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.

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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.

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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.

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