Category: condiments

I can’t believe it’s… butter.

Julia Child might be my spirit animal. The mere fact that she once said, “if you’re afraid of butter, use cream” is enough for me. Not to mention the myriad of other amazingly awesome things about her, she was a butter lover. I’m a butter lover too. I love butter like there’s no tomorrow. I love olive oil, don’t get me wrong. Big hunks of crusty bread dipped in a high quality olive oil is as close to heaven as it gets. But butter! There’s NOTHING like butter. And I find I can never have too much of it around. So I decided to try my hand at making my own, & it’s deceptively simple.

Like making homemade bread, making homemade butter has a kind of impressive nature. It practically screams either “AMISH!” or “HOMESTEADER!” Which I assure you I am neither; as best evidenced by my extreme lack of any religion, my nose ring & my obsession for going out to eat & looking in mirrors.

Quick & simple homemade butter. Made in a stand mixer using just heavy cream (40-60% butterfat) & salt.

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Ch-ch-ch-chili oil.

Okay, guys. This is another one of those “not really a recipe” recipes. Meaning it’s more like a how-to, not so much a full on recipe, just like that tarragon vinegar I made.

Homemade chili oil how-to.

Yep. Chili oil. An incredibly versatile condiment used for both cooking & as a “garnish” if you will.

Chili oil (also called hot chili oil or hot oil) is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.

Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan peppergarlic, or paprika. The spices are soaked in oil. Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseedgrapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.

Chili oil is commercially available in glass jars, although it may also be made from scratch at home.[1] It is usually available by request at Chinese restaurants.

-Wikipedia

You can use any dried pepper you like, from Habanero (WHOA!) to chipotle to Ancho to Thai chili pepper (WHOA again!). Depending on the pepper you use, your flavor will differ or range from spicy to mild & smoky to hot & fiery. And of course, that depends on your taste. But choose wisely- if you’re not a fan of hot stuff, don’t use a super hot pepper. The internet is a great resource for Scoville scale measurements & also to find out what peppers taste like what.

Ever since my debacle last year with searching for chipotles, I’ve since learned to never be without dried chilies. When I find them, I buy them. I haven’t in a while because it just so happens I have a full stash. But I have noticed that this year, dried peppers are much more common, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding any. If you grow your own peppers, you can dehydrate them yourself to use in flavoring oil or other recipes. I keep my stash in a quart jar, hidden in a cool, dark, dry place so they stay dry.

Dried chilies for homemade chili oil.

The oil you use will also depend on you. What will you be using the oil for? Olive oil is good if you’re using it as a garnish. Vegetable oil, corn oil or peanut oil are best if you plan on cooking with it. Sesame oil is not suitable for high heat, so it’s best used if you’re planning on sprinkling the oil on top of already cooked food (stir fry, maybe? Or fried rice?). Coconut oil can be used over relatively high heat, and has little flavor, so it might be a decent choice as well. Whole Foods Market has a good rundown of oils on their website, you might wanna take a peek.

All I did to make this oil was:

  1. First, I found a bottle to use. I bought this little bottle at Michael’s for like $1.20, but you can find ones like it just about anywhere, or you can use a jar.
  2. Then I heated a 1/4 cup of oil over low heat. I used corn oil myself. Once it was hot but (not scaldingly so), I added a whole dried chili & 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, and then I let the chile get hot. I did NOT let it cook! I just heated it enough to release the oils & flavor.
  3. I removed it from heat & let it cool to room temperature. Then, using tongs, I put the whole chili in the bottle. I poured the chili oil over it, then poured more fresh oil in to fill the bottle, and then I let it sit in a cool, dark place for one week before using. The longer it sits, the hotter/more flavorful it gets.

Obviously, you can add more chilies if you’re using a larger container. And you’d use more oil, as well. Experimentation is the name of the game!

How to make an easy chili oil.

A certain lemon je ne sais quoi.

Preserved lemons are probably as old as lemons & salt themselves. The version I’m giving you is the most popular on the internet these days: Moroccan preserved lemons. But there are other versions as well; Russian and Indian to name a few. The “Moroccan” version is pretty common, and there are sources that say that there can be references to it found in a British cookbook from the early 1800′s. But it’s been a Moroccan secret ingredient long before that. The Greeks, the Chinese, Indians, Africans and Cambodians all preserve lemons and have for centuries. Some preserve them whole, some slice them into small pieces and other just into quarters. Some add vinegar, some add more lemon juice, some just use salt and others still add spices or chiles. Or even some sugar.

When added to a dish, even subtly, they add a certain “je ne sais quoi”; a certain something you can’t quite put your finger on.

I have no Moroccan ancestry, no mediterranean or Eastern ancestry at all actually. I’m from Western European/Eastern European stock, but the absolute furthest East I mean is the border of Poland and Russia (or whatever countries they became after). I’ve never eaten a preserved lemon before, nor have I seen one in person. As much of a food lover that I am, I don’t much care for East Indian fare. I’ve got pedestrian and almost child-like tastes when it comes to food; pub food, fresh salads, well-made pastries, bacon. Another confession? I don’t like lamb; a dish that preserved lemons are frequently paired with. But regardless of all that, this intrigued me. And when things intrigue me, I want to make them. I want to figure them out and get to the bottom of what the deal is with them. Why are they popular now? Why has there been a resurgence in the creation of these things? What are they good for?

Because I genuinely didn’t know. I never ate one.

But if it’s one thing I do know, it’s this: at this time of year, citrus is aplenty. Every other post on every other blog is about citrus something-or-other. Blood oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits… they’re all over the place. But there’s only so much marmalade and curd one can make. There are only so many cocktails you can make with an orange slice or a lemon wedge. The lemons in the bowl on the table stare you in the face every morning, to the point where they start to look possessed after a while, and you need something new & different to make with them before they become a total waste (or, before you decorate your entire house in dehydrated citrus slices).

(The above photos were taken on day two. By day four, my lemons weren’t quite entirely submerged in juice, so I poured a little more in.)

