Monday, November 12, 2018

Harvest Monday - November 12, 2018

There's something new in the harvest basket this week and a bit more seasonable than peppers, a nice big bunch of fresh spinach. But the pepper harvests have not finished yet so half of the spinach got paired up with some sweet peppers in Roasted Peppers Stuffed With Spinach and Ricotta.

Amsterdam Prickly Seeded Spinach
The weather has not been seasonable though, it's been unusually warm and very dry (is that the new normal?) and that seems to have prompted all of the Rishad cress to start to bolt so I cut it all down. I like to use it in salads but with a bunch this big I may have to find something new to do with it, perhaps some soup.

Rishad Cress
And as I said the pepper harvests have not finished but the sweet peppers are close to and end. That's the last of the Ajvarski peppers. And not the last of the Aji Goldens.

Ajvarski and
Aji Golden
Aji Angelo has been incredibly prolific this season, almost 9 pounds including about a half pound that was harvested last January and February. The other peppers in the photo below are more modest or downright stingy producers.

Habanada, Caribbean Seasoning, Yellow Pointy
Aji Angelo
Aji Amarillo Grande, Berbere
The last of the Mehmet's and nearly the last of Gogosar, Topepo Giallo, and Odessa Market.

Mehmet's Sweet Turkish, Gogosar,
Topepo Giallo, Odessa Market
Plenty of Sugar Rush Red and Sugar Rush Peach peppers remain in the garden but Aji Marchant is finished.

Sugar Rush Red, Sugar Rush Peach
Aji Marchant
Ometepe gave up the final harvest but Ethiopian Brown is just starting.

Ethiopian Brown
 And there's a few Aji's that haven't produced a ripe pepper yet but they are on their way.

Not photographed this week was a very small handful of Batavia broccoli shoots and another pound plus of Pink Plume celery.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Corn Chicos

The full name for these tasty bits of dried corn is Chicos del Horno referring to the traditional method of steam roasting the corn in an adobe oven called a horno before the corn is dried. The remains of chicos like corn have been found at Anasazi sites which indicates that it is a very old method of preserving the crop. It was at one time a common and widespread foodstuff but unfortunately it seems to have been mostly forgotten except in parts of the southwestern US and particularly in New Mexico.

It's a sorry thing that chicos have largely been forgotten or overlooked in favor of easier modern methods of preserving fresh corn because they are incredible little flavor bombs and far superior to any canned or frozen sweet corn that I've ever tasted. Not only that, they are very easy to cook. The onerous work is in the processing of the fresh corn into the dried form. The freshly harvested corn is left with the husks intact and soaked in cold water for at least an hour or while the horno is heated with a wood fire which takes a few hours. Once the horno is super hot the fire is raked out and the oven is packed full of the corn still in its husks and the oven is sealed up tight. The corn is left to roast for hours until the oven is cool. Then the corn is removed from the oven and the husks are pulled back and the silks cleaned away. The cleaned ears of corn are strung into ristras and hung in the sun for a few weeks until it is completely dry. And then the really hard work of removing the kernels from the cobs must be completed.

I don't happen to have a horno so when I decided to try to make some chicos myself I opted to use my Big Green Egg. I followed the method that I outlined above, first soaking the corn in cold water while I set up the Egg for indirect cooking. Various food bloggers recommend roasting the corn in a regular home oven at 300ºF to 350ºF for anywhere from an hour to 4 hours. I opted to heat the Egg to about 300ºF and roasted the corn until the husks turned brown and the corn was fragrant and the kernels cooked. That took about 2 hours.

Fresh green field corn in its milk stage is what was traditionally preserved. It is sweet but not as sweet as the corn-on-the-cob that we enjoy now. Native Seeds Search says that flour corns which have soft starchy kernels are appropriate for making chicos. But I'd read that modern sweet corn works just as well as green field corn and in my experience it makes fantastic chicos. I found some really fresh bi-color sweet corn at the farmer's market and brought home a half dozen ears to experiment with. That's my first experimental batch shown in the Egg when I deemed that they had roasted enough. Actually two of the ears were consumed right away because fresh roasted corn is too good to pass up.

