Sweet and Tangy Jalapeno Jelly

The Ample Bites Vegetable Farm yielded just enough jalapeno peppers to give Ample Bites the opportunity to try canning for the first time. After scouring the Internet and studying a few cook books, including American Country Living – Canning and Preserving, Linda Ferrari, 1991, Ample Bites arrived at the following recipe.

Many of the recipes that I studied included green or red food coloring to impart a jalapeno hue to the jelly. Ample Bites opted to omit the food coloring and go “natural”.

A popular use for Sweet and Tangy Jalapeno Jelly is to spread it over cracker or bagels with warm cream cheese. The jelly can also be used to compliment soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert.

Sweet and Tangy Jalapeno Jelly
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Makes about 4 (8 oz) jars

12 medium jalapeno pepper
2 cups cider vinegar, divided
6 cups sugar
2 3 ounce pouches of liquid pectin or 3 Tbsp powdered pectin
4 half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Prepare the jars and lids in a large, deep saucepan in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

Remove stems and most of the seeds from the peppers. Puree peppers in food processor or blender with 1 cup cider vinegar until smooth. Do not strain the puree.

Combine the puree with remaining cup cider vinegar and sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add pectin and continue to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim any foam that may have formed.

Ladle the hot jelly into the hot jars leaving about 1/4″ headspace. Wipe the rim of each jar. Center a lid on each jar and apply band until fit is finger tight.

Process in a boiling water bath with the jars submerged under 2″ of water for 15 minutes. Remove the jars and allow them to cool for about 30 minutes. Invert the jars a few times after cooling to distribute the peppers evenly before the jelly completely sets.

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Crab Risotto Cakes

Ample Bites saw this dish at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse and I decided to make my own version of Crab Risotto Cakes. The keys to this dish are making the risotto ahead of time and allowing it to cool in the refrigerator before broiling the cakes in the oven. The risotto cakes are rich and luxuriant and only a couple make a nice meal when accompanied with a remoulade sauce (see earlier post for my recipe) and a salad.

Shrimp, lobster, or even just vegetables like asparagus or mushrooms, can be substituted for the crab in this recipe and your choice of cheese can be used in place of the asiago cheese. The shrimp stock (see earlier post for my recipe) gives the dish a deeper flavor than a vegetable or chicken stock but either can be used to make the risotto.

Crab Risotto Cakes
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups shrimp stock
1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to heat on simmer.

In a large dutch oven, melt the butter until foamy. Add the onions and garlic and sweat until soft and lightly browned. Add the rice and stir coating the rice with the butter. Continue to stir the rice for 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue stirring until most of the wine is absorbed. Using 1/2 cup of stock at a time ladle stock into the rice, stirring constantly, until the stock is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of stock and repeat, continuing until all of the stock is used and the rice becomes creamy, about 20 minutes.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheese and crab until fully incorporated. Spoon the risotto into a shallow glass dish and place the dish in the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 400F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Spoon roughly 1/2 cup-sized balls of the risotto onto the baking sheet spacing them about 2-inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the cakes and then finish them under the broiler for about 4 minutes to crisp the tops.

Serve 2-3 of the cakes on individual serving dishes over a spoonful of remoulade sauce.

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Sage-Bourbon Peach Barbecue Sauce

Summer peaches are the primary ingredient of this sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Ample Bites likes the subtle sweetness of the peaches with the bite of the reduced bourbon in this sauce. Sage-Bourbon Peach Barbecue Sauce can be used with chicken thighs or breasts, pork chops or, even, a meaty fish steak.

Sage-Bourbon Peach Barbecue Sauce with Grilled Chicken Thighs

Sage-Bourbon Peach Barbecue Sauce
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

4 – 5 large ripe peaches, 1/2 dice
1/2 cup bourbon whiskey
1 12 ounce can peach nectar
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 – 2 Tbsp chipotle hot sauce
1 handful fresh sage leaves, sliced into slivers

In a large bowl, macerate the peaches in the bourbon and peach nectar at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Over medium heat in a large sauce pan, simmer the peaches in the bourbon-nectar liquid until the peaches are very soft, about 30 minutes. Drain the peaches through a sieve into the sauce pan, reserving the peaches. Place the peaches in a food processor and puree until smooth.

In the sauce pan with the liquid add the slivered sage leaves. Bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Strain out sage leaves and then add the peach puree, brown sugar, ketchup and hot sauce. Simmer over low heat stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool before storing or use immediately as a sauce for grilled meats.

