
1/2 cup sugar
12 cloves of minced garlic, peeled
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper


Remove stems of hot peppers. Use enough hot peppers to make 1 cup, finely ground, using whole peppers (not seeded). Due to their high rank on the Scoville scale, the more Habanero peppers you include, the hotter the salsa!! I recommend that you wear rubber gloves when handling the hot peppers if you are sensitive to capsaicin.

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Simmer for 20 minutes and continue to stir frequently.  Skim any foam that rises to the top.

While you can enjoy this salsa recipe without canning, I find that a little Hellfire goes a long way! Hence, preserving your fiery salsa to share with foody friends or extend into the winter months comes next.


Prepare canning jars and lids according to jar manufacturer's instructions, which also means pre-heating them in a hot water bath (not boiling).

While simmering, prepare a boiling water bath.

Fill jars, cap and heat in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Cool and check for a good seal.

Besides enjoying it straight out the jar, Hellfire Salsa can be a 'flavorful' ingredient when combined with cheeses or meats.  Drain well and blend with cream cheese for a really vibrant tasting cheese spread.  Mix with olive oil and marinate chicken wings for very fiery buffalo wings. Heating the Hellfire Salsa will mellow it up a bit.

If you over indulge, cold milk is really the most effective way to ease the burning sensation.  I'm just sayin'.....

Wishing you good digestion!
Chef Alan

September 8, 2010

Pickled Okra

Hello food lovers!

Leave your okraphobia behind and delve into the wonders of Pickled Okra! Great flavor, crispy texture. No 'okra slime' at all!  I've canned this recipe since mid-July because our garden is spitting out plenty of fresh tender young okra.

Many people don't know, but okra is excellent for the digestive system. Follow this link to Ravi Kochhar's "All About Okra" page  http://www.physiology.wisc.edu/ravi/okra/ where you can learn everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) about this fascinating vegetable, including many recipes. 

Okra, or "Gumbo", has its roots in Northeast Africa and it is likely that the French colonists of Louisiana introduced it to America. It is popular in the Southern United States where it is served breaded and fried, or as a component of a recipe such as soups, stews or relishes. Okra is a typical ingredient of Cajun and Creole dishes. Because it is considered too gooey, it is rarely served alone -- unless pickled!!

Okra is in the same family as cotton, hollyhocks and hibiscus. Its flowers resemble hibiscus and okra makes a nice ornamental plant in your garden as well.

Pod on right is best
While two okra plants may be enough for your family garden, we typically grow a dozen or more. Okra will grow very quickly and before you know it your plants will be over four feet tall with some varieties reaching seven or eight feet in height by the time they are fully grown.

Each plant will continue to produce numerous pods over the long growing season and by keeping the pods picked you will encourage additional production. Only 3 to 4 days are required from the time the okra flower opens until the pod reaches harvest maturity. For this reason, okra must be harvested at least every other day during the growing season. If you are not ready to eat or process them, at least cut the mature pods off the plant. Refrigerate your pods as soon as possible after harvest until you can use them!

Easier to cut than pluck!

 INGREDIENTS (for 3-5 pint jars):
3-1/2 pounds of young, tender okra pods (washed)
1 pint vinegar
1 quart water
1/3 cup of pickling salt
3-5 small hot peppers -- one per jar
3-5 cloves of garlic -- one per jar
2 teaspoons of dill seed

Pack jars tightly
Pack okra, hot pepper and garlic into each jar - should fit snugly (otherwise they will shrink and float around).

Bring vinegar, water, salt and dill seed to a boil.  Pour boiling brine into each jar, covering all okra with 1/4" head space.  Seal and process for 10 minutes in a simmering water bath (as opposed to boiling).

Remove, cool and check seals. Store in a cool, dry place. Let ripen for about 2 weeks until the flavors develop.

The recipe is super quick and easy, even for novice canners. I have heard that some people omit the hot peppers with one garlic clove in each jar.  Interestingly, people who say they generally don't like okra, love these pickled treats.  One of our long-standing customers buys up a lot of our Pickled Okra because it is the only vegetable that her daughter will eat!

Who knew Okra could taste so good? You really should put your okraphobia aside and try it!

