Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pickling Summer Bounty

It's high August and the peak of summer produce. It's also just plain hot. I really detest cooking in this weather, but what I do enjoy is the cold, fresh snap of a pickle--and I'm willing to do a little work to turn the bounty of cucumbers and tomatoes, radishes and squash and beans into something tangy and sour.

Over the almost 10 years I've been writing San Diego Foodstuff I've written a lot about pickling. I've made quick pickles with the Balistreris of Tender Greens. I've made my Nana Tillie's dill pickles. There are the pickled beets I made for my dad and my favorite pickled marinated eggplant from the late, beloved Gourmet magazine. Read on for links to all these recipes and more.

Bread and Butter Pickles: I've been making these pickles for my dad for years now. It began when I learned how to make bread and butter pickles from Quality Social's Jared Van Camp and Sam Burman. My first batches went to Dad -- long called "Opopie" by my nieces and nephews -- as a birthday gift. He asked for more. Then I developed my own version, combining Jared's recipe with the traditional Ball recipe from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has what I believe are the best instructions on how to do the much-dreaded water bath. Follow them religiously and you'll find it's actually a breeze.

Quality Social's Natural Pickles: Here's where I started getting my pickle chops. Charcuterie is matched perfectly with pickles. The acid from the pickles complements the fat of the sausages. With this recipe you can pickle just about any vegetable and, again, it's so easy!

Pickled Beets with Shallots: I made these for my dad just one year ago. As my friends know, I detest beets--so this was truly an act of love. But I have it on good authority that they're delicious. My dad went through jars of them in no time.

Italian Marinated Eggplant: This is my favorite eggplant recipe. I discovered it in Gourmet a zillion years ago and it's almost always in my fridge. It starts out as a pickle and goes on to be marinated in olive oil and garlic to become the perfect snack or appetizer. The actual prep doesn't take long but it's a day-long process as the eggplant is salted and then cured. Oh so good on sourdough rolls and the basis of this, my fave sandwich.

Quick Pickles: Looking for a quick and easy pickle to make? I have three recipes for you here from Pete Balistreri and his cousin Pete Balistreri of Tender Greens. There's their Asian-Style pickle with rice wine vinegar and sliced cucumbers, their pickled onions featuring red wine and red wine vinegar, and pickled cauliflower made with thyme, turmeric, and champagne vinegar.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins: These little cukes look like miniature watermelons and when pickled, are divine! A few years ago I got kitchen time with Chef Kelli Crosson of The Lodge at Torrey Pines and together we made a batch of her pickles to jar for the upcoming Celebrate the Craft. I also coveted the funnel she used to distribute the brine--and, lucky me, was gifted with one by a friend later. It's a treasured kitchen tool.

Dill Pickles: My siblings, cousins, and I have sensory memory of these pickles our Nana used to make. When we visited her at her apartment near the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, jars of these would be out on her porch taking in the summer sun. When we ate them, the brine would dribble down our chins and we'd all smell like garlicky dill pickles in the heat of the car on the way home. But we'd be happy. These are easy to put together, as you'll see. Here's my mom holding a jar after we made a batch awhile back.

Crunchy Giardiniera: Jenn Felmley is responsible for this recipe, a simple giardiniera that is heavenly in a sandwich. Mix together the vegetables you prefer. I like peppers, cauliflower, carrots, and celery for a more traditional approach.

Print Page

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cold Processed Homemade Berry Shrub

I love a good shrub. The chemical transformation in just hours of the mixture of fruit, perhaps some herbs, sugar, and vinegar creates a unique libation as part of a cocktail, blended with soda water, or used as an ingredient to make a dressing or sauce. You can pour shrubs over ice cream, too.

I first came across shrubs just over a couple of years ago when I met and wrote about the owners of The Gingered Pear. They create astounding shrubs and syrups--so wonderful that it really hadn't occurred to me to try my hand at it at home. Then I got some gorgeous berries from Specialty Produce and that little balloon thought appeared over my head. What if... So I did some research.

