Homemade Hot Sauce from Fermented Peppers

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Hot sauce adds a welcome layer of hurt-so-good flavor and excitement to many dishes.  This homemade hot sauce recipe holds its own and some would say even surpasses some of the more popular brands.  Compared with store-bought, homemade has the same tangy richness but with a fresher flavor, a brighter color, and not a whisper of questionable additives.

So now, while red peppers of every variety are still at the market, make haste.  The beauty of this recipe is that it allows you to make something entirely unique, designed to fit your taste.  You may choose to make it with 100% Thai chilies for a fiery hot sauce or you could go the other extreme and only use sweet bell peppers for a pure pepper taste experience.  The choice is yours.

This recipe starts with fermented red peppers.  Fermentation takes time but little effort.  I promise that the hullabaloo is kept to a minimum and effort exerted shall be paid back ten fold in the tangy heat enjoyed over the next several months or weeks—however long it lasts.

Click here for a quick tutorial on the basics of fermenting.

TIP FOR CHOOSING YOUR CHILIES: To help you gauge heat, you can create a mild sauce like Louisiana Hot Sauce or Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce using about 1.5 pounds sweet red bells and 0.5 pounds red ripe serranos or jalapenos. You may also choose to ferment your peppers separately—bell peppers in one vessel and habaneros in another for example. After fermenting and processing them both separately, you can mix the 2 peppers until you get the precise amount of heat and flavor you desire. That is a bit more work but not much and probably worth it especially if you’re looking for an exact level of heat.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

STEP #1: Pickle your Peppers

Pickled Peppers

  • 2 lbs. red peppers–any variety from sweet to scorching (1 kilo)
  • 2 quarts water (2 liters)
  • ¼ cup salt—heaping (100 grams)
  1.  Mix the salt into the water dissolving completely to make the brine.
  2. Wash and cut the peppers removing, stem, seeds and white pith. Depending on the size, cut them into halves, quarters or even smaller.  Do not try to ferment whole peppers as the interior flesh must be exposed.
  3. Place the peppers in a clean, non-reactive vessel like a half gallon mason jar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Pour enough brine over the peppers to cover them.  Pour the rest of the brine into a sealable quart or pint sized plastic bag and stuff it into the mouth of the jar so that all of the peppers are completely submerged in brine. If using a larger, more open container use a larger gallon bag filled with brine and lay on top of the peppers. All peppers must be completely submerged in brine or they will not ferment.
  5. Label the jar with the date and contents and place it on a plate or in a bowl to protect your counter from spillage.
  6. In a few days you will see the water begin to cloud and bubbles appear. This is the fermentation procesIMG_6118s.
  7. Keep it at room temperature for 3-6 weeks removing the bag periodically to clean off the white scum (yeast). Begin tasting the peppers at 3 weeks to determine whether they have become sour enough for your liking.
  8. Once they are ready you can do one of the following: filter the brine, boil it for 1 minute, cool it and then store the peppers in it in the fridge where they will keep for 1 year. Eat them; cook them; they are delicious. OR you can make home hot sauce.

Note: Brine, not water, is used to fill the “weight” bag so that if the bag accidentally springs a leak the salt water concentration remains constant and the fermentation process is not spoiled.

 

STEP #2: Make the Hot Saucefermenting peppers2

  1. Remove the pickled peppers from the brine (do not discard the brine) and puree them in a blender or food processor.
  2. Strain the pepper puree through a fine mesh colander, sieve of or food mill until the entire liquid portion of the pepper is squeezed out.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  3. Yield will vary depending on how enthusiastically you strain and the fleshiness of the peppers used.  Jalapenos are very fleshy for example but scotch bonnets are quite thin.  In this example  1 ½ lbs. red bells and ½ lbs. serranos yielded 1 2/3 cup liquid purée + ½ cup fermented pepper solids. Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Freeze or refrigerate the pepper solids in a freezer-safe container or bag.  They make a great flavoring agent for beans, soups, stir fries—anything where you want a bit of heat and sour.IMG_6173
  5. Strain the brine through a coffee filter and boil for 1 minute removing any additional scum. Allow it to cool and store in the fridge. I use it in soups and stew.  It adds a rich flavor that I find irresistible.  It’s like using beer or wine in cooking.

