Refrigerator Pickles

Our garden has developed an interesting habit…at random intervals (with little to no warning), it will produce a cucumber the size of my forearm.  But just one.  This may or may not have something to do with a proliferation of weeds hiding under the cucumber leaves, obscuring cucumbers of smaller stature.  Maybe.  Regardless, when faced with a cuke (or two) of giant proportions, I turn to refrigerator pickles, for three reasons:

  1. They’re dead easy.
  2. They’re fast.
  3. They’re delicious.  And did I mention easy?

The great thing about fridge pickles is that there’s a tremendous variety of brines you can make, and you can really focus on the flavor instead of making sure the acidity is proper and safe for long-term storage (which should be a main concern if you’re canning pickles). Think of refrigerator pickles as more of a salad, if you will.  Take some poetic license!

I whipped up a batch on Monday before work, in fact, just to get my newest super-cuke percolating.  (See?  Fast!)  If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, the pickles can be assembled in under 5 minutes.  If not, you’re only as slow as you can slice!

For this batch, I added some red onion from our CSA, a pinch of dill seed, and a solid pinch of lovage-infused salt (also from our CSA!).  I use a standard fridge pickle brine (for sweet pickles) that consists of 1 T. salt, 7/8 c. vinegar, and 1-1/4 c. sugar per pound of cucumber.  You simply mix the cucumber and any other mix-ins you’re adding (thinly sliced onions and garlic are a great addition, but so are peppers and herbs!…think about 1 cup mix-ins total per pound of cuke).  Then mix up your brine (if you need a little more to cover, just mix up another batch in the same proportion).

Combine everything in a large bowl (make sure the bowl is NON-REACTIVE!!!  use ceramic or glass, but NO metal!).  Weigh down the cukes with a small plate, loosely saran-wrap the bowl, and let it sit on the counter overnight.

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

The next day, pack the pickles into jars if you like, top up with brine, and put in the fridge.  You can also just leave them in the bowl, but you’ll want to make sure it has a lid or your fridge will smell…pickle-y.

Since they’re quick-brined and not meant for long term storage, use the pickles up within a couple weeks.  And, if you’re like me and the garden keeps randomly producing new cucumbers, save your brine and keep using it!  A batch of brine can totally be reused to pickle once or twice!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

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Squash Soup!

I’ve been craving squash soup for a while now (and thanks to my hefty squash haul from the end of the CSA season, I have lots of squash to choose from!). In the past week I’ve had a wicked chest cold, so I’ve been doubly craving soup, but hadn’t gotten around to making anything more ambitious than beans on toast. A few days ago, I roasted some squash and happily roasted a bit too much for one meal, which means I could make a really quick soup, to boot! I did some lazy googling to find a recipe, but nothing I found really tickled my fancy…some called for apples (which I don’t have on hand), some for sour cream, and one even called for cabbage (eew, I think?).  Not what I wanted, exactly.

I knew wanted something spicy and sweet and creamy, and all the recipes I dug up ended up being somehow lacking, so I struck out on my own. I started with roasted spaghetti squash, curry powder and cream, but that’s hardly a soup! For the sweet part, I relied on the natural sweetness of the squash, plus a little apple cider. For the spice, I added some curry powder plus some crushed red chili flakes. For the creamy bit, I really wanted to use coconut milk, but alas, my pantry did not have a can lurking in the shadows (a first!), so I went with some heavy whipping cream. I also wanted to use an onion (for a bit more bite), and a bit of lemon juice to perk it all up. I contemplated adding potatoes to the mix, but decided I didn’t feel like washing and boiling spuds–and cubed spuds were out of the question–I wanted a creamy smooth soup, no chunks. I also had a jar of onion stock lurking in the fridge (from a roast we made a few weeks ago). Surprisingly, it came together very easily (a good 45 minutes before I’d planned, even!), so I thought I’d take my new-found spare time to share the recipe.

