Friday, September 30, 2011

Squeeeeeky Loaf!

We hear ad nauseam that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Even though it’s overused, it perfectly describes how I feel after Matt’s been away for a whole week. I guess I’ve taken for granted just how much I count on him to help me keep this place from falling apart. So far this week, with him away on a work trip, I’ve broken the patio umbrella by not folding it down as a windstorm rolled in, had the grass grow way too far up my calf with the rain/sun/rain/sun roller coaster, clogged the sink, and forgot to feed the cats at least once. Suffice to say I’m anxiously waiting for him to get home tonight, and like any anticipated occasion, I had to cook something special to celebrate. 

As mentioned before, one of Matt’s favorite foods is meatloaf. I spent quite a few years of cooking-learning not crazy about it, mostly because I didn’t utilize the most important trick: mixing your meat. Going with straight ground beef has a flat, one-note flavor that feels like having to mow through a giant hamburger without the delicious fixings. Combine the ground beef staple with another meat; I use ground pork most of the time, but ground bulk sausage tastes nice and spicy. Make a Greekloaf with ground beef, ground lamb and feta! But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

I wanted to make this a Welcome Back to Oregon meatloaf, since the nasty humidity and roaming lizards of North Carolina have made Matt feel the fondness for our state. I’ve been lucky enough to have some unique state staples in my fridge tonight, including a pack of Olympic Provisions bacon and Tillamook Cheese Curds. Olympic Provisions makes the best bacon you can buy in Portland. Plus it comes in these provincial butcher-paper packs with their elegant logo sticker that’s oh-so fun to carry around in your farmer’s market basket.  

Tillamook Cheese curds are the best part of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Which is saying a LOT, since it’s a CHEESE FACTORY. There’s watching giant blocks of cheddar whittled down into baby loaves, the vast ice cream counter, little stuffed cows in the gift shop. But nothing compares to the addictive little bites of mild, salty young cheddar cheese that you get to pop with abandon at the end of the tour. They’re delicious eaten right there, where the cheesemakers are hard at work. They’re basically the beginnings of the cheddaring process, when the milk is just beginning to solidify and hasn’t been formed into loaves yet. Mixed up and full of little air bubbles, the curds make a hilarious “squeeeek!” against your teeth while you chew. They were always my favorite part of any childhood trip to the Oregon Coast, right up there with Pig ‘n Pancake. 
I thought the combination of coastal Tillamook cheese curds and Portland bacon would be perfect on a cool, clear last night of September in Oregon. So with pumpkin candles burning and ghost lights twinkling, I mixed up my newly beloved Bacon and Cheese Curd-Studded Meatloaf. I mixed all meatloaf ingredients together by hand (you can’t use a spoon; you need fingers to mush all that goodness together!). I’ve seen other cheesy meatloaves that put half of the meat mix in the pan, then layer on the cheese, then put the rest of the meat on top, making a molten center of fabulous fromage. I like secret surprises in each bite, so I like to mix it all in. Be sure to dice the bacon pretty small for the same reason—you don’t want a giant mouthful of bacon, just little hints of it that add to the meatloaf’s flavor without stealing it away.  

I’ve got to always top with a ketchup-mustard glaze… tradition and all. Tonight I added a little squeeze of Oregon’s own Secret Aardvark Sauce, the stuff that usurped sriracha as our favorite spicy condiment. Couldn't stop taking tastes of this sweet and spicy sauce... you know, to make sure it was okay and all. When I opened up the oven after the loaf had been in for an hour, squeeky cheese was poking out from crevices, while other bits remained hidden deep within. So cheesy! And hidden bacon craters! Not so much a bacon bite as much as its smoky essence, making you just say, hmmm. This is insanely delicious and I can't quite put my finger on how. A bite lends all of the players a little piece of the stage: creamy, melting cheese, crisp bacon, and that sauce! Go for the end pieces. They retain the most of it (and get crispier bits, if you're a bark fan like me). Served with fresh green beans and mashed red potatoes. It reheats well for leftovers, too. Or as it will when Matt eventually get home, since his flight was delayed like five times. 

Home sweet home! And yay for unclogged sinks!

Oregon Fall Bacon and Cheese-Studded Meatloaf
1 lb lean ground beef, (85/15 or 90/10)
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Tillamook Cheddar cheese curds
5 strips heritage bacon (Olympic Provisions, if you're in Portland!), cooked and diced into small bits
2 tbsp fresh parsley, diced
1/2 teaspoon mix dried herbs, like Penzey's Mural of Flavor (or just use dried basil)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
Vegetable oil, for pan

For the sauce:
1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 squirt (1/2 tsp) Secret Aardvark Sauce or other hot sauce (optional)

Remove ground meat from refrigerator and allow to rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature. Add all non-sauce ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Transfer to a loaf pan that has been greased with vegetable oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until interior of meatloaf has reached 160 degrees. The top should be developing a brown crust, and juices should be pooling and bubbling around the loaf. 

While meatloaf bakes, combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until fully combined. Set aside.

Remove from oven, top evenly with sauce, and bake another 10-15 minutes. Allow the meatloaf to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Free Bird

The last week has been guy food heavy. I'm not sure what prompted this savory, meaty, spicy food trend, but there's no one in the house complaining. Which is more than I can say when I go on a salad-and-salmon binge. Last weekend we visited a local meat market called Voget's Meats that's literally a 2-minute bike ride from my house, that I've never gone into before. Sometimes the stuff that's smack in front of your face has a way of blurring away. It's a small family place in the same vein as Gartner's on a much smaller scale. Couple this with the lovely fruit and berry stands in town, throw in a bakery, and I'd have my own version of provence right here in the middle of nowhere. Too bad everything shutters at 5:00, just as I'm hustling down to my car. Oh well.

So Voget's has their own house-made Li'l Smokies sausages, which come in a big sausage rope you have to cut up yourself. So authentic! So German! Makes me want to go order this thousand-something dollar cuckoo clock that I plan on asking for for Christmas and anniversaries the next decade and a half. Slow-cooking these little guys inspired me to try another football season classic that I've never attempted before: wings. I'm not a wing nut, and I think most restaurants and such make them really crappy more often than not, but I loved a classic version that Matt's friend Pete made for us last season. They're everything that the snack should be: crispy, hot, great with cooling blue cheese (in my case ranch, since blue cheese makes me gag... yes I know, send on the hate mail) but good enough to stand up on their own. We bought a bag of pre-frozen chicken drumsticks, since I don't like the other parts of the wing anyway, and Matt got the treasured recipe over the phone.

Interesting side note... as Matt pointed out, chicken wings have gone up tremendously in price the last decade or so. It used to be the garbage bulk meat, next to the big pack of chicken livers and hearts, that you ate when you were in grad school or trying to feed a family of 10. Now as a reigning snack of choice, it's like twice as much per pound. Just saying, start stocking up on beef tongue. Today's budget-stretcher is tomorrow's specialty foodie darling (see tripe).

Matt cooked the wings in small batches while I made the sauce, and then it was just toss-and-serve. How often do you get to have something so FUN to eat? Each wing is novelty in its miniature stature, its resemblance to food you usually have to be in either a dirty sports bar or crappy family-friendly chain restaurant to enjoy--it just feels like cheating nature. I'm eating delicious mini chickens in my OWN HOME! Take that, universe!

Despite how good these were, I'd also made that big pot of smokies (and another dish I won't admit to making here because it's really over the top embarrassing). So we had some leftovers. How do you use up leftover chicken wings? For some reason, spaghetti seemed perfect. I'm not sure where I've seen Spaghetti and Wings together before, but I know I have. And I know it didn't seem wrong. But instead of your normal marinara, I had a recipe I'd been wanting to try for a few weeks now. The clipping from Food Network Magazine had been sitting on the counter for a few months now, just waiting for a night we were feeling brave. The Neely's Barbecue Spaghetti. Pulled pork, homemade barbecue sauce and pasta. Ick! But also, hmm. I love all those things. Could they possibly work together?

We wouldn't know until we tried. The recipe calls for a slowly-cooked barbecue sauce that takes about 2 hours to cook, but I was making dinner on a weeknight and, typical to my don't-copy-me fashion, I didn't read the recipe beforehand. I always read the ingredients, but with prep I'm just like, "uh huh, yeah, I have a stove. We'll be fine." I reduced the cooking time by about half.