Homemade Hot Sauce Recipe

  • 1 cup strained, fermented pepper liquid
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½  teaspoon canning salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  1.  Combine all of the ingredients and store in the fridge where it will last for 1 year or more.
  2. You may adjust the seasoning to your liking with more or less salt or vinegar.  You may also prefer to use the brine instead of the vinegar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

     

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Kale & Pear Winter Slaw

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw

“Three kinds of kale, Seckel pears, two kinds of chili peppers and honey.”   That was the text message I received from the farm manager in my response to my question, “What crops to you have in plentiful supply?” The farm manager works for Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a community organization in Milwaukee that uses vacant city lots to grow produce as part of their mission to revitalize the neighborhood.  I posed the question because they had invited me to do a cooking-based nutrition workshop to help promote their produce at their annual Harvest Celebration.

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw--3 kale varieties

(left to right) Curly Kale, Red Winter Kale, Lacinato or Tuscan or Black Kale

It seems like a game show challenge for harried home cooks.  “What recipe can you develop using these 4 ingredients?”  Because I wind up a contestant on this game show more nights than I would like to admit,  I have gained some skill in meal-time problem-solving. It didn’t take me long to come up with this kale salad which incorporates 3 out of the 4 ingredients.   I could have incorporated all 4 adding a minced red chili pepper for a bit of heat, but I chose a more conservative path focusing on the sweet and tangy flavors.Kale--cold water bath

Among greens, kale falls into the “hardy” category. This means it generally should be cooked in water or it will remain too tough and too bitter to eat.  However in this recipe, the acid from the apple cider vinegar does the “cooking”. The result is a hardy slaw, one that stands up longer than its cabbage cousin.  Crisp pears, tart cranberries, crunchy pecans, assertive onions, smoky bacon, and sweet honey all combine nicely adding layers of complimentary flavors and textures to the pleasantly chewy kale slaw.

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw--girls prep
Kale--separating leaf from stalk

 

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6-8 servings
 
Make this recipe after the first frost when kale becomes sweeter and even more tender.
Ingredients
  • INGREDIENTS
  • 12 oz. kale—a tender variety like Red Winter or Lacinato works best
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onions
  • 2 medium-sized firm pears, peeled and diced—about 1 ½ cups
  • 4 rashers bacon, fried crisp
  • ¼ cup chopped dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped, toasted pecans
  • DRESSING
  • ⅓ cup grape seed or olive oil
  • 3 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ½ t crushed black pepper
Instructions
  1. Prepare kale by tearing the stalks from the leaves. Swish kale leaves in a deep, cold water bath until all dirt falls to the bottom. Next stack clean leaves and roll tightly together. Slice the roll lengthwise and then crosswise into very thin, short strips.
  2. Make dressing by combining salt, pepper, vinegar, and honey. Then slowly drizzle in oil whisking constantly or blending on high with an electric blender.
  3. Toss half the dressing with the chopped kale and let it set at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, chop cranberries and slice onions; set aside.
  5. Peel pears and dice into ¼ inch cubes. Keep diced pears in a bowl with ½ cup water and 1 T vinegar to prevent browning.
  6. Toast pecans—place pecans in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat stirring constantly for 1—2 minutes until golden. Remove from pan and chop.
  7. In the same skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain on a paper towel, and finely chop.
  8. Toss all ingredients together, adjust salt and pepper seasoning, and serve at room temperature or chill and serve later. This salad gets better with time.
Notes
Substitute smoked tempeh or ½ teaspoon liquid smoke for a bacon-free slaw.

 

Stack cleaned and prepped leaves; roll tightly together; slice into thin ribbons

Stack cleaned and prepped leaves; roll tightly together; slice into thin ribbons

Kale ribbons--wilting in the dressingCooking with Kids:  Little kids were made for cleaning greens. Ripping the leaf from the stalk without a care  followed by swishing the leaves in a deep cold water bath—this comes as close to pure cooking fun as you can get for a little kid. No admonishments to be careful or to not spill; no overseeing their technique.  I have been having my kids clean greens since they could walk.

They also enjoy making the dressing.  When they were very small (3 and under), I had them shake it like crazy in a jar.  They have graduated to using the noisy immersion blender.  For a kid, nothing compares to the joy derived from using a noisy tool.

Getting kids to eat dark leafy greens can be a challenge, but try.  Greens are the most important plant food you can eat for long-term health. Because my children like salad, I told them that this is a kale salad (which it is) and avoided the use of the word slaw–something new.  I won’t lie, this was their first time trying it and they weren’t wild about it.  That said they did take a bite but said no thanks to more. The man liked it and so did I, which is enough for me to make it again and again and again. They will try it each time and I guarantee that they will come around to accepting it perhaps even requesting it. Courage, Dear Parents! Be relentless!IMG_6005

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Fried Green Tomatoes–The Tasty Upside to the Coming Cold

For many years I did a weekly cooking show at a farmers market in an African American community that served not only the neighbors but also the many immigrant communities that call Milwaukee home.  I developed and demonstrated recipes each week that focused on seasonal produce.  I employed the spices and cooking techniques of various cuisines to demonstrate the range of the food and gave out samples to the customers.  The shows were popular and enjoyed a small but loyal fan-following.  Besides free samples, the shoppers seemed genuinely excited and curious to taste foods from around the world.

