Monday, December 31, 2012

Chubby Vegetarian's Jalapeno Poppers

Baked Poppers: Made at home
The first time I had a Jalapeno Popper in a restaurant, I said "Ah ha! This should be Minnesota State Fair Food!" They are perfect little bites of spicy and cheesy fried deliciousness. Not being a fry-at-home person, I never imagined that I would ever make them. Bloggers at The Chubby Vegetarian fixed that for me with baked Better Jalapeno Poppers. The crunchy crust comes from an egg-and-Panko mixture.

While I would never prevent anyone from diving head-first into making an excellent recipe, there are some important popper considerations:

How will you serve them?

If you want a single-bite popper, select bite-sized peppers. Bigger peppers will require knives and forks, possibly complicating an appetizer buffet where guests will need to balance knives, forks, plates, and drinks.

How committed to hot peppers are your guests? 

I live in Minnesota, and pepper tolerance ranges from less than zero to top of the Scoville scale. If you are unsure about your guests' Scoville prefernces, take extra care to remove both the seeds and the ribs in the peppers.

How many people do you plan to serve? 

These are fun-to-make-but-slightly-finicky, and making them for a crowd could require a sous chef. If you are serving dozens, make sure that the cheese mixture is soft enough to pipe into the peppers.
Flat top

Can you adjust the spices? 

Of course. The cheese choice is flexible and the open pepper is a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. Consider adding tiny bits of shrimp, crab or smoked fish, too.

Baked Jalapeno Poppers
Adapted from The Chubby Vegetarian

4 to 6 firm, ripe Jalapeno peppers, selected for either bite-sized or knife-and-fork portions,  halved, seeded, and ribs removed
2 ounces light cream cheese or Neufchatel, softened
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground chipotle or smoked paprika
Zest of half a lime
1 large egg beaten with a fork
3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
Salt and Pepper
1 tsp olive oil
Optional sour cream and chives or scallions for garnish.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a small flat baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
  2. Place the peppers, cut site up, on the baking sheet.
  3. Mix the cheeses, garlic, cumin, chipotle or paprika and lime zest in a small bowl. Fill each pepper to the rim with the mixture. A tiny offset spatula is a good tool for making flat cheese tops. 
  4. Add the Panko, lime juice, pinch of salt, and a few grinds of fine-ground fresh pepper into the beaten egg. Mix well.
  5. Beginning with a teaspoon and finishing with your fingers, cover each pepper with the Panko mixture. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each popper.
  6. Check the poppers after 20 minutes. The peppers will begin to sizzle, and will probably need an additional five minutes to achieve a golden brown and crispy top and a cooked pepper. Take care to make sure that the peppers are softened. Your guests may not be keen on eating raw Jalapenos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spicy Lamb and Beef Meatballs with Crispy Onions

Lamb and Beef Meatballs with Crispy Onions

Who doesn't love a meatball?

 So many cultures have meatballs. Wikipedia helpfully lists meatballs from 28 countries alphabetically from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

So many families have their favorite meatball. My  Mother's best meatball used a powder called Spatini, and leftover meatball sandwiches were treasured lunches.

My tastes have changed, and I went on a decades-long search for the secret of really spicy meatballs, which I learned by trial-and-error.

The road to spicy meatballs:  

1.  Italian Grandmothers have known this forever: Cooking the raw meatball in sauce is good for the sauce and bad for the meatball. The sauce gets the flavor and the meatball becomes texture.
2. Really spicy meatballs require aggressively spicy ingredients: hot sausage, pepperoni, tiny dice of fried very hot peppers, cayenne, chili paste, etc.

New to my meatball repertoire: lamb meatballs

Which came first? Lamb at the supermarket or a lamb meatball recipe in my nighttime reading? Don't know. This is a very flexible recipe that can be made with all lamb or 2/3 ground lamb and 1/3 ground beef. These meatballs freeze well and make great sandwiches (especially in pita). They are wonderful additions to salads and good friends to pizza. Use them in onion/garlic/hot pepper/meatball/spaghetti stir fries or (I live in Minnesota) your favorite hot dish.

