lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

how to add spice to your life

Looking for ways to spice up your life? Try adding some hot chili oil to it. Making your own hot chili oil is very easy and it’s a great way to preserve your garden if you’ve got some dried hot peppers laying around. I love drying some of my hot peppers each year; it makes them easy to chop and use throughout the winter and they are far superior to most of the crushed red pepper flakes you can buy at the store.

One of the most prolific pepper plants I’ve grown is the Thai Chili Pepper; it grows at least a hundred of tiny hot peppers on one plant and, added bonus, makes a beautiful landscape plant. The beauty of making your own hot chili oil is that it doesn’t take a lot of peppers to add a lot of heat to your favorite dishes.

lola rugula how to make thai hot chili oil

Thai Peppers may be tiny but they pack a powerful punch. If you’ve ever wondered how to grow hot Thai Chili Peppers, just give them a well drained sunny spot in your garden and be sure to give them a consistent amount of water…peppers love water. I assure you that your Thai Peppers will reward you with more tiny bites of hotness than you know what to do with.

how to make hot chili oil lola rugula

hot thai chili oil recipe

  • 1 cup oil – I use organic sunflower or  organic canola oil
  • 1/4 cup dried Thai chili peppers, stems removed and roughly chopped

In a medium-size saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat.

Add chopped peppers, stir well and simmer for just a minute or two. You do NOT want them to start toasting; you want just enough heat to help the peppers release their oils, which is where their heat is.

Add the remaining oil and bring it all back to “just warm”. Remove from heat and stir well for a few minutes; this helps to dissipate the heat and also release more of the hot pepper oils into the mix. Pour into a heat-safe container or canning jar and let cool.

This keeps well for months and has a myriad of uses. Just a bit of it can be added to soups, sauces, and drizzled on chicken wings before cooking. You can also use a touch of it as a rub for pork, chicken, beef and seafood.

As with any hot peppers, you should be careful when handling them, as their oils can make your skin burn for hours after working with them.

lola rugula homemade hot chili oil recipe

So, are you ready to spice up your life a bit? Make some homemade hot chili oil and you’re well on your way.

You’ve got to keep things spicy, right? And what better way to warm up your winter than with my hot chili oil recipe. Enjoy and stay warm out there!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone

In case you didn’t know it, I’m huge on Pinterest! Okay, well, my Pickled Hot Cherry Peppers recipe is huge, anyway. One of the things I miss most about living in Connecticut is being able to find both fresh and pickled cherry peppers at the store. Stuffing pickled cherry peppers with provolone and prosciutto is popular out east, but the ones I’ve come across here in Northern Illinois are all made with raw peppers, which is not very appetizing at all.

Not being able to find these beauties forced me to start growing, pickling and stuffing them myself. This isn’t really a bad thing, as it’s made me pretty damn popular at the holidays. It may sound like an odd combination but trust me that they’re delicious.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy  cherry peppers at your local store or market, I have just the appetizer for you! The pickling part is super easy, even when canning and processing them to put up. All you need is fresh cherry peppers white vinegar and water.how to can hot cherry peppers lola rugula

Pickling the peppers:

You don’t have to can these, though. You can pickle them and put them in the fridge, as long as you have the space. When I don’t process these for preserving, I call it “quick pickling”.

Prepare the peppers by washing them and cutting the stems off. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a small slice into the pepper at the top of it, around the stem area. I like to do this to assure the hot juice is released from inside the peppers. Now you’re ready to pickle them.

  • 6 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 pounds hot cherry peppers (red or green both work!) washed. Using a sharp knife tip, make a small slit in the top (stem end) of each pepper

In al large saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Add peppers, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer peppers to a glass jar or container and then cover completely with vinegar/water brine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Here’s an extreme stuffed red cherry pepper close-up shot:

lola-rugula-hot-cherry-peppers-stuffed-with-provolone-and-prosciutto-recipe

Stuffing the peppers:

Be sure to reserve the pickling juice for storing and serving. To prepare the peppers for stuffing, use a sharp knife to cut the top off of the peppers. Then, using a small spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them.

For the stuffing, take a chunk of provolone and cut it into cubes  The actual size of the cubes may need to vary, depending on the size of the peppers. Cut strips of prosciutto in half lengthwise, Wrap a cube of provolone with a piece of prosciutto and stuff the wrapped cube into a hollowed-out pepper. Set the stuffed pepper into a shallow dish and repeat until all of the peppers you have are stuffed.

Using the reserved pickling juice, fill the dish of peppers until the level is about half way up the peppers. Cover dish and refrigerate until ready to serve, preferably within a few hours.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing these, you’re missing out. It may sound like a strange combination  but the heat of the peppers, the tang of the vinegar, the smooth creaminess of the provolone and the salty earthiness of the prosciutto is a fabulous collaboration. I typically make these at the holidays and for get-togethers and they are always, always the first thing to disappear.

Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

trinidad scorpion salsa

We grew Trinidad Scorpion Peppers this year and they were pretty prolific, much more so than necessary, considering there are only so many of the second-hottest-peppers in the world you can eat

I grew Ghost Peppers a few years ago and can tell you the Scorpion plants are much smaller and faster-growing. As far as peppers go, the Scorpions have a slightly smoky flavor, whereas the Ghost  Peppers are much fruitier.

I made some Ghost Chili Salsa that year and it remains one of my most popular recipes. So what does one do to follow up an almost-famous recipe? Make an even hotter one.

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trinidad scorpion salsa canning recipe

  • 5 cups blanched, peeled and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped bell pepper (I used a mix of red and green)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 scorpion peppers, chopped

Makes 3 quarts

Sterilize canning jars, lids and bands; keep hot until ready to pack salsa.

In a large pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so that the salsa is still simmering and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.

Pack hot salsa into sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace, wipe rims clean and seal with sterile lids and bands. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, making sure water is at a full boil before adding jars of salsa. Also, be sure that water covers the jars by at least an inch.

When processing time is up, carefully remove jars and place on counter. Leave undisturbed for at least 24 hours.

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Just like my Ghost Chili salsa, this stuff is crazy hot, although this is honestly hotter. Great flavor and fun to give as gifts.

Another fun idea to do with Scorpion Peppers is to make my homemade hot sauce with them. Both the salsa and the hot sauce are great ways to preserve your peppers and they’re both delicious.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

let’s talk about sauce, baby

Let’s talk about homemade tomato sauce. Somehow, in this world of amplified food awareness, it’s become this complicated, convoluted dish and it really doesn’t have to be.

I like to make this sauce in the fall when I have an abundance of tomatoes from my garden. Actually, I make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes two ways. One is the uncooked tomato sauce version, which is easy, tasty and drool-worthy. Oh, and did I mention it’s a godsend on a hot summer night?

This second recipe is a cooked version, packed with garlic, onion and herbs and cooked for just about 3 hours or so, which I’ve found to be the sweet spot of melding and condensing flavors, while still letting that fresh tomato flavor shine through. This version I typically make in huge batches and freeze dinner-size portions of it, so that I can enjoy my garden tomatoes year-round.

I present to you homemade tomato sauce made with fresh garden tomatoes:lola-rugula-pasta-sauce-made-with-fresh-tomatoes-reciipe-3

Beautiful, right?

If you really want to make this a meal to remember, make your own homemade pasta to serve it with.

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But back to my original point: let’s talk about sauce, baby.

homemade tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1/4 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 5-6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 7 lbs. blanched, peeled and seeded tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add shallots, onions and garlic and cook until onion becomes translucent and soft about 5 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and cook about 2 minutes more. Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will become bitter if you do.

Add tomatoes, salt and herbs and stir well.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer only partially covered for 3 hours.

Serve over fresh hot pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Simple tomato sauce, made with fresh tomatoes. Easy, right?

I’ve been asked why I seed my tomatoes and I’ll tell you, I’ve made this sauce both ways; with seeded tomatoes and without. I find that removing the tomato seeds for this sauce is essential; the seeds tend to make the sauce bitter. Removing the seeds after blanching the tomatoes may take a little more time and effort but in the end, it’s worth it. I put my chinois to work for this job, but a fine mesh strainer works just as well. Here’s the cool chinois I was gifted from my parents:

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It’s a sweet little old-fashioned kitchen tool that works like a charm. Anyway, back to the sauce…

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Most of you know I love to give you variations on some of my dishes so here you go:

  • Add meat if you really want to – just brown it, drain the grease and then start from the beginning of this recipe.
  • Better yet, make my panko and feta meatballs.
  • If you have good-quality anchovies on hand, try smashing one or two of them up and adding it to this sauce. (omit the teaspoon of kosher salt if you do thiss and then add a little if needed)
  • If you have to add a little sugar, go ahead and do so; some people like their sauce a little sweet and you should make this recipe your own.
  • I don’t typically add black pepper to this when cooking it but love a bit of it freshly ground on top, right before serving.
  • I get pretty generous with my fresh basil sometimes…the taste of it just reminds me of summer. The amount in the recipe above is conservative – feel free to add more if you want to.
  • I love garlic, so I add quite a bit of it. Feel free to decrease the amount to your taste.
  • Want to make fresh pasta sauce with canned tomatoes? Go right ahead! This recipe converts to four 28 ounce cans of tomatoes.
  • What type of tomatoes to use for fresh sauce? I’ve used different varieties of tomatoes over the years and Roma style tomatoes still work best – they have the most meat and fewest seeds, along with a richer flavor than other types. The sauce in the photos you see above were not made with Romas and I assure you it was super delicious anyway.

Hopefully, my easy recipe inspires you to make some homemade fresh tomato sauce of your own.

Mangia!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

apple pie filling for the freezer

Apple overload? If you live just about anywhere in the U.S. right now, you’re well aware that it’s apple season. We’ve been very blessed because, for the 2nd year in a row, a friend has gifted us with a huge bag of great, big, beautiful homegrown apples; no trip to the local orchard needed.