That all changed the day I did a show demonstrating how to make fried green tomatoes.   My one-time fans—the ones with Southern roots who considered themselves soul food aficionados, teased me endlessly about my choice of ingredients, cooking techniques and general credibility as a Southern food cooking instructor.Green Tomatoes--Fried

I reminded them that #1: the Indians, Koreans and all the other ethnic groups whose cuisines I borrowed from week-to-week seemed genuinely pleased that I had embraced the food of their native land, and they complimented me on my recipes. What happened to their Southern manners?  #2:  My connections were every bit as strong as theirs. Due to my father, I grew up watching Hee-Haw and listening to WMAQ.  His childhood was spent in Appalachia, and when his family moved to central Illinois, the school held him back a year because the teacher couldn’t understand his thick accent.

Authenticity as a Southerner aside, in the end, they relented. You can’t argue with a tasty fried green tomato.  This recipe has a coating which is crisp and savory not thick and eggy.  In addition to flavor, it keeps oil use and mess to a minimum because the tomatoes are pan not deep fried.Green Tomatoes, Fried--ingredients

Fried Green Tomatoes
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Southern
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Leftovers make sandwiches--crisp lettuce, spicy remoulade and stacked fried green tomatoes on a lightly toasted bun.
Ingredients
  • 6 medium green tomatoes, cored and sliced into ½ inch slices
  • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp regular salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup yogurt or cultured *buttermilk
  • ½ cup oil
  • lemon for garnish
  • SIMPLE REMOULADE SAUCE
  • 2 Tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chili sauce
Instructions
  1. Prepare the tomatoes.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal and spices in a large bowl.
  3. Pour yogurt or buttermilk into a separate bowl.
  4. Dip each tomato slice in the buttermilk or yogurt to coat. Next, dredge the slice in the cornmeal mixture coating both sides well.
  5. Once all the tomatoes are coated, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add oil.
  6. When the oil becomes hot, pan fry the tomatoes in batches. Fry until golden brown—about 1½ - 2 minutes on each side. Drain on a wire rack or paper towels.
  7. Make the remoulade dipping sauce by combining the mayo and chili sauce.
  8. Serve fried tomato slices with lemon wedges and remoulade.
Notes
*Make buttermilk by adding 1 t lemon juice to ½ cup milk. Stir and wait a few minutes for the milk to curdle and thicken.

Cooking & Eating with Kids: Fried green tomatoes are a treat of early fall when the green ones must be harvested before the frost comes and turns them to mush.   I serve them as part of meal I like to call “Southern Sides” –cheesy grits and  Southern-inspired vegetable side dishes.  No meat.  It’s a kid favorite.  Leftover fried green tomatoes also make great sandwiches.

I have my kids harvest the tomatoes, measure and mix the coating and then do all of the breading.  My kids are particularly fond of making cultured “buttermilk.”

Preserve It:  Enjoy them now as there is absolutely no way to preserve the green tomatoes for frying later.  I’ve tried with zero success.  If you have a way, please let me know because I miss them November to June and so will you once you have tried them.

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles–Sandwich Toppers Made Easy

This time of year, when everything is in season, you will find me at the farmers market wringing my hands and looking a bit frantic—so many veggies and so little time.    Soon after, I will begin talking out loud to myself.  Naturally.  How else does one make plans and set priorities?  “Mid-September.  Okay, pickling cucumbers are on the way out, and I still have about a month before the first frost takes the tomatoes and even longer for the peppers, soooooo cucumbers it is…”

…which means pickles.”   I did the full ferment kosher sours long ago at the start of the season.  If you read this blog or know me even a little, you know that I am passionate about pickles and pickling. If you didn’t know, well, let me tell you that I’m kind of a big dill in the world of pickling.  Get it, kind of a “big dill.”   I even have a T-shirt that says so.