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Ridiculously Easy Curried Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 T. hot curry powder (more or less to taste)
  • 4-5 lb. winter squash, roasted or boiled
  • 2 c. vegetable broth/onion stock or water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Method:

  1. Heat butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, till golden.
  2. Add curry powder and cook till fragrant, then add broth and squash. Cook 5-10 minutes, till heated through, then puree using immersion blender.
  3. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove from heat and gently stir in cream. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Heirloom Pickles

Growing up, there was always a pickle jar in the fridge.  And quite frequently it was my grandmother’s amazing cherry dill pickle recipe filling that jar (while they lasted!).  Since moving away form home (oh, gosh, a decade ago, already?!) my supply of cherry dill pickles has been rather scant.  Mournfully scant, if I do say so myself.  So this year (since I’ve been pickling/canning like a crazy person) I decided to make my own batch.  And it has been an adventure from the start.

A couple weeks ago, I started gathering equipment/ingredients.  First on the list were cherry leaves.  Now, living in an apartment surrounded by ginkos and oaks and the odd spruce, and not having the hottest botany skillz around, I am not really sure I’d recognize a cherry tree even if it bit me.  But I happened to be on the phone with my mom, who was headed over to my uncle’s place to pick cherries for freezing.  “Picking cherries, you say?!” I said, “Well perhaps you could pick some leaves and overnight them to me, too?”…and she agreed!  So early next week, I had cherry leaves in my hot little hands!  The proper cherry leaves even! (since I’m sure the cherry leaves of MT taste much better than MN cherry leaves…yup…for sure!)

Of course, as luck would have it, I was out of cucumbers for the first time in a month.  I know, right?  How can I, who complained so vociferously about being inundated by cukes for months, be out of cucumbers?  Hard to believe, but true…I gave a bunch away to coworkers thinking I wouldn’t have time to pickle them, just before discovering I could order cherry leaves air-mail from home.  Drat.  So I froze the cherry leaves (much like I do with lime leaves for Asian-style soups) so they wouldn’t get all funky before I could get my act together.

The next step in this process was to acquire a pickling venue.  You see, this particular recipe makes enough pickles for an army (OK, as armies go, they would probably only feed a small, pickle-hating army…but for just two folks, it’s a lot of pickles!).  My mother and aunts and grandma use 5 gallon pickling crocks, which I did not have, so my brilliant plan B was a plastic bucket from my friendly local hardware store.  I also decided to scale back the recipe so I would only end up with 3 gallons of pickles, since they were out of 5-gallon buckets.  I make executive decisions like that.

Next I solved the problem of cucumbers, via my friendly veggie vendor at the local farmer’s market.  So one bucket of cukes later, I was ready to pickle.  Which at this stage involved washing the cucumbers, layering them in the bucket with the cherry leaves and a bunch of dill seed, and pouring room-temp brine over them.  And waiting two weeks to move on to the next step.  So this is what’s been sitting on my counter for the past two weeks:

I panicked a bit when I saw some mold forming on the top, but I consulted my mom and aunt conventional wisdom, and was reassured that the pickles would probably be fine if left alone, and it was probably because I froze the leaves first and they were breaking down faster than expected.  So I covered it with foil to keep it from killing us (mold is dangerous, no?!) and made a concentrated effort to not worry about it.  This is what it looked like when we opened it.  Gross, I know.

My hubby was prepared though…

…and gasmask in hand, he gallantly de-brined the cukes for me while I oversaw the proceedings from a location staunchly upwind…

Don’t try this in your home, kids…take it outside–it reeked!

First step once the cukes had been de-brined was to wash them…thoroughly.  See  above if questions.  So I washed the cukes, scrubbing them pretty well with my trusty veggie brush.  Once they were very well washed, I tested them.  After brining, if all was OK, we should have fairly crisp cukes (though they wouldn’t taste like proper pickles yet since the syrup is added later).  So we sliced into one to check it out:

The verdict: crisp and crunchety for the win!  I was so on the fence about these pickles.  Right up until that bite, I was about 60% convinced we should just scrap the whole lot as there’s no way anything that lurked under that scummy surface should be remotely edible…and yet…I held onto this beacon of hope that all would be well, because, well, I wanted cherry dill pickles, dammit!

Once we knew we were home free, the real work began.  I started slicing cukes into 3/4″ to 1″ slices, while John poured vinegar and sugar together and got it boiling for the syrup.  We also lit a fire under the canning kettle (it takes forever to boil, so we start it first most of the time).

Once the water in the canning kettle came up to a boil, we sanitized the jars, added 1/2 tsp. pickling spice to them, and then started packing the slices in.

