23 October 2014

Pickle Brine

Since we spend a lot of time in the kitchen, we are always getting gifts of produce.  We love getting produce.  The problem is, most of the time said produce needs to be dealt with expeditiously.  And we are not always expeditious.

Last week, we got large bag of jalapenos.  My friend, Art, is friends with the boys that run the farmer's market and he rarely misses a trip.  It is his one weekly outing.   After pickling several jars, Art left the rest of the bag for me.

We were in that period of time that the peppers had to be dealt with or we would lose them...so the pickling began.  (Yes, we know we should have made the pickles the day we got the bag, but we were too tired and it was pickle now, or toss the bunch by the weekend!)

Every time we pickle, we go through the same process: we look at 15 or 20 recipes and are happy with none.  Seriously, a brine is vinegar, water, salt, a bit of sugar, some spice.  It's not rocket science.  Making refrigerator pickles is simple, but the abundance meant that we would have to process them, as there is no way to eat that many peppers in a few weeks.

We sliced the jalapenos, onions, carrots, and chopped several cloves of garlic. We ended up with about six cups of cut vegetables.

Pickle Brine

2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons canning salt (or kosher salt)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

Place everything in a non-reactive pot and bring to just boiling, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Pack the vegetables, tightly,  into sterilized jars.  Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving a 1/4 inch of heard room in the jars.  Place the lids on the jars, and hand tighten.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

With every recipe, there is a brine and with every recipe, there is almost, always, too much brine.  (Actually, too much brine is a lot better than trying to pickle something and finding out there is not enough brine.) The great thing about a brine is that one brine can brine most anything.  We had our bowl of jalapenos, carrots, and onions.  We made the brine.  Filled sterile jars, poured the brine and sure enough there was about a cup left.  We let the brine cool, as the jars processed.
In a pint jar, we stuffed slices of cucumber and red onions.  Poured the remainder of the brine over them, and in addition to the canned jalapeno peppers, we had a jar of refrigerator pickles, too.

Waste not, want not.

22 October 2014

Bet You Can't Eat Just One!

This year in the garden we tried to grow delicata squash.  We had one little squash.  During the height of summer, care and concern went into the summer squash and by the time, we realized the winter squash was up, it was consumed by weeds.  So while we were on the road, we bought a couple of lovely delicata squash, returned home, found a leak, ran errands for the sick, and crashed for a couple of days, and then we thought of the delicata squash and knew we needed to cook it soon. 

This morning was one of those rainy, cold, dreary days; a sad precursor to the coming winter.  It was a kind of nesting day and there was much to do.  First we turned on the oven...

This may seem like a simple thing.  Most ovens are set to offer the very general 350 degrees.  We rarely cook ANYTHING at 350 degrees.  We cook hot!  We cook low and slow.  Several years ago at Cookbook Of The Day, we wrote about The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper.  As we said then (and it still holds true) it had the best advice we have seen in a cookbook which we will paraphrase (and you can read the review later): when you walk in the door, turn the oven to 450 degrees.  So while you are contemplating what to cook, an staring into the fridge, by the time you do decide, the oven will be ready!

So we turned the oven to 450... cut the delicata, added a bit of salt and olive oil and into the hot oven it went.  In about 10 minutes the kitchen was filled with a carmely aroma, so we turned the oven off, turned the squash rings, and let them sit.  About 15 minutes, they came out of the oven and there was still no clear plan as to how we might serve them, but they were cooked and then...

Well, the title of this post is from an old potato chip add -- a phrase to make you think about how addictive chips are.  The squash rings were just that addictive.  Every step past the pan, was followed by another ring gone.  Needless say,  it was a delicata brunch!
 And since we live on a farm, we saved the seeds.  Next year we will be more diligent with our winter squash!

21 October 2014

Florence Nightingale

Several years ago, I wanted to buy a very expensive rug from Britain that bore the 1939 propaganda phrase: "Keep Calm and Carry On."  I am now soooo glad I didn't.  Alas, a perfectly good propaganda statement has been so abused that when I see the words, "Keep Calm" together, I do want to punch someone!

I have recently been thrust into the role of Florence Nightingale.  That and a big deadline have kept me from keeping clam.  But now we are back on the farm, deadline met, patient on the mend, cats happy, and I have a new found respect for Ms. Nightingale and all those men and women who actually choose nursing as a profession.  Bless them.

04 October 2014

Cookie Rings

 Baker extraordinaire, Dorrie Greenspan, is famous for her cookie jammers.  Basically they are shortbread cookies with jam and streusel on top.  What makes the cookies very distinctive is the way Greenspan baked them.  The cookies are baked in individual ring molds, giving them a uniform shape. They were so popular they spawned pop-ups, a cookie shop, and even a set of individual cookie baking rings. 

As the owner of a couple of dozen 2 inch baking rings, I though a lot about Greenspan's jammers.  I though, if one could cook shortbread cookies in individual rings, could you cook other cookies that way?

My personal cookie preference is chewy, neat cookies.  I was never one for those cookies that spread out on the cookie sheet leaving crispy edges.  I hate it when baking cookies run into each other.  I was that kid who wouldn't eat if the food touched each other! 

My "go to" cookie is a peanut butter, chocolate chunk.  When a visiting friend asked if I would make them, I thought it would be a good time to experiment.  I had tried before with good results, so I thought I would give the rings a try.

I have two dozen 2 inch rings.  I set them on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat.  Filled the rings and baked.  The cookies were perfect little 2 inch, fat, soft cookies.  I have toyed with idea of getting another dozen of the little rings and filling the tray.  I don't know if being that closely aligned would change the baking time, but it would be nice to bake an entire recipe of cookies all at once.  Right now, however, 24 at a time is fine.