My tastes run toward salty, savory, garlicky, or hot when it comes to pickles.  However, another camp of pickle connoisseurs stand firmly in allegiance with the sweet pickle.  I don’t share that opinion, but a sweet pickle, I admit, does have its place on the plate. Tart, tangy, and sweet, a tuna fish or pulled pork sandwich wouldn’t be the same without an old-fashion bread & butter pickle on top.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer PicklesWhile I’m not a sweet pickle fan per se, this is no second-class bread & butter.  I’ve taste-tested it on bread & butter fans and have received rave reviews. The simplicity of the recipe with its consistent, flavorful, and crunchy results has led me to make this year after year.   Moreover, it takes just minutes of prep time and freezing allows me to store it in small and extra-small portion sizes.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Ingredients

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles--Sandwich Toppers Made Easy
Author: 
Recipe type: Pickle
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 cups
 
Salt and sugar (for unknown reasons) keep cucumbers crisp even after freezing them. If you want them even crisper, dry soaking the cukes in ice cold water for 12 - 24 hours before cutting and preparing them.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. pickling cucumbers (5 cups sliced)
  • 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (1 ½ cups)
  • 2 T pickling salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • 1 T whole mustard seeds
Instructions
  1. Wash and thinly slice the cucumbers removing the blossom end—do not peel.
  2. Combine cucumbers, onions, and salt in a large glass bowl and let stand for 2-4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Rinse and drain the vegetables well, drying and blotting them on a clean tea towel.
  5. Combine all ingredients and place in individual freezer containers leaving an inch of head space for expansion.
  6. To use, thaw for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.
Notes
Once thawed, these pickles will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Blossom-EndCooking with Kids:  Let the kids slice the cucumbers while you slice the onions.  Use a steak knife if they are under 11.  They should still use safe knife skills especially tucking their fingers in on the hand that holds the cucumber.   Kids are also able to measure the salt, sugar, vinegar, and spices. (It’s not canning so you don’t have to get too panicked about precise measurements.)  Lastly, my kids really like to mix so let them toss the cukes with salt using their clean hands or mix the sugar into the vinegar.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Preparing

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--drying

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--freezer bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curry Grilled Okra

Here’s a fun party trick to find out who has some ties to the South.  Do a free association exercise with them—say a word and have them say the first word that pops into their head.  Try a few so as not to be so obvious, then spring “okra” on them.  If they immediately counter with “slime” well you know they came from, lived in, or have family from the South.  Pure Northerners will simply shrug and stare at you blankly.

Whatever your negative association or non-association with okra may be, I encourage you to give this artfully-shaped, fuzzy green pod a try.  Higher in protein than nearly any other veggie with a meaty texture to match, okra has a lot more to offer than slime.  In fact the slime can all but be eliminated depending on the cooking technique you use.

Even if you already love okra and embrace the slime, the possibilities of this veggie are most likely greater than what you have experienced.  Japan, India, Latin America and most of Africa regularly include okra in their meals with flavorings and preparation methods that expand beyond fried or gumbo.  This recipe is Indian inspired.  Grilling the whole pod eliminates slime altogether.  The piquant masala paired with the smoky flavor from grilling make this dish highly addictive.  On hot summer nights, we eat these spicy little treats like popcorn washing them down with a cold fruity beer.Okra--Curry Grilled

Buying, Storing & Preparing:  Okra is available in Wisconsin from August to October.  Buy them at the farmers market when you can as they can be hard to find in the off season at the grocery store. Some varieties can grow up to 7 inches and still remain tender, but unless your farmer verifies that her variety grows that long, get pods no bigger than 3 inches long.

Okra is extremely sensitive to cold and the flesh will begin to blacken if exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees F, so store in a paper bag wrapped in a canvas bag in the warmest part of the fridge. Freshly harvested okra stored like this can last up to 10 days.

Slicing into the seed pod releases the thickening agent or “slime” so trim cap by cutting just above the pod.

Okra--Cap trimmed II

Curry Grilled Okra
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound okra, 3 inches long; washed, caps trimmed
  • 1 t curry powder (or equal parts cumin, coriander, turmeric)
  • 1 t chili powder
  • ¼ t good garlic powder
  • ½ t regular salt
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, add curry powder, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and mix.
  2. Add okra and toss. Drizzle in oil and toss further so that all the pods are uniformly coated with spice and oil.
  3. Using a wooden skewer soaked in water or a metal skewer, thread 6 or 7 okra. Threading a 2nd skewer through the okra, will prevent the okra from spinning on the skewer and make it easier to turn. Alternatively, line the grill with *non-stick aluminum foil, poke holes in it, and place the pods on the foil skipping the skewers altogether.
  4. Place okra on a heated grill.
  5. Grill for 7 – 8 minutes on each side over medium heat. Serve immediately, garnishing with lime juice.
  6. *Do not use cast iron, aluminum or exposed copper pots for cooking (especially frying or stewing) okra; it will cause the okra to turn black.