I also deviated from the tradition of tying the corn into ristras and sun-drying it and instead used my dehydrator. It's not a quick process to completely dehydrate a whole ear of corn, if I remember correctly it took more than 24 hours, but the kitchen smelled fantastic. The most difficult part of the process is removing the kernels from the cobs. The kernels tend to stick to one another and adhere very tightly to the cob. I found it necessary to pop them out using a long thin oyster shucking knife which has a sturdy blade but is not sharp. After shucking I ended up with about 1/4 cup of dried kernels from each ear of corn. But the end result is worth all the work. I made a few more batches of chicos through the summer and ended up with a quart jar of dried corn.

So how to cook these tasty morsels? A traditional way is to cook them up with some dried beans, just add the chicos to the beans and cook them as you normally would. Another traditional dish is to include them in a stew of meat with chiles and other seasonings. For my first experiment cooking with chicos I opted for something nontraditional, farro salad. I started with a recipe from Nancy Silverton's book Mozza at Home and substituted chicos for about a quarter of the farro that was called for. I first soaked the chicos in cold water before cooking them with the farro. The chicos plumped up nicely and came out tender and tasty and almost like freshly roasted corn just cut off the cob. Verdict - fabulous. Another dish I tried was lentils and chicos cooked together. This time I skipped the presoak and just added the dry chicos together with the dry lentils. Again they cooked up just fine. So I'm thinking that chicos can be used in just about any dish where you want the flavor of roasted sweet corn. Soups, stews, salads, veggie sautés and stir-fries, salsa, tacos. I've got more experimenting to do! And I will definitely be roasting up some chicos again next year as soon as I spot some fresh sweet corn at the farmer's market.

If you want to try cooking with chicos yourself don't worry, you don't have to make your own from scratch, do a web search for "corn chicos" and a bit of hunting will lead you to a few sellers (even one on Amazon). After trying some you may want to make your own too.

Here's some links to articles about Chicos that I found to be informative.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Harvest Monday - November 5, 2018

We've been enjoying some glorious weather here for the past week and more. The fog has been mostly absent and the weather has been gloriously warm during the day and delightfully cool at night. I'm sorry to have to say that when I know that some of the garden bloggers that I follow have already experienced the first killing frost of the season. On the other hand I don't feel so bad about that when I think back to the many summers when I read that those bloggers were harvesting summer veggies when my garden and I were shivering through chilly nights and foggy days in May, June, July and even August and this year we even had unusually foggy days in September. So given that don't be too surprised to see that my first harvest post for November still features a parade of ripe peppers.

The parade isn't going to last much longer though. This is the final harvest of Criolla de Cocina peppers. The plants were pretty well done in by powdery mildew and there were only a few green peppers left so I picked everything and cut down the plants.

Criolla de Cocina
Florina seems to be more resistant to powdery mildew than some of the other peppers I'm growing this year so this is not quite the final harvest but after this there's just a few peppers left on the plants.

Ajvarski is also pretty susceptible to PM so this is almost the last harvest, there's a few peppers left that weren't quite ripe so I left them in the garden.

Ometepe is a late ripening pepper and unfortunately it is susceptible to PM so even though there are still a lot of peppers left in the garden I'll have to pick the rest of them soon because the plants are dying quickly and the quality of the peppers is suffering.

Almost the end for Rosso Dolce da Appendere. I cut down all the plants except one that had 3 underripe peppers left.

Rosso Dolce da Appendere
It's a different story for the seasoning peppers. Most of the baccatum and chinense peppers ripen late so the harvests are either in full swing or just getting started. The baccatum peppers are quite resistant to powdery mildew and cold weather so the harvests should continue for a while. But the chinense peppers aren't such a happy story. This is the last time I'll be growing Caribbean Season because they don't set very many peppers. The plants are in full bloom right now but with just a few peppers. They are much less tolerant to cold weather than the baccatum peppers so as soon as the weather turns cold they will be goners. Habanada was very productive last year but this year is being stingy and it seems to be sporting some sort of fungal infection so I don't have a lot of hope for it either this year. I should stick with baccatum peppers, they are so much more reliable.