PRESERVED LEMONS

Ingredients:

  • Clean, sterilized jar, pint or quart
  • Meyer or regular lemons, scrubbed clean (preferably organic), 3-4 for pint jar, 8-10 for quart
  • Kosher salt or all natural sea salt
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Bay leaf, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, or other spices (optional- I added none for my first batch)

Directions:

  1. The concept is very simple: cut the lemons into quarters, but not all the way through (leave a part attached so that the four pieces aren’t completely separated). If there are little nubbins on the ends, specifically if using regular lemons not Meyer, cut those off first.
  2. Then open the lemon, and add a tablespoon of Kosher salt to it. Add a layer of Kosher salt to the bottom of your clean jar, and add the first lemon. You can lay it sideways or stand it up, depending on how much room you have, how big your jar is and how many lemons you’ve got to use. Add another sprinkling of salt on top. Repeat until all the lemons are used & your jar is full. If you want, add your spices along with two tablespoons lemon juice (both optional), then add a layer of Kosher salt on top before closing the jar (not optional).
  3. Give the jar a shake every day for three to four days, and every other day open it and press down on the lemons to expel more juice. After the fifth day, they should be submerged in their own juices. If they are not, at this point you’ll have to top them off with extra lemon juice. Any “exposed” lemons can turn nasty.
  4. Now this is the part where people have a difference of opinion; some say at this point you should refrigerate them for 3-4 weeks and then they’re ready for use. Others say you can now process them in a waterbath for 10 minutes and they’ll be shelf stable until you’re ready to use them. And others still say they can be kept out of the fridge on the counter for use right away. I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion & taste, so do as you like.

You can use any kind of jar you want for this, providing you won’t be processing them. A parfait jar works fine, as does an old spaghetti sauce jar (thoroughly cleaned out of course). This recipe works for all varieties of lemons and also for limes! I used two Meyer lemons and two Eurekas myself, and I think I’m going to give it a whirl with some limes.

Then, around day three or four of sittin’ in that ol’ jar, this is how they look:

Alright, so now that you’ve made them, what do you do with them? After some initial internet browsing, I discovered these little gems are pretty versatile. The general rule is to separate the rind from the flesh and pith and use the rind, but some folks do in fact use the pulp as well. The flavor is supposedly amazingly bright yet delicate, bold but not as bitter as a fresh lemon. The skin actually becomes so soft and tasty, you can eat it straight out of the jar (just give them a rinse first, to get all that salt off).

And let’s not even talk about how amazing the SMELL is when you open the jar.

Seriously. The smell is like, pure lemon. You think a fresh cut lemon smells good? This smells a million times better. Cleaner, less bitter smelling, if that makes sense.

But it doesn’t matter how they look or smell if you can’t figure out how the hell to eat them. Thanks to a great article at SeriousEats, I discovered you can use them with ice cream or semifreddo as well as on savory dishes. Perfect. Here are some other ideas:

  • With fish- the preserved lemons can be used however a regular lemon would be with fish, both raw fish (sushi) and cooked fish
  • With poultry- same idea as above; lemon pepper chicken, etc.
  • In salads- separate the rind from the flesh, slice it thinly and top a salad with it
  • In salsa- adds a tangy brightness to tomato or mango salsas
  • With lamb & vegetable tagines
  • In a couscous, quinoa, bulgur or pearl barley dish
  • With a curry
  • On top of vanilla ice cream or mixed into a lemon ice cream
  • The juice can be added to a bloody mary

Of course, mine aren’t quite ready yet. So when they are, I’ll be sure to give you all an update and maybe even a recipe for how to use them.

My bloody valentine.

Listen, I know I’ve been overloading you with cutesy, Valentine-y stuff lately. I know that. I don’t really care if you like it or not, though, sorry to say. Because I love it. I actually get more pissed at the people who bitch constantly about how much they hate Valentine’s Day than I do about seeing the hearts & candies in the stores starting on New Years Eve. If it really bothers you so much, pretend it doesn’t exist. Go celebrate something else like Chinese New Year or Mardi Gras & stop complaining. Just ignore it. Football bothers me- but I understand there’s some kind of sick obsession with it in this country so I just ignore it. Which is hard, because it’s everywhere, but I manage. If you like it, then good for you. I just don’t, so I spend my winter Sunday’s baking, cooking, blasting punk rock music or watching things like Inglorious Basterds instead of watching grown men in tight pants tackle one another in hopes of not becoming the next paraplegic on the news. I spent Super Bowl Sunday shopping, then eating homemade nachos supreme & watching Downton Abbey. Now, I don’t tell everyone else not to watch it. I don’t constantly spout off about how awful & boring I find it all day, every day. I just get on with my life. Just like the Valentine’s Day haters should do.

However… I do understand that if there was a blog that I read fairly regularly that posted non-stop football crap for a month I’d be tired of it & maybe a little bit turned off.

So today I’m here to make amends. I’m posting something that’s still appropriate, but yet not quite as overtly dyed-pink & cheerful & cheeky as heart cupcakes or rose tarts: blood orange curd. There’s a special place in my heart for blood oranges.

And I’ll tell you why: Blood oranges are like the citrus family’s dark secret; like the black sheep cousin of the Navel orange, you know the one… who hangs out in a dark room, smokes cloves & listens to death metal.

And that’s sorta something I relate to. Not that I’m a black sheep per se, not within my family so much. Yeah, I’m different… but I was always accepted & appreciated. However when you’re the Agnostic punk rock short-haired bleached blonde Catholic school girl who tells your Theology teacher (a nun) that you’re pro-euthanasia & don’t quite understand why women can’t be priests, there is some level of that, somewhere. In my uniform I (sorta) looked like anyone else in school… until after school, or until you looked closely and saw the Sharpie-written lyrics on my blazer, my spike collars and dog collars, safety pins in my ears, my too-many-earrings-according-to-the-student-handbook and numerous band patches & pins on my backpack. And so I relate to that metaphor, and the blood orange. It’s sinister bloody-colored inside is almost concealed by the bright orange skin, it almost tricks you into thinking it’s just like any other orange. Maybe one that’s a bit overripe? And then you slice it- BAM! Deep, dark red flesh and a juice to match. There’s a reason they use a blood orange (not a regular orange) in the opening sequence of Dexter.

They’re right up my alley, truthfully.

And they’re also perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Conveniently, they’re in season right now. And if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a few, well then you better make good use of them. They make beautiful marmalades, gorgeous cupcakes, they’re beautiful when candied. And of course, when made into a curd, it’s a lovely pink color… which is perfect for a Valentine’s Day breakfast. It elevates your average toast to something spectacular. (heart shaped toast or English muffins not required!)

Or use it for dessert. When used as a topping for vanilla or chocolate ice cream- or even yogurt, it’s amazing. Another idea? Make it into a tart. Or using an ice cream maker, swirl it into plain homemade frozen yogurt for blood orange yogurt. It makes an amazing cake or cupcake filling too.

When you’re picking the oranges, be sure to pick ones that aren’t bright orange. The outside color is usually indicative of the color of the flesh & juice, so pick one that has a darker flesh, or even a mottled orangey-red flesh. That way you’re assured a deep burgundy flesh, and juice, and therefore a bright pinky red curd. My oranges were Moro, so they actually have a darker flesh & stronger flavor anyway, but I picked middle of the range ones that weren’t too dark, but weren’t too light. Actually the outer skin of all of mine were bright orange on one side, and a deep red on the other. I could’ve gotten ones that were so dark maroon on the outside they looked almost alien. In retrospect, I should have!