Cook's Notes: 

1.  Fry the onions first. By the time you have made the meatballs they should be caramelized, and can be moved aside for the meatballs. If you have so many onions that the meatballs won't fit in the pan, remove half and serve them with cooked meatballs.
2.  If you have only whole spices, measure them out and grind them with some of the Panko in a coffee grinder. A mini-food processor won't get them to a fine grind.
3.  Makes 16 golf ball sized meatballs.

Lamb Meatballs With Crispy Onions

1 onion, thin sliced
2T neutral oil (Canola)

2 t ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
2 t ground caraway
1/2 t ground fennel seed
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t cayenne
2 scallions finely chopped
1 c fresh parsley finely chopped (or 1/3 cup dried parsley)
1-1/2 t harissa or Siracha
3 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 egg
1 c Panko
1-1/2 # lamb or 1# lamb & 1/2 # ground beef

1.  Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet. Fry the onions on medium heat. Turn on the oven to 375 or 350 in a convection oven.
2.  Mix the spices, scallions, parsley, harissa or Siracha, garlic, and egg in a large bowl. Add the Panko and mix well.
3.  Add the meat or meats to the bowl and mix well with your hands. Using your hands or an ice cream scoop, make 16 golf-ball sized meatballs.
4.  Add the meatballs to the pan with the caramelized onions. Brown on all sides.
5.  Bake for 15 minutes in the oven.

Through Pass the Baton llc, Susan Gainen lectures to law students on Professionalism, Second-Career Law Students, Alternative Careers, Job Search Outside of OCI, and Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills. As Painter and Chief Whimsy Officer of nanoscapes & other visions llc, she paints geometric abstractions, whimsical creatures called small friends, and The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul. She also teaches "Knife Skills," her favorite cooking class.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pepper Relish Kicks Off 2012 Canning Season

Red Pepper Relish

After 9/11, I made jam.

Everyone coped with the aftermath of 9/11 in different ways. I made jam. I learned from Laurie Colwin's exquisite essays about Plum Jam and Corn Relish (both in More Home Cooking), and acquired at least three dozen more books about modern and historical canning and preserving.

It would be fair to say that between October 2001 and September 2006 that I was obsessed.I kept an annotated jam log, and those were the years when I had six cases of empty jars in my car "just in case." I won ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair for jams, relish and, of all things, Barbecue Sauce in 2004. Odd indeed, because I don't grill.

Another distraction/obsession

I got distracted from canning in 2006, when I began to paint with watercolor, acquiring an obsession which has taken over my life with nanoscapes (geometric abstractions) and small friends (whimsical creatures who have a show at Hopkins Center for the Arts between June 24 and July 13, 2012. Opening reception June 24 from 4-6 pm, if you're in town).

After 2006, I made just a few things including the memorably rock-hard Carrot Marmalade, Amazing Spiced Cherries (best preserved thing ever), deeply weird Jamaican Banana Jam (all in July 2007), and Ginger-Chili-Jelly (May 2010), which I loved, but the Minnesota State Fair judges found wanting.

My jam chops are rusty, but I'm ready to get back to it. 

First up for 2012 is Red Pepper Relish, an ideal beginning preserving project because it doesn't have to set up like jelly or jam (no pectin), and it imposes the important discipline of soaking and rinsing the vegetables to preserve their crunch. It was also ideal for me because it requires just one cup of sugar, which was all that I had. My version is hot and sweet and crunchy.
Granite Ware 21-1/2 Qt Canner


Preservation is chemistry, which can cure you of all sorts of ailments or kill you if instead of creating a healthy atmosphere for deliciousness, you make a stew of botulism. Read the directions. Read them again. Follow them to the letter.

