Pepper Jelly

I have been experimenting with all of the lovely peppers I found at market the past few weeks. 20121023-225739.jpg

I tried making pepper jelly for the first time and canning it to keep for the wintery months. The first batch came out awesome! It was delicious – not too sweet, not too hot, just the right amount of kick. My second batch was a bit hotter because I switched up the peppers a bit and added in a chocolate Habanero.

I have been reading a lot of pepper jelly recipes from around the web to get ideas. I took a little advice from each of them.

I used a bunch of different peppers from around market. The stand holders have an explosion of them this time of year, as the plants produce their final peppers of the season. Since they are so abundant, you can get a lot of peppers for a little bit of money. I used a spectrum of peppers, in colors and in heat. My first two batches included peppers ranging from Habanero hot to bell pepper mild. Here are some of the peppers that I used: green bell, red bell, cherry pepper, jalapeno, chocolate habanero, anaheim chile, hungarian wax, poblano, serrano, bolivian rainbow (I think), and others that had no label at the market.

Here are a few pepper identification sites from around the web if you don’t know your peppers. some of them also tell you the heat levels – very helpful. Check them out: Epicurious, Chow, and Saveur.

I don’t think the exact peppers you use will matter that much, it’s more about the ratio of hot to mild. I am not very heat tolerant so I used a lot of sweet peppers and kind of mild hot peppers like jalapenos and cherry peppers in the first round. I’m writing a recipe that gives the overall quantity of peppers to use in the jelly mixture. The ratio you use is up to you. I think the best ratio of  4 1/2 -5 cups mild/sweet peppers to 1/2 cup hot peppers. It really depends on the type of hot peppers you use… warning: if you use 1/2 cup of Habanero then your jelly is going to be hot!

Pepper Jelly

5 – 5 1/2 cups peppers

1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 tbsp. pectin

1 cup raw honey

2 cups organic cane sugar

Cut up all of your peppers really small, or put them in the food processor and pulse them until they are cut into small pieces – but don’t turn them into paste.

Bring the peppers and vinegar up to a boil and gradually add in the pectin, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to boil hard for a few minutes. Add in the sugar and honey and bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil. Allow to boil again for about 5 minutes, stirring the mixture.

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Prepare your jars and lids. Here’s a really good resource on how to prep your jars so they are clean and sterile.

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Fill your heated jars with the jelly, leaving about 1/4 inch head-space in each jar, make sure the edges are clean, cover with lids and screw the bands on. Boil the jars for ten minutes and remove from canner. Allow the jars to cool, they will seal and the jelly will set within 24 hours.

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The seals are usually good soon after you remove them from the canner and they start to cool. Check the lids and if they did not seal within 24 hours then process the jars again. This jelly is not as thick as regular fruit jelly. If your jelly is sliding around in the jar, it is ok! It is a good consistency for placing atop a piece of cheese.

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A few lessons I learned from reading and from experience:

1. Be very careful when handling the peppers! Wear gloves – seriously, really – wear gloves. If you cut up and clean the seeds out of a bunch of hot peppers… your hands are going to burn. It might not happen right away, but a little while later, or right about when you have to start canning the jelly, your hands are going to be on fire. I have had this happen to me both times I made this jelly. You think I would have learned after the first time, right? Well I did learn but silly me just tried to put plastic baggies on my hands for protection because I didn’t have gloves. That was a mistake because my hands still hurt and burned.

2. I made up another theory about what might be happening to cause the burning on my skin. I have no scientific evidence to back this up so it might sound dumb. I was not wearing gloves while cooking the jelly and all of the steam was hitting my hands as I stirred. I realized that some of the capsaicin had to be going into the air because it was making me cough. So I am not sure, but I thought maybe that was what was making my hands burn. I will be doing more research on this. I will also be buying a box of gloves and wearing them every time I cut up a bunch of hot peppers.

3. The jelly is a thinner consistency than fruit jelly normally is. I like this consistency. It is good for spreading on a cracker with cheese. If you like your jelly a little thicker, add about 1/2 tbsp more of pectin to your batch. I also read that some people drain their peppers before they cook them with the vinegar. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like I was loosing a bunch of the flavor.