 

Okra--Grilled Ingredients

Okra--MasalaOkra--Grilled SkewersOkra--GrilledCooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure out the spices and mix them.  They can even toss and coat the okra; just have them use a spoon to do the job or find a lid to cover the bowl.  I have learned the hard way that little kids (at least mine) are not coordinated enough to toss oil, spices and veggies in an open bowl no matter how large the bowl and how few the okra.

Eating okra can be a challenge for kids and many adults. It’s a texture thing as the taste is very subtle.  Let the lime garnish help.  Kids seem to love the sour of citrus and the acid cuts the slime.   Drench their okra in lime juice for their first taste.

South Indian Snap Beans–Everything is better with mustard seeds

My husband grew up on the spice coast of South India in Kerala and each Sunday night we are treated to a South India feast.  In general, South Indian cuisine is much quicker and easier to prepare than North Indian fare.  It uses flavors and cooking techniques similar to those in South East Asia in combination with the classic Indian spices.  My advice: If you have ever wanted to cook Indian at home, start in the South with a simple dish like this family favorite.South Indian-style Snap Beans

This is the Man’s quick and easy go-to side dish for our Sunday supers in Kerala. Coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves spice up the humble little snap beans and make it a Kerala classic.

South Indian Snap Beans
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable Side
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Chopped cabbage or grated kohlrabi make delicious substitutions for the snap beans.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. snap beans, green or wax, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ½ T oil, canola or coconut
  • ½ t black mustard seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about a ½ cup)
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 10 – 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • 1 t paprika
  • Pinch or more cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • ⅔ cup water or more as needed
Instructions
  1. Using a 12 or 14-inch sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat the oil until hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they just start to pop. This is called tempering the spices.
  2. Once they pop, immediately add the onion, salt, curry leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Saute until the onion just begins to brown—5 minutes.
  3. Add beans and ⅔ cup of water. Cover and let steam until the beans are tender—about 10 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
  4. Remove lid, add coconut and continue sauteing until all the liquid evaporates about 1 minute longer.
  5. Serve with rice and yogurt.
Notes
Unsweetened grated coconut can be found in the freezer section of any Indian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a small bag of black mustard seeds which have a slightly different flavor than brown mustard seeds. lastly, fresh curry leaves are a sort of herb from a curry tree grown in tropical climates only. Find those in the fresh produce section of the Indian grocery store.

South Indian-style Snap Beans--chopping

 

IMG_5247

South Indian-style Snap Beans--finishingCooking with Kids

“Do you know what they call Indian food in India?…Food.  That is one of our long running little jokey admonishments to the kids. It comes up when they make a comment about not wanting to try some dish because it is new or unfamiliar.  What’s left out, but certainly implied and understood,  “Now try it.”  Rejecting food based on appearance or unfamiliarity is a strict no-no here and should be for you too.

From the age of about 2, kids have a natural impulse to reject any new food.  It is a self preservation instinct.  The first time a toddler experiences a new taste, they will only consume a little.  We evolved that way so as not to accidentally ingest a big bowl full of poisonous berries and die.  Instead, we eat a little, wait to see if there are any adverse effects.  None noted…let’s eat a little more of that food next time around and re-evaluate. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, doesn’t it?  Those of the species who threw caution to the wind and ate the big bowl of poisonous berries, well they didn’t last long enough to pro-create. Millions of years of natural selection have given rise to the picky eater.

So don’t hesitate to serve something new.  Even if it is rejected, serve it again and again if you liked it. Have the kids try at least one bite each time.  I guarantee that they will come around to eating it eventually.  Eighteen exposures to a new food is the rule. And the next time you’re in a conversation where you say or hear something like, “Little Bobby would never try anything like Indian food,”  remember what they call Indian food in India. One billion people can’t be wrong.

Tips

Snap Beans StorageSnap beans are prone to frost damage. To prevent this, store them in a paper bag placed in another plastic bag and placed in the warmest part of the fridge.  Do not wash them before storing.  They should keep up to a week like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French-style New Potato Salad

IMG_5188No matter what the variety or color, when a potato is harvested in its tuber infancy, it becomes a new potato. New potatoes are low in starch, high in sugars, and range in size from golf ball to marble.   They have an incomparably smooth but firm texture and a skin so thin it may be missing in spots. Found only in backyard gardens and farmers markets, new potatoes represent one of summer’s fleeting joys.

New Potatoes--French-Style New Potato Salad

My favorite way to showcase the new potato’s subtle flavor and creamy texture is to serve it in a salad…but not one of those sloppy American mayonnaise-y sorts of salads that you find in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. That would mask rather than enhance the potato’s flavor. Besides, too many people have an absolute aversion to mayonnaise stemming from a childhood experience like finding out too late that grandma used mayonnaise not Cool Whip in a Jell-O salad.  I have my own aversions. While I love mayonnaise any other time, added to potatoes it represents for me a major public health menace. As a student, I read one too many textbooks that used church potluck potato salad as the source of a food poisoning outbreak to illustrate the terms and tools of epidemiology. No thank you.