02 October 2014

Happy Birthday Chuck Williams

Today is Chuck Williams' 99th birthday. 
  As the founder of Williams-Sonoma, he has transformed the way we cook.

Not to mention, the way we set a table.

From a personal standpoint, there are so many tools in my kitchen that I didn't know I needed until Chuck Williams told me I needed them,  Really, everyone needs a folding fish cooker!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Williams. 

17 September 2014

Happy Birthday Willy Wonka...

and Charlie and his chocolate factory.
The year marks the 50th anniversary of two of Roald Dahl's most endearing characters.  In the final analysis, Roald Dahl was perhaps the most enduring Roald Dahl character.  If one could step back and take a long look at the truly great children's authors, one might be quite shocked.  Frankly, they are not the kind of people one would actually leave children with.
I imagine that the very thing that makes children continually adore their work is a darkly violent undercurrent that is not always visible to the adult.  To be a truly great children's author one needs to retain the petulance of a child, a trait not greatly admired in the adult population.  Roald Dahl retained his childish petulance.  He was no paragon of virtue, but he innately understood the evil that lurks in the mind of a child.
He rarely let anyone in his writing hut, but once a year it was opened as children flocked to see the inner sanctum of Dahl's creativity.  A favorite object was his hip bone, removed during a hip replacement.  While adults seemed bewildered, children loved it.
This week, to mark the 50th anniversary of Willy and Charlie, 50 Irish bakers gathered and created cakes in honor of Dahl.   The Telegraph featured a large selection of these amazing cakes here

11 September 2014

Requiescat in Pace -- My Darling Clementine

Little did I know when I picked up this little sprite of a kitten, with ribs like fish bones that she would grow into the big bruiser of the cat she did. 
I've had Clementine for nearly 20 years, which is longer than most of the people in my life! 
She will be missed.

The Aftermath -- Progress

You know how it is.  You plan for a job.  You start the job.  Chaos ensues.
Once we got the shed jacked up and all the stuff out of it, it became clear there was no saving it.

It needed an entire rebuild, which we didn't need.
So we had a big fire.
 A controlled burn that reflected nicely in the cold house window.
 Truth be told, it looks much nicer now.

Alas, the yard is still littered with a thousand old canning jars that need to be dealt with and an enormous soapstone sink and counter that never got installed.

But we are moving on...

05 September 2014

Labor Day

This is for you slackers and procrastinators out there who watched Labor Day come and go.

We were very proactive this year.  In March, we started making lists of things to do so we could hit the ground running once spring got here.

We bought paint and painting supplies to paint the upstairs hall and stairs.

We bought paint to paint the porch.

We bought glue to repair chair rungs.
We piled up boards to fix the bridge to the garden. (The bridge I fell through in June.)

We bought sandpaper to sand the smoker and high intensity paint to paint it.

We bought new shelving to put in the kitchen.

We got piles of wood mulch to start a garden compost.

We discussed propping up a sinking building.

We talked about fixing a tiny leak.

A week before Labor Day it was impossible to get into the house because the paint, painting supplies, new shelves, old shelves and who knows what else were still sitting in the mud room.

In August (late August) we did get the mulch moved to the garden.  The new kitchen shelves are up, but the old ones are still waiting to be moved to a new location and the box the new shelving came in has not "went."  The painting supplies are now in the upstairs hall, still in the bag.   The leak has been repaired.

The sander broke in early August, so we just got the new replacement.

The glue is missing.

On Labor Day we watched 9 1/2 hours of Mike and Molly. 9 1/2 hours!  Of Mike and Molly!

Today the last nail went into the bridge.

The small building sinking into the groundhog hole is almost up and level.

We have revised our March estimate and hope to have the hallway painted by Thanksgiving.

We are still smoking in the rusty smoker, but should we decide to paint it, we know where the paint is and the sander now works.

As for the glue... we have it on our shopping list.

30 August 2014

Roll Tide Bruschette

(We would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon those readers who don't care about football.  We are sorry, but for the next few months, you will have to endure many a post about the SEC.  Mostly on Saturdays.  You have been warned.)

Today is the first Alabama game.  A bit saddened that is against West Virginia, as EVERYONE I met today has on their yellow and blue.  I laid low, only changing into the BAMA shirt when I got home.

Last night I started cooking some beef cheeks for the game.  I used a winter chocolate spice blend, then braised them in beer  for 14 hours and we are pretty excited dig in.  We harvested our crop of Mexican cucumbers and we are going all in cucumber on the gin and soda.  Cucumber gin, cucumber soda, and a cucumber garnish.

Pre-game snacks include our Roll Tide Bruschette. 
This is a more upscale homage to 5 or 7 or 9-layer dip and chips.  I admit it, I was that kid who didn't want their food to touch! So layered dip is a bit problematic.  While I like the idea, I have to admit that after the first few chips, it starts to look like the bottom of my compost bucket.

So gearing up for football season, we got some University of Alabama jello molds.  No jello here, we made a spicy aspic.  (An aside about molds...They never actually look as good as they do on the "artists" rendering on the package.  One would be hard pressed to actually read the lettering on the University of Alabama mold, though the "A" does last for a brief second.   As for the elephant, he is there if you have a bold imagination.  but now that I have told you what you are looking at....)
We went very simple and small.  We put our layers in very tiny ramekins to avoid the overt mess.  Here's what we did.

One thin layer of goat cheese, thinned with a bit of milk.

One layer of herbs and scallions, finely chopped.

One layer of avocado.

A final layer of the goat cheese.

An aspic topper.

We toasted some slices of bread and dug in.

 Almost game time...Roll Tide.

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