Category: food

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.

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?

Spring in a jar.

It sounds cheesy & cliched, but to me, that’s what Giardiniere (or Giardiniera, or Jardinière) looks like. Not only does the name translate to “garden” for the most part, it’s a jar of pickled brightly-colored vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, peppers & zucchini and it just looks like a jar full of spring. And spring is upon us now, so that means I can start opening my windows & getting fresh air as well as look forward to fresh veggies. And I got a big surprise when I took inventory of my pots & found that some of my herbs came back full force! And by full force I mean INSANELY HUGE for this time of year. Gee, thanks, super-crazy-abnormally-warm New York winter. I’ve got chives & two types of oregano in the game already and it’s only the second week in April.

So that all makes me excited, but I wanted to start pickling again. As you can see, my chives (above left) are starting to get little buds, so I might make some chive blossom vinegar this year. But that’s not what this post is about. So let’s get to the point. Giardiniera.

Italian giardiniera is also called “sotto aceti”, which means “under vinegar”, a common term for pickled foods. It is typically eaten as an antipasto or with salads.[2]

In the United States, giardiniera is commonly available in traditional or spicy varieties, and the latter is sometimes referred to as “Hot Mix.”

In the Midwest region of the U.S., giardiniera is used as a condiment, typically as a topping on Italian beef sandwiches.[3]

A milder variety of giardiniera is used for the olive salad in the Muffuletta sandwich.

The Italian version includes onions, celery, zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower. The pickled vegetables are in red- or white-wine vinegar.

American giardiniera is commonly made with serrano peppers along with a combination of assorted vegetables, including bell peppers, olives, celery, pimentos, carrots, and cauliflower, and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes, all marinated in vegetable oil, olive oil, soybean oil, or any combination of the three. It is also common to see it pickled in vinegar.

Jardinière is a French culinary term, meaning a dish that is cooked or served with a mixture of spring vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and green beans.

I know there are a million variations & recipes for this, but this one is just a basic one that I came up with by combining two recipes; one from the Better Homes & Gardens book, You Can Can & another from the Ball Complete Book of Preserving. This was really a canning request from my mother, who loves Giardiniera. She had requested it a while back but I was in such winter mode, I couldn’t even think of it until we got hit with a stretch of 70+ degree days back in March. Then all of a sudden, I was ready to start making springy foods & pickles again. I made some Bourbon pickles but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to jar up some more fresh veggies. And what better way to do that than this? IT’S LIKE A GARDEN… IN A JAR!

I adapted it a bit seeing as she’s not a fan of zucchini & that seems to be prevalent in a lot of recipes. But I’m including the zucchini in the recipe below. This looked so beautiful in the jar from start to finish I couldn’t believe it. I could hardly stop taking pictures of it!

The point is, basically you can add whatever you want or take away whatever you want. That’s the beauty of it. You can use all of it: zucchini, carrots, cauliflower and the three colors of peppers, or you can use a hot pepper instead, or you can omit the zucchini or omit the carrots (but really who doesn’t like carrots!?) or even add pimentos. Heck- add green beans if you want. It’s just that simple. Honestly. Have I ever lied to you?

It smelled insane while cooking. INSANE.

SMALL-BATCH GIARDINIERA

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients:

  • One smallish head of cauliflower (preferably organic/pesticide free), cut into florets
  • One each of a large red/green & yellow Bell pepper (again, preferably organic/pesticide free), cut into strips
  • Three large whole carrots (yet again… preferably organic/pesticide free), peeled and cut into slices
  • One half of a large white onion, cut into rings and then each ring cut into quarters
  • 1 small celery (you know the drill), cut into ¼” thick slices
  • 1 small zucchini (ditto), cut into ¼” thick slices
  • 3 cups white vinegar (5%)
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling or canning salt
  • 1 ¼ cups white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

Directions:

  1. Prep, wash & cut all your vegetables & keep them in separate bowls. Mince garlic. Prepare water bath canner, and sterilize jars and lids. Keep jars warm. Set aside.
  2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine water, vinegar, sugar, pepper, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 5 minutes, until the spices have infused the liquid.
  3. Add the cauliflower, onions, zucchini, celery and carrots and return to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in peppers.
  4. Pack vegetables into jars with a slotted spoon within to a generous ½” of the top of jar. Ladle the hot pickling liquid in to cover vegetables, leaving ½” headspace. remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if necessary, by adding more liquid (you may not use all the liquid). Wipe rims, center lids and screw bands on until resistance is met. Then adjust to fingertip-tight.
  5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they’re covered by at least 1-2″ of water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes. Then carefully remove jars, cool, and store. Enjoy!

I really think it’s the prettiest thing I ever canned up. Truly. Everything around here has been all pastel & pink & pretty lately, and then this was like a technicolor shock to the system. Seriously, have you seen prettier Giardiniera, ever? No. No you have not. Testimonial time:

If you’re thinking of making this, and you have no previous canning experience, please take a peek at this post and read my (very basic) summary of what you’ll need to start. Then move on to the USDA’s directions (much clearer & informative, I admit). It’s not difficult, but you have a lot of reading to do to make sure you’re doing it right/have the proper materials, etc. The last thing you need is to give someone botulism. So yeah, be responsible & do your homework first. Then you can go ahead & make Giardiniera all damn day long.

Anyway, that’s that. Put it in a salad, put it on a sandwich, mix it with cooked chilled pasta for a quick pasta salad, pop it on a pizza, or eat it right out of the jar. Whatever. The liquid can be used as salad dressing too, once the vegetables are gone. Just mix it with a little oil. And again, like I said… it’s SO EASY. Literally the longest part of the process is the cutting of the veggies. Once that’s done, it’s 1-2-3. Just don’t cheat & buy a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. That’s awful. And lazy. Use top notch fresh ingredients and you’ll see how amazing it really is. I prefer to buy organic for things like this, just because of the lack of pesticides and since I’m using the entire thing (as opposed to just the pulp of an orange, etc), it freaks me out not to. But really, any good, fresh vegetables will do. Far be it from me to tell you how much to spend or what to buy. Buy what you’re comfortable with & what you can afford. Most of all… enjoy it. Enjoy the shopping for ingredients, enjoy the cutting & chopping, enjoy the process, enjoy the eating. Shopping for fresh vegetables & fruit at this time of year is all the fun! But of course, I can’t discount the ingesting of ‘em either.

