Eco-Saturday: Hot sauce

October 11, 2014
Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty gift for the fire-eaters in your family.

Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty — and practical — gift for the fire-eaters in your family.

Ron questioned how homemade hot sauce could be considered beneficial for the environment. The answer, of course, is transportation. Home-canning anything you grew yourself (or even bought at a local farmer’s market) is better for the environment than buying canned goods at the store. Plus when you can at home, you get to reuse the container over and over. And my approach to hot sauce stretches the peppers, so you get two to three times the potential benefit out of a single harvest.

Do it right, and the amount of actual work involved in making hot sauce is less than the effort of driving to the store and buying it ready-made.

Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.

Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.

Start with a regular quart jar. Every time you go to the garden, pull off whatever peppers are ripe. Bring them in, pull off the stems, cut them into chunks, and throw them in the jar. Sprinkle them heavily with salt (preferably not iodized, as it may discolor them), add enough distilled vinegar to cover them, and put the lid on the jar.

Keep adding to the jar until it’s within an inch or so of being full.

When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.

When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.

At this point — assuming you used a standard Mason jar, and not the wide-mouth kind — you can simply screw your blender blades onto the jar, put it on the blender, and process it into a fiery orange puree.

Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.

Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.

Don’t drink it. (Unless you’re me, in which case, feel free to take a swig to clear your sinuses.)

Pureed.

Pureed.

To make a Louisiana-style hot sauce, pour the resulting puree through a standard kitchen strainer. A quart of puree should make about two half-pint jelly jars of virgin hot sauce.

Strain.

Strain.

At this point, you have several options. Your first option is to add more vinegar and salt, steep it another week or so, and strain it again. You can probably get away with this a couple of times before you start to exhaust the peppers’ flavor. Each subsequent batch will be less fiery and flavorful, so keep that in mind. If you’re making this as a gift, make sure the fire-eaters on your list get the first batch.

Your other option is to make sriracha. I recommend this option.

To make sriracha, cover the puree with salt and vinegar again. If you have any more peppers that have ripened, it’s fine to add them at this point; they’ll just make the sauce hotter.

Throw some fresh garlic into the jar and puree again. To make sriracha with pulp and seeds in it, skip the next two steps.

To make sriracha and chili sauce, ignore the puree for another week or so, then strain it again, pour the resulting liquid (about a half-pint) into a jelly jar and add sugar to taste. Transfer the pulp to a pint jar. The sweetened, strained sauce will taste like sriracha, and the pepper-garlic pulp will taste like the chili sauce you get at Chinese restaurants.

If you’re lazy and/or like the idea of a hybrid of sriracha and chili sauce, skip the second straining and just add a quarter-cup of sugar to your garlic-pepper-vinegar mix. Pour it into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre sense of humor.

I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre — and frequently immature — sense of humor.

If you’re really lazy, you can skip all these steps and just harvest your peppers into jelly jars, salt them down, and cover them with distilled vinegar. This will produce a nice pepper vinegar that tastes magnificent on collards.

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to can your sauce. Make sure the lid and the top of the jar are clean and free of any bits of pepper or moisture that could prevent a good seal. Screw down the lids tightly and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

When I give away hot sauce as gifts, I usually unscrew the band, put a second lid on top, and screw the band back down. The recipient can then use a churchkey to puncture the bottom lid — making a simple dispenser — and put the spare lid on top to keep it from spilling in the fridge when not in use.

Happy canning!

Emily


Vegan Friday: Fried pickles

October 10, 2014
You simply cannot go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease.

You simply cannot go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease.

The first time I ate fried pickles was at Smitty’s, a little diner just off the square in Oxford, Mississippi, while I was attending a conference with my high-school lit teacher. The biggest highlight of the day was meeting Stephen King, but those fried pickles were a close second. I mean, how can you go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease?

Fried Pickles
Feel free to double or triple the recipe, but be prepared to change your oil at least once or twice so it doesn’t get totally polluted with scorched flour. This recipe makes two servings.
1 c. flour
1/4 packet Italian dressing mix (optional; you can also use dill, parsley, taco seasoning, or whatever floats your boat)
1 c. cheap dill pickle slices
Canola or peanut oil

Heat oil in a heavy cast-iron skillet. I forgot to measure mine, but you want about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of the skillet.

While the oil heats, stir flour and seasoning together in a cereal bowl and dredge the pickle slices in it to coat. (If you want to speed this process up, you can also throw everything in a ziplock bag and shake it up. If you use a freezer bag, you can fill it up and freeze whatever you don’t use so the next round is faster.)

Fry the slices in oil, turning as needed, until they’re browned and crispy. Adjust the heat and add or change oil as necessary to keep it from smoking.

Drain the whole batch on a big plate lined with paper towels before you transfer it to your serving plate.

Drain the whole batch on a big plate lined with paper towels before you transfer it to your serving plate.

Drain on paper towels. I drain mine twice — when they come off the stove, I put them on a platter lined with paper towels, and when they’re cool enough to handle, I transfer them to smaller plates lined with paper towels to absorb a bit more of the oil and keep them from getting soggy.

Serve with mustard or ranch dressing. Goes well with Southern food.

If you like sweet pickles, you can fry them the same way and serve them with barbecue sauce.

Emily


Folk Thursday: Tupac

October 9, 2014

For Devin, Joey and Tevin. Good luck in St. Louis this weekend, guys. I love you, and I am ridiculously proud of you for taking a stand. The root of the problems you’re trying to solve predates all of us, but I’ve known since the minute I set foot in Room 204 that if anybody can get this world moving in the right direction, my kids can.

Go save the world. <3

(And the rest of you: Say a prayer, light a candle, or just hold a good thought for my kids this weekend. They're planning to travel 400 miles to participate in a very large protest on a very controversial issue, and things could get … tense.)

Love,
Ms. Priddy

P.S.: I realize Tupac isn't folk, but his lyrics are at least as powerful as anything Bob Dylan or Joan Baez ever had to say. I'm just sorry they're still relevant. I'd hoped they'd be obsolete by this point, but we still have a long way to go.


Fall chore

October 8, 2014
Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.

Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.

For the first time in about 30 years, I harvested black walnuts this weekend.

We had a tree in our yard when we were a kid. Mom and I used to go outside in old shoes we didn’t care about and stomp the soft outer hulls off of them so we could bring them in, crack them and pick out the meat. Then the tree died, and I didn’t have access to walnuts again until last year, when we moved here. The tree in the yard next door overhangs our driveway and throws sap and nuts all over our cars.

We didn’t get any walnuts last year, because the squirrels stole them. This year, we gathered the nuts as they fell and kept them in a basket in the garage.

Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see filled the basket before i removed the hulls.

Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see above filled that basket before I removed the hulls.

Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.

Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.

Here's all the nut meat we removed from the shells.

Here’s all the nut meat we removed from the shells.

Black walnuts are a pain to process — you have to stomp off the outer hulls, let them dry for a week or two, crack them with a hammer, and pick out all the meat, which takes foreeeeeeever — but the payoff is pretty good, as you know if you’ve ever had black walnut beer or chocolate-chip cookies with black walnuts in them, and it was kind of satisfying to do something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I might pay someone else to process them next time, though. We’ve got another 250 I stomped the other day, and I’m sure another 50 to 100 have fallen from the tree since then. There’s a limit to how long I’m willing to spend processing walnuts in one season.

Emily


Random question

October 7, 2014

Why is it that the macaroni you get in prefabbed boxes of mac and cheese is straight, but the kind you get by itself is curved? Is this a cost-saving maneuver? Like, does it cost extra to curl it? Or will the straight kind only breed in captivity? I’m truly baffled.

Yeah, I have no idea why I thought of that, either, but I bet you can guess what kind of high-quality dinner I made for myself this evening.

Lunch: frozen pizza.
Dinner: mac and cheese out of a box and two leftover pigs in blankets.
Dessert: Franken Berry and a big glass of grape Kool-Aid, prolly.

It’s like I’m not even pretending to be an adult any more.

Speaking of Franken Berry, today’s BlogHer prompt was: “Tell us about your favorite autumnal treat.”

Until last fall, I’d have said caramel apples, but then I found out General Mills waltzes out the monster cereals (Franken Berry, Count Chocula and Boo Berry) for Halloween. I have no idea why anyone would want blueberry-flavored anything, and as much as I love chocolate, I don’t really want it in my cereal, but I have developed an inexplicable fondness for Franken Berry. It’s pretty much the only thing I find tolerable about fall, and it certainly beats the hell out of these pumpkin-spice abominations that have flooded the market lately.

I can’t decide what irritates me more: Ruining perfectly good beer and coffee by lacing them with squash extract, or giving indecisive twentysomething girls who don’t like coffee one more excuse to tie up the line at Starbucks. (If I haven’t had my coffee yet, and you’re the only thing standing between me and it, it’s probably in your best interest to hurry up. Just sayin’.)

Anyway. Franken Berry. Getchu some.

Emily


For Mary and Sharon

October 6, 2014

Two of our former colleagues are getting married!

I’m still pretty hacked off about the Hobby Lobby decision and its aftermath, but every now and then, the Supremes get one right. They most definitely got it right today.

Constitution, 1; bigotry, 0.

Enjoy your day, ladies. You know we’d be there if we could. As it is, I’ll just sit here in Missouri with Vienna Teng’s voice running through my head and joy in my heart as two fine journalists and dedicated wildlife rehabilitators add “changed the world for the better” to their resumes.

Emily


Munchkins

October 5, 2014

Ron hadn’t driven my new car yet, and I hadn’t had a chance to see what kind of mpgs I could coax out of it on two-lane highways, so we took it to Mom and Dad’s today and spent the afternoon hanging out with the kids. Here are a few photos:

Grandma helped Ollie fill the hole with water before planting his tree.

Grandma helped Ollie fill the hole with water before planting a tree.

Hazel helped Papa push the dirt up around hers.

Hazel helped Papa push the dirt up around hers. I love this picture. Projects like this are how I turned into a hippie.

Jamie is getting the hang of using the back of the rake to shove dirt around the trunk of the tree.

Jamie is getting the hang of using the back of the rake to shove dirt around the trunk of the tree.

Hazel and her daddy played Frisbee.

Hazel and her daddy played Frisbee.

Frisbee!

Frisbee!

Hazel tie-dyed that T-shirt during my last visit. It turned out really well.

Hazel tie-dyed that T-shirt during my last visit. It turned out really well.

The boys wanted to show off their new bunk bed before we left. Hazel liked climbing up and touching the ceiling.

The boys wanted to show off their new bunk bed before we left. Hazel is now trying to convince her parents to get her one. There appears to be a little monster under the lower bunk. :)

For the record, the mileage meter was showing about 18 mpg when we left town. I’d driven about 20 miles on that tank — all of it in town, which is full of hills and stoplights. It’s about 60 miles to Mom and Dad’s house, and it was showing 28.4 mpg when we got home, so I’m guessing on a long road trip, we could get at least 30 mpg if we did a little hypermiling. I’ll probably drive the Dreamcar in town when the roads are clear and reserve the Subaru for weekend lumberyard runs and days when there’s ice in the weather forecast. I really enjoy driving a station wagon, so it will be a nice treat to offset the general crappiness of having to get out of bed on winter mornings.

Emily


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