4. I list 5-5 1/2 cups of peppers because it is hard sometimes to get an exact amount with out wasting some of the peppers. I also don’t think that it’s necessary to be that exact when measuring out the peppers. I had a few little differences in the batches I made and they both came out great. You should measure out the other ingredients pretty accurately because the other ingredients will have more of an affect how your jelly turns out.

5. I used the small 4 oz. ball jars. This batch filled about 16 of them. I think they are a great way to serve the jelly. You can set the jar out next to a piece of cheese and it looks cute with a little serving spoon in it. You don’t have to search for a small serving bowl and you can just put the lid back on if there is any left… but there probably won’t be any left.

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I paired this savory jelly with wheat crackers and a specialty aged cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery. This is my new favorite snack… and quiet possibly my favorite cheese combination ever! You will be hooked after you try it.

If you are interested in cheese making – I know I am – then watch this video on one of Cabot’s specialty cheeses. I would love to visit the place where they age all the cheeses or visit the creamery itself.

Thanks to my chef friend Aaron for some inspiration with the pepper jelly and paring, I had his version a few weeks back and it was amazing!

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Butternut squash and leek Macaroni and cheese

Butternut Squash and Leek Macaroni and Cheese

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This is a great fall dinner. It is perfect for a chilly night and it can be deliciously paired with a spicy pumpkin ale.

2 lb. butternut squash

1/2 sweet onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 lb. pasta – shells, or your other favorite smaller shape

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

3 tbsp. flour

1 cup chicken stock

2 cups milk

1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

a handful of basil, chiffonade

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Clean and cut the butternut squash into smaller chunks, about the same size as the pasta you chose to use. Saute the squash, onion and half the garlic in 1 tbsp. butter. Cook until the squash is close to being soft all the way through – check it by sticking a fork through it.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Save some of the pasta water to thin out your sauce in case it gets too thick.

Saute the leeks and the other half of the garlic in 3 tbsp. of butter until tender. Add in the  flour and whisk in until smooth. Add in half the chicken stock, whisk until smooth again. Warm the milk (in the microwave or on the stove) and add it into the sauce, whisk until creamy. Let the sauce cook down until it is a little thick – keep whisking it so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce thickens add in the cheddar and Gruyere cheese and whisk until all the cheese is melted.

Mix the sauce, cooked pasta, basil and squash mixture together. If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of pasta water. Pour it all into a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.

Make a mixture of 2 tbsp butter cut into small pieces, the Panko breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. Mix it with your finger tips to separate the butter. Sprinkle it on top of the pasta and bake in the over at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until your breadcrumbs look toasted.
For all you bacon lovers out there – try adding some bacon crumbles to the top before you bake it…. mmmm!

Sandwich Wednesday – Rosemary Ham

I took a walk over to  Mandros Imported Foods a few times this week to gather up some snacks for Christmas gatherings. Mandros is my favorite place to find different cheeses to try. It is a great little corner store that has a lot of gourmet food items. I love that it’s only a block away from my house because I can run over there when ever I need something special. They have everything you need to make a great cheese plate or antipasti appetizer.

The selection of Italian deli meats is excellent. I love the Genoa salami that they carry… and I am pretty picky about my salami. I decided to try the rosemary ham to make a sandwich to eat with my mushroom soup. It is super flavorful, fresh, high quality ham in wrapped in a rosemary crust and thinly sliced, perfect for sandwiches.

My sandwich is made with salted basque bread from Ric’s Bread. I spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on one slice and piled up the rosemary ham, creamy Havarti cheese, alfalfa sprouts, and my homemade chopped pickled fennel. It’s a good sandwich of wintery soups.

Sandwich Wednesday! – Italian Filone

Sandwich Wednesday! Why? Because Wednesday is right in the middle of the week, sandwiched!

For my first Sandwich Wednesday I’m featuring my Italian Filone.

This is another photo taken by Jason Bleecher. I think he made this sandwich look extra good!

