Archive for May, 2010

If some of my Facebook feedback is any indicator, pickles (other than the boring dills you put on your burger) have gotten a bad rap. The mere mention of pickled beets is enough to send people running for cover. Even regular old pickled cucumbers are anathema if they are any different than Vlasic. How did the ancient and historically important pickle become a target of such ire? Are there some really vile pickle makers out there destroying pickling’s reputation?

If so, I am here to right the wrongs. I will be the pickle super hero. Armed with my new book, I will bring pickles back to their rightful place: front and center, part of everyone’s diet!

Ok, maybe not. But I will be pickling everything I can get my hands on. Pickling is an important method of preserving. You can do shelf stable vegetables in a waterbath canner if they are pickled without fear of the dreaded botulism. You can pickle just about any veggie (an some fruits). And I intend to pickle as many as I can get my hands on.

I recently pickled some asparagus, a vegetable indicative of spring if ever there was one. Since I canned them, and I hate to just can one thing when I’ve got that ginormous pot of boiling water going, I decided to do another pickle, too. Pumpkin and butternut squash.

Pumpkin and butternut squash pickled and cannedI know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe not. I try not to use those words. But seriously, who pickles pumpkin? Or butternut squash? Well, apparently Linda Ziedrich, author of the Joy of Pickling does. Using her recipe for a sweet and sour pickle brine I cut up the remaining pumpkin and butternut squash left on my counter and canned the little suckers. I’m a little nervous about this one. I mean, especially the pumpkin. It’s been on my counter for a long time. I can’t even remember when I got it. I would venture to say…well…months. But it was still hard on the outside. The squash, too. The insides were a little dry but they smelled ok.

Ok, I’m justifying. But it was either pickle them or throw them away, and how I hate to toss good food. So there are three pints of pickled pumpkin and squash sitting in my pantry waiting patiently three weeks until they are supposed to be fit to eat. I’ll report back.

Pickling broccoliSince I was up to my ears in cool pickle recipes, I went a little hog wild. I pickled a LOT of stuff as refrigerator or “quick” pickles. I pickled broccoli. I pickled apples and onions (yes, together.) I pickled beets in a kind of Moroccan style brine with toasted cumin seeds (which by the way I found only at one Whole Foods that had them in bins where you could buy in bulk – or in my case by the table spoon).

Now, the beets are good. Very unique and tart Pickling apple and onionand kind of savory thanks to the cumin. I like ‘em. Those are the only ones so far that are ready. The rest of them I have to wait at least a week before eating. A WEEK. Rude. Now that’s a pickle. I want to eat them, but I don’t want to have them before their prime and add to the anti-pickle bias with a bad pickle. So I’ll be patient. I’ll stare at them a minute each day and wonder how they’re coming along with their bad selves, pickling away in the dark recesses of my Maytag. This is going to be a long week or two.

Pickling beets

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I’m starting to identify the seasons through fruits and vegetables. In late winter and early spring I’m all about the great greens that show up in my CSA box. As the season progresses more and more veggies start showing up – radishes, beets, etc. But the veggie I was really looking forward to this spring was the asparagus!

In addition to tasting fantastic, looking cool and being a nutritional powerhouse, asparagus is flexible. It also has that bizarre way of making certain things smell funny…but we won’t go there. Asparagus can be roasted, grilled, blanched, boiled. It can be dipped, drizzled, chopped or pureed into soup. It can be pickled, eaten cooked or eaten raw.

I greedily grabbed asparagus at the farmer’s market. I really did. It was embarrassing. Last Saturday I cleaned out one of the vendor’s entire stock except for one bunch (and that was at 8 a.m.) You don’t want to come behind me at the farmer’s market if you want to get anything.

Anyway…so I had a total of about seven pounds of asparagus over a week and half period. First I blanched and ate with butter and also added some to salads. But that was too boring. I had to branch out and try something new.

In my new favorite cookbook, the Joy of Pickling, there is a recipe for pickled asparagus. It calls for tall 12 oz. jars for canning. If I’d planned in advance, I could have gotten some here. But of course I didn’t so I ended up using pint jars. Functional, but not as easy and definitely not as impressive looking.

Since I’m a pro now at canning (third time’s a charm) I had no issues facing my waterbath canner for the canning task. Note the presence of the jar lifter. Santa was good to Kung Fu this year. It is still exciting to hear the pop, pop, pop after pulling the jars from the water. The jars are like little cheerleaders – “You did it! You so don’t suck!” Not like the fish from last year, who hated me.