Happy Spring!

Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah, Roma, roma-ma.

That’s seriously all I heard in my head over & over as I canned my tomatoes. No joke. Why? Because three of them were Roma’s. Lady Gaga, you’ve done it again… you’ve managed to associate an average everyday mundane household task with a fantasically catchy earworm of a song. Just like I sang the chorus to ‘Telephone’ every time my phone rang for months, how I sang “Mah mah mah pokuh face mah mah pokuh faaaace” at the mere mention of a card game, or how I changed the words to ‘Paparazzi’ from “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, papa, papa-razzi” to “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you hug me, puppa, puppa Indy” & chased the poor dog around the house singing it. *sigh*

It all makes sense though. Sort of. Tomatoes à la Lady Gaga. Right?

Maybe. Has a certain ring to it.

By the way, did you know she went to a Catholic high school that has the same name as the one I went to, that’s also in NY? Betcha didn’t.

Lady Gaga probably wouldn’t think so. And although she herself might be Italian, and I might be talking about Roma tomatoes, but this is really not an old fashioned Italian recipe at all. It’s more Russian or Romanian, as pickled tomatoes are really big over there. Roma tomatoes are known as the best tomatoes to use for canning sauces & for sauce in general, really. They have the most ‘meat’ on them, the least skin, and far less water content; meaning they make a thicker sauce with less work. This was my first year growing Roma’s, and I wasn’t really sure when I planted them what I was going to do with them, but once I started to get into canning I knew that I’d probably can ‘em up right away. Although I had prepared to jar them up as a sauce originally, what I ended up doing was pretty different: pickled green & red tomatoes, inspired by a Liana Krissoff recipe. And not just Roma’s, Better Boy’s too. Better Boy’s are juicy yet meaty tomatoes that are larger than Roma’s (yet really aren’t all that large) and the plants yield quite a large amount of fruit each season. There’s no song that immediately comes to mind when I hear “Better Boy”, however.

Better Boy’s (top left & two green’s) and Roma’s (bottom)

I picked two Better Boy tomatoes while they were green, and two that were turning red/orange, also three Roma’s. I ended up with three half-pint jars of pickled tomato goodness. Of course, I adjusted the recipe to utilize the amount of tomatoes I had. If you have more, then by all means use them- but just adjust the recipe for your own needs. I have more tomatoes growing, but I thought a few jars of these were plenty. I don’t like to put up huge batches of things, I not only don’t have the room but I’m not a fan of monotony. I do this for fun, not to survive over a long winter… & canning 20 jars of the same thing gets tedious and boring. I like to mix it up.

Tomatoes, and their iffy acid levels are on the borderline of “what can be safely canned using a water bath process.” Many people will tell you not to can your own tomato sauce or whole tomatoes without a pressure canner. I think that’s silly, considering the addition of lemon juice or citric acid solves the acid dilemma right off the bat, and processing them for a good 20+ minutes definitely kills the bad guys that are in there anyway. Not to mention the fact I know plenty of people who make ancient (well, not quite ancient) family sauce recipes & jar them every year and none of them have ever died. With these, though, there’s not much of a chance for anything gross to even survive from the get go. The use of lemon juice ups the acid and the vinegar/salt & water bath do the rest. Of course, I’m not saying go out & can up some beef stew in a water bath… that’s a bit different. But tomatoes, tomatoes are okay, especially with the right acid level. So don’t let people make you feel bad for canning your own tomato sauce with that age old family recipe: you will not single-handedly kill your entire family. Unless you’re an idiot who shouldn’t be canning, period. But anyway… if the thought of it still scares you, try these to use up your tomatoes. They’re surprising. Very easy, very delicious & very unique.

I say green & red tomatoes, but really none of mine were 100% mature or fully red. They were more orangey, some with yellow. They look red in the jars, though, so there ya go.

PICKLED GREEN & RED TOMATOES

Makes 3 half-pint jars

First you get:

  • 2 pounds smallish green & red tomatoes, different varieties are okay just so long as they’re all in varying degrees of maturity, but none too soft, ripe or too small/large (make sure that when sliced, they fit in the jars nicely); or about 6-7 small/medium tomatoes
  • 2 cups distilled 5% acidity white vinegar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 rounded tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • pinch of dried sage
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • one medium sweet onion, sliced (optional)

Then you get your pickle on this way:

  1. Wash the tomatoes thoroughly, remove the stem & “core” at the tops and slice them into ¼” -to- ½” thick round slices. Soak the sliced tomatoes in the lemon juice in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sanitize your jars & lids, keeping them hot.
  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, sage and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Place the tomato mixture in the hot jars, stacking them nicely and also making sure they’re packed as tight as possible (you can also add sliced sweet onion in between tomato layers at this point if you like). Ladle in the liquid, pausing to remove air bubbles & air pockets with a small rubber spatula or chopstick as you go. Fill the jars with the liquid, leaving ¼” headspace. Discard any extra liquid.
  3. Wipe rims and place lids & bands on. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to cool, dark area & do not disturb for 12 hours. Check for seal after one hour, and if it hasn’t sealed, refrigerate and use immediately. Refrigerate all jars right before opening & using, they just taste better chilled.

This would also work with different kinds of heirloom tomatoes. The jars would look gorgeous piled high with different colored tomatoes- dark red, purpleish, yellow, green, red, orange, etc. Can you imagine how these would look? Phenomenal. Or these. But either way, plain ol’ tomatoes did the job just right. If you don’t have pickling salt, Kosher salt is fine. Regular Iodized salt will cause a cloudy liquid, however, so I’d avoid it for aesthetic reasons. You can certainly use all red tomatoes too, so if you’re getting bored with sauce or traditional canned tomatoes, maybe give a jar or two of these a try. I didn’t use the onion, myself, but Liana says it’s another option.

