This Years Pickles

Can you tell which one is sour dill and which one is bread and butter?

I will make more, no doubt about it. The only problem is that my grocery store doesn’t have any pickling cucumbers. Mom found some at Farmer’s Market yesterday so she bought 2 pounds. Ha. That made 2 jars. Next week I’m hitting them up big time and getting a bunch. We love us some home made pickles. So these recipes, and there is one for sour dill pickles and one for bread and butter pickles, are for 1 quart jar each. You can adjust the amounts accordingly.

Sour Dill Pickles
1 pound pickling cucumbers sliced
1/2 cup white onion sliced
3 garlic cloves rough chopped

1 tablespoon kosher salt (don’t use table salt, the iodine will make your pickles dark)
2 cups crushed ice

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt (don’t use table salt, the iodine will make your pickles dark)
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2-3 sprigs fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

1 quart jar with lid and ring, clean
1 sauce pan (for brine)
1 large pot filled with boiling water

Place sliced cucumbers, onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt and ice into a large bowl and toss together and set aside for an hour.

Make sure your jar and lid and ring are clean. Start water boiling in the large pot. Place fresh dill into jar and set aside. In sauce pan combine 1/2 tablespoon salt, water, vinegar, chili flakes, celery seed and chili flakes. Boil for 5 minutes.

Rinse off the cucumbers and onions and garlic and pack into the jar with the dill. Carefully pour the hot vinegar mixture over the cucumbers. Make sure there is 1/4 inch of head room between the top lip of the jar and the liquid. Place the lid on the jar and tighten the ring. Place in the pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove jars from water with jar tongs (or you can ladle out the hot water and when the jars are mostly out of the water you can use pot holders to take the jars out) and let cool on the counter. Lids will pop after a couple minutes. If they don’t in an hour you can press your finger to the middle of the lid and it should go down and not come up. If it does pop back up, even when it’s cool, put the jar in the fridge and use it from there. If it doesn’t pop back up you can store it in a dark cupboard for a long time. Not sure how long since we tend to use them pretty fast but at least a year if not longer.

Bread and Butter Pickles
1 pound pickling cucumbers sliced
1/2 cup white onion sliced
6 garlic cloves rough chopped

1 tablespoon kosher salt (don’t use table salt, the iodine will make your pickles dark)
2 cups crushed ice

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt (don’t use table salt, the iodine will make your pickles dark)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon tumeric powder

1 quart jar with lid and ring, clean
1 sauce pan (for brine)
1 large pot filled with boiling water

Place sliced cucumbers, onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt and ice into a large bowl and toss together and set aside for an hour.

Make sure your jar and lid and ring are clean. Start water boiling in the large pot. In sauce pan combine 1/2 tablespoon salt, water, vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, chili flakes and tumeric powder. Boil for 5 minutes.

Rinse off the cucumbers and onions and garlic and pack into the jar. Carefully pour the hot vinegar mixture over the cucumbers. Make sure there is 1/4 inch of head room between the top lip of the jar and the liquid. Place the lid on the jar and tighten the ring. Place in the pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove jars from water with jar tongs (or you can ladle out the hot water and when the jars are mostly out of the water you can use pot holders to take the jars out) and let cool on the counter. Lids will pop after a couple minutes. If they don’t in an hour you can press your finger to the middle of the lid and it should go down and not come up. If it does pop back up, even when it’s cool, put the jar in the fridge and use it from there. If it doesn’t pop back up you can store it in a dark cupboard for a long time. Not sure how long since we tend to use them pretty fast but at least a year if not longer.

Artichoke Day!

When I opened up my Facebook today I saw a post from a page that I follow (Click Here) saying it was Artichoke Day. So I clicked on the link and found a great article all about artichokes. Artichokes: Tips + Tales + Recipes You should take a look at it if you like artichokes, it’s worth reading.

