Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dilly of a Pickle Recession Cukes

I've wanted to incorporate video into Eats of Eden for months, and I've always planned to do it with canning.  Thanks to my sous chef/videographer husband and the inauguration of the season, it's now a reality!  See below for a little mini-pep talk on canning.

The recipe I use is out of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  If you are going to can anything, ever, then you have to have this on your bookshelf.  It covers all of the basic recipes you could think up - jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, fruits and vegetables - alongside detailed and illustrated processing instructions, prep and safety tips, and other indispensable information.  

Remember that there are SO many ways to safely experiment and play in the kitchen with savory dishes and baking... but canning is NOT the place to go off-book.  Canning recipes are carefully tested for safety and balance, ensuring that foods will have enough acid and cooking time to become shelf-stable.  If you want to get your hands on some very creative canning recipes, you're now in luck - there are more modern, culinary-conscious cookbooks out there than ever before.  In other words, these ain't your grandma's preserves.  My favorite right now is the Williams-Sonoma Art of Preserving book.  It's available right now at Costco, and includes both canning/preserving recipes alongside recipes that use your new canned goods.

Always remember:
-to wash your equipment before use.  Run the jars, lids and rings through your hottest dishwasher setting, and keep them on a fresh, clean towel to fill.
-to keep rings and lids in simmering water on the stove until the moment you use them.
-to never reuse rings; seals are only fresh once.
-to test all of your goods' seals with the "click test".  If the lid bounces up and down to the touch, it hasn't sealed, and isn't shelf-stable.  If they don't seal, you can still keep them in your fridge for about a month to use.
-that you're not going to save any money canning, contrary to popular belief.  It's fun, not frugal. 
-to share!  Half the fun is impressing family, friends and random coworkers with your gorgeous handiwork.

Dilly of a Pickle Recession Dills

6 pounds of pickling cukes, washed and drained
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canning salt
1 quart white vinegar
1 quart water
3 tablespoons pickling spice
Dried red peppers
Peeled garlic cloves
Bay leaves
1 large bunch of dill

Combine sugar, salt, vinegar, pickling spice and water in a large saucepot.  Simmer 15 minutes.   Place 1 garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, 2 dried peppers, and 1 sprig of dill in each jar.  Pack with cucumbers.  Ladle cooking liquid into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process pints and quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Apparently last weekend there was a big shindig cookouts for the higher-ups in my company.  Not being a higher-up, or a mid-up, or really facing upward in general, I was not a part of this fete.  But when I found out there was leftover crab brought in, I got up and over to the fridge.

How often do I have crab?  Probably twice a year, at restaurants I'm lucky enough to accompany someone to.  I've only cooked with it once before, a splurge of crab cakes Matt and I cooked up when we were still living in Hillsboro during the latter Bush years.  The recipe was a little bready, and I couldn't get a great sear with the Target-issue electric skillet we used for almost every meal.  But for free, I'm always willing to try again.

I concocted my meal plan while talking to Lisa, who was also snagging a gallon Ziploc worth of loot.  "What can I do with it?"  she wanted to know.

"You could treat it like tuna fish," I said, drawing from the sweltering weather that made stoves and electric skillets vastly unappealing, and trying to verbally pass on a recipe without being overly complicated.  "A little mayo and lemon juice on a hot dog roll.  That's how they eat it in Maine."  Actually it's how they eat lobster, and it's only because of a distant Cooking Light magazine that I know that.  But who's counting?

"I've got hamburger buns," she said, "this'll be great!"

I think, if I could come home from work every day and smash crustaceans with a meat tenderizer, I could probably ditch the Prozac.  Smash!  Crack!  Tear!  Your reward?  Nuggets of precious sea-fed flesh, ready to pop into the bowl or right into your mouth.  Matt came by to try his hand at it, but he can never get a carcass as clean as I can.  I know all the nooks and crannies on a Costco rotisserie chicken, like those little oysters on the back near the thighs.  I lick my rib racks down to the marrow, shaking my head at his pile of wasted delicious opportunity.

Fresh crab is such a contradiction.  Light, yet rich.  Flavorful, but impressionable.  Sweet with a kick of salt.  Overflowing from one claw, absent from the next.  It's so different from any of the usual protein subjects: beef (ground), chicken (breasts), pork (chops).  It even eclipses the "exotics": steak, salmon, the rare shrimp, experimentation with tofu, a sinful meal highlighting the virtues of bacon. 

After I got through annihilating my catch, I mixed in a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a couple more of light sour cream, lemon juice, green onion, Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle, and a good shake of Tabasco sauce.  Spread on a pedestrian hamburger bun, it induced a fit of eye-rolling and moans.  Simple, but sinful.  Those clawful creatures are just full of surprises.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Living the Dream

I hate that phrase.  Especially when people use it at work.  "Hey, how's it going, Bob in Accounting?"  "You know, just livin' the dream!"  Really?  That's your dream?  Filing purchase orders and fielding bitchy customer phone calls is "the dream"?  What a sad recessionista world it's become.

But sometimes, when you have a dream worth dreaming, and you find yourself living in it, well... those are just the best nights there are.