What I learned is that there are essentially two methods of making a shrub, both easy and requiring few ingredients. One is via heat and a fairly quick process. The other is a cold method that sits for several hours or even a day or two as the ingredients macerate.

Essentially what you'll want is your fruit, sugar, and vinegar--red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are good choices. You want something that has some substance but won't overtake the fruit flavors. Balsamic is a good choice, too, but know that it will vie with the fruit in terms of flavors. It's actually what I used for my shrub along with the apple cider vinegar.

Another cool thing about shrubs has to do with the fruit. Since the fruit will be turned into a liquid, you don't need to buy the most flawless, perfect fruit. If you have peaches or plums or berries that are a little past their prime, they're great candidates for a shrub.

Okay, so what do you do? The quick way is to combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and stir the mixture over heat until the sugar dissolves. Then add your fruit. Stir as it simmers and the juice melds with the sugar mixture, becoming syrupy. Let it cool, strain the solids, and add your vinegar. That's it.

Now some people feel that the way to extract more complexity and brightness is to go with the cold method. There's no heat to dull the fruit flavors. This, too, is quite easy. And, it's what I did.

In a bowl I mashed the berries a little to extract some of the juice and allow the sugar to penetrate more easily--sort of a head start. Then I added the sugar, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it.

The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and could see the juices and syrup already forming.

At this point you strain the liquid from the fruit. If you have a fine mesh strainer or chinois, that's the perfect tool for this. Press down on the fruit to get every last drop.

Then you'll whisk in your vinegar.

Pour it into a pretty bottle using a funnel and you're good to go.

Your shrub will be wonderfully tart and sweet, a combination that will mellow with time when stored in the fridge. I like to keep it simple and enjoy it combined with sparkling water on a hot late afternoon.

I've got a recipe for you that I adapted from Serious Eats that outlines the process perfectly.

Cold Processed Berry Shrub
(printable recipe)
Yield: 20 to 24 ounces of shrub syrup

1 cup of berries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Place berries in a bowl and gently mash them to release some juice.
2. Add sugar and mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight until the fruit releases liquids into a syrup. There's no hurry here.
3. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer or chinois over a bowl or measuring cup and carefully press on the fruit and sugar mixture to extract as much syrup as possible. If there's some sugar remaining in the original bowl scrape that in, too.
4. Whisk the vinegar into the syrup.
5. Using a funnel, pour your shrub into a bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated.

Print Page

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fig and Goat Cheese Toast with Honey and Orange Zest

Life has been a whirlwind over the last few weeks with my dad being in the end stage of his battle with Alzheimer's and Lewy Body diseases. It's why I didn't have time to post anything last week. I barely have time at my house to do any cooking. Even toasting a bagel or sitting down with a bowl of oatmeal is an achievement.

But today I spent some time at home to get work done, do laundry, and water my garden. And I decided to splurge on a good breakfast for myself. I had beautiful black figs and a package of goat cheese in my refrigerator.

While settled in my bed the night before, knowing that I could make something special the next morning, I contemplated what I could do with them. What I decided on was to chop up the figs and mix them with honey and orange zest. I'd toast an English muffin (at first I was thinking sourdough bread but changed my mind), then with a crispy crust as a moisture barrier I'd spread some goat cheese on the muffin halves, top it with the fig mixture, and run them under the broiler.

And that's what I did. What a treat it ended up being. The figs and honey were sweet with a hint of the citrus that pairs so well with them. The cheese was warm and gooey. The muffin held up well and provided some heft and crunch. It was like eating a fig pizza.

It was also quick and easy enough to make for a week-day breakfast. Take advantage of fig season and make these toasts for yourself.

Fig and Goat Cheese Toast with Honey and Orange Zest
(printable recipe)
Serves 1

1 English muffin, split into halves
3 whole, fresh figs, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
3 tablespoons goat cheese (or as much as you want to slather on your muffin)

1. Toast the muffins to get the top just brown and crispy.
2. While the muffins are toasting, chop the figs and mix them with the honey and orange zest.