After the sauce is ready, you just toss in the pulled pork, stir it in with the noodles and serve. And taste! That was the crazy part. The verdict? Good, but better the next day. Right off the stove the sauce was still really sweet, so with the pulled pork with its candied, caramelly bark bits, it was a little too candy-ish for my taste. When I warmed up leftovers the next day, the spices had pulled through and made it a richer, more savory dish. If the sauce had been cooked the full time the first time around, the fresh results probably would have been closer to that end of the spectrum. You could always make the sauce the night before and warm it up to toss with the meat and pasta. If you actually plan ahead, I'd recommend giving it a try. Especially if you have a few extra wings lying around. The bold, hot flavors with the sweet barbecue tang was almost good enough to keep us from crying when the Eagles blew a 14-point lead.


Pete's Hot Wings
3 lbs frozen chicken drumettes
1 stick butter
1 large bottle of Frank's Red Hot sauce (Not sure on the ounces, but there's the two sizes--the one that looks like you're buying to have in the fridge to shake on things modestly, and the one that looks like you're buying WAY TOO MUCH.  Go for that one.)
1 habanero pepper, diced and seeded
1 jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded
4 cloves garlic
Vegetable oil for frying

To make the sauce:
Melt half of the butter stick over medium heat in a saucepan. Add garlic, 1/2 of the habanero, all of the jalapeno, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers have softened (5-6 minutes). Watch out, the fumes are going to be strong. Open a window. Add the entire bottle of Frank's sauce, the rest of the butter and the remaining habanero. If you would prefer less heat, omit the un-sauteed additional pepper. Or if you're crazy and want way more heat, add peppers until you cry. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Keep warm while you prepare the chicken.

To make the chicken:
Thaw chicken overnight in fridge. Fry in small batches in either a deep fat fryer, or on the stove in a Dutch oven. Chicken is ready when the skin gets a nice golden tan. Keep completed wings warm in a 250 degree oven while the rest cooks. When complete, coat the wings in the warm sauce in a large bowl. Serve with blue cheese, ranch, and a whole crapload of napkins.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Corner Story

As you know, I love Bon Appetit. It's my favorite food magazine, even with jerkface Andrew Knowlton's snarky, pretentious, name-dropping articles. The recipes are so consistently good, I know I can always reach into my clippings file to find something that will turn into a hit. No cookbook on my shelf holds that much clout, aside from maybe Pure Flavor. But there's something about the breadth of the magazine that goes beyond what one cookbook can offer. And when I can really sit down and dig into an issue (which doesn't happen as much as I'd like with only 24 hours in a day and all), I inevitably come up with a new idea I'm dying to try.

This time, it was a little snippet in the corner of page 32 of The September Issue (little Anna Wintour reference there... you're welcome).  It's a feature they title 3 Chefs, One Ingredient. This month the secret ingredient was anchovies. I just bought my first jar of anchovy fillets a few weeks ago for a recipe, and I was surprised by how not grossed out I was. The fillets are so harmless, with a familiar texture and salty, innocent aroma. A far cry from the creepy headed creatures in shady-looking tin cans that I tend to associate with the ingredient. I can sneak them past Matt, the most fish-hatingest person I've ever known, in a dressing or dish and he doesn't say a word. And this is a guy who can sniff out a pinch of rosemary in a whole pot of tomato sauce. (He doesn't like rosemary, by the way. Add THAT to the list.) Chef Kelly English from a restaurant in Memphis's Deviled Eggs with Anchovies were a little much: entire fillets atop deviled eggs. I'm a purist when it comes to my deviled eggs. No bacon bits, no relish, no pimentos or olives or dukkah or whatever else is a hit at the Fancy Foods Show that season. I want them clean and simple, like my grandma makes at Easter. A tiny pinch of paprika is as wild as I'm willing to go there. The Anchovy and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette was nice, but not exactly a dish. It was the vibrant green Crispy Potato Salad with Anchovy Chimichurri that caught my eye, down in the corner. Chef Tim Byres from Dallas said, "this salad is my gateway dish to anchovy addiction."

I had time to read and discover this recipe last weekend, while I was visiting my parents on their Oregon coast camping trip. They were stopping by for dinner on the way back up home, so I said I'd make it when they were here. Challenge accepted.

A fabulous side dish requires a good entree to headline the act. Also on a relaxing weekend, Matt caught a ton of salmon in the Columbia, so that was the ingredient of choice. First I pulled up a Bobby Flay recipe for grilled salmon. He wanted me to reduce vinegar, chop up a ton of tomatoes and garlic and tomatillos, set it aside, do some more crap with the sauce, use special smoking wood. I had the recipe printed in my car, ready to go in for ingredients when I decided "eff that." Delicious, fresh caught salmon doesn't need a Flay attack of sauces and spices. I popped onto the Epicurious app, holder of all Bon Appetitness, and picked the first simple salmon recipe I came across. Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter. Limes, butter, salt, pepper. Oh, okay, garlic too. Gotta have that. But with that combination, how can you go wrong?

