Growing by the Bay

Category: food

jalapeño peppers

Jalapeño peppers in the Bay Area garden and kitchen

Jalapenos peppers at Tom's Garden.

Jalapeño peppers at Tom’s Garden.

Jalapeño peppers are an easy and rewarding plant for the garden. I grow mine in containers, and they do very well. In fact, the majority of my vegetable gardening is in containers now. This has the advantage of freeing up gardening space for ornamental perennials, and it allows moving the containers around to catch the sun as its path shifts over the growing season (or to move an ailing plant to a more sheltered location, since drought is our biggest summer threat).

The jalapeño is actually a fairly mild chile. It’s at about 5M Scoville, compared to 200M Scoville for a habañero.  About middle of the road as hot chiles go. As it reddens it gets hotter and sweeter, so you can control those elements by when you harvest. In our area it might overwinter, depending on frost and drought.

Jalapeño peppers at Tom's Garden.

Another view of jalapeño peppers at Tom’s Garden.

Some growing tips:

I think of jalapeños in the kitchen as analogous to gentian in bitters. They have a kind of generic peppery quality. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want. I have a plan for cooking mine that I haven’t seen on any of the cooking sites I’ve visited is a little like Elise Bauer’s approach at Simply Recipes. I’m going to slice them lengthwise to make sort of canoelike boats, which I will grill. These will be open-faced stuffed peppers. I’ll probably use some cotija chesse, maybe bacon, onion, cilantro, herbs —well, I’m I’m not yet sure what all. I envision the result as a sort of stuffed jalapeño tapa. I’m giving this a try this weekend, so stayed tuned for the results.

BTW, the capsaicin in hot peppers is said to increase circulation and reduce cholesterol.

Some cooking tips:

For a simple jalapeño salsa, just combine some seeded peppers with garlic, onion, and lime juice (you can figure out your own proportions, but generally one and a half to two times as many peppers as limes) and season with salt. Use pretty much anywhere you would use salsa. Accompany with a margarita enlivened with Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters. Oh yeah!

Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook is a great source of traditional Mexican recipes in a handsome format

Finally, a general resource that is well worth checking out is Spotlight on Chile Peppers at Science Friday (hosted by the great Ira Flatow).



Bitters and health

bitters on desk

Bitters and tinctures on my desk

While we’re on the subject of bitters, it’s worth taking note of their health benefits, which include moderating blood sugar, improving digestion, and I think immortality–though I understand not all alternative health sites are 100 percent reliable, so I’m not certain about that last one.

Here are three sites on the topic that seem pretty good:

Andrew Weil: Why Bitter Is Better
“America is still probably the most sugar-philic and bitter-phobic culture the world has ever known…. But there is an appealing logic to consuming bitters for health….”

The Weston A Price Foundation: Bitters: the Revival of a Forgotten Flavor
“Many of the diseases riddling our modern culture—from indigestion and gastric reflux to metabolic disorders ranging from elevated cholesterol to type 2 diabetes—seem to all point back to the deficiency of bitterness in our diets….”

Jim McDonald: Blessed Bitters
“I am a firm believer in Bitter Deficiency Syndrome; a notion that posits that much of the health woes faced by modern folk has at its root a lack of bitter flavor in the diet; and that many of the digestive problems for which we see bitters as a “remedy” are actually symptoms of deficiency of this flavor….”

Delicious and good for you, with ingredients straight from the garden — how can you go wrong?

Early Girl tomatoes

Early Girls

Early Girl tomatoes

Early Girl tomatoes, August 2015

Early Girls are the best performing, most reliable, and best tasting tomatoes I have grown in my current garden. This is a red saladette tomato with smallish fruit that is sweet and tangy. It always bears well for me, which is no small feat in my region.

Pam Peirce (Golden Gate Gardening) recommends ‘Oregon Spring’ and ‘Stupice’ for our area, with its cool (though irregularly so) dry summers. I haven’t tried ‘Oregon Spring,’ but for me ‘Early Girl’ has consistently outperformed ‘Stupice.’

I give mine a little crab meal and worm castings.

Last year we didn’t get any tomatoes at all, because the deer ate the plants down to the ground. This year I put wire fencing around the plants, to the deer’s frustration and my delight. I have learned that physical barriers are the only thing that stop deer — don’t waste your time and money on any other efforts.

tomatoes in deer fence

Early Girl tomatoes inside a deer fence

The Cake Gallery

barbie cake from the cake gallery, san franciscoThe Cake Gallery, located at 290 9th Street (at Folsom) has made a name for itself by offering a line of x-rated cakes. But, according to their website, “the majority of our custom cakes are actually delivered to businesses and children’s parties.” And indeed, at my day job I recently sampled a cake decorated with a map of Hawaii for a colleague who is moving there.

In addition to their erotic cakes, they offer kids’ birthday cakes, 50th birthday cakes, 3-D cakes, wedding cakes, baby shower cakes, over-the-hill birthday cakes, unique cartoon cakes for kids, bachelor party cakes, celebrity birthday cakes, baptism cakes, and novelty cakes for kids. Fortunately, their cakes are better than their photography — I did what I could with this image of a 3-D Barbie cake.

Dim Sum

Gridskipper recommends the following Dim Sum restaurants in the city. What are they forgetting? Maybe as time goes by it will be possible to add to this list.

Gridskipper’s Culinary Picks

The Bay Area’s culinary reputation has been taking some hits lately. “Alice Waters and sourdough bread aside,” Alan Richman wrote in GQ, “the Bay Area has contributed surprisingly little to the culinary ripening of America.” Tired lists like the one assembled by Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer probably aren’t helping, so Gridskipper made its own list. It’s a short list but a good one, including Anchor Steam Brewery, Ghirardelli Chocolate, the French Laundry, the London Wine Bar, the McEvoy Ranch, P.G. Molinari and Sons, the Slanted Door, St. George Spirits, and Tsar Nicoulai.

Deconstructing Casa Sanchez Salsa

casa sanchez salsa

Casa Sanchez, based in San Francisco, makes some of the best chips and salsa around. They have a restaurant at 2778 24th Street (which has been getting some negative reviews). But their main business these days must be their salsa and chips for distribution, which are excellent. They offer both fresh and roasted salsas. Now Chowhound is trying to reverse engineer the fresh salsa. Click the link to see how they’re doing.

According to the packaging, the ingredients are “tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic, citric acid, and sea salt.” Should be easy, right? I think what makes it tricky is getting the right mix of peppers. La Chica Guapa and I once translated a book called the Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook by Susanna Palazuelos. There is an enormous variety of peppers available for Mexican cooking, and the art of combining them requires experience and discrimination.

Hangtown Fry

Sometimes in San Francisco one encounters something called a “hangtown fry.” What is it? It’s a sort of omelet composed of oysters, eggs, and bacon. Some say the hangtown fry, which was served in 19th-century gold mining camps (the oysters were transported in barrels of sea water), is the first true California cuisine. It was an expensive meal, a signal that one had struck a rich vein.

The dish gets its name from Placerville, which was known colloquially as Hangtown because it was the site of a famous hanging of outlaws. Recently a Placerville group known as the “Hangtown Fryers” has tried to promote the dish as the official dish of the state of California.

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