Friday, October 15, 2010

Mixed Results

Well, the double batch (10 half-pints and 4 quarter-pints!) of red pepper jelly I spent much of Monday making... isn't.

Isn't jelly, that is: It doesn't seem to have set up the way my several batches of jalapeno jelly did. At first I didn't worry: The green stuff took almost a full day to set up and stop sloshing around in the jars... but by now it's been 3 days, and it's still not set.

It's tasty enough, though, and it'll still be useful, as a sauce or glaze, or even in many of the same applications as proper jelly... but the fact remains it's more of a viscous, semi-liquid goop than it is jelly.

I don't rightly know why, either: I used a tried-and-true recipe as my base, and the substitutions — red bell peppers for green ones, and red (cayenne and hot Portugal) peppers for jalapenos — seemed straightforward. I used the same amount of sugar and liquid and pectin, and while I did make a double batch, all the ratios stayed the same. Maybe there's something different about the chemistry of the peppers (less natural pectin in the skins? Alton Brown would know). Maybe the amount of pepper solids wasn't right (the recipe specifies number of peppers rather than weight, and that's not too precise). Maybe I just wasn't holding my mouth right as I stirred the pot.

In any case, I've got red pepper glaze for anyone who wants some. Once I figure out ways to use it, you can be sure you'll see it here.

In other, better news, I've committed something vaguely similar to actual cooking: On another recent visit to IndiGo, I tried the Kerala Fish Curry, and as sometimes happens with Indian food, there was a nontrivial amount of sauce left over after I'd finished eating the fish and other solid bits. So I asked them to pack up the sauce for me, and they happily did, throwing in a serving of basmati rice for good measure. So on Tuesday, fresh off the dawning realization that the jelly wasn't happening, I stopped by my local megamart for a few ounces of fresh cod loin and sauteed it with a little minced ginger (an element in the original dish) and some chopped scallions. When the fish was almost done, I added the sauce, which I'd reheated separately, to the pan and cooked for another couple minutes... just winging it... and then dished the resulting reconstituted (refishified?) curry up over the basmati rice.

I can't take credit for how tasty it was — that was all the sauce, attributable to the chefs at IndiGo — but the fact that I'd actually cooked the fish somehow made it far more satisfying than simple leftovers. Small victories, but victories nonetheless, eh?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The End of the Canning Season

Well, today I probably finished my canning for the year: The yield from my pepper plants is winding down (the tomatoes are pretty much already done, except for onesy-twosies), and what I'm getting now is mostly the long red peppers (cayenne and hot Portugals) and habaneros (they're always the last to come in and the last to give up). So I made a double batch of red pepper jelly, using the same recipe I posted previously for jalapeno jelly, with the following modifications:
  • In place of the 4 green bell peppers, I used 3 red bell peppers (3 instead of 4 because, at least at my market, the red bells run significantly bigger)
  • In place of the 4-6 jalapenos, I used 4 long red peppers (and as with the jalapeno jelly, I added some habanero for extra heat).
The jars are still cooling and setting, of course, but based on a lick-the-spoon test, I have high hopes for this counterpoint to the green jelly I've so enjoyed making over the years.

Interestingly enough, while I was busy chopping peppers this afternoon, regular Emerging Foodie commenter JackC and his wife stopped by on their way home from a holiday weekend at the shore. Canning has this interesting dynamic: You spend all this time putting up jellies and pickled peppers and relishes, and yet, until you have a chance to open the jars and use what you've made, you never really know if it's any good. Unlike a dish prepared to be eaten right away, there's no immediate feedback; even the lick-the-spoon test only provides a rough approximation of what jellies will be like once they've set, and pickles and preserves that get processed in a boiling-water canner are even harder to guess at.

So Jack's visit put me in the odd position of giving food gifts — one jar each of jalapeno jelly, sweet-hot relish, and pickled habaneros and reds — without actually knowing how they would taste.

Well, lovely fellow that he is, Jack apparently sampled everything as soon as he got home and sent me a generally positive review: The relish is apparently not as hot as I'd intended (it's easy to get gun-shy with the habaneros, given how pungent they smell when you're cutting them), but the flavor is reportedly good; the jelly is "wondrous"; and the pickled peppers "awesome."

Even if he's just being kind, it's good to know I didn't kill him! ;^)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Non-Foodie Food Day

Arrgh! I actually ate out twice today, and owing to the preferences of my companions (and the fact that I'm a pushover!), neither meal was at a blogworthy restaurant. I picked my Brilliant Daughter© up in one town full of interesting restaurants — New Haven — and drove with her to meet my Lovely Bride™ in another town full of interesting restaurants — Hartford — and where did we eat? Arby's for lunch and Outback for dinner!

