Yesterday was my fourth attempt at spicy-sweet refrigerator pickles.  At this point, I’m thinking that it may be time to just accept the fact that I can make pretty good, but not quite outstanding pickles.  These actually taste fairly good (albeit a little vinegary, but again – I really like vinegar),  and I think they might do quite nicely as a small side to some dish where you want a bit of acidic counterpoint.  I’ve eaten about 40 slices today, so I guess I find them fairly palatable. They are extremely easy to make, so you could definitely play around with the recipe until you get a taste that is right for you.  These have a hint of heat to them, so you could increase the cayenne pepper if you want to kick that up, or leave it out entirely if you desire.  Depending on how much you like vinegar, you can switch out some water for the vinegar or keep the amount I used.  I think in order to make the pickles really crispy, you would need to use this magic ‘pickle crisp’ stuff I have read about on many sites, but have yet to actually discover in any grocery store in town.  I don’t really mind  these not being that crisp, but if you want yours crisper, you might want to do a more hardcore search than I did.


Spicy-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles – Attempt IV

3-4 cups pickling cucumbers, sliced
1  cups apple cider vinegar
3/4 cups water
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp whole allspice
3/4 tsp cinnamon chips (or just a stick, broken up)
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp salt

Pack the cucumbers into a deep glass bowl (vinegar can be reactive with metals).  It’s ideal be able to fit small plate in the bowl to weigh down the vegetables so the pickling liquid covers them.

Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan or dutch oven (glass, ceramic, or something lined with teflon, silverstone or enamel – again, due to the vinegar), and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, and boil for 1 minute. Pour over cucumbers, cover with a plate to ensure they are submerged in the liquid, and let cool to room temperature, about 40-50 minutes. Cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.

Cucumbers in Pickling Liquid

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Another scorching day at the Boulder Farmers’ Market (for me, anything over 85 without a breeze or shade is scorching), but a lot of great produce.  There were multiple stands with squash, eggplant, potatoes, beets, carrots – I could go on and on.  And I had a very productive and successful day of cooking, making up for some of the less than stellar results last week.

Haul from the Boulder Farmers' Market

Today’s purchases: beets, carrots, new potatoes, string beans, bell pepper, garlic, three kinds of eggplant, pickling cucumbers, zucchini squash, yellow squash, pattypan squash, tomatoes, carrots, cinnamon cap, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, arugula, mixed greens, chives, basil, Pappardelle’s cracked pepper fettucine, Olomomo cinnamon cayenne almonds, and six Street Fare mini-cupcakes.

I used two of the pickling cucumbers for my fourth, and hopefully triumphant, attempt at sweet and spicy pickles. I’ll know tomorrow after they have been in the fridge overnight. The assorted squash will go into a rustic tart I saw on the blog A Fork in Each Hand, which looks fantastic. I’ve got to figure out what I want to do with the mushrooms and the eggplant, but the beets, greens, and beans are already reserved for vegetable sides.

I used three of the multi-colored new potatoes for a second round of oven baked potato chips.  I made some earlier in the week with my left over purple potatoes, and they didn’t turn out too bad, so I thought I’d try it again.  I still need to tune the temperature a bit, as I haven’t figured out the best one to use, but the taste of these was so addictive that we ate the whole batch within two hours. These aren’t as low-fat as I usually like to make things, but they are awfully good as a splurge.