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan

August 5, 2010

Heirloom Recipe for Queen Anne's Lace Jelly

Heirloom recipes are based on traditional cooking which show our Mothers', Grandmothers' or Great Great Grandmothers' creativity and their subtle sense of art and science. Nothing went to waste in the garden!
We include Queen Anne's Lace Jelly on our
'High Tea' menu with scones and brandy butter.

INGREDIENTS:(makes 4 - 8 ounce jars)
18 large flower heads
4 cups water

1/4 cup lemon juice
1 box pectin

3-1/2 cups + 2 teaspoon sugar

Make 'juice' by bringing the 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add flower heads. Cover pot and let steep for 12 minutes or so. 


Strain to get rid of any little stray bits of flower.  You want a fairly clean juice.
Juice can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to complete the canning process.

In a large pot on high heat, stir together 3 cups of the flower juice, the lemon juice and the pectin. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a full rolling boil.  Then add the sugar all at one time.  Stir constantly and return to a full rolling boil -- then time for 1 minute at a full boil.
Remove from heat.  You will notice that the jelly mixture has lightened in color as compared to the pre-cooked juice.  This is due to the lemon juice reacting with the other ingredients. 

Let mixture settle. Skim anything that rises to the top.
Prepare canning jars according to jar manufacturer's instructions.  I make sure that my jars and lids have been pre-heated in a hot water bath (not boiling).  Ladle into jars and seal.

Wishing you good digestion!
Chef Alan

August 4, 2010

Ahhh, the Versatile Cuke

If you check online, there are even more ways to use your foodstuffs to solve life's everyday problems.  Here are some of my favorites using cucumbers:

1. Looking for an alternative to a bottle 'energy drink'? Pick up a cucumber. Cucumbers are a good source of  B vitamins and carbohydrates that can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours.

2. Are your garden plants being devoured by bugs?  Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive garden pests crazy!

3. Trying to keep those nasty yellow jackets (bees) off your picnic table without spraying your food with bug spray?  We carve cucumbers into flower-like medallions and nestle them among the sweet foodstuffs like table decor.  This really saves us at the Farmer's Market in late summer!

4. If our staff forgets to shine up their shoes before leaving for a catering event, we rub a freshly cut cucumber on their shoes! Organic chemicals from the cucumber will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.

5. At a business lunch and realize you don't have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber from your salad and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath - the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.  Works for a romantic dinner, too!!

6. Looking for a 'green' way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won't leave streaks ... and won't harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean.

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan

July 28, 2010

A Really QUICK Pickle Recipe

Hello food lovers!

I have a confession.  I am a pickle-obsessed chef!  Betsy, my wife and partner, is always teasing me that if "it" doesn't run fast enough, it will end up in a jar with pickling spices. Among my favorite 'dilled' vegetables are green beans (dilly beans), asparagus and green tomatoes.  I have also canned cantaloupe, watermelon rind, okra and summer squash.  Recently, I ran across a quick recipe for turning our garden cucumbers into delicious, crisp pickle spears. We eat them up as fast as I can make them!

Spicy Dill Quick Pickles  (from Food and Wine, Aug '09)
Kirby Cucumbers or other un-waxed cukes, quartered
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/4 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity, which is normal)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 large garlic cloves, halved
4 to 6 long red or green hot chiles, halved lengthwise to release their flavor
16 dill sprigs (which is a small piece)
Pack cucumber spears into 2 clean 1-quart glass jars.  In another jar, combine the salt, sugar, vinegar, coriander and garlic.  Shake until the salt and sugar dissolve.  Add 2 cups of water and pour the brine over the cukes.  Tuck the chiles and dill between the cukes.  Add enough water to keep the cukes submerged.  Close the jars and refrigerate overnight (for up to a month... if you don't eat them by the next day.)

For hotter/spicer pickles, add more chiles.
You can 'pick your pickle' or do a combination of vegetables. Here are some tips for prepping other, more dense items: (so they will absorb the brine quickly)
Asparagus -- blanch 1 minute; cool
Carrot sticks -- blanch 2 minutes; cool
Cauliflower florets -- blanch 1 minute; cool
Green Beans -- steam 2 minutes; cool
Each quart jar will take about 12 ounces of vegetables.

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan

July 8, 2010

Fresh Kosher Dills are a snap!

Hello food lovers!

