Friday, June 21, 2013

Roasted Tomatillo and Tomato Salsa with Chiles

Now that we're back in the city, B and I have started a summer regiment of canning. We've only made two things so far, a ginger-peach preserve and this salsa, but if we promise to do more I think we can get away with prematurely calling it a tradition. 

If you've never canned before, this recipe is a great place to start. This salsa is a high-acid food, and is tested for waterbath canning. In fact, I got this recipe from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving, so it's a tried and true method. Before you start canning be sure to do your research and learn about safe practices and techniques, which I'm not going to tell you about because there are so many books out there that can do a better job! For some really straightforward and bare-bones instructions, which is really all you need to get going, here's a link.

Roasted Tomatillo and Tomato Salsa with Chiles
Makes 6 pints

12 dried Pasilla chiles
12 dried Guajillo chiles
2 lbs tomatillos
2 lbs tomatoes
2 small yellow onions
1 head garlic
1 cup white vinegar
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt

Note: Although I am all for substitutions and using recipes as a starting off point for cooking whatever you want, in this case it's important to stick to the books. The ingredients and amounts specified are tested for home canning; altering the recipe can change the acidity and therefore the safety of the final product.

1. Remove stems from chiles and put 2 cups of hot water on to boil. Heat a large dry skillet over medium and roast the dry peppers until they are fragrant (about 30 seconds to a minute per side). Work in batches until all chiles are toasted and set aside in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over chiles and cover with a plate so that the chiles are weighed down and stay submerged. Let sit for 15 minutes to hydrate.

2. Meanwhile, husk tomatillos and break the garlic head into cloves, leaving them in their skins. Roast tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic and onions under a broiler for about 15 minutes, until the tomato and tomatillo skins begin to blacken. Keep a close eye on the veggies and turn occasionally so that they roast on all sides. When done, the veggies will be fragrant and should start to release their juices. Remove from oven and place the tomatillos and tomatoes in a paper bag. Close bag tightly and allow to sit until cool.

 3. When the rehyrdated chiles have cooled, puree with soaking water until smooth in a blender or food processor. Pour into a large stainless steel saucepan and set aside. Next, puree tomatillos, tomatoes, and garlic until mostly smooth with just a little chunkiness for texture. Add to saucepan with the chiles. Finely dice the roasted onion and add the the saucepan. Add vinegar, sugar and salt and stir constantly while you bring the salsa to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 minutes.

4. Prepare canner, jars and lids. Remove salsa from heat and carefully ladle into prepped hot jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles by sliding a non-metallic spautla in the jar and gently pressing food to the side of the jar. Wipe rim clean and center a new lid on the jar. Screw band down until fingertip tight, but be sure not to go too tight; air must be able to escape while processing.

Kite trying to be helpful

5. Carefully lower jars into canner, making sure that jars are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let the jars sit for 5 minutes before removing from canner. Let the jars cool upright on a rack or towel for 12 hours before storing. Check all jars to make sure they sealed properly. If lid flexes when pushed, the jar did not seal. You can still use that salsa, just store it in the fridge to use right away. For the ones that sealed (and most likely, they all will) it's best to wait about a month before using this salsa, as the flavors mellow out and develop during storage.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Vegan Ribs with Homemade Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

Yesterday was one of those lazy summer days where I wanted to cook something from scratch and I wanted whatever that was to be something new and I was ok with spending half the day working on it. What I didn't want to do was go to the grocery store so I had to be a little resourceful. Weighing my options, I decided to make vegan "ribs" from scratch. As it turns out, this does take a little while but it's mostly passive time so you can relax on the patio with a few beermosas while you wait. Although you do need to turn on the oven to prebake the seitan ribs, the bbq sauce simmers in a slow cooker which keeps your kitchen from getting too toasty. So if you have an afternoon free and you don't feel like leaving your porch or backyard, I recommend this easy and rewarding endeavor.

A few hours before you want to eat, start the bbq sauce.

(This recipe is lightly altered from Robin Robertson's "Better Barbecue Sauce" from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker)

Slow Cooked Chipotle BBQ Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
3 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
1 six ounce can tomato paste
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (cheap store brands are often vegan)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon paprika (use smoked if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon each: coriander, cumin and chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon natural liquid smoke

1. Finely chop the onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat for several minutes, until softened and fragrant. Add the onions first to give them a headstart, the garlic only needs a minute or two.

2. Add everything except the vinegar and liquid smoke to the slow cooker. Stir to combine, cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Stir and then turn down to low and cook for another 2 hours. Alternatively you can just cook on low the whole time for 4 hours.

3. Stir in the water and liquid smoke. Taste and adjust seasonings. This is also the time to tweak the consistency; if you want it thicker just cook for a while more on high with the lid off. If it's too thick well, add more water until it's not!

4. Allow to cool a little then transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a jar and set aside.

Vegan Ribs from Scratch (Susan Voisin's original recipe found here)
For this one, I really did just follow the original recipe since I had never made it before. The only thing I did differently was I grilled the ribs dry to avoid burning the sugary sauce.