The thing that’s great about this recipe is that it doesn’t use so many egg yolks that you end up with an orange-colored curd. Orange colored curd is great, if it’s plain orange curd. But blood orange curd calls for a reddish color, doesn’t it? At the very least, a pretty rosy pink, like mine. But if you choose darker oranges you can really achieve a really bright pinkish red curd.

Also… listen up. Curd is a terrible word. Let’s be honest. Everyone hates it, from chefs to home cooks to pastry chefs to bloggers. It’s horrible to say, it rhymes with turd and it turns people off completely from trying it. Although, in Southern America they call lemon curd “lemon cheese”… and as far as I’m concerned that’s not much better than curd. But I hope that doesn’t put you off from trying it. It really is something else. But here’s the deal: curd isn’t disgusting. I swear. It’s basically similar to a lemon meringue pie filling, or in this case substitute blood orange for lemon. It’s like a creamy, citrus custard. Like a citrus pudding, kind of.

BLOOD ORANGE CURD (adapted from Local Kitchen who adapted it from Rose Levy Beranbaum)

Makes slightly over 1 cup (8 oz.), it can be doubled

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium to large blood oranges, scrubbed clean and dried
  • 1 large egg and one large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • a pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Zest enough of the oranges so you end up with roughly 1 1/2 teaspoons of finely grated zest. Set aside in a medium bowl.
  2. Juice the blood oranges, making sure to get every last bit out of them! Strain the juice to get out any pulpy bits or miscellaneous sneaky seeds. In a medium saucepan, over low heat, reduce the juice to 1/2 cup and set aside to cool in a measuring cup. Be sure to stir often while it’s reducing to avoid scorching.
  3. Rinse out the saucepan and place the sugar, eggs and salt in it. Whisk them together. Add the butter and slowly whisk in the reduced orange juice.
  4. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes together and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (roughly 15-20 minutes for me).
  5. Once thickened, strain the curd into the bowl with the zest in it. Then stir the zest into the curd to incorporate. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the curd into a clean jar. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Here’s a secret: if ALL you’ve got is a 1/2 cup of blood orange juice, you can just use that without the reduction. It’ll still work. It won’t be as concentrated, and the color probably won’t be as amazing… but the basic product will be successful. And best of all? EDIBLE! And some people don’t like zest in their curd. I know this, but the point of the zest is to impart even more flavor & the scent of the fruit to the curd. However if you’re one of those people, I’d add the zest into the mixture while it’s cooking then strain it out. That’s a matter of personal preference, of course.

Some people have trouble with curd. I never have- it’s always come together relatively quickly & easily for me, regardless of  whatever the recipe, or whatever source it’s from. If you have trouble, and it fails, rest assured you are not the first & will not be the last. But also don’t give up! If it scorches or it doesn’t thicken, etc, these are all just steps on a ladder. Learning the way. I know it sucks to waste materials, especially if blood oranges are really hard to find near you. But you’ll get it, I promise. Maybe try it out first with a plain lemon curd; those are cheaper and easier to find.

The recipe above made one cup, or 8 ounces, of curd. You might want to double it if you’re thinking of using it for a cake filling or a large tart filling. But I find one jar is perfect for a slow, sweet, laid-back breakfast.

Enjoy your Valentine’s morning with a little burst of pink sunshine, for you & your bloody valentine. (hey! that rhymed!)

Cold & flu season be damned.

Yup. It’s that time of year again. FLU SEASON.

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Confession time: I have never gotten a flu shot. Ever. Not when my mother was on chemo, not when my grandmother was over 90 years old and I was taking care of her, not when I took the train into Manhattan every day during the winter with sweaty, stinky people coughing & sneezing all over me. Not even when I was still in college & they “highly recommended it.” I never once got the flu, and in turn never once gave anyone else the flu. And don’t lecture me- I don’t plan on ever getting a flu shot, unless I’m in a compromising situation health-wise. First of all, I recently read a study that said that green tea supplements actually worked better to prevent the flu than vaccinations. And also, another study that said due to the aluminum content in the shots, adults who received 5 or more flu shots were 10% more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who had 2 or fewer. And that was substantiated by an article I had read last year. True or not true, substantiated or not, outdated or not, it brings up a lot of questions. And it doesn’t seem like a risk I’d like to take. I realize health is not something to play around with. I’m not anti-vaccinations (quite the opposite actually), I especially think they’re important for children, and I would never tell anyone else what to do. I’m just not over-dramatic when it comes to my own health. I realize the flu can be serious… but I’m not in a high-risk group. I’m healthy. I’m not pregnant. I don’t have asthma or diabetes. And I much prefer to take my chances and avoid the doctor as much as possible. If I can’t cure it with NyQuil, orange juice, Tylenol and brandy/whiskey, then and only then do I consider a trip to the professionals. I haven’t taken antibiotics in over 4 years.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is about something you can make and can up that just might help ease some of the misery you might be put through later on in the season, whether you get a flu shot or not.

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It’s spiced honey! Very simple to make, very cheap to make, and it has a lot of health benefits.

Honey historically as been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Different honeys have different properties, which was known since ancient times. Much scientific research has been done, with emphasis of late on fighting infections in wounds. The antibacterial mechanisms known to date are H2O2, methylglyoxal(MGO), bee defensin-1, the osmotic effect and the pH.

In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. “Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| “It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process.” Some wound gels which contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval are now available to help treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey (manuka honey) may be useful in treating MRSA infections.) As an antimicrobial agent honey is useful in treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, chelation of free Iron, its slow release of hydrogen peroxide,[74] high acidity,[75] and the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal.

Honey also appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.

Lemon contains Vitamin C, which helps repel toxins. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial.

Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes”. A study conducted in 2007 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that specific plant terpenoids contained within cinnamon have potent antiviral properties.

Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.[34] Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.Cinnamon bark, a component of the traditional Japanese medicine Mao-to, has been shown in a 2008 study published in the Journal of General Virology to have an antiviral therapeutic effect. A 2011 study isolated a substance (CEppt) in the cinnamon plant that inhibits development of Alzheimer’s in mice. CEppt, an extract of cinnamon bark, seems to treat a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cloves (and clove oil) have long been shown in Western studies to assist in aiding with dental pain.However, studies to determine its effectiveness for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation have been inconclusive. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.

Tellimagrandin II is an ellagitannin found in S. aromaticum with anti-herpes virus properties. The clove buds have anti-oxidant properties.