3. When the muffins are done, spread the halves with goat cheese. Top with the fig mixture.

4. Place under the broiler for 4 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cultured Butter

Back in the 1930's when my mother was a baby, my maternal grandparents briefly owned a creamery in Denver. They made butter, ice cream--all the usual suspects for a creamery. At some point, they gave it up to move to Los Angeles, where my Poppa returned to his trade as a milliner. Given that women stopped wearing hats whenever they went out, he moved on from that, too. But that's another story.

Now you'd think with a creamery background in my family and a grandmother who loved to teach me how to cook, I'd have been raised learning how to make butter and other dairy products. But no. Clearly, she left that part of her history firmly in Denver. Not only did it never really enter into the family lore, until fairly recently it had never occurred to me to make my own. But then I fell hard for Brittany butter, sweet and just slightly crunchy from sea salt. I realized that commodity butter wasn't going to cut it for me any more.

A few months ago I poked around and found instructions for butter making--really easy ones (but not involving shaking a jar). I tried it and found I loved the results.

Of course, once you start... and so I had to try making cultured butter. Cultured butter has a tangy, more layered taste than regular butter. And it really comes alive when you take the time to culture it yourself. All that involves is adding the culture to the cream in a bowl and letting it sit at room temperature for from eight to 24 hours, covered. You can purchase the culture from cheese-making stores or you can simply add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt, which is what I did.

Now where regular butter takes little effort and a very short time to make, cultured butter requires little effort but many hours of waiting. Kind of like making bread, but without the kneading. But if you're not in a hurry, this is makes an über version of butter that you'll want to try.

As with all recipes with limited ingredients, the few used for making cultured butter have to be really really good. So, be sure to use organic unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream, high quality yogurt, and, if you're going to add salt, very good flaky sea salt.

To start you'll mix together the cream and yogurt in a bowl, cover the bowl with a towel and leave it to sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Ideally room temperature is in the 70s. It should get thick like sour cream and a little bubbly. It should smell clean. If it smells funky, toss it and try again.

Once it reaches the right consistency, refrigerate it for an hour. You can leave it in longer if you don't have time to make it immediately. I left mine in the fridge overnight, then took it out the next morning and left it for an hour to come back to room temperature before making the butter.

Now the way I make it is in the blender. And what I've learned by using my Vitamix is that you have to rein in your impulse to whip the cream on high. Instead, don't even move the dial from the lowest speed. It's fast enough to do the job of spurring the cream and yogurt mixture from thick to chunky.

Once you have some good sized chunks, stop. Let the mixture rest and separate. The liquid you get is buttermilk and it's delicious. Don't toss it but do drain it into a container and save it for baking muffins or making buttermilk dressing or however you like to use buttermilk.

Now you're going to wash the butter to remove any remaining remnants of buttermilk since that will make it spoil faster. There are different ways to do it. You can squeeze it by hand. You could pull out the chunks of butter, place them in cheesecloth in a bowl and pour ice water over them and press the butter into the ice water so that the water turns cloudy--and repeat this several times until the water is clear. Or you can make life easier for yourself with a trick I learned from The Kitchn--add cold water to the butter chunks in the blender bowl and pulse a few times. Let the mixture sit until the water separates from the butter. It'll be cloudy. Pour it out, being sure to use a slotted spoon or spatula to keep the butter in the bowl. Repeat a couple more times until the water is mostly clear. Move around those chunks at the bottom near the blades where water accumulates so you can drain it all out.

Now if you want to salt your butter, this is the time. Add just a scant quarter teaspoon of your sea salt to the blender bowl with the butter and pulse a few times to mix it in. Taste and make sure you have enough. If not, add just a bit more. Pulse again.

That's it. Scoop the butter into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Alternately, you can shape it into a log, using plastic wrap and refrigerate it. It should be good for about three weeks in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. If you want to make regular butter, there's no waiting, simply pour a pint of the heavy cream into the blender bowl and follow the instructions above.