The salmon, as promised, was super-easy. The butter sauce was made in the food processor by emulsifying melted butter with the other ingredients, reserving and drizzling over the completed fish. Planked and left to its own devices on the top rack of the grill, it slowly grew light and flaky, mildly infused with the smokiness of the charring wood. We had enough to feed an advancing army, or at least a ravenous wedding crowd, but we made a pretty good dent on our own. The butter sauce? Decadent without feeling heavy, the bright citrus perked everyone's tastebuds up, and played nice with the potato salad.

The potato salad! A very cheffy dish, I spent about ten times as long with that, but it still wasn't much of a headache. The chimichurri whirred up in the blender, disguising the rogue anchovies in blazing green. The combination of cilantro, parsley, lemon and garlic brought the whole kitchen to life. The potatoes were pan-fried, and while the recipe called for olive oil, I used half-and-half olive oil and vegetable oil. Olive oil has such a low smoke point, it's tough to get a good crispiness on something without burning the oil and funking up the food. I've done that so many times, and just played it off like nothing happened. It did happen. And we have to accept that. The recipe called for sticking a garlic clove and another anchovy fillet in the oil to flavor it for the potatoes, which was a fun little trick. The clove got charred and melty (and was snapped up right away by my dad), and the anchovy disintegrated to become one with the oil, lending its salty, briny afterlife to the pan. They took probably 15 minutes on medium-high heat before they became brown and crispy. They have to be watched and flipped fairly often; you don't want them to char too fast, and you definitely don't want burned potatoes. Raw potatoes, also bad. I've slowly learned not to turn my back on frying potatoes.

To plate, you get fancy by pooling some of the sauce on the bottom, then layering it artfully in between layers of crispy-perfect, thin potatoes. As I said, very cheffy. And if there's one thing I love, it's being all pretentious and cheffy.

Hmm, maybe I'm being a hypocrite with the Andrew Knowlton hate.

I could not get enough of these. I don't think of them as an anchovy dish, but it does have a depth to the saltiness that I figure the 6 fillets can be heartily thanked for. It goes beyond sea salt flakes into a dimension of slight brine savoriness that is caper-olive-anchovy-blue cheese exclusive territory. Combining that with potato, the most salt-loving vegetable there is? Yes, I think I have a new addiction as well.

Both recipes credited to Bon Appetit/Epicurious are below, since I'm dying for you to try them. We rounded out the meal with corn on the cob, and skipped dessert.

Crispy Potato Salad with Anchovy Chimichurri
3/4 cup fresh basil
3/4 cup celery leaves
3/4 cup cilantro
3/4 cup parsley
6 finely chopped anchovy fillets plus 1 additional
1 sliced celery stalk
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus 2 additional
Red pepper flakes
1 tomatillo
4 medium potatoes
1 garlic clove, plus 1 additional for pan
Additional olive oil and vegetable oil for frying

Mix basil, celery leaves, cilantro and parsley with anchovy fillets. Transfer 1/2 of mixture to a medium bowl, add 1 sliced celery stalk, olive oil and lemon juice; reserve for garnish. Puree remaining mixture in a food processor with tomatillo, 1 garlic clove, 2 tbsp lemon juice, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Season chimichurri with salt.

Cut 4 potatoes into 1/4" slices. Heat olive oil and vegetable oil in large skillet; add potatoes, 1 garlic clove and 1 anchovy fillet. Fry until crispy. Divide potatoes among 4 plates, spoon some chimichurri sauce over, top with garnish, and drizzle with more chimichurri.

Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter Sauce
6 (6-oz) pieces center-cut salmon fillet (about 1 inch thick) with skin
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lime zest
6 tablespoons lime butter sauce
(This is Bon Appetit's instruction. I used a whole salmon fillet and grilled it on a soaked cedar plank. Either way would yield the same succulent result).
Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas).
Season salmon all over with salt and pepper, then grill, flesh sides down, on lightly oiled grill rack (covered only if using gas grill) 4 minutes. Turn fillets over and grill (covered only if using gas grill) until just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more. Sprinkle fillets with zest and top each with 1 tablespoon lime butter sauce.