Aji Angelo from 2018 and 2017 plants
Relleno Ecuador Sweet, Craig's Grande Jalapeno, Caribbean Seasoning, Habanada
Sugar Rush Red, Sugar Rush Peach, Aji Golden

Aji Golden from 2018 and 2017 plants
I've been fermenting a lot of the peppers, both sweet and hot, and am trying a new to me method of fermenting in vacuum sealed bags that I read about in The Noma Guide to Fermentation. It is turning out to be a great way to ferment small batches of peppers or when I don't have an air-lock system available. It's super easy, just toss the peppers with salt (2% the weight of the peppers), arrange them in the bag, vacuum seal, and wait.

Caribbean Seasoning and Habanada
Sealed and Ready to Ferment
You know that the fermentation is progressing well when the bag loosens up and then starts to puff up.

Baby Aji Amarillo Fermenting in Vacuum Sealed Bag
The summer sown fennel was past ready to harvest. Some of the outside blades are a bit rough but still good after some trimming. The inner parts of the bulbs are quite nice.

Orion Fennel
The Pink Plume celery keeps giving and giving. That's over a pound of trimmed stalks much of which went into a cream of celery soup with a garnish of walnuts, raisins, and parmesan. Next up I'm going to make a celery and date salad that I remember making a few years ago and forgot about until it popped into my head when I spied a package of dates at the store.

Pink Plume Celery
That's the latest from my garden. Now I've got to get outside and enjoy more of the perfect fall weather while the sun is out. That's the only problem with having the best weather at this time of year, the days are too short.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Harvest Monday - October 29, 2018

Peppers are back for Harvest Monday this week. The sweet pepper harvests are starting to wind down after these harvests although they are still quite a way from being finished. This year I'm lacto-fermenting a lot of peppers after experimenting with the process late in the season last year when I found that I LOVE what fermenting does to peppers. I made a couple of batches of fermented sweet pepper paste last year and really wished that I had a lot more of the stuff so this year I'm devoting a large portion of the harvests to the process. One thing that I figured out this year is that the thickest fleshed peppers make the best paste because thin fleshed peppers have a higher ratio of skin to flesh which makes for a less smooth paste. I also like to ferment the peppers that I dehydrate and grind into flakes, like Aji Angelo, Aji Amarillo, Aji Golden, and Ethiopian Brown. And then I also ferment the peppers that I turn into hot sauce, the newest addition to the hot sauce line-up being Sugar Rush Peach and before that a green Jalapeno sauce.

My newest experiment in progress is with that basketful of Long Sweet Turkish peppers shown below, I cut them in half and removed the seeds and am fermenting them for a week and then I will dehydrate them. I also have one batch of them that I sun-dried and another batch that I dehydrated. Those plants were really prolific.

Long Turkish Sweet
I made a batch of fermented pepper paste with previous harvests of Gogosar peppers so some of these were used in a baked stuffed pepper dish and then I seeded, sliced, and dehydrated the rest of them.

These Topepo Giallo peppers got the same treatment as the Gogosar peppers, stuffed or dehydrated. My latest stuffing for the peppers was a mix of eggplant, cheese, tomato, and breadcrumbs seasoned with parsley, oregano, capers, and anchovies. Big Yum! I'll have to write up the recipe on my recipe blog because it was a mashup of a couple of recipes and it was definitely good enough to make again.

Topepo Giallo
Odessa Market is very sweet and crisp and is my favorite variety for snacking on fresh and that has been the fate for most of the crop this year.

Odessa Market
This is the second harvest of Aleppo peppers and I think I'm going to try fermenting them before drying them. The first round got sun-dried and ground into flakes. Oh my, are they delicious. They have a sweet and fruity flavor and are not too spicy since I removed the seeds and cores before drying them. 

