Wednesday, October 27, 2010

JAZZ AND CHILI PEPPER ABUNDANCE

Theron Brown at the keyboard

Saturday's Akron Beacon Journal ran a terrific front page story about the Wednesday night UA Jazz sessions over at downtown's Northside bar.  If you love jazz, this is the place to hear it on the cheap while you find out how much talent we have hidden here in Akron.  Most of the players are University of Akron students and alumni.  They've got a terrific Jazz program over there with plenty of concerts during the school year where you can hear these kids perform on stage.  Northside gives them the opportunity to get in front of live audiences and jam in a more unstructured environment.

I've blogged here before about Jack Schantz and Theron Brown, and both are mentioned in the article.  If you love jazz (yes, Bev and Terri, that's YOU), you need to make your way to Northside to experience a few of these sessions.  Meanwhile, we had Theron and Jack to our offices this summer for the 10th anniversary party of the law firm I work with.  Catch some of the session here.

With the winter holidays approaching, another chance to hear both jazz students and faculty will be the Jingle Jazz holiday show coming up on December 12th.  If you have an opportunity to get tickets, it's always a fun way to get into the holiday spirit. 

CHILI PEPPERS EVERYWHERE!
I'm not even sure why I got these, but in our little garden this summer I planted 2 Macho Nacho (Jalapeno) pepper plants and 2 Serrano pepper plants. It was hard to resist something called Macho Nacho - it sounds like something fun, doesn't it? As I held their little pots at the greenhouse, I could even hear the Village People singing along...'Macho nacho man! I've just got to be a nacho...'. Ah...I miss disco.

Little Serranos and larger Jalapenos
both fresh and dried versions
But somewhere between planting these innocent looking plants and September, when they started to bear fruit, I began to panic as the blooms came on and it looked as though I would have a bumper crop. Which we definitely got. As someone who normally will buy, maybe, 4 jalapenos a year to make salsa and guacamole, anything over half a dozen of these was going to be a challenge to deal with.

When I brought home my first harvest of 3 jalapenos and about 6 serrano's, and after thinking on it a day or two – I came to the realization drying these and saving them in a jar in the pantry would be the most expeditious route to chili preservation, especially if they came in abundance, which ours did.

It turned out to be an excellent idea, but I wasn't taking the most obvious precautions when dealing with somethig with so much heat packed in them.  
Dried peppers ready to use now
or 5 months from now
I can sort of recall someone (probably Mom) saying to me as a kid...'it's all fun and games, Bobbi, until someone burns an eye out.' Well ok, maybe she was warning me about running with sticks and poking an eye out, but I can easily say Mom should have warned me about these hot little peppers too.

After 24 hours in the dehydrator, my peppers were dry to the touch so I daintily picked them off the racks and put them in a jar for safe keeping. Ooo, how pretty they were! And since I'm not totally unaware of the heat generated by these rascals, I immediately washed my hands, thinking that I'd eliminated the capsaicin from my fingers that had lightly touched the pepper stems. Wrong. A full hour later a casual swipe of the back of my hand over my eyes produced something akin to a flash fire on my eyeballs. Yeouch!

LESSONS LEARNED
Needless to say, I'm now pretty careful with these little green and red gems. Since that first day I've dried the majority of the harvest of Serranos, will be grinding some into Chili Powder, and saving some whole for use in experimenting over the winter with Indian and Chinese recipes.

HOW TO DRY A CHILI PEPPER
Chili peppers ready on the
dehydrator
Using the dehydrator is a snap.  Set up the machine.  USE GLOVES.For the small red peppers, take a small paring knife and cut the peppers from the stem to the tip without cutting apart.  For the larger jalapenos, cut the stems off and cut totally in half, place these on the drying rack and let dry for 24-36 hours.  By hour 2 you'll begin to get the aroma of warming peppers throughout the house that makes you feel as though you're sitting in a field of chili peppers somewhere near Santa Fe.

I don't bother to cut out the seeds or membrane. I know that's where the heat is supposed to live, but if you need to remove these later, it's a little easier once they're dried. USE GLOVES.

Store these in a sealed jar or sealed plastic bag away from humidity. Do not freeze them.

LET'S TALK A MOMENT ABOUT FRESH CHILI POWDER 
When you need a little chili powder, grind your own dried chilis (minus the stems of course) and store the powder in your spice cupboard. Only grind what you will use in a few months as the heat will dissipate after a time.  It is far superior to anything you get in the market and you can play with it to add whatever flavors you really like. Cathy and I used just a touch of this powder in the squash soup we made a few weeks ago and it lent a nice little zing that elevated the soup to a more interesting level. I’m looking forward to using this in our family recipe for Chili very soon.

We all know that the store-bought chili powder in our spice cupboards should be tossed out every 6 months or so since the flavor dissipates so quickly. It’s nice to be able to grind my own and have fresh powder anytime.

Once you’ve ground some into powder, try experimenting with other spices and create your own spice mixtures. I used the following to create a Southwest Seasoning Mix for use in tacos, on seafood or whatever else you like. I once purchased a similar container of this seasoning paying over $7 for the bottle. I’d guess this cost me less than 50 cents to make my own.

Spice blend purchased for $7 
next to my own blend 
SOUTHWEST SEASONING SALT
1/3 cup dehydrated chili peppers – stems removed
2 teaspoons fresh black pepper corns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika (sweet or hot)
2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
2 teaspoons granulated onion powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (I used smoked salt tonight for a bit of a different taste)

Put everything except the paprika, garlic, onion, oregano and salt into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Pour into a small container with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Store tightly sealed in your spice cupboard for up to 6 months.

Leave out the salt if you don’t use much salt in your diet – this will be terrific without it. To turn this into a bit of a Cajun seasoning, add some dried thyme, sage and bay leaves to the mix. 

For a quick seafood recipe, follow the link here for my favorite Tilapia dinner that uses this spice blend. http://looseonthetown.blogspot.com/2010/03/fishing-for-one.html

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