But more than any of that- honey is just soothing, especially when ingested in a warm cup of something. So it stands to reason that some honey with lemon, cinnamon and cloves is something you’d want to make and have on hand for those miserable winter days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, barely able to swallow. But really, it’s equally delicious in a cup of hot black tea (or even better for your health: green tea) right before bed on a cold fall or winter night. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate it. Stir some of this into some hot apple cider. Hell, you can have a little in a glass of Jack Daniels too. They make that honey stuff, don’t they? Why not a spiced honey Jack cocktail?


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SPICED HONEY

Makes three 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic lemon, washed thoroughly, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cups liquid honey

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars, put your lids in hot water and prepare your water bath canner.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with two cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices from honey mixture and place two in each (still hot) jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle the hot honey into the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Place lids and bands, turning to fingertip tight, and place jars in canner.
  4. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check seal, then store.

Add it to your tea or even drizzle it on your toast. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy it! It only makes 3 8-oz. jars, and takes no time to pull together. I think you should try making some… in a few months, you might just be glad you did. Especially since the peak of flu season is in February. That’s a long way off, dudes.

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Instead of making 3- 8 oz. jars, I made 2 jars: one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. Not for anything, but a jar of this tied up with a pretty bow and a cute honey dipper would be a great gift to give someone. Not just for a get well gift (although that’s a great idea!), but even for the holidays. Or to bring as a hostess gift on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Just tie a note on it telling them it’s not just for when you’re sick… and they should try it in some hot brandy punch.

I also used two different kinds of honey mixed together, one was a bit lighter in color than the other. Strangely enough, the larger jar I made came out with a deeper color than the smaller jar. Not sure why. It could have been that one honey was a thicker or heavier consistency than the other, and the order in which I poured it into the jars factored in. If you use a flowery honey or Golden Blossom Honey, you’ll get a different flavor. Not a bad flavor at all, it’ll just have more complex notes than the lemon/clove/cinnamon. Also… honey does not expire. A sealed jar of honey can last forever (literally… ). And you don’t have to refrigerate the jars once you open them, since honey is stable at room temperature; the sugar content is too high and the moisture content too low for fungus to grow once it’s opened. According to the National Honey Board:

Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.

If in doubt, throw it out, and purchase a new jar of honey!

So you can open a jar in November and keep that same jar on your counter until spring with no bad consequences. Stay healthy, my fair readers.

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Sources & credits: American Limoges/Sebring Pottery china in “Royal Fortune” pattern; vintage (belonged to my grandmother), 16-oz. & 8-oz. Ball® jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

Hey melanzane, melanzane sott’olio.*

I first saw a recipe for this last summer on a blog, & I thought: wow, that’s interesting. Coming from a decidedly non-Italian family, I myself never ate eggplant in oil. I never had it in my house. However, I will say I never remember it being a staple in any homes I went to, either. Even the Italian ones. I had an Italian uncle by marriage, and I went to him & my aunt’s home for many dinners that he cooked: pasta fagioli, homemade pizzas, lasagne, etc. I also had many Italian friends with big old school Italian families & crazy huge Sunday dinners, and I never once saw a jar of eggplant in oil. I can’t say I really paid attention to something like that though, especially as a child. But apparently regardless of my total unobservance,  it is quite popular, as both a condiment and side dish.

I actually never ate eggplant as a child or young adult.

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I didn’t eat an eggplant myself until I was almost 27 years old.

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I know you’re probably thinking I’m insane. I’m not, I assure you. We can skip discussing my strange food phobias/quirks for now, okay? Let’s just stick to the topic at hand, which is eggplant in oil.

Let me give you the full background here: Last summer we were hit with Hurricane Irene (which thankfully was Category 1 as it got closer, but more like Tropical Storm Irene by the time it actually hit here) and she was a bitch. New York is never hit with hurricanes; by never I mean there have only been about 84 of them since the 17th century. And most of them- only if they hit directly and at their full power- have been, if not devastating, then massively destructive. Probably because it takes a monster of a storm to wind it’s way all the way up here keeping that strength the whole time. So Irene hits, & we were incredibly lucky to still have had a home, a car and power by the time she left, because many people here didn’t. But after that whatever veggies were on the vine before it hit pretty much weren’t anymore. I knew this would be the case ahead of time, so I just pulled all the vegetables that were growing (and were a decent/useable size) right off the plants. That meant that my eggplant wasn’t exactly large, it definitely wouldn’t have fed a family with an abundant eggplant parmigiana, which was my original plan. It was small and not very mature. After reading the aforementioned blog post about “melanzane sott’olio”, I sliced it up into thin slices just I like I saw on that blog and put it in a jar with some garlic, olive oil & oregano for my mother.

Not for me. Like I said above, it took me almost 30 years for me to even deign to try an eggplant. And I did, and I came to this realization: I am not a big eggplant fan. Unless it’s fried beyond recognition in seasoned bread crumbs & oil until crispy, and then slathered with melted mozzarella cheese & a delicious tomato sauce. And even then? I’d much rather have something else. Like the Local Kitchen said, it’s the slimy factor that gets me, I get the icks from slimy food (that explains why I don’t like oysters, either). The frying makes it crispy and kind of disguises the sliminess. Although at my friend Samantha’s wedding, I had a delish veggie casserole type-thing with a pastry topping & ricotta cheese, kinda like a veggie version of a pot pie, and it was loaded with eggplant. Not fried. But I still ate that shit like it was going out of style. That’s a rarity with me. However I know my mother loves eggplant, so I thought maybe she’d want some melanzane sott’olio for her sandwiches.

And whattaya know? It was a success! The tiny little 8 oz. jar I made for her didn’t last very long. I vowed to her I’d make another (larger) jar once I got my hands on fresh eggplant next summer (which would be this summer).

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But I didn’t grow any eggplant this summer. And time got away from me; I swear I don’t know where the summer went! I actually forgot ALL about the eggplants in oil until I saw that white eggplant at the market. It was sitting with a bunch of other white eggplants, and right next to it a bunch of equally lovely but skinnier lavender eggplants. All locally grown. All absolutely lovely. And I thought to myself, “I think it’s time for some melanzane sott’olio.” They were so pretty and plump, and for the most part unblemished. I figured I’d buy one of the bigger white ones and make a jar of pickled eggplants for my mother.

I’m such a good daughter.

Eggplant can be tricky for a lot of people. Most people complain it’s bitter, so they use the salting method to remove the bitterness. But the trouble is most of them either don’t let it “sweat” long enough or they don’t rinse all the salt off properly, so then it’s either still too bitter or it’s too salty. I’m quite sure that many an eggplant dish, all over the world, has been tossed in the garbage due to this mistake. But if you rinse it well, and then cook it in the vinegar mixture and squeeze it well, then you’ll be just fine. Also, if you’re using the white eggplant, it’s much less bitter than it’s darker counterparts, so this step is skip-able. I didn’t bother doing it, and everyone agreed there was no bitterness. Though if you’re a worry wart it won’t hurt you to do it. Just make sure you rinse all that salt off!