I honestly don’t even know what kind of apples they are (help me out here, friends) but I DO know they’re apples and I DO know they’re very delicious. Behold, a few of my apples:

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Beautiful, right?

I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me and I’m sure you can do without me waxing poetic about apples, so I’ll make this short and sweet. Last year I made apple butter with this gift o’ apples, but since we really don’t eat a lot of toast, no more apple butter. This year I decided, “You know what would be great? It’d be great to make a big batch of homemade apple pie filling and have it for the holidays”.

Boom. Done.

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apple pie filling for the freezer

  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
  • 6.5 – 7 lbs. apples (approximately 7 large apples)
  • 2 cups pure cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)

Squeeze lemon juice into a large stockpot, Wash, peel, core and slice apples and place in stockpot, tossing with lemon juice as you go; this helps prevent the apples from discoloring.

Sprinkle apples with sugar, salt, flour and nutmeg and mix well. Let mixture sit for 30 minutes or so, until the apples start to sweat their juice out.

Place on medium heat, stirring often, just until mixture starts to thicken and apples start to soften slightly, about 8-10 minutes. You don’t need or want the apples to cook all the way – if they do, they’ll be mush by the time they make it to the “cooked apple pie” stage.

Remove from heat, stir in cinnamon (the best part!) and let cool. Divide into 2 1/2 cup portions and pack into freezer-safe containers or bags and freeze. This recipe makes about 4 portions.

This recipe makes about 4 portions.

You now have something delicious to do with a whole bunch of apples and you’re also one step closer to being a rock star at the holidays. Go you.

Of course, if you’re not an apple pie lover, this mixture also works great for apple crisp, apple crumble, apple tart… you get the idea.

Happy autumn, everyone!

 

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

easy refrigerator pickles by the jar

The last of my cucumber plants got pulled up last week and, though I’m sad to see summer end, I have to admit that this year’s cucumber harvest was a bit overwhelming. I added diced cucumber to salsa (delicious) and threw together quick cucumber salad (sliced cukes and onions mixed with seasoned rice vinegar and marinated for a couple of days, stirring twice a day). I made our favorite salad – tomato wedges, sliced red onion and fennel, and cucumber chunks drizzled with unseasoned rice vinegar and sprinkled with salt and pepper – super refreshing in the summer and everything’s picked right from our garden except the red onion. I made salmon, cucumber and dill bites more times than I can count (not that I’m complaining because they’re seriously delicious).

While all of these were great ways to use and enjoy my cucumber bounty, they weren’t nearly enough to use them all up. I’ve tried canning pickles but the only ones I truly like canned are bread and butter pickles; dill pickles just shouldn’t be cooked in my opinion. In summers past, I made at least a couple of batches of my fermented half sour dill pickles but this year I decided to try and perfect an easy recipe for refrigerator dill pickles. I also decided the perfect recipe would be a refrigerator-pickle-by-the-jar recipe, so I could easily make them without waiting to have a certain amount of cucumbers on hand. Also, I may have mentioned how we have dill that shows up every year, so this is also a great way to use some of that while I’m at it. I finally nailed down a quick and easy recipe…give these babies a try. The cucumbers retain a nice crunch and the flavor is fantastic.

lola-rugula-easy-refrigerator-cill-pickle-recipe

quick and easy refrigerator dill pickles recipe (by the quart jar)

Per Jar:

  • 1 tablespoon canning salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4-5 black peppercorns
  • 3 heads fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed
  • 1/2 jalapeno, sliced (for hot refrigerator pickles, optional – adjust amount to taste or omit)
  • 3-4 medium cucumbers, preferably the pickling variety, quartered lengthwise – make sure you remove the stem end and discard beforehand. (you’ll need more if smaller cukes and fewer if they’re on the large side)
  • White vinegar (approximately 3/4-1 cup)
  • Water

Place salt, garlic, peppercorns, dill and jalapeno (if adding) in the jar. Add about 1/4 cup hot water, seal jar tightly with lid and shake vigorously from side to side for a minute or so. This not only helps the salt dissolve but also wilts and bruises the garlic, dill and pepper, releasing some of their flavor into the brine. Remove the lid, add 1/4 cup of vinegar and then pile in your sliced cucumbers,  packing them in as tightly as possible. I find it easiest to hold the jar sideways and stack them in that way. Once you think you’ve packed as many in as you can, set the jar on the counter and push in a few more.

Now just top off the remaining air space with 50% vinegar and 50% water, filling the jar as closely to the rim as possible. Wipe rim clean and seal tightly with lid. Give the jar a few shakes and then refrigerate for at least 1 week.

Yum!

Another beautiful aspect of this recipe is that you don’t have to cook a brine like a lot of refrigerator pickle recipes call for – the hot tap water is just enough to dissolve the salt and warm the herbs and spices.

If you like your pickles a little sweet, just add a little sugar when you add the salt. Also, play with the heat by adding more or different kinds of hot peppers, or add none at all. Remember, don’t be afraid to play with your food!