  1. A 20+ quart kettle with a rack. The Columbian Home 0707-1 Granite Ware 21-1/2-Quart Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack is less than $20 and is available from Amazon and hardware stores everywhere. 
  2. An 8-to-16-quart pan with a lid in which to boil the vegetables. You can spend a little or a lot on this pan, or you can use whatever pan you use to make spaghetti sauce.
  3. Labels for your jars. If you like doing preserving, your kitchen will fill up with jars that look quite beautiful but will bring you grief when you can't distinguish between Blueberry-Ginger-Double-Chili (which you like) and Black Raspberry (which you are not too keen on and want to give away.)
  4. Tools you need and MUST STERILIZE by boiling in the big canning kettle:.
  • jars, lids, and bands, which you MUST sterilize according to package directions
  • a wide-mouth funnel
  • a large ladle to pour the preserves into the jars 
  • a knife to use to pop out the air bubbles 
  • a jar lifter which is the right tool for getting hot jars out of boiling water
  • a magnetic lifter for getting jar bands out of hot water (not strictly necessary, but fun to use)

RED PEPPER RELISH (freely adapted from Linda J. Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves)

8 large bell peppers
8 large red fresno peppers*
2 dried habenero peppers**
2 medium red onions
1-1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1T Kosher salt

*If red fresnos are unavailable and you don't mind mixing your pepper colors, use a combination of jalapeno and serrano, depending on how much heat you can bear. Otherwise, use a few more sweet red peppers and some reconstituted hot peppers in addition to the habeneros.

** I found Mariposa Farms Dehydrated Habenero in my local grocery. Very handy.

1.  Soak the habenero peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain.

Handy Habeneros
2.  Chop the fresh peppers and onions quite fine. (NOTE: When I chopped by hand in 2003, I wrote "Either wear gloves or never do this again.") Use the food processor on "pulse" and stop before you get to pepper soup. Don't fret if everything isn't the exact, precise, same size. This is preserving, not creating mosaics.

3. Cover the fresh peppers, onions, and soaked habanero peppers with boiling water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain. Cover again with hot (not necessarily boiling) water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve for one hour.

4. In the 8-to-16 quart pan, heat the vinegars, sugar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the drained vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the habanero peppers. EITHER cut up fine and return to the pot or discard. These are very very hot.

5.  Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space, and process for 15 minutes. Cool cool overnight.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Sumo Citrus® - size matters

I read about Sumo Citrus® in the NY Times in February, which helpfully shared that it was available in the NY metro area for between $2.99 and $5.00 a pound. What's in New York, gets to Minnesota in a wink of an eye, and I bought one yesterday for $3.99 a pound at Byerly's.

It was worth every dime. Great flavor, no seeds. Get 'em while there here. I suspect that the season will be incredibly short.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A polite word about cayenne pepper

When I returned from nearly back-to-back Pass the Baton trips to Texas and Georgia, states well into full-on Spring, I brought back a wicked sore throat, a stentorian cough, and laryngitis.

I attributed it to pollen. During my last day in Georgia, pollenologists tallied record-setting pollen levels of 9,369 particles of pollen per cubic meter of air, smashing the previous day's record of 8,164 particles. The previous high was recorded in August of 1999. To put that in perspective,15 particles per cubic foot can cause sniffling and sneezing in people with bad allergies. 
Teabags travel well

Pollen or not, I had a sore throat. Time healed it, of course, but it got an assist from gallons of green tea, honey, and cayenne pepper inspired by the first clickable choice from Sore Throat Cures. More than 400 people had weighed in on this topic, more than three times the second choice (apple cider vinegar with 131).
For one cup of tea
( I now drink this all day, every day, using Bigelow Green Tea With Lemon and Green Tea Decaffeinated with Lemon.)

Fill a microwave safe cup with water. Heat for 2 minutes. Steep green tea (decaffeinated for nighttime), 1/2 tsp honey and 1/16 tsp cayenne for three minutes. Drink.

For a kick-starter gargle:

Fill a microwave safe cup with hot water. Heat for one minute. Add 1/8 - 1/4 tsp cayenne and 1/2 tsp honey. Gargle every 15 minutes for two hours.