French potatoes salad, thankfully, eliminates all of those bad associations while taking advantage of foods from the early part of summer-—herbs, fresh spring onions, and new potatoes.  This vinaigrette is on the tangy side which enhances the flavor and texture of mild, creamy new potatoes. Small waxy potato varieties make a suitable substitute.

Selection & Storage:  Potatoes should be firm and should have no green skin or sprouts on them.  Green on a potato indicates sun exposure and the presence of a poison. DON’T EAT THE GREEN SPOTS—CUT THEM OUT.  Store new potatoes in a cool, dark place away from the onions. I find a cardboard box, a burlap sack, or a paper bag on the pantry floor works well—dry, breathable material wicks moisture away. Spread them out as much as possible and remove any bad one immediately. Do not store them in the refrigerator as they become oddly sweet and may even turn black.IMG_5203

Preparations: New potatoes are easy to cook whole because of their small size.  You do not need to remove the skin of the new potato because it is so thin.  After boiling they will easily peel off when rubbed. They are delicious when boiled (10 – 20 minutes simmer time), creamed, or pan-roasted (drizzle in oil and roasted at 375 F for 25 – 35 min).  They keep their shape well when cooked and cut, making them ideal for salads.

Cooking with Kids:  Herbs are a major part of my postage stamp garden.  Most are low maintenance perennials. The kids know the name and flavor of every herb in our garden. They sample them regularly and are in charge of harvesting them.  I keep a small pair of scissors in the kitchen just for this purpose.  Even if space is limited or you have black instead of green thumbs, try planting a container of herbs or placing a few in your landscaping.  Herbs grow like weeds generally speaking.  Moreover, they cost a fortune at the store and spoil quickly, so you’ll save money on groceries.  In this recipe, I have the kids measure and shake the vinaigrette in a mason jar while I boil the potatoes.

IMG_5201

French-style New Potato Salad
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs. new or waxy potatoes
  • ¼ cup white or red wine vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small spring onion or shallot, mince
  • ¼ cup mix chopped herbs—thyme, tarragon, chives or parsley
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 1 or 2 pinches of sugar
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Place washed but unpeeled new potatoes in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Salt water if desired. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer until tender—10 to 20 minutes depending on the size, drain and quarter if desired.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, herbs, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until completely combined. Toss with the warm potatoes. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

 

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

Rhubarb--just pickedI love strawberry-rhubarb anything.  As a Midwesterner, I know that’s a bit of a cliché. My New York City friends used to tease me about my folksy, Midwestern origins when, in an unguarded moment, I’d blurt out something like “Oh, don’t you wish we could eat some strawberry-rhubarb cobbler right now?!” “Oh yeah, gee whiz, that does sound mighty good,” they’d respond in their best Lake Wobegone accent.  But I can’t apologize.  People who live in USDA growing zone 7, don’t own a snow shovel, and take runs in Central Park in April wearing shorts, how can these people truly appreciate summer? As special as Christmas or Thanksgiving, summer for us in the Great Lakes IS A HOLIDAY—all 8 weeks of it; and as with all holidays, our summer has certain traditional, celebratory foods.

Strawberry-rhubarb cobbler is just the first of many in a parade of seasonal classics like corn on the cob, BLT’s, and brats on the grill.  When that sweet berry and the tart stem reach ripe perfection at the precisely the same time, you know summer has arrived.  Because Wisconsin has had a slow, wet and cold start to the season, you can still find plenty of strawberry and rhubarb at the farmers market.  Even if you don’t have time to bake a cobbler this weekend, buy the rhubarb and strawberries before time runs out.  It takes very little time to freeze these fruits, and then you can enjoy them even in the dead of winter.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--plate

Wholesome, simple, sweet-tooth satisfying, America perfected rustic baked fruit desserts like cobbler.  It remains one of our few positive contributions to the global banquet.