The Urfa Biber plants have not been as prolific as the Aleppo plants, here's my second harvest of them. The previous harvest was quite nice though and I got enough to fill an 8-ounce jar with sun-dried ground flakes. 
Urfa Biber
You can see that I seeded the peppers before drying them so the flakes are only mildly spicy. These too have a wonderful sweet and fruity flavor. They won't last long.

Urfa Biber
I've used most of the Mehmet's Sweet Turkish peppers as a frying/roasting pepper. Most of the time I roast them in the oven in a cast iron skillet but the latest dish I used them in was a saute with some Castandel beans with some tomato paste and fermented pepper paste and capers, garlic, and parsley. 

Mehmet's Sweet Turkish
Turkish Pimentos look quite a bit like Odessa Market but they have tougher skins and aren't as sweet but have a nice flavor. I made one small batch of fermented paste with them which is when I figured out that the thicker and juicier peppers are better suited for turning into paste. The pimento paste is tasty but I like the smoother results from thicker fleshed peppers. I've been dehydrating the rest and will use them to make paprika powder.

Turkish Pimento
Florina is a big juicy thick fleshed pepper that is perfect for roasting. I used a big bunch of these to make a few jars of preserved sweet peppers and then turned another couple of pounds into a batch of fermented pepper paste, they're perfect for that too.

Spicy and not. Yellow Pointy is a hot chinense habanero cousin. Caribbean Seasoning and Habanada are in the same family but are totally sweet. Last year I found that Habanada makes great fermented pepper flakes. I think that the Caribbean Seasoning peppers might also make great fermented flakes but they are very shy producers so I'll probably end up using all of them fresh. 

Yellow Pointy
Caribbean Seasoning, Habanada
Last year I dehydrated my pepper pastes on parchment lined baking sheets but this year I switched to unlined Pyrex baking dishes with good results. You can see how much the pureed peppers reduce down to make a paste. This photo was taken when the paste was about 90% dehydrated.

Fermented Ajvarski Paste
OK, enough of the peppers for this week. The Castandel beans were in high gear this week and I harvested 2 baskets of beans like this, actually the second harvest was even bigger than this one. We've been eating a lot of beans but not enough to get through the lot so I'll have to do some blanching and freezing. There aren't a lot of beans left on the bushes and the plants are now pretty heavily infested with spider mites so I'll have to cut them down soon.

Castandel Beans
The fennel has been quite happy this fall. These are 2 more bulbs from the spring sown plants and I need to cut some of the summer sown bulbs because they've suddenly got to be quite large. And the Pink Plume celery is super happy also. That's well over a pound of trimmed stalks and I could easily cut twice that amount again and the plants would still be quite lush looking.

Orion Fennel
Pink Plume Celery
The carrots that I'm thinning out are getting to be a respectable size, that was about a pound of carrots after trimming off the tops.

Short Stuff Carrots
And finally, the bees love the saffron blossoms and this one got stuck outside late and spent the night clinging to one of the plants. Click on the photo for a larger view and you can see that the bee is dusted with a nice load of pollen. After the sun finally came out and the bee warmed up she flew off.

Sleepy Bee and Saffron
Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Harvest Monday - October 22, 2018

I won't bore you with more photos of peppers this week because I didn't take any. But I did get the camera out to snap a couple of shots of some new stuff from the garden.

The first saffron flowers appeared. One of the flowers had been attacked by something and I lost one stigma, I hope that the attacker found saffron to not be tasty and will leave the rest of the blossoms alone. I tried growing saffron once before in pots but had marginal success. So this time I'm devoting space in one of the garden beds to the bulbs. I've given up growing enough veggies that there's plenty of space available now. The bulbs will get to stay put for the next couple of years or more before they need to be lifted and divided. The 20 25 bulbs that I planted are capable of providing enough saffron to season a couple of dishes this year and next year should produce even more. So far each plant that has bloomed has popped up 2 flowers. So do the math, 2 flowers each from 20 25 plants at 3 stigmas per blossom potentially equals 120 150 stigmas. After drying those 120 150 stigmas there won't be enough to register on my scale that weighs in 1 gram increments.  Did you know that saffron has been cultivated for over 3500 years and has been selected and bred to the point where it is sterile and can no longer produce sexually and must be propagated by dividing and planting bulbs (technically corms). Think of the countless number of corms that have passed through generations of human hands back to those first cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean.  What's really mind boggling is that all of those flowers and stigmas have to be plucked by human hands. Think of that the next time you use a pinch of the precious stuff and don't whine about the price of the most expensive spice in the world.