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It’s a very simple process. My directions that follow are for making ONE pint of this, using ONE eggplant. Adjust as necessary. Other than your eggplant, you’ll need:

  • salt
  • a container of olive oil (I used extra virgin, decent quality but not a very expensive one since it will just absorb the other flavors anyway)
  • oregano
  • hot pepper flakes
  • some red or white wine vinegar (depending on your taste), or even just plain old white vinegar if that’s all you’ve got.

If you want to add some thinly sliced garlic, basil leaves or other herbs that’s up to you. You’ll also need a pint jar. It’s fine to use one that isn’t a canning jar because there’s no canning involved, so make use of your old cleaned-out sauce jars or whatever.

Wash the eggplant and cut off the ends. If you prefer it peeled, then do that. I left the skin on mine, but you can’t tell since it’s white. There’s nothing wrong with the skin, it’s perfectly edible, so leave it on if it doesn’t bother you. If you use a purple eggplant it’ll add a nice color to the jar. Slice the eggplant fairly thin into about 1/4″ rounds, or if you prefer, slice it into strips. Using a colander over a large bowl, place a layer of eggplant in the colander then salt it. Repeat this process until all the eggplant is in the colander and salted. Place a plate on top of the eggplant and then weigh it down. I like to use a bag of sugar or flour if I have it around. Leave it like this for 8-12 hours. All the bitterness and moisture in the eggplant will leech out because of the salt. Now you can rinse it thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly. If you want to do it one more time, you can, but you don’t have to. And if you do, don’t leave it another 12 hours- I think 2 would suffice for a second round. Place the rinsed off eggplant on a plate covered with paper towels (or a clean, thin dish towel), making sure the paper towels hang over the sides of the plate. Raise the sides of the paper towels to form a “bag” holding the eggplant and gently squeeze the remaining moisture out. Now you’re ready to cook.

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In a medium saucepan, combine roughly 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring it to a boil and add the eggplant. Cook the eggplant for about 2-3 minutes, making sure it’s all submerged by pressing down with a wooden spoon occasionally. If you’d prefer to cook the eggplant in small batches, then you only need 1/2 cup of each. Place the cooked eggplant on another plate covered with paper towels and let dry for 20 minutes, or pat and squeeze dry once it’s cool enough to touch. I like to keep the eggplant hot before I add it to the jar, so I squeeze it and pat it dry (or as dry as I can get it). Add the cooked pickled eggplant to a clean jar in layers: first adding a few slices of eggplant, then some oregano, a few more slices of eggplant, then some hot pepper flakes, and so on, covering each layer with olive oil. Do this until your jar is full. I used dried oregano from my garden last summer, but fresh is okay too. You can add some chopped or thinly sliced garlic, like I mentioned above, if you wish, or even some basil. Maybe even a sliced fresh Bell pepper, if you want to get really wild & crazy. Close the lid and once the jar is cooled (if you filled it with hot eggplant, that is), pop that bad boy in the fridge. The olive oil will congeal, but if you remove it from the fridge and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen for 15-20 minutes before eating, it’ll re-liquify.

Some say to let it sit for a week or so to let the flavors fuse. My mom eats hers as soon as I give it to her. Do as you like.

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Some ideas for eating it? Well, for one it’s good right out of the (room temperature) jar. Also, it’s excellent on sandwiches, pretty much any kind. My most recent utilization (when I’m cooking for other people, people who enjoy eggplant much far than I) is to add some of it to hot pasta, with or without sauce. Just sprinkle a little cheese on top to finish it off and you’re good to go.

I have heard/seen people who leave the jars out on the counter for weeks (some say months) at a time. They have never died of botulism, nor did their ancestors who did things this way for centuries. There are also people who process the jars of eggplant in oil using a waterbath canner to seal them for shelf-storage. I’ve done this with peppers, myself, although they never really lasted long enough to pose a health risk either way (and were refrigerated once opened). However, I can’t in good conscience tell you to do this, because… well.. this is where I have to do the USDA/FDA public service announcement:

Herbs and oils are both low-acid and together could support the growth of the disease-causing Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Oils may be flavored with herbs if they are made up for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within 2 to 3 days. There are no canning recommendations. Fresh herbs must be washed well and dried completely before storing in the oil. The very best sanitation and personal hygiene practices must be used. Pesto is an uncooked seasoning mixture of herbs, usually including fresh basil, and some oil. It may be frozen for long term storage; there are no home canning recommendations.

Preserving in oil is currently not recommended. Oil may protect botulism organisms trapped in a water droplet. Furthermore, oil may have a deleterious effect on lid gaskets and the at least one manufacturer of home canning lids recommends against it.

-USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation

I have to be responsible and make you aware of any dangers that keeping this out unrefrigerated presents. That said, you’re all adults and you can make your own decisions. If you can make the decision to buy cigarettes, buy a 2-liter of Coke or get behind the wheel of your car after you’ve had a few beers, then you can decide for yourself whether or not this is a risk you want to take. I spoke briefly during my Canning for Dummies post about safely canning foods, and oils can’t be safely canned (even in a pressure canner). Therefore, it’s only recommended for use immediately or to store in the fridge. But again… you’re all adults. And you’re going to do what you want either way. I just don’t have to be responsible for it! I did say, “I told you so.”

And if you enjoy this idea, why not try some shrimp this way?

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*Sung to the tune of ‘Mambo Italiano,’ of course.

Summertime… and the livin’s easy.

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”
-Sylvia Plath

 

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Summer has pretty much all but flown by, hasn’t it? Seems like yesterday I posted a little group of pictures of the start of summer… & now all the Back-to-School stuff has infiltrated the stores & it seems as though summer is breathing its last breaths. Not only that, but we’ve been really getting pounded with rain, and when it’s a cool day combined with rain it seems far more like fall than summer. As far as I’m concerned, there’s plenty of summer left. But I don’t think many other people agree with me. Which sucks, actually, because I feel like I’m being forced to buy sweaters and trench coats and rain boots and I AM NOT READY FOR THAT. I’m still playing in the garden, enjoying the sunshine, wearing tank tops, cutoffs & flip flops. I won’t automatically shift into “fall mode” in late August and you can’t make me. It’s been raining a lot here lately, actually, and quite heavily. But despite the rain, it’s still warm, and I’m getting a little tired of emptying the water out of my fire pit and trying to keep my plants alive and standing. Oh, August rain. You can tell, though, that there’s a change in the air. The breeze is different, the sun patterns are different. Fall is coming.

However… those days when it’s still over 85° degrees with insane humidity and the sun is beating down on me brutally, I’m reminded that yes, it is indeed still summer. So I’m relishing it. Still having picnics & cook-outs on my insect plates!

