I have a gardener's love for the end of summer -- cooler days, fresher nights to enjoy the culinary riches we produced. But two things had me worried before I could relax and enjoy a flavorful salute to the end of summer. One was an in-my-face deal, the other more like a distant clap of thunder.
I'll start with the distant thunder thingy first. I found this headline while surfing the net:
Not everyone will find this story as unsettling as I did, but I never thought I'd have to worry about armadillos here in Georgia. Let me explain.
When I was a child in Louisiana armadillos were a fact of life. They did not get a lot of respect. Nicknames like "poor man's pig," "possum on the half-shell" and "Texas speed bump" do not arouse admiration. And, in truth, most of my experience with them was of the side-of-the-road variety. People laughed about armadillos.
But now I am an adult. Now I am a gardener. I do not laugh at armadillos anymore.
"Awww, the cute little armadillo," you say. "What have you got to worry about? They don't steal produce. They won't raid the garden like raccoons, deer, possums, squirrels and crows," you argue.
"They are peacable creatures, slow, nearsighted and nocturnal," you continue. "All they want is to gather bugs, grubs and worms that live in the ground. They don't want to hurt anything at all." You smile and bat your eyes and think you've convinced me we're merely dealing with a harmless little zoological oddball.
Then why does a yard or garden where armadillos forage look like the landscape version of swiss cheese? Because all they want is to use their steam shovel claws to dig like crazy anywhere a tasty bug, grub or worm might live, that's why. Like under the tomato plants, say, or along rows of corn. Or perhaps through your prize dahlias and petunias.
Destruction follows relentlessly in their nearsighted and nonviolent wake. If they notice at all, they probably only say, "Oops. Tee hee hee," like a well-meaning but bumbling Mr. Magoo. Meanwhile the garden appears to have been attacked by a lunatic with a posthole digger.
I haven't seen or heard of armadillos in Banks County so far, but I am watchful. Not that I have anything personal against the armadillo. Just not in my North Georgia garden. Please.
The next thing that's been on my mind is what to do with my garden's last burst of summer bounty -- an incendiary eruption of peppers. Not sweet red, yellow or green bells that I can stuff or chop into salads or freeze. Nope. I've got piles of scorchers from 8,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale. Jalapeños and cayennes, respectively.
The cayennes aren't the big problem. I can string some onto strands for colorful wreaths and dry the rest and whir them up into red pepper flakes for gift baskets. Lots of gift baskets.
It's those darn jalapeños.
Pretty, aren't they? But I found myself sitting on pounds of them, figuratively, that is. What to do?
Chipotles, those smoked jalapeños prized by Southwestern cooks, looked likely. But when research showed they require not hours but days, plus scads of special equipment ... well, the idea lost appeal.
I could pickle them, but somehow bringing out the canning stuff another time makes me feel a bit faint.
My solution, gentle readers and curious chefs? In a burst of colliding electrical brain impulses I came up with an idea. Wait for it:
Before you report me to the ASPCA, let me explain. Armadillos are mammals, remember? No eggs. I poked around quite a bit but never found who can take credit for these little firebombs. But some bright person, most likely in Texas, came up with the idea of a stuffed jalapeños wrapped in sausage to look like an egg.
Some folks eat them as appetizers, but that's way too many Scoville points for me, even stuffed with cream cheese. My version adds cilantro to the cream cheese and hides a sweet nugget of pineapple at the center. I think they go better nestled among the many cooler, saner side dishes at a brunch, with many glasses of the refreshing beverage of your choice.
Makes one dozen
DANGER!! WARNING!!! Take every precaution you can think of. These peppers are hot. Don't come crying to me if your eyes, nose, throat, lips or skin become irritated from handling these guys. I warned you. I use gloves, run a fan and still have to wash my hands about 50 times before all the heat disappears. Next time I make them I'll probably wear a mask.
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
- 1 pound bulk sausage
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 6 jalapeño peppers, red and/or green
- 1 small can pineapple chunks or tidbits
- 1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 cups peanut or other vegetable oil, or as needed for frying
- Blend cream cheese and chopped cilantro together in a small bowl. Form into a log and chill for about 10 minutes, then divide into 12 equal pieces and set aside.
- Combine sausage, cumin seed and chili powder in a small bowl and blend thoroughly. Set aside.
- Put on your gloves to handle the peppers. Remove stem ends and cut peppers in half. Remove all ribs and seeds (a melon baller works nicely for a first pass), then switch to a small knife to get out any remaining membrane.
- Spoon a bit of cream cheese into pepper half. Nestle a piece of pineapple into the cream cheese and cover with more cream cheese.
- Continue until all pepper halves are filled.
- Place one portion of sausage in your palm and flatten into a disk. Carefully embed one of the filled peppers into the sausage, then pull up the sides and pinch together. Roll between your hands to form an egg shape.
- Be sure "eggs" are well sealed so nothing leaks when they are fried. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. (Note: They can be stored overnight or frozen at this point. Thaw before rolling in crumbs and cooking.)
- Put panko bread crumbs in a shallow plate and gently roll "eggs" to cover well.
- Heat peanut oil in a large skillet to 375º Fahrenheit. Oil should be 1-inch deep or more. Gently lower "eggs" into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown on all sides and drain on paper towels.
- Make no mistake. For some, these are hot as the devil. Here's a variation for the less foolhardy if you'd like to try the flavors without as much risk to the roof of your mouth.
- Still pretty hot variation:
- Skip the jalapeño halves. Chop up as much jalapeño as you're brave enough to try into the cream cheese mixture. Make a meatball with the sausage, then hollow it out with your thumb. Place a spoon of cream cheese into the hollow. Bury a pineapple piece in the cream cheese, then pinch to seal. Make sure the seal is tight so the filling does not leak out during cooking. VERY gently roll between your palms to form into an egg shape. Place on a baking sheet and place in the freezer for 30 minutes before rolling in crumbs and frying. Can be packaged and frozen before rolling in crumbs. Thaw, then proceed with the recipe.