New Potatoes for Oven-Baked Chips

Oven-Baked Potato Chips
3/4 lb new potatoes, sliced 1/8″ thick
1 Tbsp olive oil, smoky flavor is best (I like Miguel and Valentino Smoked Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1 tsp smoked Spanish hot paprika
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you slice the potatoes. Mix the oil, paprika and salt in a large bowl. Toss the potato slices in the oil. The pieces will stick together, so you’ll need to pry them apart to ensure that both sides of the slices are well coated. Spray 2 baking sheets with Pam (this probably isn’t even necessary with the oil, but it’s what I’ve done both times), and then arrange the potato slices on the sheets in a single layer. Put them in the oven once it’s up to temperature, and then start checking them at about 7 minutes. This is where the really interactive part starts. Despite the fact that most of my slices were about the same thickness, and I turned the baking sheets a couple of times, they seemed to be done at a rather large range of times. I started taking some off the sheets at about 14 minutes, and then ended up taking the last ones out at 21 minutes. I just pulled the sheet out, checked to see if they were crisp, pulled those ones off, and put the rest back in the oven. This might not make them sound very fun to make, but it is SO worth it once you taste them!

Oven-baked Potato Chips

For dinner, I wanted to use some of the mixed greens and arugula, and add some vegetables. I started thinking – hey, since grilled beets are a new favorite, what else I could grill? I did a couple google searches, and it turns out both carrots and tomatoes are indeed, grillable. The carrots were superb. Like the beets, the carrots caramelize a bit and have a nice full flavor. The tomatoes? I’m not sure that the grilling added much to these particular tomatoes, so I’ll have to research that a bit more.

Salad Vegetables

Grilled vegetables for salad
1 beet – washed, peeled, and sliced into about 1/4″ slices
2 medium carrots, cut in half lengthwise, (if they are uneven lengths, cut the larger one in half to make them more even
2 small tomatoes, cut in half, seeds removed (just use your finger)

Chioggia Beets, Carrots, and Tomatoes prepared for grilling

Use medium heat on the grill, and place the vegetables on a basket or grilling tray to prevent them from falling through the grates. The tomatoes should be placed cut side down. The beets take about 14 minutes, flipped halfway through. The carrots take about 6-8 minutes, also flipped halfway. The tomatoes take about 4 minutes. Check the vegetables frequently however, as they might cook faster or slower depending on their size and your grill. You can check the beets and carrots for tenderness with a fork. The skin on the tomatoes will kind of wrinkle up when they are done.

The tomatoes got kind of mushy, so they were a little hard to slice, and the Chioggia beets kind of look like bacon in this photo – but believe me, they were all beet!

Mixed Greens and Arugula with Grilled Beets, Carrots, and Tomatoes

For the main course, I used some of the fava bean pesto I made last week with the Pappardelle’s cracked pepper linguine I bought today. The two went together wonderfully.

Cracked Pepper Linguine with Fava Bean Pesto

Kitchen Tools!

July 28, 2011

After you’ve been cooking a while, you start to get quite a collection of implements. But it seems like there are a few that get used much more than the others. And there are some that just work so much better than other variations of the same thing, that you feel like you can’t do without them. Between my husband and I, we have several items that we love to use.

Handheld implements

First of all, there are the handheld items, the knife no doubt being the most important.  Before my husband convinced me otherwise, I was afraid of longer knives, and pretty much stuck to our 3 inch paring knives – which were NOT the right tools at all for most of what I was doing.  Then I graduated to the 6 inch chef’s knife, and now I always use the 8 inch one.  It’s so much better for all of the slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing that I do.  And once you learn how to hold it and use it, you can get things done much quicker. It’s also safer to use the appropriate knife for the task you are performing.  There are plenty of sites on the web that have information about the proper way to hold and use a knife for efficiency and safety.

We have a set of the German-made Henckels knives, and have been very happy with them. Knives are a very personal thing, and you should definitely try them out in the store to see which ones feel best in your hand before purchasing them.  Another important thing about knives is keeping them sharp so the knife does the work instead of your arm. Johnson Sharpening is at the Boulder Farmers’ Market every week, and will sharpen your knives for a crazy-reasonable price while you’re at the market.

Another very well-used handheld item in our kitchen is our heat-resistant OXO silicone spatulas.  They not only won’t melt if you use them in hot pots or pans, but because the handle isn’t metal, like some heat resistant spatulas I’ve seen, the handle doesn’t heat up at all – so no burned hands!