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But at this time of year I feel like a kid- you know how it is when you’re young, and when it’s still summer, and you’re inhaling the scent of chlorine off your skin, catching bugs in jars, staying up late & peeling the sunburned skin off your back… but everyone else (read: adults) seems to be talking about what textbooks you need, who ended up in Mrs. So-and-So’s class, why you need five 3-subject notebooks for Science and whether or not you read your summer reading books (I always did). There’s something to be said for the excitement of shopping for school supplies. The way you feel when you open that notebook and the first page is clean, unruffled and stark white, and it’s similar to the school year itself; right now, it’s a clean slate, anything can happen. It’s filled with promise and the first few weeks (and pages) are nice and smooth. Then it all goes to shit. By the end of the year, the notebook is dog-eared, frayed and probably has no cover left on it, not to mention is stained with almost every lunch you’ve eaten since at least November. Wait, I’m getting off track here. Anyway while there is something to be said for all that newness & excitement… let’s not forget though that the end of summer is officially September 21st, which means fall is technically a little less than one full month away.

There’s still a ton of summer left, true. Lots of beach days (although with no lifeguards), barbecues, warm nights sitting outside until it’s way late, enjoying the nice weather. But the date on the calendar means school starts very soon if it hasn’t already, & those last minute vacations are coming to an end. And most people mark the end of summer as Labor Day, so as summer itself “winds to a close,” it’s time to squeeze in all those summery recipes I didn’t make yet. I said this summer would be the summer of me making stuff I never made before… and that really didn’t go as planned. The summer switched rapidly between being swelteringly hot and torrentially rainy; like some kind of bizarre New York rainforest. So most of the time it was just too hot to cook, even when it rained. I wanted to make Miemo’s mama’s egg rolls, but it was too hot to fry anything! But this is definitely something I never made before that it wasn’t too hot to make: pickled shrimp.

Briny, faintly spicy pickled shrimp are a staple of Southern cuisine. In this Georgia-inspired version from from Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South (Clarkson Potter, 2011), frozen raw shrimp are a fine substitute for fresh. As Hugh notes in his comment below, if the shrimp remain covered with oil, they’ll last for “a good week in the fridge. The longer they sit in their pickle liquid, the picklier they get.”

This recipe first appeared in our October 2011 issue along with Wendell Brock’s book review “Sweet and Tart: A Southerly Course and A New Turn in the South.”

-Saveur

Old Bay Seasoning is something every household should have, at all times. It’s excellent on seafood, yes, but it’s also great for tons of other things: popcorn, french fries, hard-boiled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, etc. If you’ve never had it- get it. I guarantee you you’ll love it. It’s just a simple mix: paprika, mustard, celery seed, ground bay leaf, both black and red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, mace and ginger. But it’s so good. And the little can is so vintage looking!

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PICKLED SHRIMP (directly from Saveur/Hugh Acheson, with my notes in Italics)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 lb. (26–30 count) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I left the tails on)
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds (I didn’t crush them)
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice berries (I omitted them)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped (I used a lot less, but mine was dried parsley)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise (I used a white onion)

Directions:

  1. Bring Old Bay and 8 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan; add shrimp, reduce heat to low, and cook until shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to bowl of ice water to chill; drain again.
  2. Finely grind celery seeds and allspice in a spice grinder (I didn’t do this!); transfer to a bowl and stir in oil, juice, parsley, salt, chile flakes, garlic, and bay leaves. In a 1-qt. glass jar, layer shrimp and onions; pour over oil mixture. Cover with lid; chill overnight before serving.

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I hope that you don’t get turned off or stick your nose up at the idea of these. If you like shrimp, and you like a mildy tangy, briny flavor that pickled foods have, then you’ll love these. Plus… anything in olive oil is awesome, am I right? It’s actually the same principle as Ceviche de Camarones, the popular Latin version of a shrimp cocktail. They’re excellent as a side dish to grilled steak, grilled chicken, or even grilled fish. A perfect addition to your Labor Day festivities this weekend. And the oil can be used as a vinaigrette, not to mention if you let the jar come to room temperature & put some of the shrimp & oil over hot pasta, it’s kinda like a cheater’s version of shrimp scampi. You could use them in a kind of Southern taco, too. Roll up some flour tortillas and put some of these bad boys in there with some of the onions and a little lettuce. They’re relatively easy to make, and… they last for a week in the fridge! Just make sure they’re totally submerged & covered with oil at all times. And as with everything, when in doubt- throw it out! If it smells funkadelic or looks weird, toss it. But mine was in the fridge for about 9 days, and on the ninth day it was finally finished and nobody died. Yet. (I kid, I kid)

And yes, like it says above, you can use frozen shrimp. I did! I also left the tails on, obviously. Interactive food, guys, interactive food. Make people work for it. Side note: the oil might coagulate in the refrigerator. Mine actually didn’t fully coagulate for a couple of days, I suspect because of the addition of the lemon juice. But anyway, if you manage to keep them for longer than an evening and they coagulate, all you do is take the jar out a little ahead of time. This way it’ll come to room temperature, liquify & be fine to eat within 15-20 minutes.

Quick & dirty chive vinegar pickles.

Oh, pickles.

You come into my life oh so quickly this time of year… and get eaten up oh so quickly. And then I’m hounded for more pickles by the pickle monsters that plague my existence. Good thing I love them. And that I’ve got plenty of jars to fill.

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Yeah, I’ve got a lot. That’s just the tip of the iceberg- there’s a load of stuff in my fridge that needs to be cleaned out and those jars will soon join these in awaiting their new fates. Remember my chive blossom vinegar? And the ensuing chive blossom potato salad & egg salad? Well, I knew I wasn’t finished with that vinegar. I had more ideas bubbling in my brain and this was one of them. I figured, why not try making pickles with it?

And I decided on making cold-pack refrigerator pickles. I’ve been on a pickle kick lately. And most of them have been fridge pickles, I guess ’cause it’s so hot it’s just easier.

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;When I say ‘quick & dirty’ in the title, I don’t mean they’re literally dirty, obviously. No olives in this martini. They’re just really quick to make, no processing time required. They do need a week or two to stew in the fridge before they can be eaten, however. But it’s a small price to pay for homemade pickles without the “canning.” Here’s my favorite quick version from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. It’s fun and easy and you can pickle just about anything this way.

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Some ideas for fridge pickles? Zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, okra, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, garlic, etc… or a mix of all of the above!

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And you can use any jar you want for fridge pickles. An old spaghetti sauce jar works just fine.