I highly recommend these on a sandwich; roast chicken with mayonnaise & freshly ground black pepper. Equally good on a sandwich also made with some sliced Bell peppers in oil, or even on a grilled cheese made with Monterey Jack cheese on sourdough bread, and apparently even delicious right out of the jar. So do as you wish as far as that goes. I won’t tell anyone if you eat them by themselves. It’ll be our secret. Wanna know one of my secrets? I like turtles.

With this batch of tomatoes, I really wanted to jar up some sauce. But in the meantime, damn, I’m glad I pickled these.

Got an excess of pickled items? Well then read on…

I’m guessing that around this time of year most people who like to preserve foods or “can” end up with a plethora (or a bunch) of jars of pickled & preserved goodness. Now if your family is anything like mine, you end up with quite a few open jars in your fridge any given time. Everyone wants to taste everything at once!

“Ohh what are those? Pickled carrots?! I need to try them…”
“Mmm those habanero pickles look good, I think I’ll try one!”
“Holy crap- you made dilly beans?! I haven’t had one of those in years… lemme get one…”
“Wow lemon marmalade. Is it good? Can I try some?”

And then all the jars sit in the fridge getting picked at here and there, taking up space. Except for the regular cucumber pickles; the pickles go like hotcakes. I can barely keep a jar for longer than a week or two tops. So after the successful potato salad I made with dilly beans, I brainstormed this macaroni salad to incorporate and use up some of the pickled goodies sitting open in my fridge. I had some pickled carrots, dilly beans, peppers in oil & regular dill pickles, so that’s what I used. Of course, you can definitely substitute plain slivered carrots, chopped fresh Bell peppers and some chopped fresh green beans too… but it’ll be a totally different taste & flavor profile.

Keep in mind also that pretty much anything could be added: pickled zucchini, cauliflower, etc. Whatever you have open & whatever tickles your pickle (pun intended). Just chop it up & toss it on in there. You can adapt it to suit you in any way, including removing the mustard or removing the red wine vinegar & using all white, etc. Also, you can adjust the ratio of vinegar to mayonnaise as you like it.

Everyone loved it. LOVED IT. It was requested for lunch quite a bit that week.

The pickled carrots come from Molly Wizenberg‘s book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. I mentioned that lately I’d been reading through it again a few posts back, well I also saw the pickled carrots while re-reading it & became intrigued. They took no time to make, seeing as how they were really a form of “refigerator pickles” & were a welcome addition to not only this salad, but my refrigerator. I subbed fresh sprigs of rosemary for the thyme because my mother has an allergy to thyme, so I try to avoid using it in anything she’ll be eating. Now I understand that if you already have an excess of pickled vegetables, you might not want to add to it by making pickled carrots. And I really do understand. But in case you’re intrigued like I was, or you’d like to make them for your salad, I’m including Molly’s exact recipe. Mine differs slightly; I used rosemary instead of thyme, omitted the peppercorns & mustard seed but added freshly ground black pepper, and didn’t add the red pepper flakes either. But that’s something you can figure out for yourself. Same goes for the amount, I made one pint jar by adjusting the ingredients to accommodate it, which is certainly something you can do. If you used a variety of different colored heirloom carrots, it’d make an even more beautiful jar. Next time, that’s what I’ll do.

By the way, this is in the gluten-free category for the pickled carrots, not the macaroni salad, although you could definitely use gluten-free pasta. Same goes for whole wheat pasta or any kind you’d prefer. I like the tri-color because it adds to the prettiness, but that’s just a purely aesthetic reason.

They look gorgeous in the jar.

SPICY PICKLED CARROTS WITH GARLIC & THYME (from A Homemade Life)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, plus more off topping jars
  • 2 cups water, plus more for topping jars
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 (5-to 6-inch) sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • Heaping 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • Heaping 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ pounds small (finger sized) carrots, or standard or baby sized carrots cut into sticks about ½” inch wide and 3 inches long

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, thyme, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt & mustard seeds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer & cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining ½ cup vinegar.
  2. Put the carrots in a large, heatproof bowl, and pour the warm brine over them. Cool to room temperature. While they cool, wash 2 quart-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.
  3. When the carrots & brine are cooled, distribute the carrots evenly among the jars, arranging them snugly. (Hands & fingers work best for this; tongs make a mess). Using a ladle, ladle the brine evenly among the jars. The carrots should be covered completely. If not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.
  4. Seal firmly & refrigerate for at least 3 days, or preferably a week. Carrots are dense & take time to absorb the brine. Carrots will last indefinitely (in theory) but try to eat them within a month or two (unless you give them a 10-minute waterbath, then they’ll probably last longer*).
* That’s my 2 cents.

PICKLED & PRESERVED MULTICOLOR MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound tri-color pasta, cooked
  • 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • 5 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup slivered pickled carrots (or regular baby carrots)
  • ¼ cup chopped dilly beans
  • 4 or 5 sweet Bell peppers in oil, chopped
  • 1 pickle spear, cut into ¼” pieces
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 3 hardboiled eggs, sliced then quartered
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Mix shallot and vinegars together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine the mustard, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and paprika thoroughly in another medium bowl. In a third and larger bowl, add the cooked pasta and mayonnaise mixture together. Mix completely.
  3. Add the vinegar mixture and pickled vegetables and again mix thoroughly. Finally, add the eggs and gently toss.
  4. Place in refrigerator until chilled. Add more mayonnaise or vinegar right before serving if too dry.

Yeah. That’s one colorful, bright & happy macaroni salad. How could you not smile while eating that?

What da dilly, yo?

Busta Rhymes & dilly beans. A natural combination, no?

So yeah. Dilly beans. As a native New Yorker, where most of my young-adult time was spent pounding pavement in Manhattan, either uptown by the Met or downtown in Chelsea & the Fashion District, not quite growing my own vegetables/living in a rural area/reading up about canning, I hadn’t a friggin’ clue what the hell a dilly bean was. I’d heard of them, sure, on the internet & blogging circles. But I was totally not sure what exactly they were. Turns out, they’re just preserved green beans! Go figure!

