Spicy Smoky Chile Salsa

This is a straight-up, kick in the ass, try it if you dare sort of salsa. It’s also quick, simple, and surprisingly complex, thanks to the carrot and two wonderful varieties of chiles.

We almost always keep a homemade salsa around the house, and I’m not usually the one to make it.  But after finding fresh ancho chiles at the farmers market, I was inspired to try my hand at developing a signature salsa to rival Will’s.  I’ve been told that in Mexico most folks don’t put garlic in their salsas.  I have to admit that I never asked anyone while we were living down in Oaxaca, partly because I’d rather not know.  I love garlic in salsa.  I suspect that, like with most Mexican cooking, the differences are regional.  At any rate, this recipe doesn’t claim to be authentic – just delicious!

I got my ancho chiles from the fabulous Tierra Vegetables.  If you can’t find fresh, dry will work fine, but you may want to use a little extra liquid.

Spicy Smokey Chile Salsa

Ingredients
1 cup dried chile de arbol, stems removed
3 fresh ancho chiles
5 cloves garlic
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 tbs grated raw carrot
1 tsp salt

Method
In a dry cast iron pan, roast the dried chile de arbol, stirring frequently, until they begin to darken.  Make sure to turn on the hood fan for this – the roasting chiles will be quite pungent!  Remove chiles from the pan and place them in a blender.  Place the fresh ancho chiles in the same pan and roast them until they begin to blister and soften, turning a few times so that they cook evenly.  Remove stems and place them in the blender with the chiles de arbol.  Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  Adjust seasoning to taste and transfer to a glass container for storage.  Makes about 2 cups.

Warning: this salsa is hot!  If you want to make it less spicy, you can remove the seeds from some of the chiles, or substitute a milder chile for the chiles de arbol.

Soft Pretzels for Breakfast, Lunch, and Midnight Snack

Yes, indeed. In Bavaria soft pretzels are often eaten for breakfast – with sausage, beer and, of course, mustard. Here, we’ve been eating them as a midnight snack (mostly because they’re irresistible right out of the oven, and I’ve been starting them way too late in the day); then eating them again for breakfast, minus the beer and sausage. If you roll them shorter and thicker, they’ll rise in the oven until most of the holes have been filled in. Then they can then be sliced in two horizontally and used as the bread for a not-too-sloppy sandwich.

The recipe comes from Local Breads, an amazing book that has been batting its eyelashes at me from the shelf for nearly a year. Sure, I’ve opened it; drooled over the recipes, learned the photographs by heart. But I never found the time to bake from it until a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve made the pretzels three times, and I now double the recipe. (You should too – eight soft pretzels is just not enough unless you’re baking for one and don’t intend to share!)

It’s been lovely, really – Andy and I, plus an assortment of friends and house guests, all chatting about life, love, and literature around the stock pot, watching the pretzels boil, sinking into a tired and contented silence as they bake, then reviving for more on love and philosophy as we tear into the soft warmth of their flesh, our talk shepherding the night toward morning. It’s romantic, I know, but it really does happen, and it could happen to you if you bake these. No promises, but I tell you, late nights and soft pretzels create a kind of unanticipated alchemy (aside from the anticipated but still magical alchemy of baking.)

Bavarian Soft Pretzels

Yields 8 pretzels. Recipe can be doubled.

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
3 tbs unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups tepid water
1 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup baking soda for boiling (note: you needn’t double this amount for a double recipe)
Kosher salt and/or sesame seeds for topping

Method

In a large bowl, mix flour and butter and work butter into the dough with your fingers until evenly distributed. Add water and mix until absorbed, then add the salt to one side of the dough and yeast to the other side and work in both. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and kneed for 10 to 12 minutes until firm and smooth. Round dough into a ball and allow to rise, covered, in a oiled bowl at room temperature until light and springy, about 1 hour (it won’t double in size.)

If you are doubling the recipe, divide the dough and cover one half. Proceed as for one batch, then repeat. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter top and from into a rectangle. Use a chef’s knife to cut into 8 equal pieces, form each piece into a ball, and allow to rest covered for about 5 minutes. Roll out each piece with your hands until it is about 18 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. To form the pretzels, grab hold of each end and cross the left end over the right with the looped portion nearest you. Now create a twist by crossing top piece under. Finally, lift the twisted ends and flip them over onto the loop. Press the ends down to seal.

Place the pretzels on a oiled baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.

When you are ready to make the pretzels, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the baking soda slowly and turn the heat down to a simmer. Place the pretzels into the boiling water one at a time, simmering on each side for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove from the water, draining well and return to the oiled baking sheet. Repeat until all pretzels are boiled.