REFRIGERATOR CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR PICKLES (adapted from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking’s refrigerator pickles)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chive blossom vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar, 5% acidity
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher or non-iodized salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of picking spice, dill seed, mustard seed
  • 2 pieces fresh dill (if using, use less dill seed, about half)
  • Cucumbers; as far as the amount you’ll need, I used about 2 and a half smallish/thinnish cukes for one pint jar… but she says:

Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar.

The weight of your starting produce will vary depending on what you’re pickling. Eyeball it at the market, and if you end up with too little veg, just use a smaller jar (or make more brine to account for extra space in the jar).

Directions:

  1. Boil the vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, put your dry spices in the dry jars, and then pack your veggies in the jars. If you prefer a less raw taste, you can blanch them first or even cook them in the brine.
  2. Pour your just-boiled brine over the veggies in the jars. Wipe the mouths clean and seal.
  3. DON’T SEAL TIGHTLY. And I quote: “Don’t screw on the lid on as tightly as you possibly can or the lid might pop off when you go to open them in a couple weeks. Vinegar breaking down the veggies inside a jar causes a little release of gas, and leaving the lid loose will let that escape. [I know what you’re wondering and the answer is no. If your pickles have been stored in the fridge, it’s not possible for botulism spores to activate.]“
  4. Put them in the back of your fridge and forget about them for at least a week. “Two weeks is better, three is the best” according to her. They keep indefinitely, but if you’ve got some sitting around more than 6 months, I’d ditch ‘em.

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That beautifully colored tangy vinegar is going to make a chive-y, dill-y, super tangy pickle. A perfect compliment to potato salad or grilled stuff; burgers & hot dogs, etc. If you prefer a less chive-y flavor, or should I say, a more subtle one, then just change the ratio from 1/2-1/2 to 1/4-3/4 in favor of the white vinegar. But make sure you use half water, half vinegar and the full tablespoon salt. Any vinegar is fine to use as long as it’s 5% acidity. Red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or just plain old white vinegar.

I have to say I was surprised it wasn’t slightly more pink in the jar, as when it was boiling up it was a pale pink. Hm. I’m half tempted to just use 100% chive vinegar next time just to get pink pickles!

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In case you’re wondering, you can pickle anything this way: cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, peppers, etc. I have a bit more information on refrigerator pickles here. If you don’t have the equipment to do actual canning, refrigerator pickles & refrigerator jams are the way to go, as are freezer jams. You can make amazing stuff that way. Sure, it’s not shelf-stable and you need to put it in the fridge/freezer right away, but it’s a good way to get started. That way you can see if canning is for you. If you decide you want to explore canning further, you need a decent amount of background information and some important materials. A great place to get started is the USDA National Center for Home Preservation.

And speaking of canning, in a few days- on August 21st most likely- I’ll be blogging about the very basics of waterbath canning, I’m calling it “Canning for Dummies” to be exact. So if you’re interested in getting involved in basic canning, keep an eye out for that post. Not that you’re a dummy or anything. I’m just saying.

Asian-inspired quick pickles.

My grandmother had a thing for all things Asian. She was totally immersed in the culture. She read Pearl S. Buck books over & over again (The Good Earth being a favorite), collected cloisonné ginger jars & imported Japanese figurines, had a large Buddha statue sitting cross-legged in meditation pose next to her couch, had porcelain Geisha girl lamps and even had a mural of a bonsai tree on her living room wall. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. She had tons of hand-held fans with Oriental scenes on them. She loved movies like Raise the Red Lantern & The Last Emperor. She loved jade. She loved Asian food, Asian history, Asian-inspired scents, Asian clothes; Cheongsams & kimono robes. She was a major Asiaphile, which I always thought was funny for a little red-headed Irish woman from the Bronx. But it just fascinated her, that’s all.


So, you can see why recipes like this immediately make me think of her, and how much she’d love it.

This is a kind of Frankenstein pickle recipe. Meaning that I got the idea from two sources: Food in Jars’ Asian-Inspired Refrigerator Pickles and The Foodinista‘s posting of Momofuku Pickles and morphed the two into my own version of an Asian pickle. Both pickles are refrigerator pickles, meaning there’s no canning involved. Both pickles also use rice vinegar/rice wine vinegar (as far as I’m concerned, both are interchangeable). One uses hot peppers & some herbs, the other is just straight forward. I like a little added oomph in my life, so I decided to do the herb thing as well. I thought cilantro sounded fantastic; I made some green coriander pickles last summer that Jay would’ve definitely, without question, defended to the death had they been threatened in any way. So yeah, I knew cilantro was the herb of choice for me, although Marisa says you can also use mint instead, as well as use green onions or scallions in place of shallots. You can also totally omit all the extras and make it with just cucumbers/vinegar/sugar/salt if you wish.

These photos were taken after they sat in the fridge overnight. Feel free to cut your cukes thinner, if you want to use them as more of a condiment.



ASIAN-INSPIRED PICKLES

Makes roughly two pints or one quart

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 smallish pickling cucumbers, cut into slices
  • 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced, or a 1 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes (optional, I left them out)
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 small shallot, cut into thin slices
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
  • 4-5 sprigs of cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

  1. Pack the cukes into the clean jar. Stuff the pepper in there too, or sprinkle the pepper flakes in on top.
  2. In a glass bowl, mix the rice vinegar, shallot, garlic, cilantro, salt and lime juice together. Pour the boiling water over it, and stir. Pour into the jar, and using a butter knife, poke the garlic/shallot/cilantro down amongst the cukes as well as you can.
  3. Screw a lid on the jar as tightly as you can, and give it a good shake or two to distribute things. Leave in the fridge for 24 hours to marinate before eating, toss after a month.

It’s a lovely, bright, crisp pickle. Very summery. Like I said, I omitted the pepper, but because it’s a fridge pickle, if you decide it’s too bland for you without the heat- you can always add a sliced up pepper. Then just put it back in the fridge and let it sit another 24 hours. Which is exactly what I did! Haha. Turns out, it needed a bit of a kick. So I had two red jalapeños left over from some other kitchen wizardry, and I took one, seeded it & removed the ribs/inner membrane, sliced it up into very thin slices and tucked them in the jar. If sliced thin enough one jalapeño is enough for three pint jars.



Just be sure to wear gloves when cutting hot peppers. It may sound silly, but bad reactions are common… some people can develop blisters and burns from even the mildest hot pepper, and even if you don’t, in the best case scenario the pepper oil will stay under your fingernails & in your skin for a while, causing issues when you rub your eyes or use the bathroom later on. Red jalapeños are slightly hotter than green ones, but also sweeter, just so you know. I’m aware that the jalapeño is not an Asian pepper, but you use what you’ve got, right? If you can get your hands on a Thai Chili pepper or a Goat Horn, then good for you. Otherwise, use what you have.