Dilly beans or pickled green beans, are a means of preserving this summer legume. Often flavored with dill, hence the name, they may also contain garlic, Tabasco sauce, and red pepper. Best kept in glass jars for safekeeping over the winter months, they can be served on their own as a snack or alongside a main dish or in salad. While they are made in kitchens all over the United States, they are particularly common in Vermont, where the overabundance of green beans produced during the short summer needs to be preserved for enjoyment during the long winter.

Dilly beans were developed as a commercial product in 1958 by Sonya Hagna and Jacquelyn Park, who made them the subject of a well-known radio advertising campaign.[1]

- Wikipedia

Ahhh so it’s a VERMONT thing, eh? I see. It just sounds so old-timey to me, I find them sorta fascinating.

Turns out they’re pretty popular. After Tracie, a Facebook fan of Cupcake Rehab, mentioned awhile back that they were her favorite thing to “can” (and also explained what they were, thanks Tracie), I thought they’d be an easy pickling project. Especially since my local grocer was selling fresh green beans for super cheap & my family was asking me for even more pickled items (word to the wise: the pickles are never enough). Even though I went canning crazy last month when my grandma died (that still sucks to write, by the way), practically all my pickles are gone and whatevers left is fought over.

I design/print/make my own labels… I just love them..


PICKLED GREEN BEANS AKA “DILLY BEANS” (directly from Food in Jars /adapted from So Easy to Preserve)

Ingredients for gettin’ dilly with it:

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it hot)
  • 4 teaspoons dill seed (not dill weed)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 ½ cups white vinegar (5%)
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup pickling salt (use a bit more if you’ve only got Kosher)

Directions on how to get yo’ dilly on:

  1. Prep your canning pot by inserting a rack to keep your jars off the bottom of the pot, place pint jars in (wide-mouth pints work best here. A 12-ounce jelly jar is also nice, as it’s a bit taller than a standard pint and makes for less trimming) and fill it with water. Bring to a boil to sterilize while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.
  3. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.
  4. Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that ½ inch headspace. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from jar by running it around the interior of the jar. Wipe the rims and apply the lids (which have been sitting in a small saucepan of water at a mere simmer for at least ten minutes in order to soften the sealing compound) and rings.
  5. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (remember that you don’t start timing until the pot has come to a rolling boil).

As she said: “These beans want to hang out for a least two weeks before eating, to thoroughly develop their flavor.” This recipe, as it is written above, makes 4 jars of dilly beans. I did not use wide mouth pints, I used 2 regular pint jars. Why 2? Well I halved the recipe, really because I bought only a pound of beans. I would’ve bought more but I forgot what the recipe said when I went to buy ‘em, so I only bought one pound. Why I don’t know, because I clearly could’ve JARRED whatever extra I had. Oh well. I’m still thinking like someone who doesn’t can/jar, i.e. “I don’t want to waste it!” Duh. What an idiot, right? Anyway because these were gifts, or rather “orders”, I did not go crazy with the cayenne. I used just a ¼ teaspoon in each jar and it was too hot for these people! Crazy. If it were for me, I might have used the ½ teaspoon. But remember, these people are lame-o’s who don’t like “hot” stuff. So there we go. Who knew ¼ teaspoon of cayenne was too much? I guess these are some hardcore gangsta spicy dilly “Gettin’ silly wit my 9-milly, what da dilly yo?” beans.

Also, it’s true. Wide-mouth pints would work better. I used regular ones & it kinda sucked cramming them in. Pfft.

As summer is starting to come to a close, I’m trying to get in all the summer-y things I can. I had a pretty shitty summer, but while it’s still warm I’m trying to hang on to what’s left of it. Potato salad is one of those summertime staples. Every barbecue or picnic has either potato salad, macaroni salad, or both. My grandma made an awesome potato salad. So awesome, everyone who ate it said it was the best ever. Unfortunately, she wrote nothing down. And my mother never noted any of what she put into it, neither did I. It was always a dash of this, a little of that, etc. And as she got older, she made these awesome things less & less, and left the cooking to us; first my mom, then myself. So her recipes belong to the ages, along with her. However, last month’s issue of Bon Appétit has an entire article on canning, and it features a recipe for Dilly Bean Potato Salad. So I thought I’d give it a shot. And while it’s probably not quite as good as Nana’s, it’s something new & different. It’s also pretty damn amazing in it’s own right, to be fair. Maybe a new family recipe?

Dilly bean sighting!

DILLY BEAN POTATO SALAD (from Bon Appétit, August 2011)

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots, halved lengthwise, very thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more, to taste)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 lb. potatoes*
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (or more, to taste)
  • 1 large pinch smoked paprika
  • 3 cups trimmed watercress, purslane or wild arugula, coarsely chopped**
  • 1 cup Dilly beans, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 2-3 large hard boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley or celery leaves

Directions:

  1. Place shallots in a small bowl. Stir in the red wine vinegar, and a large pinch of salt; set aside.
  2. Cook potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 30 minutes. Drain potatoes well; transfer to a large bowl. Lightly crush potatoes with the back of a large spoon.
  3. Add shallot-vinegar mixture to hot potatoes and toss to incorporate. Season with salt & pepper.
  4. Whisk  mayonnaise and smoked paprika in a small bowl; add to potatoes and toss to combine. Fold in watercress, beans, add eggs and season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar or mayonnaise if desired. Garnish with parsley.
*the original recipe calls for baby Yukon gold, I just used unpeeled quartered Russets, that’s what my Nana did.
**I omitted that & just added a handful of chopped chives from my garden.
 
 Nana would be proud, second & third servings were requested.

 This can be made one day ahead of time. Cover and chill, return to room temperature before serving, and stir in extra mayonnaise if it’s too dry. Although the next day nobody needed extra mayo; it seemed to stay nice & creamy. It would also knock it out of the park without the dilly beans; just add a little extra egg.