The sauce can be refrigerated for about 1 week or frozen for future use.

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Freezing Tomatoes for the Winter

It is late September and the Ample Bites Vegetable Farm is still producing mass quantities of tomatoes. We have more than we can eat or give away so it is time to start preparing some of the fruit for use this winter. We have already frozen some tomato sauce and canned some tomato salsa. Some of this batch of tomatoes will be oven-roasted and then frozen. The oven-roasted tomatoes can be added to hearty winter soups and stews.

Today’s Tomato Harvest

Frozen Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

3 pounds tomatoes, halved
1 – 2 heads garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
1 handful fresh basil, torn
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven, on bake, to 375F.

Squeeze the tomatoes to remove most of the tomatoes’ seeds. Place the tomatoes in a single layer at the bottom of a large roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. Place the crushed garlic in the gaps between the tomatoes. Sprinkle the basil over the tomatoes and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil.

Bake the tomatoes for about 90 minutes, checking every 25 minutes after the first 30 minutes to make sure the tomatoes do not burn.

When the tomatoes are done allow them to cool. Ladle the tomatoes and garlic pieces into ziptop bags and press all of the air out before placing them in the freezer. Freeze for up to 4 months.

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Cold Beef Tenderloin and Avocado Salad

Have you ever had leftover beef tenderloin or steak and had no idea what to do with it? You can always add the beef to an Ample Bites favorite The Big Salad (see prior post).

Below is an alternative that combines the beef with ripe, velvety avocado, tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles and a light vinaigrette. This Cold Beef Tenderloin and Avocado Salad, some crust bread and glass of red wine make for a simple and elegant dinner.

Cold Beef Tenderloin and Avocado Salad
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 2

6 – 8 ounces of leftover grilled beef tenderloin medallions
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 small to medium ripe tomatoes, sliced
2 basil leaves, sliced into slivers
2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Garlic Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Slice beef medallions into 1/2-inch wide strips. Place sliced tomatoes on separate serving plates, fan the avocado slices over the tomatoes, sprinkle the basil slices. Place equal amount of the beef strips on each salad. Season the vegetables and beef with salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle the salad with a generous amount of the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles and serve immediately.

Garlic Vinaigrette
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

1 small garlic clove, crushed through press
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Dashes balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

In a small mason jar, combine the ingredients and put the top on the jar. Shake the jar vigorously. Allow the dressing to sit at room temperature for up to an hour before serving. Shake again before spooning the vinaigrette over your salad.

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Wine Reduction Sauce

Until you have tried to make a wine reduction sauce you might think it is a difficult thing to do. It is really very simple and a wine reduction sauce adds a depth of flavor to a beef, pork or poultry dish. The whole preparation takes between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the amount of sauce you are making. This recipe uses a dry Cabernet Sauvignon but you can use any quality red wine. To give your wine reduction sauce even more complexity include blackberries or raspberries in the vegetable mirepoix.

When Ample Bites most recently made this sauce I served it over beef tenderloin medallions with a side of mashed butternut squash.

Cabernet Balsamic Reduction
(Mark Kelly – 2012)

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, 1/4″ dice
2 stalks celery, 1/4″ dice
1/2 large onion, 1/4″ dice
1 cup low-sodium, fat free chicken stock
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

In a medium-sized heavy skillet, heat olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the diced vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and sweat them over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the wine and bring back to a boil. Drain the sauce with a sieve. Discard the vegetables. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the balsamic vinegar and then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by at least half and begins to thicken. Finish the sauce by whisking the butter in. Remove the sauce and allow it to cool to room temperature before serving as a drizzle over meat.

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Pancetta – Even Better than Bacon

Ample Bites loves bacon in its many and various forms but arguably none is better than pancetta. Bucatini with Caramelized Onions and Pancetta put the salty, crisp fatty meat in the front of the palate where it rightfully belongs. If you love bacon as much as Ample Bites and you are looking for a pasta dish that goes beyond the usual marinara, alla olio, and alfredo sauces, this may become your “go-to” recipe.