I love artichokes. And living my whole life in California, at one point living quite near Watsonville, one of the largest producers of my favorite prickly foods, I’ve eaten tons of them, in many different ways. So I thought I would share some of my thoughts and insights into this unusual food.

Wikipedia says:

The Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)[2] is a perennial thistle originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows to 1.4 metres (4.6 ft) to 2 metres (6.6 ft) tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery glaucous-green leaves 50 centimetres (20 in) – 82 centimetres (32 in) long. The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8 centimetres (3.1 in) to 15 centimetres (5.9 in) diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard. These are inedible in older larger flowers.

What it doesn’t say is that it’s a scary looking plant, most thistles are, and that it’s a wonderful vegetable to eat.

This is just the way I prepare artichokes normally, cleaning and steaming them.

Preparing the Artichoke.
It’s an easy task though it’s a bit prickly if you’re not careful. And this is how I prepare a large one for cooking. First I put it on the cutting board on it’s side. Taking a sharp serrated knife I cut off about an inch of the top where the thorns are. If you want you can also take a pair of sissors and clip the thorns off the remaining tips but I don’t bother with that step. Then I cut off most of the stem, they can be really fiberous and hard to eat but you can peel them with a vegetable peeler and eat them if you like. Then I pull off the small leaves, usually they are split, that are nearest to the stem since they don’t have much to eat on them. If you aren’t going to cook them right away you can submerge them in lemon water to prevent the cut surfaces from turning brown.

Cooking the artichoke.
In a large pot with a lid I put a steamer basket and about 2 inches of water, coming up the the bottom of the basket. Pile in the artichokes making sure there is some room around each of them. Squeeze a lemon so the juice gets into the leaves/heart of the chokes and sprinkle on a pinch of salt onto each one. Cover the pot and bring the water for a boil. Once boiling I turn down the heat to medium and let it cook for about 30 minutes, 45 minutes if they are really big. Once the time is up turn off the heat and let them sit covered for about 10 minutes longer.

Serving the artichoke.
This is a finger food, sorry, there is no other way to eat it. The easiest way to eat one is to peel off the leaves, one at a time, dip them in something, then scrape the inside of the leaf, with the dip, on your teeth. When you get towards the middle the leaves will be so thin and soft you can bite off the ends instead of scraping them or you might be able to eat the entire leaf. In the middle is the choke, which is the flower part of the artichoke.

This part you shouldn’t eat though I’ve known people to eat them. It’s kind of hairy and hard to chew. Scrape that part out with a spoon. The remaining portion, the heart and the cap and the stem, you can cut up and eat with a fork.

Dips.
Mayonnaise is #1 on the list. You can go with store bought or you can Make Your Own, personally I like the home made stuff better with artichokes since it is tangier than store bought. Or you can mix your mayo with something, like lemon juice or herbs, to make it more interesting.

Another dip would be a simple oil and vinegar, like a Balsamic Salad Dressing or something even simpler like 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar, pinch of salt, pinch of pepper, 1 teaspoon dried basil. Mix well and serve in little dishes on the side for dipping.

Marinated Artichoke Hearts.
A favorite of mine and so easy to make.
Find some baby artichokes, if you can’t find them in a store you may be able to get them at a farmer’s market. 2 to 3 pounds should do. Trim the stems up until they are about 1/2 inch long. Peel off the outside leaves until the color starts to get lighter. Don’t peel off so many leaves that you can see the heart, just a couple layers. The inside leaves will be tender enough after cooking to eat. Trim off the top of the artichoke making sure you’ve got all the points off. Use a knife and trim the bottom of the leaves off the cap.
This is a great step-by-step guide on how to trim your baby artichokes.
To cook them all you have to do is throw them into a pot of salted water and boil for about 10-15 minutes or until they are soft. Drain and let cool. Cut them in half, then in quarters making sure there is a bit of the cap on each piece. Pack them into a jar with 1 cup water, 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup white wine (you can use red for both the vinegar and the wine but your artichokes will turn out purple), 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried basil, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, pinch of red pepper flakes, 3 large garlic cloves, sliced thin, and 1/4 onion, sliced thin. If there is a lot of artichokes not covered by the liquid you can add more vinegar and oil until most of them are covered. Put the jar in your fridge and every day give it a gentile shake. In about a week they are ready to eat but the longer they sit the better they are.