We also have some silicone pastry brushes which are great for a few reasons.  First, the bristles are very bendy, so I think that they are easier to use than the ones with bristles. Second, I have had bristles come out on the food I was brushing in the past – this doesn’t happen with the silicone ones.  And best of all, you can put them in the dishwasher. There is nothing more annoying than getting oil out of a bristled brush when washing it by hand. (Oh, how I love to use superlative exaggeration.)

Our kitchen shears (also Henckels) have been more useful than I thought they would be.  We use them to trim the ends of asparagus and broccolini, to cut apart broccoli – basically anything where we can avoid getting a cutting board and a knife dirty when just the shears will do. You can also use them for trimming meats, cutting through small bones, and a bunch of other tasks. (Not sure if it’s the best thing to do, but we use it to open packaging that contains something juicy like sausage, or for cheese, since using the junk drawer scissors for that is kind of gross).

Our peeler was a very unexpected find.  It was in a gift set with several knives which were not very rigid or sharp, and kind of dangerous to use.  But the peeler – oh, my.  It literally peels five times better than any other I have ever tried – including the one we got from Williams-Sonoma. I wish I could recommend the brand, but it seems to be some kind of small batch unnamed creation.

The last implement pictured is our Microplane zester/grater. Yeah, we only use it for pecorino cheese for the most part. Yes, it’s worth it – when I grate a pile of pecorino for pizza, it almost looks like snow, it’s so fine.

Measuring tools

For measuring, I love our Salter kitchen scale.  You can zero it out with a container on it, it measures in grams and ounces, and it’s small and only one piece, so it’s easy to store, and easy to clean.  Since I am pretty careful to measure out everything except vegetables to maintain my weight, it’s great for weighting pasta, potatoes, nuts, cheese – everything.  Our ‘instantish’ read thermometer is also a very useful tool (instant would be even better), especially given all the salmonella-themed articles about chicken lately. This way you can feel good about getting it to a safe temperature, rather than just using the retro-method of judging by color.

Tools for chopping and grinding

I love our mini food processor.  Since I cook for only two of us most of the time, I don’t need a large processor for most things, and since this one is in fewer pieces, it’s easier to clean.  I’ve also re-purposed an old coffee grinder for grinding spices (cinnamon chips, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, dried peppers, etc).  It works wonderfully – just just grab the bottom with one hand, hold the lid tight with the other, and shake it a bit (like a martini!) while you are grinding.  You can use a brush, or even just a paper towel to clean it out.

Non-stick saute pan

The item that is probably most used in our kitchen is our Calphalon Unison non-stick skillet (which may be an omelette pan – we’ve had it so long, we actually don’t remember – nor do they sell that particular model any longer).  The picture above is actually after sautéing red kale in sesame oil – a couple buffs of a dishcloth with soap, and (nearly all of) the brown at the bottom will be gone.  I have never had a pan that was easier to clean.  But remember – no metal spoons or spatulas!

tools for cooking, simmering, and steaming

I love our 5-quart anodized aluminum Magnalite dutch oven. I use it for all of my soups, stews, and chilis. I like how rugged it feels (I’m strange that way).  Magnalite doesn’t exist anymore (they got purchased by someone), so we switched to Calphalon for our new pots and pans.

A great item that may not be entirely approved by the environmental health watch groups is our plastic Pampered Chef steamer.  You just put cut vegetables in it, a tablespoon of water, and put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, and you have beautifully steamed vegetables.  Talk about an easy vegetable side after a long day of work!

Gas Range

The gas range – another thing I used to be afraid of.  I wasn’t too thrilled when we moved into our house that the range was gas.  But I got used to it, and now I absolutely love it.  The temperature adjusts so much more quickly than with an electric range, so that you can control the heat better. We also have a high output burner that works great for bringing things to a boil fairly quickly.

gas grill

And then the gas grill – we love to use it for vegetables just as much as we do for burgers, chicken, and fish.  We have a tray that we use for vegetables (you can kind of see it above under the beets), so that you can easily grill asparagus, squash, potatoes – anything that would otherwise fall through the grates.

google!

