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butter me pickles

By on Jul 11, 2015 in experimenting, love, preserving, process, snacks, vegetarian | 0 comments

To say I love pickles is something of an understatement. I was that weird kid who, after I cleaned out the house pickle supply, insisted Mom keep the jar of dill pickles so I could drink the “juice.” At every family gathering, being good Midwesterners, there was a platter of veggie and pickles place out before the big meal. And of course we had the dill pickles from the store, but we also had some of what are known as “Grandma Pickles”, which were my Grandma’s sweet chunk pickles with a surprising tartness that smacks you in just the right way. We would fight over them. Now, ten years after her passing, three of the grandkids, myself included, have taken up the Grandma Pickle mantle, which involves weeks of brining in big ol’ crocks. This is not about Grandma pickles. Last week I laid eyes on the first pickling cucumbers of the season. No, these are not just baby cucumbers. These are Kirby cucumbers, a smaller variety that stays pretty compact and I am positive must have a lower water content than the traditional cucumber. I got very excited, because pickle season is now upon us. But I did not want to wait the many, many weeks for Grandma pickles (on top of the weeks of brining, they have to sit for a good month before ready to eat.) I wanted something immediate. I have done dills before, but I had a new obsession… bread and butter pickles. I really wanted to know why these are called bread and butter pickles. I assumed because they are built for sandwich topping, or some such thing. And if you Google it, one of the origin stories is that they were for Depression era times, when a bread and butter sandwich with pickles was cheap to make. Not the real origin. Another origin goes back to a guy in Europe who said making these pickles was his “bread and butter.” Also not it. The final one, and supposed real one, was from a family in the 1920s, short on cash who would trade pickles made from the non-marketable cucumbers they grew for groceries. As in actual bread and butter. That is supposedly the final origin, but the internet being what it is, I’m sure someone has yet another claim. But back to why these became my new pickle obsession. Why bread and butter pickles? The answer is simple. Hot chicken and pickles. That isn’t a euphemism. A local restaurant opened up recently, and one of their appetizers is hot chicken and pickles, which is quite simply really well prepared junks of juicy, spiced chicken, and a little side of house made bread and butter pickles. And they were delicious. So of course I had to figure out how to make them. The thing is… quick pickles are EASY. So easy that even people who claim they don’t cook could crack out a batch right now. I didn’t want to make ones that I would can and process for later, I wanted to eat these now, so I didn’t need to fuss about the proper pH balance and whatnot. And since the pickling of vegetables is so deeply rooted in food history and culture, there is no one solid recipe, which is fine by me. So I threw caution to the wind, did some research, mixed up some sugar and vinegar (in a nod to Grandma pickles, I left out any water, since her brine is an insane amount of vinegar and sugar, no water in sight) a few choice spices, and let ‘er rip.   And damn. They were almost perfect. Cool, crisp, tangy and salty and sweet, with currents of the spices rippling through my sinuses oh so pleasantly later on. I am going to mow through these. And I am going to alter the recipe just a hair, probably (and keep it updated here). Because really… I will eat all the pickles. Inaugural batch, made roughly 1 quart and 1 pint of pickles These will hold for roughly three weeks in the fridge 1 ¾ lb Kirby cucumbers, sliced about 1/8” thick (I used a mandoline, but cutting with a knife works just fine) 1 small fresh white onion 1/4 c Morton’s Kosher salt (yes, brand does make a HUGE difference. I use Morton’s because it is what I can find. Diamond is the brand preferred by chefs, and has a different sodium content. Sea salt has yet again a different sodium content. Do a bit of research and you will find the right ratio.) Combine the cukes and onions and salt in a large bowl. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least two hours. (note… most recipes do not have you salt the onions with the cucumbers, but have you add them fresh when you put the cukes into the jar. I did salt the onions on this round. Next round I will not. Keep your eyes peeled here for later notes.) After two hours, remove from fridge, dump it all into a colander and rinse thoroughly. Let sit and drain while you make the brine. Oh yes, and make sure you have two clean jars ready to go. Make sure they are glass. This recipe has turmeric for color, and turmeric stains the heck out of everything. If you use plastic containers, they are going...

crunchy granola, sans hacky sack

By on Nov 5, 2013 in baking, experimenting, love, snacks, vegetarian | 0 comments