The first Cucumbers
of the summer are a welcome arrival in my Indiana garden. I coax the Dill Weed to hold on until the first cycle of cukes is ready to be picked. Then, one of the first pickles that I make are these tasty Fresh Kosher Dills!
This simple recipe is like the old open barrel pickles that were featured in vintage delicatessens. My Mother made these pickles every summer for family and friends in Chicago. It is a taste that brings back fond memories of working in the kitchen with my Mother.

INGREDIENTS (for 1 quart jar):
6 small pickling cucumbers (washed)
2 cloves of garlic
1 branch of fresh dill
2 level Tablespoons of pickling salt
1 Tablespoon of pickling spices
1 hot red pepper (I typically use a fresh cayenne from the garden)

Pack cucumbers in the quart jar, alternating with the other ingredients (should fit snugly.)
Fill jar with cold water up to the brim.
Screw down lid just tight enough that it seals the jar.
Turn jar upside down on a pie plate or in a bowl.

Let it stand until the juices begin to seep. (When fermentation begins, the pressure will force the brine out of the jar. This could take up to 2 days.)
When you notice that the brine is seeping, turn the jar right side up and let it sit until the cucumbers turn a nice dark green and the brine gets cloudy. (This could take up to 6 days.)
Then, gently unscrew the lid (it will fizz as gas is released). Taste. Put the lid back on, refrigerate and enjoy! The pickles will continue to develop deeper flavor in the refrigerator. Since 'time' is a variable in this recipe, you can increase or decrease the fermentation time according to your tastes. Experiment!
Your pickles should last up to a month if kept chilled.... but you will probably have eaten them by then!

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan

April 19, 2010

Rhubarb -- a taste of Spring!

Rhubarb poppin' through the cool earth is a harbinger of spring in Indiana gardens. Because it often sweetened and used in pies and jams, most people think of it as a fruit. It is actually a vegetable, low in calories, rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. It has a distinctive tart flavor that can stand alone or can be combined with berries (Strawberry-Rhubarb pie is a favorite of my customers), vegetables or meat dishes.

This plant will grow to a height of several feet as the days warm through April. It is important to remember that there are 2 distinct parts to the plant -- and only one, the stem, is edible! The blade or green leaves of the plant can grow up to a foot or more in breadth and they are poisonous.

The edible stalks are up to 18 inches long with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches. The color red has nothing to do with ripeness. Long thick green rhubarb stalks are just as good as the thinner red ones. The red stalks will be much sweeter, while medium stalks are generally very tender. They all provide good eating!
Rhubarb plants are perennial and they persist for many years -- we have a patch at the Garden House that has been around since the late 60's when Betsy's Grandmother made Stewed Rhubarb from Spring into early Summer.

An excellent reference site for all things rhubarb is rhubarbinfo.com

Here are some quick tips for handling rhubarb:
1. For the most intense flavor, buy your rhubarb from a local farmer's market or better yet, grow your own! It takes 1 full year to establish a plant -- you can begin harvesting late in the 2nd season. It is really hard to hold yourself back, but well worth the wait!
2. When harvesting rhubarb stalks, do not pick too much from any one plant at a time. The longer each clump can hold on to the foliage, the better chance it has to keep producing. Reach down low on the stalk and pull the whole stalk off of the crown. Bring a knife and cut off the poisonous leaves before bringing them into the house.
3. The greener the stalks, the more sugar you may need to add to your recipe.
4. Adding a splash of fresh or bottled lemon juice keeps rhubarb from turning brown as you cook with it.

Here's how I make Fresh Rhubarb Pie.
  • 4 cups of Rhubarb (uncooked) -- cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 & 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • milk
Mix first 4 ingredients & let sit for 15 minutes. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Drop 1 tablespoon of butter into the middle of the pie -- this enriches the flavor. Brush edge of pie with milk, attach top crust & pinch edges as desired. Brush top crust with milk & sprinkle with additional sugar -- this glazes & sweetens the crust. With a knife, cut 4 one inch vents in the top crust.

Place pie on lined cookie sheet -- filling will create sticky mess beneath pie pan.
Bake @ 350 degrees for 50 - 70 minutes -- look for the filling to bubble up through the vents!
Remove from oven and let cool for 2 hours.

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan