Bread and Butter Pickles

One summer when I was young, our kitchen was filled with cucumbers.  We made them into dill pickles and bread and butter pickles and there wasn’t a single counter that wasn’t packed with shiny, hot jars of the stuff.  The whole house smelled of vinegar.  It was great.

We made two batches of bread and butter pickles on this particular day and it took a long time, what with the sterilization and the soaking and the canning, so make sure you have a free day and plenty of space when you’re going to do this.

One batch of bread and butter pickles yields about six 1-pint jars and uses 3L (about 4lb) of pickling cucumbers.

Wash your cucumbers.  Scrub them and all their knobby bits well.

Cut the tops and bottoms of the cucumbers off (the bloom and stem ends).Using a mandolin or a food processor, slice the cucumbers into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Please do not cut off any of your fingers.  Mandolins are vicious.

This will take a while, especially if you are doing two batches.

Now you have a helluva lotta cucumber slices.  Put some on your eyes and take a rest for a while.

Just kidding.  There’s work to be done.

Now you have to slice some onions.  Use about three medium onions per batch of pickles.  Peel the onion and slice it in half lengthwise, then use a mandolin or food processor to slice them the same thickness as your cucumbers.

I like to use the Onion Goggles here to avoid bloodshed.  Or tearshed.  Or both.  If I’m weeping uncontrollably I may slice off an appendage on the mandolin.

Put all your cucumber and onion slices in an enormous bowl and sprinkle them with kosher or coarse pickling salt.  Cover with ice water (or water with ice cubes in it) and leave to soak for three hours.

Now you can take a break.  Or make something else while you wait.

You know what, why don’t you cut up two sweet red peppers, sliced thin on the mandolin again, and add them to the pile?  They make for a nice colour contrast in the jar.

Drain the vegetables after their three-hour soak, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and then drain them again really well.

At this point you should probably start preparing your jars and lids.

Put your lids and rings in a pot of water and set that to boil. 

Plop your jars in your canner and set that to boil as well.  This will take a while.Now you can prepare your pickling brine.

The key spices here are celery seed, turmeric, and yellow mustard seeds.

In a small bowl, put 2 tablespoons mustard seed, 2 1/2 teaspoons celery seed, and 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric (the turmeric is what turns everything yellow).  Set it aside for now.

In an enormous pot (we used the large maslin pan from Lee Valley), put 5 cups granulated sugar (I know, it seems like an awful lot).

Add to this 4 cups pickling vinegar.  My grandmother insists that all pickling (unless otherwise stated) must use pickling vinegar.  It’s about twice as strong as regular distilled white vinegar.

Add in your pickling spices and give it a stir.

Bring it to a boil and dissolve the sugar.

Now plop in your vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are tender and yellow and the liquid is once more boiling, about fifteen minutes. 

Once your jars have been boiling for ten minutes, you can haul them out of the canner.  Turn off the heat for now to allow the water to cool slightly.

Drain the jars carefully using a jar gripper and put them near your pickle pot.

Using a canning funnel, carefully ladle pickle mixture into your six jars to within a half or quarter inch of the top of the jar. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you, your counter tops, and everything around you will become extremely sticky at this point.Make sure there is plenty of liquid in the jar as well, but be careful to leave some space at the top.

Use a wooden skewer (don’t use metal) to poke around and remove the air bubbles from amongst the pickles.

Remove your lids and rings from the heat and carefully place the lids on the jars. 

Twist the rings on to fingertip tightness and return the jars to your canner. 

Dunk them under and bring the water to a boil for fifteen minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and allow to cool.  As they cool they will seal with a lovely POP sound.

You can eat these pickles right away, but store opened jars in the refrigerator.  Serve as a side to your dishes, put in sandwiches, or just eat straight from the jar.  Your choice.Our two batches left us with some extra pickles, which we put in a jar in the fridge. 

The rest we saved for you!You know you want one …

Poached Eggs

Today my dad taught me how to poach eggs.  Turns out it’s ridiculously easy.  I mean they’ll never be Julia Child quality or anything but they are tasty.

Set a pot of water to boiling and add a dash or two of vinegar.  This keeps the egg whites from going absolutely everywhere.  Dad says he probably put too much water in the pot but whatever.

Once the water is boiling just gently crack the eggs into it. 

There will be some weird feathery things but don’t fret.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop out an egg to check it for firmness.  Give it a poke to see if it’s as firm as you like.

When you’ve reached desired firmness, scoop ’em out and serve. 

We had ours with English muffins, sausage, and fresh tomatoes from our own garden.  Mmm …

Fruit Porn Salad

Happy Birthday Ando!

Bow-chika WOW wow, chika-chika WOW, chika-chika WOW-wow.

Okay enough of that.  People call food writing food porn, and just last week on Freshly Pressed there was a blog about how sensual fruit salad is, so I just put two and two together.  I’m sorry.  Won’t happen again.

I am a total fruit hound.  It’s ridiculous how often I make myself sick over-eating when it comes to fruit.  The Pie just shakes his head at me and tells me I am a grown-up and should know better.  Then he goes and gets the Rolaids for me.

Fruit salad is the perfect summer dessert, especially after a dinner party where you have all stuffed yourselves silly.  This one I made for just such a party.  I find it’s good to make fruit salads the day before and leave them overnight in the fridge to let all the flavours mingle and get to know each other.

I left my regular camera in my in-laws’ truck, and so had to make do with my old one for this, which, despite weirdly exposing everything and turning every second photo a vivid purple, worked out rather well.

I happened to have a pineapple, which I expertly cored:

A watermelon, which I expertly cubed:

Some kiwi, which I expertly peeled:

Some local strawberries, which I inexpertly hulled:

Some leftover plums from the macaroon incident, which I pitted and quartered:

And a can each of mandarin orange segments and freestone peaches:

I set everything up in a mis en place so I could figure out how I was going to layer this sucker.  A fruit salad should be as pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat.

Into a pretty crystal bowl went all the watermelon, pineapple, peaches, oranges, and plums.  I added the juice from the pineapple as well.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up with your hands.  It goes with the whole sensual thing.  Plus your hands don’t tend to damage the more delicate fruits like metal spoons do.

Then around the outside I layered the kiwi, about two slices wide.  The strawberries I piled in the centre of the ring.

This final step is up to you, but I like to add about 2 ounces of a clear spirit, like vodka, to the mix, just to enhance the fruit flavours.  Today I had tequila, so I made do with that.  Cover it with plastic wrap and chuck it in the fridge overnight.Sensual?  Maybe.  Tasty?  For sure.

Tomato Lunch

A rain charm to fend off the storm.

It’s a rainy afternoon from where I’m writing.  It’s only eight degrees outside but I’m determined to think of summer.  What better lunch, then, than a tomato salad?

Here is my tomato.  It’s had a hard life being imported from somewhere into my refrigerator, but I’m not a snob when it comes to aesthetics.  Of course, this would be a different post altogether if I had my mother’s multicoloured heritage tomatoes at hand.  But we make do with what we can.

Let me take this opportunity to introduce to you a tiny piece of steel that makes eating tomatoes so much easier: the tomato huller

Rather than simply slicing off the top of the tomato and discarding it, or using a knife to cut into the top and leaving a tomato slice that looks like a victim of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this little tool quickly and neatly removes the tough bits of tomato attaching the stem to the flesh without wasting all that tomato-y goodness.

So first you remove the stem.  Just pop that sucker right off.

Then take the huller and dig the little spokes into the area around the stem-hole.

Ease the huller around the edge of the stem-hole and work it underneath, like an ice cream scoop.

Then just scoop away the icky parts.  Tada.

Makes it easy to slice up your tomato, lay it, salted and peppered, on a plate with some fresh basil leaves, and drizzle it with a smidgen of vintage balsamic vinegar (because we all know how much I love vinegar).

You can see how that lovely top slice didn’t go to waste.

I grated a wee bit of asiago cheese on top and ate it with a roll (which I baked myself!) to sop up the juices.  Mmm.

Go-to Garlic Basil Vinaigrette

Salads here in Newfoundland is a rare t’ing, b’y.  At least for us.  It’s hard to get vegetables that you want to look at that closely.

What this means is we don’t buy those huge bottles of salad dressing, which are usually too strong, too full of extra stuff we don’t want to put in our bodies, and last for way longer than you like the flavour.

We make our little vinaigrettes instead.