Another tool that I use almost constantly is the internet. My husband wanted to get a computer for the kitchen, which I thought was completely unnecessary…until it showed up. Now if I have a question about how to prepare vegetables before cooking, what temperature to use for something, or different ways to cook things, I can just spin around and look it up. There is a huge amount of information on just about every ingredient, a multitude of sites that aggregate recipes from many sources, and lots of wonderful food blogs. If I need some ideas about what things work well together, or what to make with certain ingredients that I happen to have on hand, I search for it, get some ideas, and go from there! How did we survive before the internet?

Sometimes you make a dish that doesn’t really work (that’s the royal ‘you’ – employed here to refer to me).  Despite giving it your best, the end result is bland, unsatisfying, or maybe even kind of gross.  Lately vinegar seems to be the bane of my existence.  Okay, I suppose that is a bit of an exaggeration – let’s just say that vinegar has been making things difficult in my cooking life.  I love vinegar, and use red wine vinegar in Fattousch salad, balsamic vinegar in insalata caprese, sherry vinegar in bruschetta, apple cider vinegar in coleslaw – all with great results.  But I seem to be overdoing it in my pickle recipes, or vastly overcompensating and under doing it. And I’ve had two less than successful vinegar-related attempts at making a sauce for the Pappardelle’s Pacific Rim pasta I got at the Farmers’ Market.

The Pacific Rim pasta blend has a mix of of different types of pasta with Garlic, Cayenne, Cilantro, Curry Chive, and Lemon Ginger flavors. There is a note on their website that says with sesame oil, this pasta makes a ‘simple, yet delectable side dish’.  I, however, wanted to make more of an entrée.  So instead of listening to their wise suggestion, I glanced at what types of things were in the more complex recipes on the site, and decided I’d make something up on my own.  The first sauce I attempted was made of sesame oil, soy sauce, sherry vinegar, and hoisin sauce.  Now this one didn’t actually taste bad, but it completely overtook the flavor of the pasta, and I realized as we were eating it, that I had pretty much made a nice Americanized Chinese lunch buffet dish.  The sauce was nice and thick, and very sweet. Hmmm…Not completely what I was going for.

The second time, I planned to use some yellow squash, shiitake mushrooms, red pepper, garlic, and onion, with a nice, light sauce that would let the pasta flavors shine through.  Originally I planned to serve it with some grilled shrimp, but it was one of those days at work, and I was pressed for time, so I decided to use frozen edamame (well, thawed frozen edamame, of course).  I had some extra red chard, so I got that all prepped, and stuck it in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dish.

For the sauce I started with oyster sauce and a bit of soy sauce.  It needed something to brighten it up, so I added white wine vinegar.  And it actually tasted pretty good when I tried just a tiny bit of it with a spoon.  And it might have even been okay had I not dumped the entirety of what I made (about 5 Tbsp worth) into my sautéed vegetables.  It didn’t reduce down enough – and was already too concentrated a flavor as it was.  After eating an entire dish, it was vinegar overload.  And I completely forgot the red chard that I was so careful to prepare.  Okay then – note to self: If I buy Pacific Rim pasta again, just a bit of sesame oil is the thing to use.

And I learned a couple of good lessons – be careful with the vinegar and you really need to dial it back so you don’t overpower flavored pasta with things that are too strong. Plus, it wasn’t all bad – I had the best success I’ve ever had cooking mushrooms – on medium high heat and using sesame oil which has a higher smoke point than olive oil.  So that’s a positive.  And, it was rather pretty:

I was delighted to find that one of my new favorite food blogs, The Table of Promise, is featuring a blog carnival on this very topic! So see, this wasn’t a bad food week after all!