John has mad pickle packing skillz.  Seriously, I hate packing stuff into jars because I know if I just take my time, more will fit in, but I’m lazy and want to be done already, so I usually end up with one more jar than I planned to make.  But not John!  He packed 10 pints of pickles neatly in to 10 pint jars!  Excellent!

Once the pickles were packed, we poured the syrup over them.

The syrup in the recipe is just a 2:1 ratio of sugar:vinegar, so we started with 2 cups sugar and a cup of vinegar and realized that would fill about 3 jars, max…so we made a couple more batches as we ran out a few times.  Then we tapped the air bubbles out of the jars, wiped the rims clean, screwed down the lids, and into the water bath they went! Exciting!

When all was said and done, our kitchen table was a sticky sticky mess and we had 10 jars of processed pickles!  We had a few odds and ends left that didn’t quite fill a jar, so we poured the last of the syrup over those and tossed it in the fridge to have this week.  A test jar, so to speak!

So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (at any and all stages!), but it was definitely more work and anxiety than I bargained for, too!  For any hearty souls that want to try this recipe, here it is (at least you’ll know approximately what you’re in for!):

Cherry Dill Pickles

Equipment:

  • 1 3-gallon plastic bucket or other pickling venue/crock
  • 10-11 pint jars
  • canning kettle/rack/jar lifter
  • large saucepan (for making brine & syrup)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bushel of smallish whole cukes (4-6″ in length, no more than 1-1/2″ in diameter)
  • 1 large bunch cherry leaves, washed (I’d say about 2 cups total)
  • 1/3 cup dill seed
  • 1 cup canning salt
  • 5 quarts water
  • 6 cups sugar (approx.)
  • 3 cups cider vinegar (approx.)

Scrub the cucumbers well and drain. Layer cucumbers and cherry leaves in your bucket/pickling crock, sprinkling each layer with a tablespoon or two of dill seeds.  Use the entire 1/3 cup over the course of all the layers.

Bring water and salt to a boil and stir till dissolved.  Pour (GENTLY!) over cucumbers/seeds/leaves.  Try not to displace the seasonings too much!

Set bucket in cool location (room temp or just below) out of direct sunlight.  Pick a place that the bucket can sit unmolested for two weeks–you don’t want to be moving it if you can help it.  Cover the top loosely with foil to keep dust/bugs out.

Let sit for two weeks.  Check every couple of days.  If mold forms, skim it off.  If a skin forms, that’s normal, just leave it be.

When cukes have brined for two weeks, remove from brine.  Wash thoroughly and slice into 3/4″ to 1″ wide pieces.  Discard brine.

Pack slices into sterilized jars. Make syrup by boiling sugar and cider vinegar till well dissolved.  Make more syrup using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to vinegar if needed.  Pour syrup into jars, leaving about 1/2″ headspace.  Tap air bubbles out.  Seal jars and process in water bath for 12 minutes.

Let processed jars cool overnight (don’t mess with them!).  Store sealed jars for up to 1 year, any jars that don’t seal, put in the fridge and eat within 3 months.

Lazy Lasagna

Or, what I did with my CSA this week!  I love lasagna, but I hate making it…boiling giant noodles, draining them and managing to not get them stuck together?  Blech.  Making sauce?  Grating tons o’ cheese?  Not so much fun.  Plus it takes forevers to bake!

But, I have a solution! Downsize the noodles, blanch veggies instead of slaving over a sauce, and grate a little bit of cheese, and supplement with a little goat cheese and you’ve got an ooey gooey pan of awesome in under 40 minutes!  I give you:

Lazy Lasagna!!

To make this culinary marvel, start with setting a big pot of water to boil…keep in mind you’ll need room for pasta AND veggies in there!

While the water comes to a boil, chop up one medium pattypan squash (don’t peel, do de-seed), 4 tomatoes, a bunch of chard, a small yellow onion, and a bit of oregano or basil.  Also, while you have spare time, shred 4 ounces of mozzarella, crumble 3 ounce goat cheese, and shred 2 ounces of parmesan.  Set everything aside.

Once the water is boiling, dump in a pound of small-shaped pasta (I like farfalle, but penne or similar would work well, too!).  Let it cook for 8 minutes or so, then dump in your chard and squash cubes to blanch:

Drain everything at the 10 minute mark (your pasta should be al-dente at this point).  Return to pot, and dump in remaining vegetables.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then crack one egg into the pot and stir everything like crazy to evenly mix the veggies and coat everything with the egg.