Filone is a type of bread that is like a big fat baguette with crusty outside and soft inside. I stuffed it with Italian meats from Mandros Imported Foods. They have the best selection of cheeses in Lancaster – if you’re from around Lancaster, you have to stop in and try some! They also have awesome salami.

The Sandwich starts of with an olive tapenade made with kalamata olives, capers and roasted red peppers. I layered on capicola, mortadela, genoa salami, and provolone cheese.  It’s topped with spring mix and red onion. I hollowed out the top to the bread so that all the sandwich filling could fit inside.

Marisa Cheese!

A new specialty foods shop opened in Lancaster on the 300 block of North Queen Street. Bon Appetit serves coffee, breakfast and lunch. There are plenty of food items to bring home with you as well.

Cheese and cheese items are abundant in the shop, along with spices, specialty cookware, and there is a section near the back with candies and chocolates.

Here’s the first item I purchased:

MARISA CHEESE!

I had to try it of course. I served it thinly shaved on wheat crackers with fresh fig slices. It made a great late night snack one night and I would absolutely get it again to make a nice after dinner cheese plate. It has nutty, salty, sharp flavors that go with all different kinds of crackers and accompaniments.

I have been back to the shop recently for a coffee break. They have good coffee and excellent Chai. The only slight disappointment I encountered was that they were out of soy milk. I’m not holding it against them though, I’ll be back again.

Crispy Prosciutto and Cherry Tomato Pasta

I had a great dinner with Dan out on the back deck last night. The weather was breezy and cool outside, it reminded me of a nice fall day. It is still the last bit of summer and the tomatoes are still flowing so I made another pasta dish with raw tomatoes.

I got these really nice heirloom cherry tomatoes from Sweet Annie Produce at Central Market this week. They were dark in color almost looking forest green on top. If you want to find them, the variety is called black cherry. It’s supposed to be easy to grow and have a sweet smoky flavor. I think they are great for pasta dishes because they are pretty hearty and hold up to some bolder italian flavors. Good tomatoes are such a bargain this time of year and we are eating a lot of them. I feel like I should eat my fill because come October they will start to disappear.

Fun fact I learned from the Today Show on Monday: Tomatoes can help prevent sunburn… because of the phytochemical lycopene! I wrote a whole paper on lycopene for my nutrition class in college. I think phytochemicals are pretty neat <insert dork comment here>. You could also build up your lycopene by eating ketchup. Lycopene actually intensifies when it is cooked!

Here’s the recipe for this fabulous pasta, it’s simple, quick and easy:

Crispy Prosciutto and Cherry Tomato Pasta

6-8 slices of prosciutto, sliced thin

12 oz. farfalle (or your pasta of choice)

2 large balls of fresh mozzarella

1 quart black cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 large vidalia onion, chopped

a big handful of purple basil leaves

a big handful of parsley leaves

Lay the slices of prosciutto on an aluminum foil or parchment covered baking sheet. Place it in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes (depending on how thick your slices are). The prosciutto will turn crispy and brittle and look kind of like bacon. Let it cool before handling it, it will be hot! When it cools you should be able to crumble it into small pieces. It is so much better than bacon! Once you try making this you’ll have a hard time going back to bacon crumbles for your salads. You can use the crispy prosciutto on anything! It is great with eggs, salads, sandwiches, and pasta. Try putting it in potato salad, yum!

Just a note* these slices were a little small so I used extra, I think they were cuts from the end of the piece of prosciutto so they were not as long as slices of prosciutto usually are. This filled up a medium sized baking sheet in a single layer. Use however much you want, it really depends on how much you like it!

Cook your pasta to Al dente and prepare your other ingredients.

Slice the black cherry tomatoes in half. If you can not find heirloom cherry tomatoes, use any kind of good cherry or grape tomatoes.

Cube the fresh mozzarella, chiffonade the basil and chop the parsley.

Mix these ingredients together and season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. You could eat it just like this too, it makes excellent tomato basil salad!

Saute the onions and garlic until the onions begin to turn translucent. Mix the onions and garlic into your tomatoes and mozzarella mixture, add in your pasta and crispy prosciutto and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and you are done, easy! I had a little white peach sangria with this dish and enjoyed a great dinner on the deck.