Feel free to substitute other berries or fruits as they come into season; blueberry, peach and apple are classics.  Likewise the strawberry-rhubarb can be baked with a crisp topping with equally delicious results.  Check out Apple Crisp for the crisp topping recipe.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--dish

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: America
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB FILLING
  • 3 pints strawberries (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1 lbs. rhubarb thinly chopped (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 T corn starch
  • BISCUIT DOUGH COBBLER TOPPING
  • 1 ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T cold butter cut into small chunks
  • ⅔ cup half & half or cream
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • BISCUIT DOUGH GLAZE
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 T half & half
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375◦ F.
  2. Butter an 8 or 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish (2 quart capacity).
  3. Mix the strawberry-rhubarb filling together and place in the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  4. Prepare the biscuit dough by first mixing the dry ingredients—flour, 3 T sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. Next, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or using the food processor until it has a mealy texture.
  6. Combine the half & half with the vanilla and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir gently until just combined. DO NOT OVER STIR OR IT WILL BECOME TOUGH.
  7. Liberally flour a counter surface and pat dough out to ¼ inch thick with your hands.
  8. Use a knife or cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes like circles, triangles or stars. To make a lattice, cut into long strips and weave. The dough is sticky and easily breaks. Don’t worry over it; just cobble it together.
  9. Place the dough on top of the fruit filling. Do not completely cover the fruit or steam will not escape.
  10. Brush dough with half & half and sprinkle with sugar.
  11. Bake for about 45 minutes and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving with a side of whip cream or vanilla ice cream.

IMG_5127

Cooking with Kids:  My kids love to cut up produce.  They take this responsibility seriously and they should.  I’ve given them a knife!!  In this recipe,  I put them to work taking the stems off the strawberries.  If your little ones are between 4 – 11 years old, give them un-pointy steak knives and start teaching them very basic knife skills–especially tucking in the fingers that hold the fruit on the left hand (also known as the bear or tiger claw). Check out this video from the Rhyming Chef to see an entertaining demonstration. The steak knives can also cut the more tender stalks of rhubarb.  If you have lots of rhubarb to cut, have the kids do it in the food processor–loud noise, buttons to push, my kids never say no to helping with the food processor.  Un-fussy desserts like cobbler don’t require absolute precision so let the kids measure and teach them about fractions and measuring tools while you work.  They also love to stir the batter but don’t let them stir too much or the cobbler might turn out a bit tough.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--the girls eager to eat

Tips and Food Safety: If you have a sunny patch of land available, plant some rhubarb.  This perennial comes back year after year and adds beauty to the landscape with ruby red stems and elephant-ear sized leaves in deep green. Once you do have a patch of rhubarb, DON’T EAT THE LEAVES. They contain oxalic acid and other toxins. The stem, on the other hand, may be enjoyed anytime of the year not just spring—stems never contain toxins.

Homemade French Dressing

I was never a fan of the tossed salad and French dressing was among my least favorite dressings, but that all changed in my late 30’s.  I had a June cooking demo to do at the farmers market and salad greens were among the few ingredients readily available.   I apologetically passed this recipe development project onto my dietetic intern, Becky.  A week later she returned with 4 dressing recipes and samples for taste testing.  Granted my expectations were low, but I swear that upon my first bite, a choir of angel began singing.  I tasted a subtle, creamy, tangy dressing without a trace of cloying artificial sweetness and chemical emulsifier mouth-feel—homemade French dressing.  Life changing discoveries happen so infrequently as we grow older; I do not exaggerate when I say that this student forever changed the way I and my family eat…

Because I now can add greens quickly to the menu for any meal!  Besides obviously keeping salad greens on hand, the key to instant greens is having at least one dressing in the fridge ready to go.  With ingredients that have a long shelf-life, homemade French dressing has become a staple in our fridge, and no-one’s complaining.   The kiddos and the sour-adverse like this one and a little goes a long way—just a tablespoon on 6 cups of salad ingredients.

French Dressing

Storing & Food Safety:

Use a good quality fine garlic powder not salt.  I like Penzey’s or The Spice House.   If you use fresh garlic, crush the whole clove, emulsify all the other ingredients, then add the crushed clove allowing it to marinate and impart its flavor in the dressing for a few days before removing.  Do not mince the garlic, and allow it to remain in the dressing unless you plan on eating all the dressing within a few days!!!  Minced garlic immersed in oil can be a breeding ground for botulism spores.  Enough said.

Squeeze Bottle for Dressings and SaucesFood poisoning aside and on a much more insignificant note, the chopped garlic spoils the creamy texture and clogs the squeeze bottles in which I store homemade dressings. Go get some of these.  You can find them at the restaurant supply store.  Clean and convenient, squeeze bottle are the best 2 bucks you’ll spend.French Dressing in the squeeze bottle

 

Best French Dressing
Author: 
Recipe type: Dressing
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 T paprika
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • ¼ t quality garlic powders or 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (SEE “STORING”)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ½ t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 - 2 t mayonnaise (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients (except fresh garlic if using) and blend for about 1 minute. Transfer to a squeeze bottle for ease of serving and store in the fridge. It will keep for 3 months.
  2. Alternatively, you can add the ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously for 1 minute though it won’t stay emulsified—just shake each time before serving.
  3. FRESH GARLIC USERS: After emulsifying, add the fresh garlic to marinate for 24 hours shaking occasionally, then remove and discard the clove.
Notes
Mayonnaise keeps the dressing emulsified for longer. It does not impact the flavor.

