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.