Now it’s the long wait – I have to hold off a total of three weeks after canning to taste the asparagus and see if my little cheerleaders were right. Argh! That’s like telling a kid Christmas has been delayed due to technical difficulties.

asparagus simmering in broth

Meanwhile, back at the stove, I still had two pounds of asparagus and I knew exactly what to do with them. A few years ago I discovered this cream of asparagus soup recipe in an old cookbook, quite similar to this one. It sounds a little funky but man, oh man is it ever good! Anyone who says they don’t like asparagus should try this.

In the recipe I use, it calls for onions instead of leeks (although leeks is an intriguing idea). I sauté the onion in the butter, then add two pounds of cut up asparagus and my homemade chicken stock and fresh basil. It simmers for about a half hour, then pureed within an inch of its life. Straining it through a colander is a good idea, but use one that’s not too fine otherwise it will sit there and hold the soup rather than strain it (I know). A food mill would probably work well too but I haven’t’ tried that. Anyway, if you don’t strain it at all you end up with little woody pieces randomly in your soup. Kind of messes up the elegant effect. And when you’re serving heads of state, high class foodies or your husband’s boss you just don’t want to kung faux pas the elegance.

Asparagus is a great vegetable. There are so many…I’m really excited about the upcoming green bean crop. I know. I’m pretty lame.

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Helping Mom bake bread or make cookies with a chair pulled up to the island so I could get tall enough to see. Getting my hand smacked by Mom when I tried to commit larceny of the crispy turkey skin on Thanksgiving day. Watching Mom think as she leaned up against the warm stove on a winter day. Everyone should have kitchen memories of Mom like that. While I couldn’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, I decided to do some home cooking to honor her: bread, roast chicken and potatoes.

I found this great peasant bread recipe on Food Network. It sounded pretty easy – a no knead bread. Kneading really doesn’t bother me, I kind of like to pound the dough into submission. But I was ready to change it up so I mixed up the dough and left it to sit for its rise of eighteen hours. Doing good.

It was Sunday morning. I turned the dough out onto a floured counter and tucked the sides in like I was told to in the recipe. I put it on a floured piece of parchment paper. The recipe said to cover it with a kitchen towel, but after one experience where I was scraping gooey dough off of a towel I opted to lay a piece of plastic wrap sprayed with olive oil over it, then add the towel. It started to rise and all was well. It looked kind of pregnant on the counter. If my counter is pregnant, does that make me a mother or a grandmother?

Pregnant counter.

I was looking over the recipe to make sure I was good to go for the bread. Good thing…I failed to read the part about needing a dutch oven to do the baking in. Let’s just say it…I don’t learn. Shoot first and ask questions later. Someday I’ll grow up. But in the mean time, I needed a dutch oven and I needed one fast.

Options: a Lodge cast iron dutch oven. Reasonably priced, good looking and long lasting. Drawbacks: it needs to be seasoned and I don’t have that kind of time. (I don’t trust “pre-seasoned” and if I’m going to do enameled, well….see next.) Next: Le Creuset dutch oven. Expensive, but cool as heck and I’ve always wanted one. So the choice was made.

She is perfect...*sniff*

I had to wait for Williams-Sonoma to open before I could dash in and pick one up. Once I was there…more choices. What color? Round or oval? Luckily I knew what size I need from the recipe and was clearly looking at the 3 1/2 quart. Red would go with my kitchen and honor my mom (her favorite color is red). After some discussion with the clerk at WS, I opted for the oval. I was the proud mother of a Le Creuset baby.

I ran home, cleaned up my baby and stuck it in the oven. That sounds just awful.

In this recipe, you pull the hot dutch oven out of the oven and invert your risen bread dough into it. Carefully. This junk is hot. It sizzles and everything, so that’s kind of fun. Cover it and back into the oven it goes for 30 minutes. De-lid and let it go for another 15 to 30 minutes. Mine was done in 15.

The bread came out nice and crunchy on the outside – perfect! When I cut it open…oh, my. Chewy and moist. My baby can make some bread. I immediately shared with test subject Bill, who announced it far superior to my other bread efforts. Score!

(I made this bread again yesterday, this time doing the optional refrigerated rise of 12-24 hours prior to the 18 hour counter rise. It resulted in a bigger loaf, but didn’t really do much flavorwise. I’ll skip this step from now on. It doesn’t need it.)

While the chicken stuffed with my CSA herbs and surrounded by farmer’s market red potatoes roasted away in the oven, I munched on bread. It was true love.

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