Pour about half the pasta into a 9×13 baking dish.  Sprinkle with half the mozzarella and parmesan.  Pour half the remaining pasta over cheese and top with remaining mozz and parm.  Pour the last of the pasta over the second cheese layer and dot with crumbled goat cheese (I like mine to be larger dollops so you have pockets of creamy goodness!).  Love the colors in this dish!!

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, just long enough to let the edges of pasta turn golden and all the cheese to melt.  Let cool a couple minutes before serving and enjoy!

Mmmmmm…pretty and delicious!  And excellent leftovers for lunch the next day!

CSA Soup

Our CSA box came on Monday, and for the first time in two weeks, we had something other than zuchs and cukes! (Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a wonky growing season first with the wet and the cold, and then with the wet and the hot…the CSA folks are doing a fine job, if you ask me, I just don’t particularly like zuchs and cukes, especially when they descend upon my kitchen en masse). But I digress. We had baby spuds, onions (at last!!), baby swedes (or maybe they’re turnips? I really cannot tell!), some round pattypan squash, and a head of cabbage.

So I put on my Easter European chef hat and made a batch of CSA soup (wherein the vast majority of the ingredients come from our CSA box) for dinner tonight. As it’s turned out particularly well, I thought I’d preserve the recipe/process for posterity and share it with the world (lucky you!).

First, I started with a mid-large dutch oven and a low low low flame. Set the pot over the flame to preheat a tiny bit while you start getting your ingredients together.

First ingredient in the pot is a slice of fatty bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Just throw it in and then wash a small yellow onion. Cut the onion into tiny dice and toss in with the bacon, which by now should have rendered enough fat that the onion doesn’t burn/stick. Also smash up 3 garlic cloves and toss in. Stir this every so often as you continue.

Next wash your cabbage and remove any wilty leaves. Quarter the cabbage lengthwise and then slice into 1-inch wide ribbons. Remember to cut out the core on the bottom pieces! When the onion in the pot is quite transluscent and the bacon is beginning to turn golden, throw the cabbage in and stir well to coat with fat. This will keep it from burning. Let the cabbage cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften.

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When cabbage is softened, add your liquid. This time, I added two cartons of chicken stock (low sodium), for 8 cups total liquid, but that’s only because I’d already hooked up the dishwasher and couldn’t get any water out of the faucet. I’d recommend 4 cups chicken (or other broth/stock) and 4 cups water–a little easier on the wallet, and I don’t think the flavor would suffer in the slightest!

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Once you add the liquid, turn the flame up to high and get that puppy to a rollicking boil. While the soup comes to a boil, dice up your spuds. I used two yellow potatoes and two red potatoes, plus three baby swedes, probably 1-1/2 cups total once diced. Once the soup is boiling, throw these in the pot (carefully! don’t burn yourself with backsplash!) and reduce the flame to medium. Let simmer till spuds are cooked.

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While your soup simmers, dice up a sausage or two. I used two for 8 servings of soup. And, use good sausage, folks. You’ll see in the photo below that this sausage is approximately 30-35% fat. (I know this because my family makes the sausage. If you’re not so lucky, visit your local butcher or a good deli and procure a soft salami or thuringer. Please do not use brats–too much fat, not enough flavor!) Italian or Polish sausage would also do in a pinch.

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Once your sausage is chopped up, throw it in. Simmer the soup until the spuds/swedes/whatever root veggies you used are tender. You might notice that I have yet to say “season with salt and pepper to taste”. That’s because broth is salty and sausage is peppery, so don’t get ahead of yourself! Taste your soup just before serving and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Before serving, I also like to stir a half cup or so of half and half into the soup to make it creamier, but that’s optional. If you do try it, though, be sure to temper the cream before you stir it into the pot so it doesn’t curdle.

So there you have it. A very Slav-inspired summer CSA soup!

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In a pickle!

I had a project in mind tonight when I got home after work! Any guesses?

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I made my second ever foray into the art of pickling! I used a recipe for garlic dill pickles I found at Food in Jars (which appears to be a stellar blog re all things canning! I can’t wait to peruse it more thoroughly!)