OH one more thing about the beans; remember what I said about the peaches floating? Dilly beans float too, apparently. I also did not have to trim many of my beans, sure I had to trim some but not a lot. Although now in retrospect, I probably could’ve gotten away with not trimming them at all, because I clearly had a lot of leeway, judging by the bottom of the jars there. I’m really bad at taking photos before I fill the jars, or during the process of filling the jars, etc.  I promise I’ll change. I’ll be better. I know people want to see the process. I’ll deliver, my friends, I’ll deliver.

And I swear on my dilly’s that there will be some baked goods soon. In the meantime, why not make some of this for one of those ‘last days of summer’ barbecues?

Grow time, 2011.

You might remember my garden posts from last year. In case you don’t, long story short: I had a little Victory Garden that I adored. I had 3 tomato varieties (Celebrity, Big Boy & a little patio tomato), 3 peppers (Cubanelle, red sweet pepper & Big Bertha), an eggplant (Black Beauty), Elite zucchini & Marketmore cucumber… plus all the herbs you can imagine; rosemary, cilantro, sweet basil, variegated oregano, mint, Italian parsley, fringed lavender and chives. I was all about using my fresh herbs & veggies to cook with last year, and I was pretty much totally bummed when the season ended. I ended up drying all my herbs that could be dried and jarring them for use throughout the fall/winter. I still couldn’t wait to start digging in the dirt again, smelling the sunshine & eating my own vegetables I grew myself right outside my back door.

So of course as soon as the weather was nice, I cleaned out all my pots & containers & got them all ready for a new season. My chives were already crazy, they were huge with their little purple chive-y flowers on top, and my variegated oregano had come back along with my mint. I basically decided I’d skip the zucchini this year (last year I did not have luck with that, Google the terrible phrase ‘zucchini flower abortion’ and you’ll see why) and that I’d skip the catnip too (same results as the zucchini, oddly), but that I’d get pretty much the same stuff as last year. Last year was the first year I expanded past herbs (& my roses which I’ve been into for years) into vegetables, and I had a pretty nice crop so I figured why not stick with what works? So I bought three tomatoes again, this time Beefsteak, Better Boy & a Roma (my fave!). I also got another eggplant, another cucumber (Burpless Hybrid, some of which I plan on picking at a smaller size to pickle) and three peppers: one Cowhorn, one Habanero (oh yes, I went there) and one red Bell pepper. Then I went herb crazy! Cilantro, dill, rosemary, flat Italian parsley, oregano, more mint, sweet basil- oh my. I don’t have any lavender yet, but I might buy a small plant if I see one. Alot of my plants this year are from Bonnie. Last year I had one & it grew amazing, so since I was running a bit late with my planting I decided to go with some fully grown plants from them. They’ve been around since 1918 & have an excellent reputation, so if you’re too impatient (or too late) to grow from seeds- go buy Bonnie!

It may sound dumb and obvious, but I strongly recommend tomato cages with the larger varieties. Last summer I only had one cage & ended up tying my other tomatoes to large wooden stakes & praying in heavy wind & rain that they’d be okay. I got lucky, but better to be safe than sorry, right? I did lose an eggplant to a bad storm, though. That couldn’t have been helped anyway, the vine just snapped.

Here’s my romaine. I can’t wait to start eating this, romaine is one of my favorite lettuces!

And here’s that variegated oregano from last year. I love it.

Here are some of my other herbs. Don’t worry, I won’t show you everything, because there’s nothing exciting yet in terms of growth. Once I start getting buds on the tomatoes & peppers, etc I’ll get picture-crazy again.

Basil, chive & my skinny little parsley. If it’s anything like last year, it’ll end up 3 ft tall!

….

Cilantro is another of my favorite herbs, ever

Great with chicken!


Look- some buds on my Cowhorn pepper! Looks like those’ll be the first to have a taste-test.

And finally… my most favoritest of the vegetables this year… the one tomato I really hope grows huge… my Roma!


….

That’s basically it for now. Hopefully in another few weeks I’ll have more interesting shots to share. I’m also really excited for the Cowhorn pepper; all my peppers last year were sweet or mild. This one is supposedly much hotter, which I like. I can’t wait to make some pico de gallo & salsa & summer tomato sauce with my OWN veggies! I already made a cilantro-lime Jasmine rice with my cilantro, which was amazingly delicious. And easy- just snip off some cilantro, pull off the leaves and put them in with Jasmine rice as it cooks. When it’s almost ready, squirt in some lime juice & sprinkle some salt. Ta-da! And I think I’ll make some hot sauce or some hot salsa with my habanero’s. Beware, all ye who dine at my house *smile* You never know when I might get my peppers mixed up. Mwahahaha.

If you’re interested in container gardening, or totally new to it & wanna learn more, here’s a great resource, and here’s another. It’s really easy & fun to do, not to mention extremely gratifying. If you’re scared, start off small with herbs. I know Gina told me she’s a bit scared because, in her words, “how do I grow a thumb? as in any one, mine isn’t even black, its non-existent!” You might remember her from Cooking the Books, but she’s got a new venture now: The Sweet Life Center. If you’re a mom or mommy-to-be and you live in the LI/NYC area, you might wanna check it out! And you can follow it on Twitter too @yoursweetliving to find out more. Anyway, Gina says she’s scared to start a garden, but it really is easy! I promise. Start off by buying a few fully grown herb plants. If they last through the summer, try growing them from seeds the next spring. Then if that works, buy some fully grown vegetable plans (and LARGE pots, if you’re not planting them in the ground) and see if you can go without killing them. If you succeed, try growing them from seeds the next spring. There are tons of online resources you can access, including answers to just about any question you have.