Cousin Ann’s Artichoke Dip.
Easy recipe, perfect for the holidays or any time really.
2 cups marinated artichoke hearts, drained, save 1/2 cup of the juice
1 cup mayo
2 cups parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together all the ingredients along with the 1/2 cup artichoke marinade. Press down into a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, uncover, bake for another 10 minutes or until it is bubbly and the artichokes are starting to brown on the edges. Cool for 15 minutes and put in a serving dish/bowl. Serve with bread or veggies or crackers.

These are not the only ways to eat artichokes. The internet is riddled with recipes. So take a chance, try a new artichoke recipe. 🙂

Call me crazy!

I went to cash and carry and found a deal. A deal too good to pass up. Especially with St. Patrick’s day coming up.

Yes, that is corned beef.
16.25 pounds of it.

Wow.

We are HUGE fans of this particular cut of meat, we eat it as much as I can, especially this time of year when it goes on sale. This was roughly $1.70 a pound. Super cheap.

So.
What am I going to do with it? Split it first of all. Probably into 4 pieces. One will go to mom. One will be cooked Sunday night. The other two I’m hoping to be able to cram into my over-stuffed freezer so we can have another on the 17th and another some time after that.

Cooking the beast.
Before cooking I usually soak it in water over night. That way some of the salt will come out since corning the beef makes it really salty and even a few hours soaking in water will reduce the salt content. Then after a nice long soak it will go into the crock pot with some fresh water and spices*. Note: if you put the spices into a tea ball they won’t be all over the meat when it’s done cooking. I set the crock pot on high for 8-10 hours. When it’s down to 2 hours to go I’ll add carrots, potatoes and onions. When it’s down to 30 minutes I’ll add, if there is room, a head of cabbage** cleaned and quartered. If there isn’t room I’ll put the cabbage in a sauce pot with a lid and ladle a couple cups of the cooking liquid from the corned beef and veggies onto the cabbage. Then replace the lid and steam the cabbage for about 10 minutes. Before serving I’ll let the beef rest on a platter for 10 minutes so it will be easier to slice. I always serve it with a honey mustard sauce that I make myself. It’s easy to make and it stores in the fridge for a long time. 2 parts honey, 2 parts grainy mustard, 1 part apple cider vinegar. That’s it. Mix it together and put in a squeeze bottle or jar.

*Spices: a mixture usually comes with your corned beef but sometimes you like to mix your own. A good mix is black pepper corns, mustard seed, cinnamon sticks, celery seed and bay leaf. Or whatever you like, it’s up to you.

**Cabbage: instead of regular cabbage I like to use savoy cabbage. It’s got better flavor and it doesn’t make your belly upset if you aren’t used to eating a lot of cabbage.

Herbs

Fresh Herbs

We all use dried herbs. Or at least we should. But what we don’t use, and I’m including myself, is fresh herbs. And we should. They add an amazing flavor componant to almost any dish. Fresh herbs are avaliable in your average grocery store and are fairly inexpensive. But the problem is you buy a bunch, use it for one or two dishes, then it wilts and goes bad in the fridge. And of course right when you realize it’s nasty is when you need it for another recipe.

An alternative to this happening is you can dry the herbs after you use them but before they end up as mush. An easy way is to sandwich them in paper towels and place them in the phone book. Think of this like pressing flowers. But if you do this you need to check them every day so when they are just dried you can crumble them up and put them in a spice container. If you let them go too long in the paper towel and phone book you will lose all their flavor and you might as well frame them.