Saffron Crocus Blossoms
Speedy arugula is back in the harvest basket again. This has become the only variety of arugula that I grow now. It is quick to crop as the name implies and it has a mild flavor that I prefer to spicier varieties and I like the feathery shaped leaves. Speedy rules!

Speedy Arugula
The Castandel beans are still producing. This variety seems to be a generous producer, there's still lots of small beans left on the plants that should size up over the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Castandel Beans
Other than some more generous harvests of peppers (over 90 pounds so far this season) the only other things I harvested this week were some scrawny broccoli shoots.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Harvest Monday - October 15, 2018

There's not a lot of diversity in my harvests at the moment but I'm not really complaining because the harvests have primarily been LOTS of peppers. I've spent the last week preserving most of them. There's now a few pints of Preserved Sweet Peppers in the fridge and there's a few quarts of peppers fermenting and I've continued my experiments with sun drying peppers.

Florina and Ajvarski are a couple of my favorite peppers for roasting, they are large and thick fleshed and both are quite sweet. They make great preserved peppers.

Turkish Pimento
Rosso Dolce da Appendere is also a good roasting pepper and suitable for preserving like Ajvarski and Florina. I made one batch of pepper paste with Criolla de Cocina and have a couple of batches in process made with Turkish Pimentos. I'm going to dry some of the fermented Turkish Pimentos and grind those into paprika.

Criolla de Cocina
Rosso Dolce da Appendere

Urfa Biber
I sun-dried all of the Aleppo peppers and Urfa Biber peppers are in progress. The sun-dried peppers do come out a bit different than peppers dried in a dehydrator. They don't become as brittle and they seem to be more aromatic.

I cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and cores to both speed the drying process and to reduce the spiciness. It took about 4 days to get the peppers almost all completely dry, there were just a few peppers at the end of day 4 that had some moist spots so I finished those in the dehydrator.

Aleppo Peppers Drying in the Sun
I also tried drying the long sweet Turkish peppers in the sun but I had a problem with them curling up which inhibited the drying process so after 4 days when many of the still had soft moist spots I finished them off in the dehydrator.

Turkish Sweet Peppers Drying in the Sun
All of the sweet peppers are also great eaten fresh or cooked. We have been enjoying a lot of freshly cut up pepper sticks and I've been putting them in salads and we've enjoyed a few batches of cast iron skillet roasted peppers.

I didn't get around to photographing the smaller peppers like the Aji's and Jalapeños. I fermented a batch of Aji Angelo peppers and then dried them and those will be turned into flakes. And there's still more that I haven't gotten around to doing anything with yet. So many peppers and so little time!

The basil is still quite happy and I have to give it a good trim now and then to keep it from getting too overgrown. I cut it down quite hard and usually end up with more basil than I know what to do with. I used to make pesto and freeze it but found that I didn't really like the frozen product and didn't end up using it. Last week I came across a new and unusual way to preserve basil and could not resist giving it a try because it uses one of my favorite preserving techniques - fermentation. Check out this article about Whole Leaf Fermented Basil. I've got a batch on the counter now but it's not ready yet so I reserve judgement of the end result.

It looks like it's going to be a good season for fennel bulbs this fall. The spring sown plants are giving me bulbs and more plants that I started this summer are also producing bulbs.

Orion Fennel
I'm still amazed at the size bulbs that can come from the root of a plant that I cut to the ground already. This one got away from me a bit and started to split at the base of the plant but all it needed was a bit of trimming. The root that this bulb came from is already producing a new shoot so it will be interesting to see how many harvests I can get from it.

That's the latest from my garden, head on over to Our Happy Acres where Dave is hosting Harvest Monday and check out what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.