Lime Butter Sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
Purée garlic with lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. With motor running, add melted butter and blend until emulsified, about 30 seconds.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Something in the Leaves

Shh, I have a secret.

I put my Halloween stuff out tonight.

I know!  I know!  It's going to be 80 degrees this weekend!  And yes, Halloween is a month and a half away.  But when I've gotten down at least three of those pumpkin spice lattes, and it takes me an extra twenty minutes to get home because in the 8 weeks we've had here without rain people have forgotten how to drive when it SPRINKLES IN OREGON, I start itching to open up those boxes in the garage that smell like cinnamon and Market Spice tea.

"When the Halloween decorations come out, that means it's fall cooking season," I said to Matt, trying to get him on board. He thinks putting out Halloween House before fall officially starts is, quote-unquote, "ghetto." However, he starts talking wistfully about cool weather favorite foods like meatloaf, pot roast and, his very favorite, bean soup.

Bean soup was some crap I threw in a Crock Pot before spring hit earlier this year, one night when I didn't want to have to worry about cooking. He loved it so much, he sat me down with a pen and paper and had me write down "everything I did." And I'm glad I did, because six months later, I totally wouldn't have remembered what I threw together that became his favorite soup. But last night I dug out the recipe, a thank you for hauling in all those boxes for crazy old me. With dinner all taken care of by the time I got home, I had enough energy to (almost) finish Halloween-ifying the house. Still a few little details to be added, but I've got a little time. But hey. Why not make the month out of the year you get to enjoy your favorite holiday a month and a half?

Here's to uncovering your favorite things about the changing seasons.  And re-learning old habits, like how to drive in the god-damn rain. You'll be needing that for the next ten months.

Matt's Favorite Bean Soup
1 package of ground Italian pork sausage from New Seasons (this is important!!), browned in pan
4 cups vegetable broth
6 cups beef broth
1 can stewed tomatoes (I use 1/2 quart of home-canned tomatoes... need to can those again this weekend. Hmm.)
1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 bag frozen spinach
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp Penzey's Tuscan Sunset
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 can kidney beans
1 can garbanzo beans

Crock pot all for a work day.  Pick up some bread at the store.  The good kind, don't skimp on bread. You'll end up sad and eating cardboard. Come home and enjoy whatever it is makes you joyful on these quickly-darkening nights.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Last Hurrah

Just as Pumpkin Spice Lattes were showing up at Starbucks, Christmas decorations were being stocked at Costco, and I started wanting some good hearty ragouts and braised pork roasts, Oregon decided it was finally going to hit 90+ degrees.  Thanks, Portland.  A little late for my stillborn tomatoes.  But one upside--I get a second chance to share the marinade I've been loving all summer long.

This was featured back in July in Bon Appetit, specially designed for Korean-style short ribs.  If you've never tried this cut of meat, go forth and do so!  It takes just minutes to cook on the grill, since they're so thin, but they're tender finger foods that you can season any way.  The best cuts in Portland I've found at Whole Foods.  They're still a little specialty, but ask your butcher.  They might be hidden behind the counter.  You can also get them per-marinated at Trader Joe's, with the best flavor being the Hawaiian one.  That's a good choice if you want to try them out without figuring out your own flavor profiles.

But this marinade is so perfect, I don't think I'll ever buy a premade version ever again.  I'm no great marinater; usually I can't taste what I dump on top of my food, or if I use something from a bottle in a pinch, the meat turns into a gigantic salt lick.  I hate those bottled marinade commercials where the women are describing their cardboard personalities in the kitchen while happy animated fruits and veggies explode in cheap Illustrator swirls--"I'm spicy, with a touch of sweet!"  OMG she embodies all the ideals of Jamaican Jerk!  It's all a bunch of high fructose LIES!!!  Making your own flavor brew is the way to go, but it takes some time to find things that work.  When you do, love it!  And, if you have a food blog, share it.  Or be a "secret recipe" turd.  I'm way too loud for that, though.

Since I started making this a few months ago, I've made a couple of my own additions to the recipe.  First, I add a tablespoon of honey.  This last time I opened up the jar of honey Matt and I got on our trip to Bend at this small sustainable ranch.  I don't even know how to describe it.  There's so much flavor going on.  It's not just sweet, it's earthy, and creamy, and tinged with a berry's tartness.  It made me want to pitch a beehive in the backyard.  Just add that to the list with the chicken coop and the goat.  Secondly, a generous squirt of sriracha, because... come on.  How can this NOT have sriracha in it? 