I knew Heather and Chandler were coming over for dinner Saturday night.  A little celebration for Heather's last day of corporate slavery, and the first time we'd gotten together couple-to-couple in a long time.  It was the first nice, hot day in a long stretch of overcast summer sabotage.  I wanted to make something special, something fresh and seasonal and close-to-home.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out our cryogenically preserved salmon friend.  You know, the one my father in law caught on the river this spring.  Our tomatoes are going crazy, so I wanted to feature them as well.  I remember Ina Garten making panzanella salad for some ridiculous manufactured Hamptons party on the beach, so I thought that would probably be good.  I do adore her recipes. 

Matt had to work on Saturday, which allowed me to do my grocery shopping solo--a blessing and a curse.  It's lonely going into Tigard all by yourself (feels like driving to work...), but at least I don't have to listen to someone critiquing my ingredient choices and asking a million menu questions.  I got to go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and tried to stay on shopping list task, but they had this lady sampling local strawberries in the produce section.  I didn't even know strawberries were still growing in August, but maybe since we've had such an October-esque summer so far they're going later.  They were the best berries I've had all year, so I had to buy a pint of those.  And I felt bad for Matt working all day, so I bought him some microbrews.  Sadly, I had to pass on getting that gorgeous hat that still keeps taunting me :(

I stuffed the unsuspecting salmon with a fresh goat cheese log I mixed with minced rosemary, diced green onions, and the juice of half a lemon.  I layered that with lemon slices and rosemary sprigs, and a heavy rub of salt and pepper.

While prepping him up, I had the strongest urge to start playing puppet with his grouchy fish mouth.  Once my fingers got close to his lips, however, I flinched away.  Something in his eyes... I just had visions of him somehow jumping to life (after the catch, and the full gutting, and the 3 months in the chest freezer) and biting my fingers off.  His head remained, to the end, blissfully unmolested.

The panzanella salad was refreshingly easy, just a lot of therapeutic chopping. You toast the bread with olive oil in a saute pan, which gives it a nice, crunchy texture and olive oil flavor without making it a total crouton.  You still maintain some of the bread's true texture. 

It took two planks to stretch the length of the salmon on the grill.  An impossible task on our old Patio Caddy, but now an entire world of barbecuery has opened up.  The goat cheese developed a golden crust yielding to a molten velvet warm cheese sandwiched between buttery fish fillet.  Slicing it up to serve was probably the most delicious task I've had in ages (actually up until tonight, but that's a story for the next blog). 

The meal was relatively simple, and didn't take me all day to make.  Still, I can't pick out much that would have tasted better on a 100 degree day.

It was too hot to eat out on the ghetto patio dining table I'd erected under our shady tree (the 1970's green card table my parents still haven't re-claimed from Thanksgiving covered with a Target tablecloth and surrounded with our super-comfy patio chairs), but by the time we were ready to roll with Heather's blackberry cobbler, the temperature was hovering in the 70's.  We all sat around the table, with tealights and tiki torches, inhaling cool berry cobbler and gorging on conversation.  The stars began to come out in full force, uninhibited in our clean country sky. 

As I caught a falling star shooting across the center of the galaxy, I realized I'd finally gotten exactly what I wanted out of a house.  A gorgeous place to share love in all its forms -- food, comfort, conversation, friendship.  I may not have my s'mores party fire pit or tile-topped table yet, but I've got beautiful friends and a mean recipe for panzanella salad.  At last, we're living the dream.

Ina Garten's Snobby Outdoor Party Panzanella

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Whole Enchilada

It seems that everyone has the best recipe for enchiladas.  Even Matt has his own cinnamon-fueled specialty rounding out his culinary repertoire (alongside bratwurst spaghetti, ghetto-style alfredo and cube steaks).  My recipe comes from my mother, who found it in a country-style cookbook.  I first had them at her house when we were visiting, when she always pulls out all the stops.  She used Cougar Gold cheese, which made the most sharp and creamy version I have ever met.  I've held a thick slab or tin of it in my hand on several occasions since, unable to justify the investment.  I got spoiled on specialty cheese during my food marketing days, like the post-food show $100 macaroni and cheese I threw together with 1/4 wheels of Ossau-Iraty, Beechers Flagship, Comte and Rembrandt.  After realizing how much the commoners pay for 1/2 pound of Jarlsberg, I faced a huge Catch-22: no money for good cheese, and no taste for bad cheese. 

I would sing the virtues of fabulous cheese all day long, but a wedge doesn't go far, and I certainly can't keep my deli drawer constantly stocked with artisan specimens all the time.  Not since I left the company handing out half-wheels of Manchego after a food show like leftover pizza post-manager meeting in a typical office.  But if you're having a very beloved guests over, you'll never beat tin-packed Cougar Gold in these enchiladas.

Random side note:  Today I was at Whole Foods and I was thinking about burrata.  Oh burrata.  It looks like a mozzarella ball, but when you cut into it, you find a creamy, ricotta-like curd that spreads like velvet across tomatoes and strawberries.  There is no better cheese for mid-August.  I asked at the cheese counter, as they sliced huge hunks of emmentaler, "do you have Burrata?"