Sprinkle pretzels with kosher salt and/or sesame seeds and bake until they are a rich brown, about 35 minutes. Enjoy warm or at room temperature with a good mustard. They are best fresh, but can be stored, well sealed for a couple of days.

Kona Inn Banana Bread

I can’t tell you much about the Kona Inn, but if you’re craving some delicious banana bread I promise this recipe will bring you satisfaction.

When Stepmother left me and my sister as young adults she knew we would be left craving some of the fine baked goodies we were brought up on so she was kind enough to leave us each with a thoughtfully prepared binder of her favorite recipes. I’ve held on to my binder all of these years since then, and this banana bread recipe is one of my all time favorites. It turns out so moist and flavorful you will be tempted to eat it all before it has a chance to cool.

Kona Inn Banana Bread

Yields: Two Loaves, Prep Time: 20 minutes, Baking Time: 45-60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup softened un-salted butter
  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed (approximately 3 cups)
  • 4 eggs, well-beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flower
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. With an electric beater, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add bananas and eggs, beating until well mixed.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients three times. Blend with banana mixture, but do not over mix.
  4. Pour into (2) lightly greased loaf pans. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until firm in the centers and the edges begin to separate from pans.
  5. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from pans.
  6. These freeze beautifully.

Breakfast . . .

Breakfast

I love elaborate breakfasts, but a couple of simple poached or soft boiled eggs, a slice or two of buttered toast, and a cup of good coffee is the most satisfying breakfast of all. When it comes to eggs, do as Julia does – bring water to a boil and gently slide in your eggs, cooking uncovered for 6 minutes. Then drain, cover with cold water and let sit for 1 minute before serving in an egg cup with ample salt and pepper.

The coffee is equally simple: individual drip cups, fresh Blue Bottle beans, and a long dash of cream.

Foraging

Crab Apple Blossom Drops

So . . . what do all of these dishes have in common?

  • crab apple blossom drops with Meyer lemon sour mix
  • warmed olives with fava beans and rosemary
  • nasturtium pesto
  • watercress, nasturtium, and miners’ lettuce salad with pine nuts and fresh flowers
  • and braised dandelion and nettle with wild mushrooms

Yep – they are all made from ingredients foraged from the Bay Area! We cheated a bit, I’ll admit, buying a few things that couldn’t be conceivably foraged, and allowing for a few other foods that could have been foraged with a lot of difficulty – i.e. pine nuts and wild mushrooms. We also admitted the fava beans that conveniently came in our most recent Eatwell Farm box.

Another admission: I’m more likely to be found “foraging” for my house keys than clipping nasturtium leaves from the backyard. But oh, what abundance awaits those who go looking through local fields and paths (and even farmers markets) for edibles.

Now, please don’t go stealing the first tomatoes from someone’s community garden plot, and don’t go eating every wild plant you can get your fingers on! Foraging should be about about finding the fascinating and nourishing foods that surround us, overlooked, every day, but it’s important to use careful judgment, both about what to eat and what to pick. Don’t eat anything you can’t positively identify (as edible!), and always leave some behind for other people, for the birds, and to allow the plant to continue thriving.

We assembled all of the dishes for a small dinner party that some friends held, and the cocktail and the nasturtium pesto were the biggest hits. I can already see a completely foraged dinner party in our future!

Crab Apple Blossom Drops

We used the delicious Hanger One from St. George Spirits, and it was well worth it.

Ingredients

  • 7 oz vodka
  • 1 cup crab apple blossoms (reserve enough flowers to garnish each drink)
  • Rind of 1 Meyer lemon (in wide strips, pith removed)
  • 3 oz lemon juice
  • 3 oz simple syrup
  • 3 oz triple sec
  • Sugar (for rims)

Method

Place the vodka in a glass jar and add the lemon zest and flowers. Gently bruise the flowers in the vodka, cover, and allow to infuse overnight. The next day pour through a fine strainer or cheesecloth to remove flowers and lemon rind.

To assemble the drinks, coat the rim of each glass with lemon juice and dip in granulated sugar. Place infused vodka, triple sec, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Adjust flavors if you like, adding more simple syrup, lemon juice or vodka as your tastes dictate. Strain drink into glasses and garnish each with an edible flower. Makes six small cocktails, or twice as many shots.

Nasturtium Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 lb nasturtium leaves (or use half nasturtium leaves and half Italian parsley leaves)
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. You could use a mortar and pestle, but with the nasturtium leaves, the pesto tastes better very smooth, so be prepared to grind for quite a while! Adjust seasoning to taste and use as you would traditional basil pesto.