1 cup wheat gluten
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons nut butter (I used tahini)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup of Slow Cooked Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl or standing mixer. In a separate container, mix together the water, tahini, liquid smoke and soy sauce. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Once the dough forms a ball, knead for a few minutes.

Pat the dough down in a greased 8x8 inch pan so that it is fairly smooth and uniform. Cut the dough into 7 or 8 strips one direction, then in half the other so that you have 14 or 16 pieces. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. This is a good time to finish up the barbecue sauce or get your grill ready.

Remove seitan from the oven and go over the cut marks again so that the ribs will pull apart. Dump the whole loaf of seitan on the grill and cook for a few minutes. Check to see if it's as dark as you like it, then flip over and grill the other side. It doesn't take long, so keep an eye on it!

Brush generously with your awesome homemade barbecue sauce and chow down! Now, what should I make with the rest of this barbecue sauce?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Foxfires and Glowworms

What do foxfires and glowworms have in common? Well, both are examples of bioluminescence found in the Appalachian temperate rainforests, but in this case I'm talking about the Foxfire books, not the fungi.

Not being from the South, I didn't find out about the Foxfire books and magazines until my friend from Alabama gave me a copy of the first one. The books are anthologies of the original magazines-- published by high school students in the 1960s as part of an ongoing project to get kids to write in ways more meaningful, personal, and engaging than a book report. Students interviewed members of their local community to document their cultural heritage and record many of the fading traditions of rural Appalachian life. The content ranges from folklore to instructional how-to's to personal narratives.

I happened upon Foxfire 3 in the bookstore the other day which covers some wildcrafting (with a recipe for Cattail Pancakes and Honey Locust/Persimmon Beer), making your own banjos and dulcimers, an apple butter recipe, how to make sorghum with a horse operated mill and instructions for making your own butter churn. Ya know, just casual rainy day craft party kinda stuff.

I must say that I love the simple design of these original books. Who says good cover art needs anything more than text? Best use of Cooper Black ever.

We also had a great time watching fireflies and glowworms, but it's really difficult to take good pictures of those little guys. So instead, here are some native flowers I found. . .

Mountain Laurel
Sweet Brush 

Flame Azalea (a type of rhododendron)
I forget what this one is!

It's been lovely up here. . .

Chunk of mica I found in the creek

Being the only temperate rainforest in the US not along the West Coast (as far as I know at least) I feel very much at home. I've never seen this many rhododendrons before-- they're as big as trees! I tried to get some photographic evidence of these floral beasts, but they turned out too blurry. To give you an idea, I was able to climb one and sit in its branches! Beautiful.

Up in the Mountains last summer. . .

And an attempt to recreate the photo this year. . .

Time to return to the city, see you on the other side!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to Eat Tacos in a Cloud

Oh wow hi, internet, I'm back. I've finally graduated, completed my MFA thesis project, cleaned out my studio and 24 hours later ran away from the city to the Smoky Mountains. I'm up here with a friend from school: this is the first time either of us have left the city limits since Christmas, so a little fresh air and the lush green quiet is doing us some good.

view from the porch

Usually, I post some sort of recipe or talk about a project I'm working on, but in the spirit of post-graduation bliss, I'm just going to ramble a little. This is a blog after all and sometimes instead of making something I just want to sit on the porch and read. We're staying on the edge of the national forest in a sweet cabin B's family is generously letting us hide out in. It's stocked to the brim with a few generations' worth of framed photographs, handmade furniture, family artifacts, and just part of B's mother's collection of Southern folk art.

We're reading and cooking and watching movies from the selection of VHS tapes stashed around the living room. There's a small town a few miles down the road for groceries, ice cream, and window shopping. There's also a fantastic used book store-- it's the size of a house and I made out like a bandit having only browsed through the first three shelves. It's the kind of book store that really benefits from several unhurried visits and rewards you with treasures for fifty cents or a dollar. I got a stack of cookbooks, a reference guide to growing and using herbs and spices, and a lovely hand illustrated paperback called Gardening with Ferns published in 1973.

Last night we grilled corn and made vegetarian chorizo tacos while watching a storm roll in. It's fascinating to watch how quickly the mountains change from bright and clear to well, smoky in a matter of minutes. By the time dinner was ready we were completely enveloped by the clouds and listened to the rain on the leaves while we ate.

In other frivolous news. . .
I've had long hair most of my life and for months now have been sick of it. I cut it a couple months ago, but I didn't cut off much length. So between all our free time up here, the appeal of getting a "summer cut" and the symbolic gesture of cutting one's hair during a time of transition, I sat on the porch in my PJ's this morning and B and I chopped it off! I've never had hair this short, and I gotta admit it feels great.

porch-front hair-cutter extraordinaire

I hope you are having a lovely early summer, be it frivolous or down to business! And now that school's out, I plan to be writing a bit more. . . cheers.