While I was planting, I remembered a funny story. Back when I was little, maybe 10, I wanted to grow vegetables. I don’t really know why, at the time I didn’t eat any of ‘em! But I loved to plant & garden so I guess I just wanted to grow stuff. I went with my mom & bought tomato seeds & planted them. A few weeks later, a large plant was coming up! It was green with big leaves so I staked it up and went and got a tomato cage and some fertilizer. I diligently fertilized my tomato plant, pruning dead leaves off and weeding the soil. A few weeks later, it was huge! At least 4 ft. tall …but no buds. I wasn’t too concerned, but my parents kept saying, “Where are the tomatoes!?” I guess I was just so excited about growing something, I didn’t even realize it hadn’t fruited. Nearing the end of the season, my aunt Marilyn & uncle Pat (who you may remember passed away recently) came over for a barbecue & I was all excited to show my uncle my tomato plant. I dragged him over to it and said “Here it is! My tomato!” And he looked at it, squinted at it, bent over, felt it, squinted some more, then straightened up and turned to me. He said, chuckling, “That is not a tomato. That’s a weed.”

Yep. I caged & fertilized a weed for 3 months. Needless to say, I’ve gotten considerably better over the last 20 years. Maybe uncle Pat will be lookin’ over my garden this summer, keeping things in line for me celestially.

Jive turkey.

I have a confession to make, and it will probably seem weird. This is the first time I ever ate turkey in any other capacity than the sliced off pieces coming from the breast of a whole bird that was cooked on Christmas or Thanksgiving. *insert gasping sound here*

I have never eaten turkey bacon (it amounts to BLASPHEMY in my eyes), never eaten turkey sausage (I don’t like sausage anyway), never had a turkey burger (gross) and never had ground turkey. For serious. Yes, it’s better for you than ground beef. Yes, ground beef is the devil, red meat gives you high cholesterol and slowly kills you by hardening your once supple veins and filling them with a substance that looks like insulation foam. I get it. But really, I don’t like “substitutions.” As Rose Levy-Berenbaum says in her books- (I’m paraphrasing), use real ingredients, real good quality butter, just eat less of the finished product. Sure, her references are to baking, but the same can be applied to food. No one needs to eat an entire cake every day, just as no one needs to eat 2 hamburgers a day, or a steak every day, etc. Everything in moderation is key, and that’s what I live by. If I want a hamburger it’s not going to be a turkey burger or veggie burger. It’s going to be made of cow. Same thing with bacon; bacon is made from pigs, and that’s what makes it taste like bacon. I’ve said this before, but I hate substitutions and fake food. Yes, I drink Coke Zero & I won’t act as if that’s the best thing I could imbibe, however when it comes to my food I want the real thing. I don’t pretend cauliflower is potatoes nor would I use it in macaroni & cheese as a “thickener”, I don’t use margarine instead of sweet cream butter and I sure as hell don’t substitute poultry for meat. When I make chicken, it’s actually chicken and when I make beef it’s actual beef. I rarely eat meat myself, it’s practically a once every other month event, so I don’t see this as a problem.

However… Sometimes I see recipes and they intrigue me. Like this one. I saw it in the January/February issue of the Food Network magazine. It happened to be the cover recipe; spaghetti & turkey meatballs. It looked really good, and I dog-eared the page so I remembered to try it. Then in true form, forgot all about it. But I was recently rifling through my huge collection of old Gourmet‘s, Bon Appétits and Food Network magazines and I saw the cover of that issue and BAM- it dawned on me I never made it! I tore it out and decided I’d make a trip to the supermarket, get the turkey and make it that night.

Yeah, I’m not a food stylist, dude. It tasted good. I’m better with cupcakes.

This…

They weren’t bad at all. Okay, fine, they were delicious. I will say this: it’s much lighter tasting than regular meatballs. It’s good for this time of year when it’s warming up and you want to start eating lighter yet still substantial food. It was hearty, but not overwhelming, nor did it induce that “I’m so full I’m going to throw up” feeling. I thought they were very good, but again, if you’re looking for the taste of red meat use red meat. And if that is what you want, then lucky for you I have a recipe for that too. I’d make them again, yeah, but I prefer the red meat kind. And even then, I ain’t much of a meatball girl. I’m a chicken cutlet chick.

I like chunks of tomato and I don’t mind a thin sauce, so I didn’t crush ‘em that much. If you like a smoother, thicker sauce by all means, do you. You could also use canned sauce if you’re lazy. That picture kind of looks like the cover of a death metal CD, which is appropriate considering Jay just recently became the newest member & bassist of Internal Bleeding. Yes. My Jay. That Jay. He’ll be famous like I am *wink* Hey! Maybe they can use my turkey meatballs for an album cover, or a song, or something. Haha. Brutal Death Metal Turkeyballs, maybe that’s what they should be called.

Eh, might not be exactly what they’re looking for. Oh well. But that picture right there is proof positive that you can take a photo of almost any kind of meat & tomatoes and adjust the contrast, and when you put a font like that over it, you’ve got a DM album.

SPAGHETTI WITH TURKEY MEATBALLS

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic (4 smashed, 1 minced)
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small piece parmesan rind, optional
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
  • ¾ pound 93% lean ground turkey
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 slice stale whole-wheat bread, crust trimmed, bread chopped
  • ¼ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juice, 2 cups water, ¼ cup basil, the parmesan rind (if using) and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Discard the parmesan rind, if used.
  2. Chop the remaining ¼ cup basil, then mix with the turkey, parsley, bread, ricotta, parmesan, egg white, minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl using your hands. Form into 4 large or 12 small meatballs; add to the sauce and simmer, turning, until cooked through, 6 minutes for small meatballs and 12 minutes for large.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Toss with some of the sauce, then divide among bowls. Top the spaghetti with the meatballs, remaining sauce and more parsley and parmesan.

Basically I used a pound of whole-wheat pasta and a little over a pound of turkey, then altered the ingredients to make the meatballs the consistency I needed. I didn’t see the need to reduce the meat and pasta by a few ounces, especially for big eaters like us. I also used regular bread crumbs for the meatballs, about a little over a cup. I used a mix of Italian flavored panko and regular bread crumbs. I used whole milk ricotta because that’s what I have in my house; I refuse to use fat free or low fat cheese. It doesn’t melt as well nor hold up as well to me as the regular kind. But again, do as you will.