Cultured Butter
Adapted from The Kitchn
(printable recipe)

1 pint organic, unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1. Whisk together the cream and yogurt in a bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let sit on the counter for 12 hours. Check to see if the mixture has thickened to a sour cream-like consistency and has formed bubbles on the top. If so, it's ready. If not, give it some more time. When it's ready, place it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
2. Bring the mixture to room temperature for an hour. This helps it separate into pieces faster. Then place in the bowl of a blender. At low speed, blend the cream-yogurt mixture for a minute or two until it it forms into chunks. That's your butter.
3. Let the butter chunks separate from the liquid, which is buttermilk. At that point, pour off the buttermilk for another use.
4. Add enough cold water to the butter in the blender bowl just to cover. Now you're washing the butter. Pulse three times. The water will be cloudy. Pour it off. Repeat two or more times until the water is relatively clear. Make sure you remove all the water.
5. Add salt now if you want. Pulse again a few times to make sure it's well mixed. Taste to see if you need to add more salt.
6. Scoop out the butter and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate--or shape it into a log using plastic wrap and refrigerate. It should be good for a few weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Chilled Melon Blueberry Soup

Melons are just coming into season and none too soon. They're so refreshing when the heat of summer bears down on us. Over the next few months wave after wave of intriguing varieties will become available and it's worth going to a farmers market or Specialty Produce to discover something other than your standard cantaloupe or honeydew to enjoy.

For instance, in June I brought home a small, fragrant Rocky Sweet Melon grown by Munak Ranch. The flesh is green like a honeydew but the flavor is more like a cross between a honeydew and cantaloupe. It's very juicy and sweet and tastes even better when it's been chilled.

Because it's so juicy I thought it would make a terrific chilled soup and mulled over what flavors to add to it. Usually I gravitate toward ginger because the sharpness is a nice contrast to the sugary melon. But this time I thought I'd reach for some strong herbs in my garden--Mexican tarragon and basil--and see how they would work, and I'd add some acidity with lime juice. I also had a pint of blueberries that had languished in my refrigerator. Since they go wonderfully with melons I figured I'd add them, too. All of these would be encased in a base of yogurt.

That was pretty much it. These soups are ridiculously simple to make if you have a blender or food processor. Simply dump all the ingredients in the bowl and puree. Yes, I mince the herbs. You don't have to since they're going into the blender but I don't want to risk them not being evenly chopped up and distributed. Then taste what you have and make adjustments. I found myself adding more basil than I thought would work but it still wasn't quite there. Then I had a little blip of an idea. Salt.

I added just a pinch and that's all that was needed to push the flavors forward. The soup doesn't taste at all salty; just makes the herbal flavors more assertive.

Let the soup sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so the mix of flavors melds. Then enjoy this refreshing vibrant summer soup.

Chilled Melon Blueberry Soup
(printable recipe)
Yield: 3 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups melon
1/2 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons basil leaves, minced
1 teaspoon Mexican tarragon, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup plain yogurt
Pinch kosher salt

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Puree. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Best Sandwich I Ever Made

Here it is the 4th of July and I'm sitting at my desk still salivating over the memory of a sandwich I made around Memorial Day. I had a real crud of a cold and hadn't gone to the market in awhile so I was left to forage around my fridge and freezer for something for lunch one day that seemed appetizing. What I ended up with was--to me--the best sandwich I'd ever made. Perfect bread--just
lightly toasted. Inside, a sublime mix of flavors and textures just from vegetables, herbs, spices, goat cheese, and oil and vinegar. You know how sometimes you pull together all the right ingredients and take a bite that, huh, lets you down because something's missing? Not this one. I got this totally right. I wanted to linger over it to savor what I'd created. And then make it again.

What I had was a Bread & Cie ciabatta roll I found in the freezer, a red onion, a package of goat cheese, and my favorite Italian marinated eggplant I had made a week or so earlier. I've written about this eggplant dish in the past. I've been making the recipe from Gourmet magazine since 2002 and it's never dated. It's sharp and garlicky from white wine vinegar and, well, garlic, all bathed in olive oil with a hint of oregano and a sharp hit of heat from crushed red peppers. I add it to pasta sauce. I slather good sourdough bread with it. And now, apparently, I add it to sandwiches. It's divine.

