Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dehydrating Serrano (Hidalgo) Peppers

Dried Serrano peppers will spice up your winter recipes!

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End of Season Harvests
I'm just wrapping up the summer gardening season. The peppers and eggplant are done producing, the rains are coming, and in about a week, I'll finally be finished canning, freezing and dehydrating - hooray! 

I grew a single Serrano pepper plant and while it was growing, I only pulled a few green peppers from it to cook with. So by the time it was ready to harvest, it had almost two pounds of beautiful ripe, red peppers varying in size from one to two inches. 

This is probably a life-time's worth of Serrano peppers, but I will dehydrate all of them and give them to whomever wants to spice up their life a bit! Last year I used them to make a lot of hot sauce, some of which I still have. It lasts a very long time in the refrigerator! Here's a recipe for Hot Sauce using Jalapeños and Serrano Peppers

Serrano peppers, also known as Hidalgo peppers, are spicier than jalapeños but not as spicy as habaneros. To find out how hot your favorite pepper is, check out this Pepper Scale.

I have enjoyed my Excalibur Dehydrator. When I first bought it, I wondered if I'd ever use it, but I use it all the time. Besides drying fruit and vegetables, I use it to make crackers, fruit leather, and other things. There are many other brands on the market that vary in size and price so pick one that suits your needs.

Dehydrating Serrano Peppers
Place the peppers in a colander and wash them well. Wrap them in a kitchen towel and dry completely.

Wash in a colander

Wearing plastic gloves, cut the tops off of each pepper. I sliced the larger serranos in half and left the smaller ones whole but if I had to do it over, I would slice them all as it took two days to dry the whole ones. 

Place them on the woven dehydrator sheets without the non-stick solid teflon sheets so that the peppers get maximum air flow. Place the sliced peppers with the seeds facing up so they don't all fall out in your dehydrator.

Sliced peppers

Whole peppers

Put the dehydrator in a well ventilated room and open the window so the fumes don't get overwhelming. 

Place the sheets in the dehydrator and set the temperature to 125 to 135 degrees.  The sliced ones will be ready in about 10 hours but may take longer. The whole peppers may take a day or more. Make sure they are fully dried so they will not mold when storing.

Dried, sliced peppers

Put the dried peppers in glass jars and store in a cool, dry place.

To cook with the dried peppers, crumble them soups or stir fries. To make cayenne-like pepper, you can grind the dried peppers in a spice grinder and sprinkle on food. However you use these spicy little guys, they can boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Instant Pot Farro With Peas

Farro, is an ancient strain of hard wheat.

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An Easy Side Dish
I was preparing an eggplant and tofu stir fry for friends and was just about to cook some rice to go with it when I decided to make something different. I looked in the pantry and found a nice bag of pearled Italian farro. Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is not gluten free, but it is high in fiber, a good source of protein, magnesium and B vitamins. It's similar to barley and has a nice bite and texture.

1/4 cup dry farro provides:
170 calories
1 g total fat - 0 saturated
3 g dietary fiber
32 g carbohydrates
7 g protein

Here's a simple farro recipe using your instant pot. Serve with a stir fry, ratatouille, steamed vegetables, or tomato sauce.

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Instant Pot Farro with Peas
Vegan, Dairy Free
[makes 8 servings]

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 1/2 cups pearled farro
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed, room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Using the Sauté feature of the Instant Pot, heat the oil. Add the onion and celery and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

 Stir in the farro and then the broth, salt, and pepper.

Hit the Manual button and set for 7 minutes. When it is done, hit the Off button and let the pressure release naturally.

After the pressure comes down, carefully open the cover and stir in the room-temperature peas.

Close the cover and let sit for 5 minutes until the peas warm. If the mixture is still watery, just close the lid for a while longer until it absorbs.

Stir in the fresh parsley, adjust seasoning if needed, and serve immediately.

Per Serving (8): 177 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g protein, 30 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, and 448 mg sodium.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Basil Tomato Soup With Corn & Cavatelli Pasta
Freeze A Big Batch For Winter

Yellow tomatoes make a delightful soup.

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Yellow Tomatoes
I picked up a yellow tomato plant at the farmer's market this spring. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the strain, but it grew the biggest, most beautiful, low-acid, tomatoes I've ever experienced. Some of them were a pound and a half! I am definitely going to save its seeds so that I can grow them again next year. Since they are late producers, I'm still harvesting them, even though it's early October.