It tasted a lot better than the above picture looks! This one is a better representation, for sure. Maybe it’s the parmesan?

It was such a beautiful day when I was making this, I had the window open and the sun was shining. Perfect early spring day, and I was so excited for planting my garden (getting some fresh tomatoes!) & seeing some flowers. The next day it promptly turned gray, cloudy, & poured rain. Gotta love spring in NY! However the good thing about rainy days is looking through all those old magazines. And soon I’ll have yet another- I recently subscribed to Everyday Food.

Anyone have any ideas for storing magazines?

Cheesy, kinda Irish & loaded with alcohol.

No, not me. This recipe.

This is the perfect St. Patrick’s Day recipe, and I’ve been dying to try it for so long. I like making macaroni & cheese in the fall & winter, and I’ve been putting off making this because I wanted to make it for this holiday. So it’s been waiting for this moment for 3 years. Literally. Since I saw it on the Food Network‘s Ultimate Recipe Showdown, I’ve had it printed out and waiting (that and the French Onion Soup Mac & Cheese I’ve been promising to make for Jay). The problem with me is that when I have beer in the house, I drink it, so it rarely ends up in the food. I love beer, especially stouts & lagers. What can I say, I’m mostly Irish, part German, & part Polish (among other things) – all of which are known for having hollow legs.

Speaking of ‘Black & Tans’, they aren’t an Irish concept. As a matter of fact, like most watered-down so-called “Irish” traditions, they’re rarely consumed in Ireland.

Black and Tan is a drink made from a blend of pale ale, usually Bass Pale Ale, and a dark beer such as a stout or porter, most often Guinness. Sometimes a pale lager is used instead of ale; this is usually called a half and half. Contrary to popular belief, however, Black and Tan as a mixture of two beers is not a drink commonly consumed in Ireland. Indeed, the drink has image problems in parts of Ireland and elsewhere due to the association with the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force which was sent into Ireland in the early 1920s and nicknamed the Black and Tans.[1][2]

Far be it from me to insult anyone (like Ben & Jerry’s apparently did) by making a dish with such a name. But I didn’t invent it, or create it. I just made the recipe. Don’t shoot the messenger.

This recipe is easy, despite having lots of ingredients & steps. It doesn’t even bake in the oven, so it takes less time than most mac-n-cheese recipes. For someone like me who hates corned beef & cabbage, the traditional St. Pat’s dinner, it would be the perfect meal to make on the 17th.

BLACK & TAN IRISH MAC-N-CHEDDAR

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 24 ounces lager beer
  • 16 ounces rustic shaped pasta (I used decidedly un-Irish mini-rigatoni)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 5 tablespoons lightly salted quality Irish butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup stout beer
  • 3 ounces shredded smoked Gruyere
  • 8 ounces shredded Irish Cheddar
  • ½ cup bread crumbs, Japanese panko, or fresh country white
  • ½ cup crisp cooked apple wood or maple bacon crumbles
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves or several sage leaves for garnish (OPTIONAL)

Directions:

  1. Place water and lager beer into a 4 ½ quart or larger saucepan over high heat and bring to boil, add pasta and cook until just al dente. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile in 3 quart saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk, half-and-half, and evaporated milk just to a boil, keep hot. In a 4 quart saucepan, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and stir in flour until it begins to color slightly, whisk in hot milk, mustard, salt, cayenne, and stout, and bring to a strong simmer. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheeses until melted. Place pasta into serving dish and pour the cheese sauce over the pasta.
  3. Place remaining butter in a large saute pan over medium heat and stir in bread crumbs, stir until golden brown, stir in bacon crumbles. Spread mixture over top of macaroni. Garnish with cilantro or sage leaves.

Okay so I used Harp lager and Guinness stout for this recipe, but any stout and any lager will do, as long as they aren’t flavored with anything fancy. No chocolate stouts. Just plain old Guinness and Harp are excellent; good, hearty, Irish alcohols. I recommend good quality beer for this- don’t use PBR or Natural Ice or something, please. I’d also recommend buying or making some black & tans to drink with it. Although you can definitely taste the beer in the recipe itself, it’s more fun that way.

I have to say this recipe was amazing. The bacon was a great addition to macaroni & cheese that I’d never done before, despite being the macaroni & cheese queen. And you don’t taste the cayenne- it is not overwhelming. So don’t be afraid to use it. If you can’t find Irish butter or Irish cheddar, you can use regular salted butter and regular sharp cheddar cheese. I made my panko crumbs extra crispy along with the bacon, ’cause that’s how I like it. The bacon, of course, isn’t 100% necessary. But I’d use it if I were you.

Arwyn, my little black Irish imp, wanted to say hi. Hi!

Delicious, even if you aren’t a shepherd.

Back when I was a kid, certain foods terrified me. Pot pies, shepherd’s pies, chicken stuffed with anything; those are just a few of the food items I ran from screaming. My parents loved shepherd’s pie. Everytime they’d order it, I’d cringe & order my requisite burger, fries and mozzarella sticks. Since I’ve grown up, I have a different take on them. Especially since now I can make them myself, and customize what goes into them. I’d say things have changed.

I love potatoes and onions and veggies, and of course, I’ve always loved cheese. I’m not a huge red meat fan nowadays, but when combined with the aforementioned things, I can dig it. And shepherd’s pie is exactly the kind of thing that combines all of those lovely foods and also sticks to your ribs on a night when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground. It’s the perfect time to get fat and eat warm, hearty food. Shepherd’s pie is a traditional meat & potato casserole that is technically shepherd’s pie only when made with lamb, otherwise it’s cottage pie, although nowadays they seem to be synonymous.