Granola. You know what just popped into your head. You do. I will bet it has nothing to do with cityscapes, suits, ties, evening gowns or limos. I will bet it has something to do with mountain landscapes, flannel shirts, hiking boots, and possibly white boy dreadlocks. And there is good reason. Granola is not sleek, nor is it sophisticated, likely not drunk with a martini while wearing heels. But it is really, really, tasty. Years ago I witnessed Alton Brown whip together granola on his show “Good Eats”. At the time I was an absolute acolyte, worshiping at the Food Network altar, dutifully engaging in the ritual drooling required of all viewers, back when they actually showed you how to cook. There were many, many things done on his show I could not do in a crappy apartment kitchen in Brooklyn (and frankly still can’t now in my tiny Chicago kitchen,) but granola… that I could do. I followed his recipe exactly, and thought it was tasty. I wrote it down, I sent it to other people, I never strayed, fearful that… well I honestly can’t say what I was fearful of. Secret agents employed solely by Alton Brown busting down my door and confiscating my spatulas? A team of granola-sniffing hounds arriving at my door, ratting me out the second they smelled ½ cup of sugar instead of the required ¾ cup? Oats programmed to spontaneously combust if they were not actually stirred exactly every 15 minutes in the oven? On the day I finally broke with the recipe, none of this happened. I didn’t break with it that much. Just a little. And then a little more. And at this point, I do not know if I strayed far or I am only a few tablespoons of oats off. I have made it so many times I can’t remember. And homemade granola is so delicious, so much lighter and full of life that I can’t bring myself to buy even the fancy stuff at Whole Foods. Frankly, after years of making my own, even the “high end” stuff feels like it might break my teeth from the rock hard oaten gravel found within. So of course I had to figure out granola bars. Granola bars proved a little trickier. Recipes abound, and there seems to be no through line. One called for a whopping two sticks of butter, another for piles of goopy corn syrup. I do love butter, but don’t relish the idea of a bar that left my fingers shiny and slick. And I want to avoid corn syrup. The first batch I ever made used granola I had already baked. I am fairly sure you could have used them in light construction projects. The next batch was oatmeal gone horribly, goopily wrong. And then I started to figure things out. A hair less oil. Something other than solid oats to fill it out. 50 degrees less, 25 degrees more, 35 minutes more, 10 minutes less, score them 5 minutes after, 15 minutes after, use an 8×11 pan, use a 9×13 pan, a never ending parade of oaty delights. My colon wept, wondering when the assault would end. And then finally, one day, it all clicked into place, and I found the ratio. Ingredients, times, everything sunk into place, and a crispy bar that held together (until you bit in, then bits of it become a bit graceless, but as per the previous associations, I am fairly sure no one is eating granola in an evening gown,) but did not threaten to carve up the inside of your mouth like a Christmas roast, but not goopy, leaving you with sticky hands you are unwilling to swipe across your smartphone screen. OK, maybe that would have been a nice break, we do spend too much time on those damned things, but I digress. I had it. Granola bars. Ultimately, for all the research and experimentation, it ended up being not far off from the original granola recipe, with a few adjustments to make the whole thing hold together. And it means much like regular granola, I will never buy granola bars again. But I might figure out how to pair one with a martini. Granola bars makes 12 bars, roughly 1 ½”x3” each Dry Ingredients 1 ¾ c. whole rolled oats (I do not use quick-cooking, I use regular) 1 ½ c. puffed rice cereal (no, I do not mean a certain cereal championed by a trio of elves, go look in the natural food aisle. I probably wouldn’t eat this on its own, but it lightens this up a bit) ½ c. pecans (or other nut, if you like, but you don’t have to, this is just what I prefer) ½ c. unsweetened flaked coconut (important: do not substitute sweetened shredded coconut. Find the unsweetened stuff.) 2 Tbsp. flax seed (because it totally makes it healthy. Also totally optional) 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt ¼ c. dark brown sugar ½ c. dark chocolate chips (again, optional, but… it’s dark chocolate, so why would you not want it?) Wet Ingredients scant ¼ c. sunflower or safflower oil (I like these better than canola, as they are light but with a touch of warmth to them, but you can use canola if you like) ¼ c. brown rice syrup (found in natural food places, call it...