"Yes, he'll show you where it is," she says, pointing me in the direction of a tall, dark, geeky-sexy cheese guy that I totally wanted to talk tallegio with.  He removes a delicate green leaf-wrapped cheese, placing it right into my hand. 

"There you are, burrata."

$9.99 burrata.  $9.99 for a cheese that was completely off my menu plan.

"Will you have this next week?"  I ask, putting it back on the shelf.  "My tomatoes aren't quite ripe yet."

2nd cheap-ass move at Bridgeport Village Whole Foods in a week.  I ooze class.

My everyday version may sport pedestrian Tillamook cheddar, but the filling is still creamy and delicious.  This is a great dish to have in your pocket for potlucks... if you can condescend to trying it over YOUR recipe.  Speaking of the recipe.  I had the little recipe card I copied it onto sitting on the counter, but I did a major recycle-n-sort this morning.  I think it may have become a casualty.  Luckily, Matt's begged me to make them enough times that I THINK I can remember it.  Watch out, your favorite recipes are one cleaning spree away from death. 

Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas

2 cups rotisserie chicken, picked off in little pieces (get one at Costco!  They're the best and the cheapest!!)
2 cups semi-hard cheese (Cougar Gold if you can, Sharp Tillamook Cheddar if you can't)
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Vegetable Oil
1 cup sour cream, plus additional for topping
1 small can diced fire-roasted chiles
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
8 flour tortillas
1 can of enchilada sauce (Matt insists Rosarita is the best, but I like the Trader Joe's kind myself)

Warm vegetable oil in a large skillet on medium.  Add onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add chicken, sour cream, chiles, cumin, chili powder and salt.  Reduce heat to low and stir, allowing to heat through.  Remove from heat.  Fill each tortilla with about 1/2 a cup of filling, and top with cheese.  Roll, and place in a pan prepared with 1/3 the enchilada sauce poured on the bottom.  Continue for all the tortillas.  Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, uncovered.  Remove from heat.  Top with sour cream, then bake for 8 more minutes.  Serve, and top with guacamole if you want a real treat.  It might make up for the fact that you cheaped out on the cheese.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Freak Pasta

Every once and a while, you surprise yourself.

I was so surprised, I didn’t even bother taking any porn shots of my—hmm, let’s see.  How about Shrimp Garden Pasta.  It was an accident, a fluke, a chance.  A product of not wanting to go out into the garage and grab a chest freezer pack of chicken thighs.  I bought those Schwan’s shrimp, I reminded myself as I dashed out the door.  Make a pasta.

When I got home, I plucked the reddest tomatoes from the bionic Early Girl vines.  They’re ripening exponentially; cordon bleu day, one.  The next day, two.  Three.  Four. A whole seven had crimsoned in today’s muggy sun.  I sliced them up alongside a Whole Foods zucchini, seasoned with hazelnut oil, salt and pepper and cooked on the Griddler.  The sauce took shape in the All Clad pan, with two cloves of minced garlic softened in canola oil (I’ve been out of olive oil for like three weeks, and I’m just too spoiled to buy it retail). 

P.S., I totally humiliated myself at Whole Foods at lunch.  I saw this beautiful, huge-brimmed hat near the door, and read the tag at $9.99.  Nice!  At the register it rang up as $35.99, and knowing that I could not spend $35.99 on a hat, had to sheepishly give it back. AFTER I had ripped the tag off and crowned myself with it.  The guy was typical  Whole Foods gracious – “no worries!  I got a guy who puts tags back on” – but feeling like a peasant at Lake Oswego Whole Foods is not becoming. 

I added some unloved white wine from the fridge, the sliced garden tomatoes, butter, a little hazelnut oil, dried basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper.  The aroma was fresh, sharp and citrusy.  

To stave off a known cooking disaster, such as last night's homemade pizza with wheat flour kerfuffle, I made Matt turkey paninis and macaroni and cheese.  But once he heard my "oh my god" exclamations, he got curious.  

"That is good!"  He agreed, taking another bite. 

Usually my impromptu pastas are ok, but not something I'd brag (or blog) about.  But I have to at least write this down for a next time.  Tomorrow already looks more promising, knowing a Tupperware of love awaits.  

Shrimp Garden Pasta

1 package dry spaghetti
1/2 bag Schwan's Caesar Shrimp
1 cup fresh sliced tomatoes
1 cup white wine that you probably used for risotto before this
1 zucchini, sliced and grilled
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and Pepper

Boil noodles.  Heat canola oil over medium-high heat, add garlic and saute until softened, about 4 minutes.  As it gets golden and aromatic, add the wine.  Allow to cook for 2 minutes, then add tomatoes, butter, hazelnut oil, lemon zest, dried basil, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to thicken for about 10 minutes.  

Toss the sauce, pasta, cooked Schwan's shrimp, grilled zucchini, lemon juice, cheese and a good sprinkling of Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle along with salt and pepper to taste.  

I can't wait until the heirloom tomatoes come in and make these dishes all colorful and fancy.  Maybe I can get some glamour shots then.

Update:  Enjoying the fruits of leftover labor!