The English tradition of meat pies dates back to the Middle ages. Game pie, pot pie and mutton pie were popular and served in pastry “coffyns.” These pies were cooked for hours in a slow oven, and topped with rich aspic jelly and other sweet spices. The eating of “hote [meat] pies” is mentioned in Piers Plowman, and English poem written in the 14th Century. (Cooking of the British Isles, Adrian Bailey, pages 156-7) The Elizabethans favored minced pies. “A typical Elizabethan recipe ran: Shred your meat (mutton or beef) and suet together fine. Season it with cloves, mace, pepper and some saffron, great raisins and prunes…”

The key to dating Shepherd’s pie is the introduction (and acceptance) of potatoes in England. Potatoes are a new world food. They were first introduced to Europe in 1520 by the Spanish. Potatoes did not appeal to the British palate until the 18th Century. (Foods America Gave the World, A. Hyatt Verrill, page 28). Shepherd’s Pie, a dish of minced meat (usually lamb, when made with beef it is called “Cottage Pie”) topped with mashed potatoes was probably invented sometime in the 18th Century by frugal peasant housewives looking for creative ways to serve leftover meat to their families. It is generally agreed that it originated in the north of England and Scotland where there are large numbers of sheep–hence the name. The actual phrase “Shepherd’s Pie” dates back to the 1870s, when mincing machines made the shredding of meat easy and popular.”

– Courtesy foodtimeline.org

This isn’t the first shepherd’s pie I’ve made, I made one last year with Guinness that was so delicious I couldn’t imagine anything topping it. However I was stuck indoors with no desire to leave to buy stout or gravy mix, so I opted to make a simpler and quicker version. I omitted the Guinness, the tomato paste and the gravy mix; however I kept the cheese idea. This time I use sharp cheddar and I mixed the cheese in with the mashed potatoes before topping the beef. Also, I didn’t peel the potatoes. I like the rustic look of the skin mixed in, besides the fact potato skins are good for you!

Potato skins store many nutrients and also contain a lot of fiber, which is essential for a healthy diet. Leaving the potato skins on also helps preserve the nutrients in the flesh of the potato, which have a tendency to escape during cooking. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, a large baked potato, including the skin, has 278 calories. Only 3 of these calories are from fat. A baked potato contains only 1% of the fat allowance considered as part of a healthy diet, with 0% of this being saturated fat.

The potato, as well as the skin, is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. Potatoes and potato skins contain 18% of the recommended daily allowance of iron and 7.5 grams of protein, which is rarely found in vegetables in such high concentrations. Potato skins also contain a variety of phytonutrients, which are a natural source of antioxidants that help to prevent cellular deterioration of the body. The phytonutrients found in potatoes include carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid.

Potatoes are classified as a tuber, meaning bulb or root, and contain a protein called patatin specific to these types of vegetables. Patatin also works as an effective antioxidant and helps to lower blood pressure. Potato skins may even help to provide protection against heart disease and cancer.

The result? An excellent dish. You would think mashing the potatoes is difficult, but it’s not. Nor is it time consuming. It comes together very easily and quickly. Even if you think you don’t have time, you should try it. You’d be surprised at how easy it is. Like instant pudding, instant mashed potatoes are one of those things that make me scratch my head. Is it really that bad to boil & mash a few potatoes? No. Not at all.

SUPER EASY SHEPHERD’S PIE

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lbs ground round beef
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1-2 cups vegetables – chopped carrots, corn, peas, green beans (I used a half bag of frozen mixed veggies plus some extra sliced carrots)
  • 1 ½ – 2 lbs potatoes (3 big ones)
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
  • 1-3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (depending on taste, I like more)
  • Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Wash and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, melt 4 tablespoons butter (½ a stick) in large frying pan.
  3. Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat (10 mins). If you are adding vegetables, add them according to cooking time. Put any carrots in with the onions. Add corn or peas either at the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat has initially cooked.
  4. Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper. Add worcestershire sauce. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Take out potatoes and mash them in bowl with remainder of butter, plus ¼ cup heavy cream. Add cheddar and combine thoroughly. Season to taste.
  6. Place beef, veggies and onions in greased baking dish. Distribute mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely. You can use the fork to make some designs in the potatoes as well.
  7. Cook in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minutes if necessary to brown.

So while it won’t replace the Guinness shepherd’s pie, it’s an excellent alternative for the nights when there’s no Guinness to be had. A mouth-watering alternative. One that I had three helpings of.

You can use any kind of potatoes you like; Yukon gold, Jersey Royal, Rooster, Red Pontiac, etc. I used Russet. And if you’re really philosophically opposed to mashing your own, use Ore-Ida’s Steam n’ Mash. They’re the closest thing to real mashed potatoes you can get. And yes, you can use ground turkey. I’m not a fan of it, so I stick to good quality organic ground beef. But to each his own! I don’t ever eat red meat, so when I do it’s not a big deal to me. If you eat it often or have high cholesterol, etc, use fat free cheese and ground turkey, and sauté the onions in olive oil instead of butter. Although I wouldn’t skimp on using real butter for the mashed potatoes. Smart Balance or margarine just doesn’t work as well, although maybe a butter substitute made with olive oil would work better. If you like your shepherd’s pie more liquid-y, you can add ½ cup beef broth (or chicken broth) to the cooking meat to add more “sauce.” I like mine moist, but dry enough that it holds its shape somewhat well, so I didn’t use it, and I found it was plenty moist.

The best thing to happen to me so far “this year” is seeing American Idiot on Broadway with Jay back on January 1st. It was fucking awesome, Billie Joe Armstrong is in it for a limited engagement playing St. Jimmy. I also saw Tom Hulce (a producer of the show & the actor who played Mozart in Amadeus) at the performance, although I didn’t know it was him (I was behind him) & basically told him to get out of the aisle & sit down. Haha. Oops. My big mouth hasn’t gotten any better in the new year. Add that to a delicious dinner at Robert Emmett’s (who, by the way, serve what looks like a dynamite shepherd’s pie)… perfect. So I know it’s only a been a week, but how is everyone doing so far with their resolutions for 2011? I didn’t make any, I never do. But I have changed a lot since 2010. See? (Not really.)

The worst part? The stomach virus I’ve been battling since 2010 (okay, only since December 30, 2010… but still). It finally seems to have gone away, leaving me weighing less. Which might be good for some, but not for me. Looks like I’ll be eating double to get back up to my normal weight so my favorite jeans fit right again. More shepherd’s pie, anyone?