First, I washed the ton of cucumbers that had accrued in my CSA box this week: 3 long curly ones, two ghosty white ones, and one Indian golden.

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Next, I sliced them. Pretty thickly, as I don’t like super thin pickles, and from leisurely research (yay Google!), I’d gleaned that thicker pickles are crisper pickles…we shall see! I had a solid 8 cups (2 quarts) by the time I got down to the last cuke, so I left one of the ghosty white ones in the pic out.

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Then I set my brine up and brought it to a simmer.

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While to brine took its own sweet time coming to a simmer, I quickly washed out my jars and then started adding spices…first the garlic, then some dill see, peppercorns, and red pepper flakes.

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And then the sliced cukes!!! It’s harder than it looks to pack them all in tightly in the jars. Kind of like playing tetris with round things…

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Then they were all ready to pour the brine in! Which I managed without spilling all over! FTW!

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Then into the water bath they went. Well, that’s not entirely true. First I had to wait  45 minutes for the GIANT kettle o’ water to come to a boil. Took. For. Ever. Seriously, we grilled chicken legs, made tzatziki, and were well underway with dessert by the time the water finally got around to boiling. THEN into the water bath they went! 7 pretty little jars (because my jar-holder racky thing only holds seven at a time…weird).

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It was like a scene out of MacBeth! Except with more pickles and less dire prophecy!

Now, here’s where I had to wing it a bit…the recipe said to process for 10 minutes, but I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to start the timer when you put the jars in, or when the water came back to a boil after you put the jars in. To be on the safe side (I think!), I went with the latter and waited to start the timer till the water was back to a healthy boil. Since all my jars sealed once I took them out of the water bath, I think I’ll be OK.

I think I’ll give them a few days (maybe a week) to let the flavors blend, but I seriously cannot wait to crack one of these jars and try them out!

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surprisingly edible!

So it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of zucchini. I usually attempt to grill one every summer and declare I’m “over” it about halfway through the first serving. But my friendly CSA box came stuffed to the gills with the little yellow and green monsters (2nd week in a row!), so I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with them. Last week I made refrigerator pickles, but there’s only so much room in my fridge! This week we tried the stand-by “grilled coins” method to use in lunch salads (not terrible, but only because I had feta, tomatoes, steak, spinach, & balsamic vinegar dressing to distract me from their bland mooshiness!).

So in my quest for palatable zucchini, I found a food network recipe for grilled zucchini salad that I gave a shot last night…you basically shave the zucchini with a veggie peeler (or mandolin slicer if you’re feeling fancy!) into thin long strips, grill them just until they get grill marks, then toss them with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, parsley, & pine nuts. I put the salad together (it was super quick to make) and tested it and was not enthused. Well, disgusted might be the best word…it was…mushy and kind of runny all the same time. But, we set it aside while we cooked our steaks and when we went to eat it with dinner, viola! Surprisingly edible. The squash had gotten less squishy somehow, and the dressing had been absorbed so it wasn’t running all over, and the garlic flavor was divine. It was basically a vehicle for garlic, which is A-OK with me! I don’t know if I’ll make it again, but I’m glad it turned out better than expected!  You can see the zucchini strips on the (brand new!  squee!!)  grill below on the right.  They were a bit of a pain to grill because they kept tearing and sliding through the grate.

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I think a batch of zucchini bread may be in the works to take care of the rest of it.  At least that way I can (maybe) pawn some off on unsuspecting co-workers (or freeze it for later!).  What else is a girl to do with pounds upon pounds of summer squash?!?!?!

Along with a load of zucchini, we also have a pile of cucumbers from the CSA…but those I DO know what to do with! Pickles!!!! OK, truth be told, I’ve made pickles exactly once. About two years ago, in fact! (Actually, I just unearthed the dusty, mostly empty box of pickling salt I bought for that last attempt during a recent kitchen/pantry cleaning session…unfortunately I threw it away because I didn’t think I’d use the rest…and now I have to go buy a new box.  Sigh.  Someday I’ll learn!).

I found a recipe for garlic dill pickles and will be attempting those tonight after work (my weeknights get awful ambitious awful fast lately, it seems!).  I also have a sewing project I’d like to pick back up, but that may get sidelined depending on how involved pickling turns out to be…