Then I remembered that among the bag of provisions my sweet mom had dropped off for me (including magnificent chicken soup with matzoh balls) was a package of roasted red peppers. Her reasoning was that the peppers were filled with vitamin C so she roasted several for me. I had plopped them in a container and covered them with olive oil and a wonderfully dark aromatic aged Spanish vinegar, Vinegar Viejo de Montilla, I had bought at Vom Fass Hillcrest. So it had a day or two of marinating already.

I didn't see how I could go wrong with this combination of ingredients, but neither did I realize how sublime it would actually be.

To put it together, slice the ciabatta roll in half horizontally and lightly toast or grill the halves. This will help give it structure once you add the oil-laden red peppers and eggplant.

Place a couple of slices of the red peppers on the bottom slice of the roll so the oil can coat the bread. Then add a couple of tablespoons of the Italian marinated eggplant, then the red onion slice. Drizzle the top slice of the roll with some of the oil from the eggplant and then spread the goat cheese over it. Place that on the onion slice. Now you have your sandwich. Slice in half and eat carefully over a plate, napkin at the ready. It's juicy!

Italian Marinated Eggplant
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

I've had this same recipe from Gourmet since August 2002. It really should be called Pickled Eggplant since boiling the eggplant in white wine vinegar takes it to a whole other dimension. It came from one of Gourmet's readers on its "Sugar and Spice" page. Gourmet later published another version of this from the staff but honestly it's not nearly as good. The little changes in proportions they made didn't serve the flavor at all. So, I'm sticking with this and I hope you try it. Not only do I drain it and enjoy on a crusty piece of bread or toasted pita, I often add it to tomato sauces for flavoring. Enjoy the oil, too! 

1 1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 3 X 1/4-inch sticks
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
About 1 1/2 cups olive oil

1. Toss eggplant with salt and drain in a colander set over a bowl, covered, at room temperature 4 hours. (Eggplant will turn brown.) Discard liquid in bowl.

2. Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove excess liquid.

3. Bring vinegar and water to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart nonreactive saucepan. Add eggplant and boil, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander, then set colander over a bowl and continue to drain eggplant, covered and chilled, 2 hours more. Discard liquid in bowl.

4. Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove excess liquid, then pat try with paper towels.

5. Stir together eggplant, garlic, oregano, pepper, and 1 cup oil in a bowl. Transfer to a 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid and add enough olive oil to just cover eggplant. Marinate eggplant, covered and chilled, at least 4 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Scoop eggplant out of jar with a fork to drain excess oil. Marinated eggplant keeps up to 1 month.

Print Page

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ginger Peach Lassi

It's been hot in San Diego. Record-breaking heat-wave hot. AC-inducing, burning-the-succulents-in-my-garden hot. And summer has only just begun...

I'm now living on iced tea, chilled soups, and Thai summer rolls. Then my mom gifted me with white peaches that are now in abundance on her tree. So I turned several of them into a divine drink perfect for this hot weather: a lassi.

What's a lassi? Basically a sweet or savory Indian drink originally from the Punjab region that has yogurt or buttermilk as a base. It can include fruit and/or spices, and is wonderfully refreshing. And did I mention that they're as easy to make as a smoothie?

For my lassi, I rounded up some peaches, ice, lime zest and juice, honey, fresh ginger, and yogurt. It would be sweet, bright with the acid, and have a little zing from the ginger.

Because the ingredients would all go into the blender, there was little prep. Seed and roughly chop the peaches, pull out some ginger from my freezer that I had conveniently grated and stored, zest the lime and then squeeze the juice in my very nifty new (to me) vintage Wear-Ever aluminum juicer that Chef Marguerite Grifka of California's Table introduced me to and that I found on eBay.

I tossed all the ingredients into my Vitamix and let her rip. In just moments I had a frothy chilled peach confection of a drink that got me through 90+ degrees that afternoon. Phew!

Ginger Peach Lassi
(printable recipe)
Serves 2

3-4 peaches, seeded and roughly chopped
3/4 cup of ice
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses.

Print Page