Aug 8, 2011

Packing heat (and other fun canning terms)

For years, I've attempted to make fiery hot salsa.  I graduated from jalapenos to serranos to habaneros, but somewhere in the cooking process, the heat dissipates.  I've gotten mildly hot but never tongue-searing, sweat-beads-on-forehead salsa.

This year might be the year.  The jalapenos are hot, and they stay hot through processing. Good thing I have a stash of disposable gloves to don when I'm chopping and seeding, or getting out my contacts at night would be extremely hazardous and painful.

It may be the incessant heat we've endured this summer - it also seems to have encouraged the  local figs to produce in greater abundance than I have ever seen.

My latest peppery concoction is pepper-onion relish, which I made last week.
A little background on pepper-onion relish.  Harry & David's made this stuff and - as a good friend showed me - if you mix it with cream cheese (1 part relish to two parts cream cheese) you have an incredibly easy and tasty dip.  Unfortunately, the company filed for bankruptcy last March and all the local stores have shut down.  Their website doesn't offer much hope for ordering this product online.  (Not to mention, it was about $4 or $5 a jar in the store; if you had to add shipping & handling....youch!)

I've also tried Robert Rothschild's brand:

and Dickinson's:

and they are passably similar in taste (hey, you mix enough cream cheese into anything and it will taste good, right?)

But I had my heart and tastebuds set on H&D's version and it was just not to be.  After sulking a bit, I decided when life tosses you a curve ball, you should take a swing.  So I plucked myself up and went looking for a recipe online.  I found a popular one and adapted it slightly to create my own version of this hot-sweet concoction.  Even better, when I realized I was running low on 8-ounce jars, I found some cute little 4-ounce jelly jars, which is the perfect size for opening and mixing with an 8-ounce block of cream cheese for a quick appetizer for us.  (The commercial jars range from 8.75 to 11.5 ounces. That's fine if you're mixing a double or triple batch for a party, but otherwise, I found myself worrying about using the remainder up before it spoiled.)

Since I failed to deliver a recipe-of-the-week last Wednesday, I'll tee up two this week, starting with this one, because the early taste tests say it's a keeper.

Sweet-Hot Pepper-Onion Relish

6 tomatoes, seeded and diced (I stick my fingers in and squish most of the juice out. If you have paste or Roma tomatoes, you may not need to do that.  Peel if the skins are tough; I didn't)
1 large Vidalia, chopped fine
12 medium red bell peppers, seeded cored and diced fine
10 jalapenos, half seeded and diced
5 Anaheim and frying peppers, seeded (you could substitute other hot peppers such as serranos, or add a few more bells depending on your heat tolerance), diced
1 tablespoon canning or Kosher salt
2 cups white vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 (1.75 ounce) packages pectin (I used low-sugar but you could use regular, too)

Place tomatoes and onions in large (5 quart or larger) stainless or glass bowl. Do not use aluminum; plastic or Tupperware may discolor or pick up odors from the onion.

Finely dice and layer all other peppers on top of the onion and tomatoes. (The recipe recommended a food processor to chop everything, but it only took me about half an hour to dice the peppers once they were washed and seeded. Sprinkle with salt and turn to mix and coat (you will be glad you used a bigger bowl for this part :-)

Let stand for one hour. Drain in a fine sieve or colander (I have a 2-quart mesh colander that worked perfect.)

Place in large heavy kettle or stockpot.  Add vinegar and sugar; stir to mix and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 40 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Add pectin, stirring well and let boil another 20 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.  Spoon into hot clean jars and place in water bath. Bring to boil and process for 20 minutes.  Remove to draft-free spot to slowly cool and store in dark closet until use.

Makes 7 pints (or in my case, 8 half-pints and 12 quarter-pints). Estimated cost?  We have a super little produce stand nearby and their red bell peppers were $0.75 each., so all-told, the tab was around $12 for ingredients.  (The new jars set me back more than what I put in them.)  So whether or not Harry & David's recovers (and I hope they do), I might not need them for this item.

Happy packing!