Actually, I enjoyed trying Arby's again after I-don't-know-how-many years, and I generally enjoy Outback; they just don't represent much to blog about. I did note a couple items relevant to yesterday's rant about the general non-spiciness of "spicy" items at chain restaurants:

At Arby's there's a (new to me) 3-pepper spicy sauce, and it clearly follows the rule: Aside from a vinegary tang that's reminiscent of bad French dressing, there was certainly not 3 peppers's worth — nor even 1 pepper's worth — of heat there. And let us not even mention the Jalapeno Bites poppers, shall we?

Better luck, though, at Outback: The soup of the day was advertised as a spicy tortilla soup, and it actually lived up to its billing. Not viciously hot, of course, but you wouldn't want that in a soup. It was tasty, with nicely cooked strips of chicken, bits of corn tortilla, and just the right amount of botanochemical heat.

And speaking of tortilla soup... is it just me, or is this one of those dishes that's almost entirely different in each new restaurant? Since my first (and still best) experience of it at the Alamo Cafe in San Antonio, Texas, I must've had tortilla soup at a half-dozen different places. While there's always chicken and tortillas, it's been otherwise virtually unrecognizable as the same dish on every single occasion.

Always good, though; go figure!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where Have All the Peppers Gone?

Just a brief rant about a food pet peeve of mine that I was reminded of the other night: In the middle of an otherwise hectic evening of errands, my Lovely Bride® and I stopped off at the local iteration of Wood 'n' Tap, a small Connecticut chain of bar-and-grill restaurants featuring nice pub food and a pretty decent selection of import and craft beers. I'll likely have more to say about W-n-T in a future post, but on this occasion I was seduced away from trying anything new by my favorite dish there, their four-cheese Mac-n-Cheese.

Now, it's a perfectly fine mac and cheese, but the main reason I like it so much is that it's spicy. Except the other night it... wasn't. Still tasty; the same cheesy crust, creamy sauce, perfectly cooked short tubes of pasta... but no bite. Something tickled at the back of my mind, and I rechecked the menu description. Hmmm... I don't recall it saying "a hint of chipotle..." before. Sure enough, our server confirmed that the recipe had recently been changed to make it less spicy, because customers had complained about the pepper.

Damn! Now, I don't want anyone else to have a (by their lights) bad meal, but... this is why we can't have nice things! Time after time I've seen chain restaurants — whether fast food or table service — introduce tasty spicy dishes, only to immediately start blanding them down for the masses. Back in the day, the original Popeyes Chicken spicy recipe was really spicy, and their Cajun rice would blow the top of your head off; nowadays... meh, not so much.

I recognize businesses have to cater to their customers, but we pepperheads (say that carefully if you're reading aloud!) are customers, too! Can't we have just one spicy dish on the menu? Can't the people who think it's too spicy just order something else?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recipes: Sardonic Buddha Cocktail

OK, this post is a bit of a cheat, because I've posted it previously on my now-mostly-dormant general interest blog, but I want to post a recipe here that's actually my own creation, and this is the best I got!

After I caught the cocktail bug, from listening to Rachel Maddow, I went on a bit of a buying spree, snapping up all sorts of ingredients simply because they looked or sounded interesting. Among other things, I bought Zen green tea liqueur because it looked exotic (plus I'd had a Zen mojito at a restaurant, and really liked it), green Chartreuse because it sounded exotic (and, as a bonus, was hard to find at first), and rye whiskey because... well because Rachel likes it... and besides, my mother drinks Manhattans but makes them with <shudder> bourbon, and I wanted to make a proper one for her.

So eventually it was time cook something up with these goodies. Flipping through my books, the first drink I hit upon using any of them was called Everybody's Irish, made with Irish whiskey, green creme de menthe, and the green Chartreuse. It was a good drink but the creme de menthe made it too sweet for my taste (ironically, since I love mint, and it was the creme de menthe that initially drew me to the recipe), so I tried a version replacing the creme de menthe with Zen, which tasted much better.

That version, which I called an Irish Buddha, turned out to be a transitional form, though: No sooner had I finished the first one than I started to think it might be even better if I made it with rye (I like Michter's Single Barrel), and finally the Sardonic Buddha was born:

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 2 tsp Zen Green Tea Liqueur
  • 1 tsp Green Chartreuse
The mossy green color of the final drink may take some getting used to, but the earthy rye blends exceedingly well with the green tea liqueur, and the herbal Chartreuse adds just the right amount of complexity and bite. I thought at the time that the right garnish would turn out to be a bit of sushi-style pickled ginger on a decorative toothpick, but even after all this time, I haven't gotten around to trying that yet; so far the drink remains ungarnished... but it tastes great just the same.


Lost Weekend? Lost Week!

Arrgh! After I incautiously blurted out that I would attempt to average at least one post a day, I've let a whole week go by between posts! In my defense, my whole family has been ill (nothing serious; don't worry), and one should always stay out of the kitchen when one is sick (not sure if that really applies to the metaphorical kitchen, but that's what I'm going with).

But I really do mean to be serious about this, so starting tomorrow, I promise: An average of at least one real post per day, all the time!

See you then.