One of my favorite things to make with fava beans is pesto. It’s got a brighter flavor than the standard pesto, and is a lovely spring green color. I’m always looking for ways to cut down on fat in typically rich dishes, so there are a couple of things I do with this pesto. First, I use pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts. Pumpkin seeds have about a third of the calories and only a fifth of the fat of pine nuts. Second, I use just a fraction of the olive oil in traditional pesto, and add a small amount of vegetable broth to thin the pesto out (since it’s much thicker without the huge amount of oil). So the overall reduction in calories and fat is enormous. But the great thing is, this pesto still tastes magnificent! Fresh ingredients are key, but because everything in the recipe is already pretty rich and bold tasting, I don’t think you lose a thing. The garlic was nowhere to be found during the ingredient photo shoot – what a diva!

Pesto Ingredients (not pictured: garlic)

Fava Bean Pesto
1/2 cup peeled, blanched, shelled fava beans
1/4 cup shelled, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 c tightly packed basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
3/4 oz grated pecorino romano (or parmesan)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4 tsp olive oil
2 Tbsp vegetable broth
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until the pesto has the desired texture (some graininess, but not too much).

Fava Bean Pesto

So – what to do with the pesto? I’m really not very good at planning what I am going to make before I buy things at the Farmers’ Market, so I always end up having to brainstorm on Sundays before we go shopping for the week. Since the pesto would be enough for at least two dishes, I decided that tonight I would make a salad with potatoes, green beans, and pesto, inspired by a recipe in Vegetarian Times’ Farmers’ Market edition. While I was out running errands, I splurged on a great piece of maguro tuna at Whole Foods, announcing to my husband that he was on grill duty this evening. I made my salad, and when my husband brought in the tuna, he said ‘hmmm – that really looks like a niçoise – we could almost put the fish on top’. I questioned, ‘does tuna go with pesto?’, and was answered with ‘EVERYTHING goes with pesto’. So – there we have it – a re-invention of niçoise!

My husband doesn’t measure when he cooks, so the amounts for the marinade in the recipe are approximations. You can see what it tastes like and adjust as you’d like. I put the potatoes and beans with pesto on top of arugula, which we felt didn’t quite fit, so in the future will probably either sauté it briefly, or at the very least, toss the arugula with the pesto as well.

Salad Ingredients

Tuna Niçoise with Fava Bean Pesto
serves 4

marinade
1+1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

16 oz maguro (bluefin) or ahi (yellowfin) tuna
1 lb new potatoes, chopped in even bite-sized pieces
1 pt string beans
4-5 Tbsp fava bean pesto, at room temperature
1 large bag of arugula
1 tsp olive oil

You’ll want to coordinate things so that the potatoes, beans, and tuna are done at about the same time.  It’s easiest to do this dish with 2 people – one to handle the grill and one to handle the potatoes and beans.  Timing is going to depend on your method of parboiling and steaming, and how done you like your tuna, but here is the sequence we used:

Mix the ingredients for the marinade, and then marinate the tuna for about 20 minutes, turning it over at 10 minutes. After you turn the tuna, preheat the grill, and then a couple minutes later, start parboiling the potatoes, either in a pot of boiling water on the stovetop or in a glass bowl of water in the microwave until they are tender (about 12 minutes in the microwave).   Preheat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  When the potatoes have about 3-5 minutes left, sear the tuna on a hot grill – about 2-3 minutes a side, depending on the size and thickness of the tuna.  (And grill it longer if you don’t like your tuna rare or medium rare).   While the tuna is grilling, steam the green beans (about 3 minutes in our steamer in the microwave), and sauté the arugula in the olive oil for about 2-3 minutes until wilted.

Make a bed of the arugula in 4 bowls.  Toss the potatoes, green beans, and pesto separately, then put on top of the arugula.  Slice the tuna into several pieces per salad, and place on top.

Tuna Niçoise with Fava Bean Pesto

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