 

French Dressing Served by Big GirlFrench Dressing--Big Girl taste tests

Cooking (and Eating) with Kids:

As a dietitian, I have long advised everyone to include a daily serving, either raw or cooked, of the most nutrient-dense super-food available—greens.  This can be a challenge when you think that you don’t like salad (like the old me) or greens in any form (like most children.)  To the defense of the little food neo-phobes, they taste the bitterness in greens more keenly than those of us with well-worn taste buds.  Moreover, cooked greens can pose a texture problem in the form of mushiness. On the other hand, crisp, raw veggies are more readily accepted in the under-18 community. Dips are particularly popular.  So start there. Serve crisp leaves from hearts of romaine with a small dish of dressing.  The kids love dipping and eating the individual leaves just like they would carrot sticks.   Bingo!  We have our gateway green and the kids will be on to requesting side salads for dinner before you know it.

Check out the pictures of the kids below (mine plus the neighbors’) who kept begging to eat my food props during the photo shoot.  I love to see kids eating veggies, but begging…that brings a matchless joy to my heart.IMG_4919

 

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast Bars

If it weren’t for peanut butter, I might not have made it past 5 feet.  As a notorious fussy eater, I engaged in a 15 year eating jag consuming a daily peanut butter-jam sandwich for lunch from toddlerhood until college. I found most other healthy foods revolting.  My mother looks for audiences to share the stories which best illustrate my former fussy self, but only if I am also a member of the audience—like the time I made a spectacle of gagging on ham at a formal dinner or the time I scraped half-eaten stew back into the pot at our pastor’s home before anyone could stop me.

She must find it particularly galling that I later became not only an adventurous eater but also a nutrition and culinary educator who teaches parents how to raise healthy eaters.  So I  submit to her small revenge, and not a Mother’s Day passes when I don’t sincerely apologize for these childhood transgressions.  She says she forgives but clearly she doesn’t forget.

Peanut butter spared me a lifetime of short jokes and step-stool fetching.  Perhaps because of this, my love affair with this supreme legume continues. So when I began thinking of a DIY breakfast bar to avoid buying the exorbitantly priced “all-natural” ones at the supermarket, my thoughts turned to peanut butter. Jam made the short list too not only for the classic taste combination but also to clear my pantry of it’s jam surplus.  (Jam making season is around the corner though in Wisconsin it doesn’t feel like it.)

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast BarsThis recipe is dead simple, contains wholesome and nutritious ingredients (mind you, I didn’t say low-calorie) including, of course, peanut butter–that protein-rich legume chock-full of heart healthy fats.  So enjoy! You just saved 5 bucks as you passed the breakfast bar aisle at the supermarket, and now it’s… peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time.

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast Bars
Author: 
Recipe type: Baked Treats
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 20 bars
 
This makes a tasty breakfast bar or mid-day snack. Each square is about 90 calories, the same as store-bought varieties but at a fraction of the cost and multiple times better. Soy butter makes a fine substitute for the peanut allergic.
Ingredients
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¾ cup quick oats
  • ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ t kosher salt
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ¼ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ cup 100% all natural peanut butter (no palm oil)
  • 1 large egg
  • ⅓ cup jam or jelly
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350◦F. Lightly grease an 8” x 8” pan.
  2. In an up-right mixer or using a fork, mix the first 5 ingredients together (butter, sugar, oats, flour, salt).
  3. Remove 1 cup (loosely packed) of the combined ingredients and set aside—this will be the crumble topping.
  4. Now add the remaining 5 ingredients (baking powder, oats, flour, peanut butter, and egg) and thoroughly mix together.
  5. Pat the dough into the 8 x8 pan.
  6. Spread the jam evenly on top of the dough, careful not to touch the edge of the pan with the jam as it will burn.
  7. Evenly sprinkle the reserve crumble topping over the jam.
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut into 20 even pieces.

Cooking with Kids:  Simple baking projects like this can and should be entirely executed by the kids.  Have them do the measuring and mixing.  Take the time to teach them about fractions while you work.

Storing:  Double or even triple the recipe, bake it, and store the surplus in the freezer.  It doesn’t take much more time, and now you have a supply of wholesome breakfast bars to last the next couple of weeks.

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