Bucatini with Caramelized Onions and Pancetta
(Courtesy of Domenica Marchetti’s Rustic Italian)

Yields 4 Servings

½ pound pancetta, cut into a ¼” dice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 ½ red or yellow onions, or a mix of both, halved and very thinly-sliced lengthwise
1 tsp minced fresh oregano
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried bucatini pasta
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving

In a large frying pan over medium-low heat, sauté the pancetta until lightly crisped and a little of the fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

Add the olive oil to the pan and add the onions. Using tongs or a wooden spoon, gently toss the onions to coat them as much as possible. Cover the pan and cook, still over medium-low heat, until the onions are well wilted, 15-20 minutes. Add the oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and a generous grinding of the black pepper and cook, uncovered, until golden brown, creamy, and greatly reduced in volume, about 30 minutes. Stir from time to time to prevent scorching.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the bucatini, stir, and cook until al dente, about 11 minutes or according to the package directions. Drain, reserving about q/2 cup of the pasta water.

Raise the heat under the onions to medium-high, pour in the wine, and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Let it bubble for a minute, then add the reserved pancetta. Transfer the pasta to the pan and toss gently to combine. Add a splash or two of the pasta water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Sprinkle in the cheese and toss again. Divide among 4 shallow bowls and serve, passing additional cheese at the table.

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The Wagyu Wagon – A Chicago Food Truck

This past weekend Ample Bites had the occasion to sample the fare of one of the Chicago food trucks and it was very impressive. The Wagyu Wagon, adorned with a red Chicago Bulls head in place of the “y” in Wagyu, was parked in Butler Field, at the very northwest end of Grant Park. There were a few other food trucks in the park to feed the crowd attending the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Girl Scouts of America. The Wagyu Wagon was easy to find because it had a consistent line of 25 to 40 people.

The Wagyu Wagon is the creation of Chef Aaron Crumbaugh. The beef he uses in his burgers is, of course, the high-quality Wagyu beef. Wagyu contains a higher percentage of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and is lower in cholesterol than typical beef. The Wagyu Wagon travels the streets of Chicago and is also available for private events. To find out more about The Wagyu Wagon visit their website www.thewagyuwagon.com.

Ample Bites was intrigued about why people would stand in line for upwards of an hour for lunch so I went to check out the menu. The Wagyu Wagon fare is simple but well conceived. The current menu consists of two burgers, two hot dogs and a french fry item that was loaded with a chili-like topping. The menu changes from season to season.

One burger is a basic cheeseburger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and a roasted garlic mayo for $8.00. The other burger, called “The Juddly“, is a masterpiece that is topped with bourbon caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, swiss cheese and a roasted garlic aioli for $10.00. The burgers come with french fries are cooked to order. My Juddly was a perfect medium-rare, as I requested, and it was one of the best hamburgers I have had in quite a while.

The basic hot dog with fries is $4.00. The “Charra Dog” is topped with a mixture of chorizo, bacon, beans and drizzled with an avocado crema for $6.00. The same topping smothers the $3.00 “Charra Fries“.

If you see The Wagyu Wagon parked along one of Chicago’s streets serving Chef Crumbaugh’s savory fare, be sure to take the time to check out the current menu and partake in one or more of The Wagyu Wagon specialties.

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Smoked Pulled Pork

Smoked Pulled Pork takes about 6 hours of love to yield a savory, meaty filling for sandwiches. Ample Bites starts this recipe with ten pounds of pork shoulder and about a quart of thoroughly soaked mesquite wood chips. My Weber Genesis grill functions quite well as a smoker and the temperature gauge on the grill allows me to maintain the temperature at a constant 350F.

Smoked Pulled Pork
(Mark Kelly)

Yields about 8 pounds of cooked pork

10 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (divided)
3 Tbsp Creole Seasoning (such as Emeril’s Essence)
4 bottles of Ale or Lager beer
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup barbecue sauce

Mix the salt, sugar, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and the Creole Seasoning in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the pork. Place the pork on a baking sheet, cover the meat with foil and refrigerate overnight. Soak mesquite wood chips in water in a covered container overnight.

Heat the grill to 350F. Brush the spice rub off of the meat and place the pork on a meat rack in the bottom of a large, deep roasting pan. Pour two bottles of beer into the bottom of the pan. Cover the meat loosely with foil and cook for two hours.

Add another bottle of beer to the pan and remove the foil. Add a handful of the soaked wood chips to a smoker pan and place the pan on the grill next to the roasting pan. Cook for another two hours. Add the final bottle of beer to the pan and cook for another two hours or until the internal temperature reads 185F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the pork.

Remove the pork from the pan and allow it to cool before shredding it with a pair of forks.

In a medium sauce pan combine the apple cider vinegar, the remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar and the barbecue sauce. Over medium heat, warm the sauce stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

After shredding the pork, pour the sauce over the meat. Serve on hamburger buns with a large dollop of coleslaw on top of each.

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