Since I've already canned dozens of jars of red tomatoes, I thought I'd make and freeze lots of soup so that we could enjoy it this winter. (If you are going to freeze this soup, do so without the corn or pasta. It will take up less freezer space and you can add the corn and cooked pasta when you use it.) It's also a very versatile soup so add any veggies and grain you desire. Or for protein, add some beans or peas. The combinations are endless. This may become one of your favorite soups - it's certainly becoming one of mine.

I developed this recipe using a combination of yellow tomatoes and pink brandywines that are also late producers and are low in acid. You can make this soup with any tomato, but it's best when you use ones that are pulpy, not watery.

Heirloom yellow and pink brandywine tomatoes

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Basil Tomato Soup
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free with gluten-free pasta
[makes about 8 cups]

Hand Immersion Blender

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound new potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 to 5 pounds tomatoes, quartered (8 cups)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice, as needed
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (if frozen, thaw)
4 ounces dry pasta or more (cavatelli or shells)

Add oil to a large soup pot. Cook the onion and red bell pepper on medium-low heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. 

Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Stir in the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the tomatoes are falling apart. I do not remove the skin or seeds because the immersion blender crushes them up pretty well, but if you want, you can pull out the skins with a long fork during the time it's simmering.

While the soup is simmering, prepare pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.

Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. I prefer an immersion blender rather than a high speed blender, because the immersion blender leaves the soup thicker. If you have to use a blender, don't over process.

Blend until smooth with an immersion blender

Adjust salt and pepper and add lemon juice until it reaches the desired acidity. Stir in the fresh basil.

If you are going to freeze this soup for later, let cool and put in a freezer-safe jar. Allow room at the top as it will expand.

To serve, stir in the corn and cooked pasta. Top with additional fresh basil.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

How To Preserve Your Wine
How Much Wine Is Healthy?

How much wine should we drink?

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Is Wine Healthy?
Over the years we've seen numerous headlines about drinking wine, and other forms of alcohol, for our health. If you're from an Italian family with grandparents who lived into their 80's or 90's, you'd say, "duh", but there's a lot more to this story than that. 

Benefits and Risks for the Heart
The benefits of drinking wine and other forms of alcohol are mostly for the heart. Studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol:
* can reduce blood clots
* increases your good cholesterol, or HDL
* helps reduce your bad cholesterol, or LDL, which helps prevent damage to your arteries

Despite these benefits, the American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute do not recommend that you start drinking just for health reasons. But if you already drink, you should do so in moderation.

They define drinking "moderate" amounts of alcohol as:
* one drink a day for women of all ages
* one drink a day for men over 65
* up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and over

One drink is 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or 12 ounces of beer.

Drinking more than this can have a negative impact. It can:
* increase your triglycerides,
* raise your blood pressure
* lead to liver damage

What about Cancer?
Whereas alcohol has some heart health benefits, there is no evidence that it is helpful in the prevention of cancer. In fact, the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher that person's risk of getting cancer is. The American Cancer Society also advises people to limit their alcohol consumption to one to two drinks a day, as described above.

The ACS also warns:
* oral, esophageal, laryngeal, and pharyngeal cancers are more common in alcohol users than in non-alcohol users, especially if they also smoke.
* alcohol is a major cause of liver cancer
* women who have 2 to 5 drinks a day have a higher risk of breast cancer
* heavy alcohol users have a higher risk of colon and rectal cancer.

A Trick to Preserve Wine and Limit Consumption
When you open a bottle of wine, several things happen, besides overwhelming feelings of joy and anticipation. You drink a glass, your judgement goes to hell, and the wine starts to oxidize. So here's what Doug and I started doing.

#1 - Buy a half bottle of wine with a screw top. Drink it and save the bottle.

We found a nice half bottle Sauvignon Blanc with a screw top.

#2 - The next time you want open a normal size bottle of wine, pour half of it in the empty half bottle. Pour it up to the top and screw the top back on. This will prevent oxidation so the wine will keep. It will also discourage you from drinking the rest of the bottle after your judgement weakens so you may have to hide it :-)

We opened a bottle of our Turtle Vines Pinot Noir
Poured half into our empty 1/2-bottle
After filling completely, leaving no air space,
screwed it shut
Then we drank the rest of the opened bottle

A bottle of wine is 750 ml or 25 ounces. So a half bottle provides one 5-ounce pour and one 7.5-ounce pour which meets the guidelines for a woman and a man. I'm supposed to drink the small one but as you can see from the above picture, we didn't quite pour it that way. The 2012 Pinot is my favorite vintage, so I was weak! But usually, I give Doug the bigger pour.