If you’ve got a rice vinegar that’s 5% acidity, you can most certainly change these to a be a shelf-stable, waterbath-process friendly pickle. My vinegar was only around 4.3% so I left them as fridge pickles. And did you notice these awesome jars!? I finally found them! The elusive Ball Collection Elite® 16-oz. jars. *siiiiiigh* And of all places, I found them in a Target. GO FIGURE. Not my Target, of course, but a Target like 5 towns away. After a year and a half of searching, they’re finally mine.

Everybody loves a picnic!

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-James Henry

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I love picnics. I don’t have them often, of course, but I’ve had a few over the course of my life & they’ve always been fun. When I was a kid, my mom used to have “backyard picnics” where we just set up a simple little picnic on the grass in the yard. It wasn’t anything crazy, usually a few sandwiches with the crusts cut off (mine was always either peanut butter or potato chip; yes I ate potato chip sandwiches) and some soda or sparkling water and some snacks. Once or twice on a rainy day we even had an indoor picnic on the floor and had pizza or Chinese food. It was so much fun.

And then you grow up and your sense of fun changes. You forget to do little fun things every now and then, “just because.”;

Taking a cue from that, I decided to have one now. As a “grown-up.” I have these two vintage picnic baskets sitting around that I never used. Plus I’ve been working really hard, on a variety of things (like the new Recipe Index!). I figured, why do I have to actually go somewhere to have a picnic when I can have one right here?! You can have a picnic anywhere- even inside, like I said. Martha Stewart recently did a segment on the Today show about how to prepare a picnic entirely in jars! There are tons of ways to do a picnic, from traditional to un-traditional. Bring cold foods, hot foods, room-temperature foods, salads, wine & cheese. Whatever you like.

The first usage of the word ‘picnic’ is traced to the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française, which mentions pique-nique as being of recent origin; it marks the first appearance of the word in print. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something. Whether picnic is actually based on the verb piquer which means ‘pick’ or ‘peck’ with the rhyming nique meaning “thing of little importance” is doubted; the Oxford English Dictionary says it is of unknown provenance. The word predates lynching in the United States; claims that it is derived from a shortening of ‘pick a n—-r’ are untrue.[2]

The word ‘picnic’ first appeared in English in a letter of the Gallicized Lord Chesterfield in 1748 (OED), who associates it with card-playing, drinking and conversation, and may have entered the English language from this French word.[3] The practice of an elegant meal eaten out-of-doors, rather than a harvester worker’s dinner in the harvest field, was connected with respite from hunting from the Middle Ages; the excuse for the pleasurable outing of 1723 in François Lemoyne‘s painting Hunt Picnic is still offered in the context of a hunt.

After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public for the first time. Picnicking in the parks became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.

Early in the 19th century, a fashionable group of Londoners (including Edwin Young) formed the ‘Picnic Society‘. Members met in the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments with no one particular host. Interest in the society waned in the 1850s as the founders died.[4]

From the 1830s, Romantic American landscape painting of spectacular scenery often included a group of picnickers in the foreground. An early American illustration of the picnic is Thomas Cole‘s The Pic-Nic of 1846 (Brooklyn Museum of Art).[5] In it, a guitarist serenades the genteel social group in the Hudson River Valley with the Catskills visible in the distance. Cole’s well-dressed young picnickers having finished their repast, served from splint baskets on blue-and-white china, stroll about in the woodland and boat on the lake.

The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be utilised for political protest, too. In this context, a picnic functions as a temporary occupation of significant public territory. A famous example of this is the Pan-European Picnic held on both sides of the Hungarian/Austrian border on the 19 August 1989 as part of the struggle towards German reunification.

In 2000, a 600-mile-long picnic took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In the United States, likewise, the 4 July celebration of American independence is a popular day for a picnic. In Italy, the favorite picnic day is Easter Monday.

-Wikipedia

I decided to try my hand at a new recipe for a healthier macaroni salad to serve at my little picnic. It’s got basically 3/4 the calories of regular macaroni salad, and it’s got something like 1/3 the fat. Not that these things bother me particularly, because I don’t eat macaroni salad & don’t really count calories anyway, but you can’t have a picnic without some kind of mayo-based or carb-based salad, and I thought it’d be an interesting thing to try. Everyone is looking to cut down on fat nowadays. Not me. I like fat.


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Eh. Let’s just call this a new twist on macaroni salad. From what I hear it’s too delicious to be considered “low fat” or anything. And about my “I like fat” comment above; I really do like it. But that doesn’t mean you have to. I’m just being an asshole. Obviously, if you have dietary restrictions or health issues, lower fat diets are important. It’s just that I don’t. So I like fat. And I can’t really apologize for that.

‘Kay, now that that’s settled.. on to the salad!

CREAMY MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound macaroni (I used small shells)
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 hard-boiled large eggs, whites roughly chopped, yolks left whole
  • 2 dill pickle spears, chopped
  • 1/2 a medium red onion, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons chives for topping (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the package directions in salted boiling water. Drain and return to the pot it was cooked in.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the two egg yolks in a large bowl with a fork. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, and the lemon juice; stir together until creamy & smooth.
  3. Add pasta to mayonnaise mixture, and using a silicone spatula, flip and stir the pasta until evenly coated in the mayo mix. Add the egg whites, red onions and chopped pickles and mix well.
  4. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives just before serving.

This salad can be stored in the fridge an airtight container for up to three days. If it’s too dry after taking it out of the fridge, you can add a tablespoon more yogurt (or mayo, whatever). Just do yourself a favor and don’t accidentally buy vanilla yogurt. You’ll gross yourself out big time if you use that…

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The cool thing about macaroni salads (& potato salads) is that you can add pretty much anything you like, within reason. You can add radishes, celery, sliced Bell peppers, dill, slivered carrots, exchange the lemon juice for vinegar, etc. Take out stuff you don’t like, add stuff you do. This other macaroni salad I made is a great example of that. You can personalize it 100% and yet it’s always guaranteed to be delicious.

As far as a picnic goes- it’s easy. You don’t even need anything crazy. Some bread (mine was a French baguette), cheese (I had some provolone & goat’s milk brie), macaroni or potato salad, fried chicken if you’re really ambitious, maybe some cold cuts or cold leftover chicken, some fresh fruit (& whipped cream if you like- I had strawberries, cherries, oranges & nectarines), maybe some warm-weather friendly cupcakes, a jar or two of pickles (I brought red wine vinegar/red onion pickles & dilly beans), maybe some sliced cucumbers & yogurt, baby carrots & ranch dressing, a refreshing drink or two (maybe even some wine- not pictured) and some cutlery and napkins… that’s it. You’re ready to go! Lucky for you, I took some photos of my little picnic before digging in.

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Today might be a rainy/thunderstorm-y day here in New York & a bunch of other places on the East Coast, but when are you having your summer picnic?