The trick with a good vinaigrette is in the emulsification of the olive oil with the vinegar.  You can do this by shaking it vigourously in a closed container, or by whipping it to a frenzy with a whisk.  The choice is yours.

Here we’ve got about two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, three tablespoons vintage balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon dried basil and another teaspoon minced garlic.  But you can put whatever you want in there.

Shake it up good and stick it in your fridge for up to two weeks.  The flavours will actually improve the longer you leave it in there.

Easter (Eater) Dinner

On Sunday the Pie and I had KK, Il Principe, and D, J, and S over for an Easter feast.

I have a lot on my plate this week (and I’m not talking about food here) so I’m going to draw the recounting of this tale out as long as I possibly can.  I’ll try to give you a post a day about all the fun and fantastic things we ate.

I love to have dinner parties.  I think it’s my parents’ influence again.  I’m not really happy unless I can stuff someone else with food until he or she feels the need to lie down.  It really makes my day.

That said, entertaining, on a small or large scale, takes a lot of work and a lot of planning.  Timing is pretty much everything, and it takes practice to get it all to happen at the same time.  The Pie and I have it down to an exact science at this point.  We take a gander at what time things are supposed to be done, chuck them in the oven or on the stove at the various points in time we think they need to go in, then we shut our eyes tight and cross our fingers that everything will turn out properly.  Most of the time we’re right but it took years to get us to this stage.

I have also learned the art of making things ahead of time.  This saves a lot of panic in the kitchen when you’re trying to get everything finished at the same time.  If there are some dishes on your menu that can be popped in the microwave or in the oven for reheating at the last minute then all the better.  Another important thing to remember, and something that I only recently learned, is that you don’t have to make absolutely everything from scratch.  There is nothing wrong with adding store-bought chips to your dips, or purchasing bread as a side.  The more stuff you make the more complications you are going to have.  Besides, sometimes the store versions of things are actually better.  You don’t have to have absolute control over everything that goes on your menu, and so that is why, finally, it is also important to let other people give you a hand if they want to.  Kª wanted to bring a salad, and you know what?  I thought that was a great idea.  And it was a great salad.

Items to be posted this week:

Menu

Appetizers

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip (made the day before)

Pita Chips (store-bought — really, you don’t have to be a domestic maven all the time – I get the In Snax sea salt versions from In Foods Inc.  They are totally tasty.)

Mains

Ham with Cloves (pre-cooked for simplicity)

Red Curry Quinoa (made the day before)

Sides

Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Feta Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (made by Kª – I don’t have a link because I didn’t make it)

Carrot and Parsnip Butter Mash (made the day before)

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Quick Drop Biscuits

Dessert

Strawberry Glazed Angel Food Cake (strawberry component prepared the day before)

Waiting for the feast.

Tabouleh tabouleh tabouleh

I really like the word tabouleh.  I remember eating it often as a kid.  It’s a good quick salad and it works well in a pita sandwich.

We made this recipe with couscous, but you can substitute it for quinoa or bulgur or other grains.

Stir the couscous and oil into the water and allow to expand for 2 minutes.

To prepare the couscous, bring a cup of salted water to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from the heat and pour in a cup of couscous.  Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and allow the pasta to expand for two minutes.

Return the couscous to a low heat on the stove.  Drop in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and stir until well-blended.  Allow to cool.

Add butter to couscous and stir on low heat until melted.

We got this tabouleh recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) by Rombauer & Becker, and we replaced the bulgur with couscous, of course, and  we weren’t all that good at measuring, either, so we fiddled with the amounts.

Finely chop 2 to 3 tomatoes, 2 cups of fresh parsley, 1 cup of fresh mint, and 1 bunch of scallions or green onions. See my tips and tricks entry on how to finely chop herbs.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, emulsify 1/3 cup olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice.  To do this, I took a very small whisk and rubbed it between my palms until the liquid was creamy and custard coloured.

Use a small whisk to emulsify the ingredients.
Rub the whisk briskly between your palms until the liquid is custardy.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous, tomatoes, onions, and herbs together thoroughly.  Toss with the olive oil/lemon juice emulsion and serve.

Serve as a salad or in a sandwich.

We spooned the tabouleh into open pita pockets lined with baby spinach and home-made hummus and ate them with Garbage Soup.

Pita pockets with hummus, tabouleh, and baby spinach.