Last weekend we bought a nice tri-tip roast, and I whipped up a batch of the Korean marinade for it.  Tri-tip is fantastic because you can get one for maybe $15 (or a fantastic 2-pack at Costco for $20ish), and it feeds either a nice-sized family for dinner, or a little family of two people and their cats plus leftovers for quesadillas/burritos/gyros/paninis/random snacking.  It goes a lot further than individual steaks, that's for sure.  I think I marinated it about 6 hours, flipping the Ziploc over two or three times to make sure every side got an even chance.  If you cook it low and slow on the grill it will develop a bit of a crust where the sugars caramelize.  The crunchy bits are my favorite part.  Just don't put it on high heat, or you'll get a charred football that's raw in the middle. 

The flavor has the Asian notes of soy, garlic and ginger, but it doesn't knock you over the head.  YOU ARE EATING KOREAN FOOD!  MUST FINISH WITH MOCHI!!!  You can play it up, by serving with rice or a cold Asian noodle salad, or something that neutralizes it into just good grilling.  I went that route with baked sweet potatoes topped with sour cream and scallions. 

Enjoy the grill for the next few weeks!  But hey, even after that we always have white trash garage grillin'.  Here's to that.  Now, where's my Le Creuset?

Korean Barbecue Marinade
Adapted from Bon Appetit
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons raw or turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablepsoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (I don't like sesame oil, so I use vegetable oil instead)
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 good squirt of sriracha
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
Whisk 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water, 1 1/2 tablespoons raw or turbinado sugar, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil, 1 tbsp honey, sriracha,1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped scallions. Marinate your meat (or tofu, I won't judge) for at least 6 hours up to overnight.  Then grill your heart out.
DO AHEAD: Cover and chill up to 1 day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blueberries for Sal

I'd like to take a moment and interrupt this poor abandoned blog for a Day In Canning!  This long-weekend Saturday we hit up the local farm stands out in our extended backyard (one of which I had a Groupon for--who knew?) and brought home big, 25 pound packs of produce into the kitchen to be sliced, spiced, steamed and smooshed into shelf-stable goodies.

Before I begin though, I just want to say that I haven't forgotten Eats of Eden at all.  I've been wanting to get back and blog about some fun recipes and such, but I've had a few excuses I'd like to make:

a.  I got, and started, a new job (so I'm not working at that place I passive-aggressively described as making me want to jump off a cliff).  But starting a job, getting used to a new schedule and trying to learn an entire new company is exhausting.  Not to mention I have:

b.  started my 3rd semester of the Pacific University MFA program, so when I write, I generally need it to be thesis-based, since that is due next spring.  But good news!  I have two pieces that have gotten published recently:  One in the Owl Eye Review, and one in Sliver of Stone.  But if you read this you've probably already been spammed about that, so I'll move on.

So, first off, jam.  I found a recipe in my favorite canning book, the Williams-Sonoma Art of Preserving, for blueberry-plum jam.  Blueberries and plums probably hold the most memories of fruit with me.  In the first house I lived in in West Seattle, there was a giant old plum tree in the backyard.  It's since been chopped down for some reason that can't possibly justify its destruction, but back then around this time of year it would sag with the burden of hundreds of dusky-hued fruits.  I'd go out into the yard and pick all I could eat, which Mom would get pretty concerned about.  I mean, fruit is great and all, but how much do you really want your 4-year-old stuffing in her face?  So she put a cap on two plums a day, which I found unacceptable, and began hoarding plums under my mattress.  Then I'd get distracted by my Strawberry Shortcake dolls or something, and the plum inventory would get forgotten until a couple weeks later, when poor Mom changed the bedsheets. 

Then there was the blueberry farm in Federal Way, the next house I lived in, which was U-Pick and a perfect cheap, fun, memorable summer activity for us kids on break.  I remember going a couple times when my mom babysat my cousins Nicole and Tina, and we'd have picture-perfect afternoons finding the juiciest berries on the branches--and making sour faces and gagging noises when we popped a tart one in our mouths that hadn't yet reached its prime.  And of course there was Blueberries for Sal, one of my favorite children's books that was totally pro-canning.  And pro-bears.