coveted chocolate hazelnut deliciousness

By on Oct 14, 2013 in dessert, love, snacks, unprocessed october | 0 comments

There is a substance out there in the universe so coveted, the mere presence of it brought chaos to an Ivy League university as students hoarded it like gold. The name of it, when called out, causes heads to swivel in the hopes there is some to be had. People clamor for it as if it is some sort of currency. Except it would do no good as currency. You would eat it so fast you would be “broke” in a matter of minutes. It is Nutella. And I love it. Or at least, I did love it. It now contains the ominous spectre of high fructose corn syrup, a substance I try to avoid. There are other varieties out there, but honestly, they fall a little flat in comparison to the original. I was resigned to abandoning my love affair with the chocolatey hazelnut goodness. And then one day a cookbook arrived on my door. A magical cookbook full of ways to make your own things most sane people would just buy already made. Inside the wondrous pages of this cookbook lies a simple recipe for chocolate hazelnut spread. Nutella. From scratch. With six ingredients. I had to try it (with a tiny tweak here and there, of course.) It all begins with the roasting of hazelnuts, an always welcome task, the warm scent of roasting hazelnuts gently draping across the kitchen. A vigorous shake in a bowl sends the dark papery skins flying, and you inevitably sit, pinching at the skins that have refused to release themselves, wondering why on earth you decided to do this? What insanity would drive you to sift through over a hundred hazelnuts, plunking them one by one into the bowl of the waiting food processor? These thoughts are lost quickly, though, in the gentle crackle of the cooling nuts, each crack letting loose a little more of that warm roasted aroma. And from there… magic. A press of the button on the food processor, and the whirling blades (after an initial noise that sounds like the end of times) pulverize the hazelnuts into dust. They blades keep whirling, slowly drawing the natural oils out of the nuts. The whole mass suddenly seizes into a ball, clunking about the bowl, and then, with a shudder, the oils fully release and the whole thing sinks back into a creamy smooth paste (this will never have the absolute smoothness of actual Nutella.) Some confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder is thrown in. A generous pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla extract gets thrown into the fray. The button is depressed again, a poof of powdered sugar and cocoa powder explode inside the bowl. A bit of hazelnut oil is drizzled through the top, the dust settles, and suddenly a dark and glossy substance appears. The substance that caused chaos. The substance that causes heads to swivel. And here it is. Warm. Gooey. Nutty. Chocolaty. You will consider whether or not you will share it. You wonder how long it will keep. And then you realize you will never know, because you have already dipped a spoon in to taste, and you know without a shadow of a doubt that this spread is not long for this world. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (adapted ever so slightly from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook) Makes a little less than a pint 2 cups raw whole hazelnuts (if you can find them unskinned, this will go all the quicker) 1 c. confectioner’s sugar 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 Tbsp. hazelnut oil (a quick aside here. Hazelnut oil is not cheap, no two ways about it, but it does add a lovely hazelnut kick to this. If you parse it out, one bottle will likely get you dozens upon dozens of batches, so it will be worth it, but it is really hard to swallow the price of the initial purchase. If you don’t’ want to do it, you can use a neutral oil like canola or sunflower.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread hazelnuts out on a baking sheet. Roast for 12 – 15 minutes, until the skins have turned dark brown, the exposed parts a lovely light gold. You will also know by scent. When you actually start to really smell them, they are likely done. Don’t let them go too long. Even 30 seconds too long can burn them. Pull them out of the oven and pour them into a large bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, place a plate or another bowl over them and shake vigorously. This should get most of the skins off. Carefully remove the skinned hazelnuts and place them in the bowl of a food processor. It is not the end of the world if there are some skins in there, but try to get rid of as many as you can, as they will make it bitter. Bribe people into helping you by saying they get to like the bowl when it’s done. Once all the hazelnuts are in the food processor, pulse a few times until they are pulverized. This will be unbelievably loud. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then just… hit the button. Let the food processor run. After a minute or two, the nuts will seize up into a cohesive mass. Keep letting...

bring me the salt lick

By on Oct 6, 2013 in quickie, snacks, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 2 comments

There are days you sit and crave a crunchy salty snack. At first, you ignore it. But the craving will not die. Oh sure, you might find something crunchy. An apple, a carrot, but really? It is a carrot. And you really want a chip. In the interest of this unprocessed October, I could always heat up a vat of oil, thinly slice some potatoes, and fry up some homemade potato chips. And they would be delicious. But the craving demands a salty crunch NOW, not after slicing potatoes and heating a vat of oil and all that other frippery. A quick fix would be to sprinkle some salt on the end of the carrot, but… um… no. Enter the pita. OK, I am not about to bust out and make homemade pitas (yet.) But I am lucky enough to have a local store that sells locally made pitas, all made by hand, and the ingredient list really is just flour, yeast, water, and salt. And they pretty much taste like cardboard (there really isn’t that much salt.) You see, I love those pita chips they sell like potato chips now, but have you actually read the ingredients list? Well actually they still aren’t that bad. But this is October Unprocessed month! And they are still processed. They are baked so long that they can develop edges sharp enough to be considered lethal weapons. Really not what I am looking for in a snack. And so here is it, my crazy complicated recipe for your own pita chips. Quarter 3 pitas (my local ones are pretty awesome and homemade, so I am letting them slide into this unprocessed thing.) Split the quarters apart and lay them out, smooth outside of pita down, on a baking sheet (or two, if you decided to split up more pitas.) Brush the chips with a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil. Yes, it will take a few minutes, but bear with me. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grind some black pepper over it (do these from high above, you get more even coverage.) Pop it under your broiler set on low. After a couple of minutes, flip the baking sheet around. Obviously, if you’ve got two sheets, you’ll have to do it one at a time. Keep an eye on them, because they can go from golden brown to torched in a few seconds. You just want them golden brown, which should take about 4 minutes total. And there you have it. Warm pita chips, crispy without being wheat-based weaponry, the delicate floral aroma of the olive oil wafting up. Every bite differs a bit, some with a bit more salt, some with a bit more pepper, each one revealing their inner character. Sure, it’s just a salty crunchy snack. But it is not uniformly salt. It is whatever you make...