Another way to dry them quickly is to do another Alton Brown tip. For this you will need a couple cellulose air filters (hardware store), make sure you don’t have the fiberglass ones, a box fan (K-Mart) and a couple bungee cords. Basically you wash the herbs and lay them in the crinkles of one of the air filters. Then put the other filter over the herbs. Use the bungee cords to strap the filters to the front of the box fan, where the air comes out. Turn on the fan on high for about 2 hours. Check the herbs and they should be dry. It’s amazing. Be sure to store all dry herbs in a air tight container in a cupboard or a container that will let no light in. They will taste fresher longer this way.

Then you have the option of buying the herbs in a tube. I really like this because the herbs stay in the tube in the fridge and they stay good for a long time. Time enough for me to use the whole tube without nastiness.

Growing herbs. It’s something we all think of but few of us actually do. Right now I have flat leaf parsley, lemon thyme, mink and chives growing in my back yard. And I use them all the time. But I live in an area that isn’t good to grow much else outside. It’s just not warm enough for it. So instead I’m trying to grow basil and oregano in my kitchen window. We’ll see how that works out. Growing your own herbs is great because you can use them as you need them, they don’t go bad when they are still on the plant, and you have what you need at your fingertips. I really recommend trying to grow your own herbs. If nothing else it’s super cheap.

Next topic: using the fresh herbs. There are a million dishes that fresh herbs are good in. The problem is that a lot of people don’t realize that many different herbs can be used in many different ethnic dishes other than what the mind first thinks of.

For example. Basil. You think Italian, right? Red sauce, pizza, even Stuffed Chicken Breast. But you can also add fresh basil to Thai food or Indian food. It adds a nice sweet taste to something that is usually spicy. Same thing with cilantro. Cilantro is usually thought of as a Hispanic ingredient but it’s regularly added to Asian foods as well. Parsley, the flat leaf kind, is another one that can go for pretty much anything. My recipe for borscht, Russian beet stew, tastes wonderful with some fresh parsley in it.

So, to sum up, buy fresh herbs as much as you can. They are great in anything. Buy tube fresh herbs since they last longer and don’t really have a drop in quality. Grow your herbs if you can, it’s really worth it. Dry your fresh herbs before they get nasty. Store in an air tight container away from light. And finally use herbs in all that you can. They make a world of difference in your food.

OOPS!

It seems to be my week for forgetting. I forgot to thaw the pork chops for dinner tonight so I’ll pass along my tip for quick thawing meat. It takes about 1-2 hours depending on how much meat you are thawing but I’m working with about a pound of pork chops that are all bunched up, not laid out nicely and stacked flat. If you have a larger chunk of meat, like a tritip or a roast (I don’t thaw roasts, I cook them from frozen, but I know some people like to brown a roast before sticking it in the crock pot or oven) it will take longer.

Today’s brine is water, salt, pepper, sugar, bay leaves, celery seed, garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, fresh thyme and cranberries. Yum.

Quick Thawing Tip:
Take your meat and put it in a zip-top bag. You can add a brine (I did) or a marinade if you want but you don’t have to. Get out as much air as you can. Put the bag with the meat in a bowl or other vessel that will hold the whole thing with an inch or two above the bag. Fill the bowl with cold water and set your sink to dribble a little bit of cold water into the bowl and leave it running. The barely running cold water will provide convection and thaw your meat evenly without letting it get into the unsafe food temp zone of 40-140 degrees. This works great and I’ve done it many times when I realize it’s 4:00 and I haven’t thawed that piece of meat for dinner. It really doesn’t use much water but if you are worried about wasting you can just fill the bowl, let it sit 30 minutes then dump it out and refill it with cold water. It will take longer this way but it’s better than waiting for it to thaw on it’s own or trying to defrost in the microwave. I don’t know about you but I always end up cooking the outside of the meat and the inside is still frozen when I use the microwave.