After chilling in the fridge for several hours, the berries start to break down a bit and the plums release their juices.  On the stove they break down into their true color, which is a stark shade of violet.  This is a powdered pectin-free recipe, which relies on the pectin that occurs within the fruit to gel it up.  Luckily plums have a good amount of pectin naturally-occurring in them, so you can feel the jam start to thicken and set pretty quickly once they get cooking.  The tartness of the plums and blueberries made it smell like a jam dreamed up of Pinot Noir.  I didn't have any on hand (a travesty I fixed today, don't worry), but luckily my favorite rose, Rosa Regale, served as a wonderful pairing with my tester english muffin. It's definitely not too sweet at all, partly because there's only 4 cups of sugar in the whole double batch (you'd have to triple or quadruple that if you were using box pectin).  I can't wait to make homemade frozen yogurt out of this!  But probably not this weekend; after a few too many trips to Salt & Straw ice cream in the last few weeks, I'm trying to cut down on my dessert trend.

Another thing I did differently this jam time around was I used half-pint jars instead of full pints.  Mom used to use full pints while I was growing up, but we were kids that ate a TON of jam.  Toast, sandwiches, whatever.  Nowadays, and with a household of two instead of five, I don't use it nearly as often and hate having much go to waste.  The half-pints are a much easier size to use up without keeping on hand pas what most people "recommend" you keeping a condiment in the fridge.

But if you're anything like me, you've moved that jar of fish sauce around from apartment to apartment to house for three years, and you're still alive, right?  Yeah.  That's what I thought.

It also makes a batch stretch farther, meaning more to give away to your favorite people!  Yes, you know I love you.

When jam was done, I still had a gigantic box of little cucumbers staring me down.  This was my second batch of cucumbers in a row, since Matt decided to pimp out my canning skills to a friend.  We've made pickles since I first took Harriet Fastenfest's canning class in 2008, and I don't know how, but they always turn out pretty mind-blowing fantastic.  Maybe it's my reckless extra Chinese pepper and garlic cloves (Harriet warned vehemently against experimenting and messing up a canning recipe's acidity, but when you're drowning a food in vinegar you've got a smidge more leeway without risking that vintage bout of botulism.  Canning isn't nearly as dangerous as people seem to think, especially when you're not doing low-acid foods like corn, green beans, or trying to turn your favorite bean-and-ham soup into a pantry-stable staple.  If you're following a reliable source like the Ball Book of Preserving for methods and staying sterilized with your equipment and food, you should be good to go.  Back in the 50's people used to do all kind of crazy, dangerous crap like re-use mayonnaise jars to can with.  Also, DDT was a-ok and everyone was lighting up smokes with buns in the oven, and Don Draper was there all sexy and brooding like..... okay, I'm back.  Sorry).   

Once all the jars are prepped and made into beautiful spice terrariums, it's time to stuff them with the cukes.  This is where Matt comes in.  Trying to cram as many little cucumbers into each jar is like date night nowadays.  He revolutionized this task this weekend when we were at Fred Meyer (the BEST grocery store for canning supplies) by asking me, "why don't we buy the WIDE mouth jars for canning pickles?  Wouldn't that make stuffing them a million times easier?"

Yes.  And yes.  I'm completely stupid for never thinking of that.  So, learn from my idiocy.  Save the regular ones for tomatoes, peaches, applesauce and all those other things that don't require playing Tetris with veggies.

If you're going to go get a box of pickling cukes, first call ahead--some farm stands don't carry them, or only get them in by special-order.  Especially in quantities to make a big batch (my 25 pound boxes make about 18 quarts of pickles).  If you get some choice in the matter, choose a box that has a good amount of very small 1"-2" cucumbers, which you'll need at the end of the pack where you have a little more room, but a giant fat pickle is never going to fit.  They're your cornichons! 

Hot lids on, 10 minutes in the water bath and at least a month on the shelf:  poof!  Pickles you can be proud of, just in time to use on a relish tray and atop deviled eggs for my 27th birthday Mad Men-themed cocktail party.  And yes, I swear to god, it IS that easy.  Now if you're me, you just go out and spend five times as much money as you saved being all preserve-happy on vintage ribbon, fabric and custom labels to make them all gilded. 

Thanks for coming back to visit, if you have, and I'll try to stop in a little more often as the universe settles a bit more.