Thursday, June 30, 2011

Refrigerator Pickles

I do not can.  I do not can-can.  I would try a samba or tango, if the mood was right and I had the right dress, of course.

Back to canning.

I have never canned anything in my life.  One summer I had an immense garden and produced buckets of tomatoes, and entertained the idea of canning.  Yet, the tomatoes ended up in the freezer and worked just great for us all winter.

Do you adore pickles?  I kind of have a thing for them, and have been known to eat a half a jar.  Ok, fine, a whole jar.  Sweet, sour, half-sour, hot, dill, kosher, garlic - GIMME.

Since my sad little Minnesota garden will not be producing cucumbers for some time yet, I will have no photos for this recipe.  I'm pretty sure you all know what pickles look like, right?

This is the simplest and happy thing in the world - you can 'can' pickles without canning them!  They cure in the refrigerator!  And last for MONTHS.  Done right, they self-seal on your counter, and just improve in the fridge over some weeks.  They can be eaten after a few days, but get better and more pickly as time goes on.  I find two weeks is a good time to get at them.

Cucumbers.  Anyone can do those, right?  But I have pickled numerous things from my garden, the farmer's market, and the grocery store.  Cukes are a start. 

Summer Squash (the yellow stuff)
Green Beans
Peppers - including bell, banana, jalapeno, cayenne
Broccoli and Cauliflower
and - yes Joan - you can probably pickle okra

Got any of those?  Ok, let's get busy.  Feel free to a) combine one or more of the above vegetables; and b) adjust the amount of sugar, salt and spices to suit your tastes.  These are sort of "half-sours" meaning a bit sweet and a bit sour.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts, depending on your veggies.  Please make more, you'll be glad you did.  If you make too much brine, just save it in the fridge until you pick or buy more veggies.

Refrigerator Pickles

8 cups sliced cucumbers (or other vegetables)
1 cup sliced onion
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 cups vinegar (I use white, but apple cider works fine)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
fresh dill, a whole head per jar, optional
whole chili peppers (dried or fresh) if you're looking for spicy

Put sliced cukes, onions and garlic into clean, wide-mouthed glass jars (quart or pint sized).  Stuff in the dill if you're using it.  Add chilis if you want.  Have the lids and rings clean and standing by. 

In a pot on the stove, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt and sugar.  Make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Remove from heat, add the celery seed and mustard seed.

Using a funnel, pour or ladle the hot brine into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Immediately put on the lids and rings, screwing tightly.  Turn the jars over on your counter and let them sit, upside down for an hour or two.

Transfer to the refrigerator and let sit for a few days, minimum.  If you think of it, you can give them a gentle shake to distribute the flavor, once a day, whatever.  If the jars "seal" meaning the lids are stuck fast, these will last in the fridge for months.  If they don't seal, they're good for at least several weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ice Cream!

So, you go to Costco and you get yourself one of these, for about forty bucks:

My gang gave me this for Mother's Day last year.  It comes in RED, too.  Now you tell them right?

Anyway.  You get this and then you get busy making ice cream.  Couple times a week.  Cool thing is, it comes with TWO freezer bowls, so you can have two different kinds of ice cream in your freezer at once, or a big batch of your favorite.

I'm not using the recipe book it comes with for the most part.  I got the general idea and have launched from there.  It's just a matter of a basic "base" recipe and then add-ins and tweaks from there. 

What does your family like?  Plain vanilla?  Done.  Fresh berry?  Simple.  Chocolate?  Chocolate Mint?  Chocolate Almond?  Oreo?  Whatever you like, there's a general recipe and rule, so here you go.

NOTE:  Make this in the morning if you want to serve that evening.  It needs some additional firming up in your freezer.  But we've been known to dig into the soft stuff, too . . .

ANOTHER NOTE:  Using raw eggs can make you sick.  There, I said it.  Hasn't happened to us, but I will only use fresh, organic eggs from a small, local farm.  I wouldn't dare use the white, factory-produced cheap ones from the grocery store.  Choose at your own discretion.

Ice Cream

1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 - 2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the whole egg and yolk and the sugar with a whisk.  Add the cream and keep whisking for a minute to dissolve the sugar.  Add the extracts and the milk, give another whisk to incorporate.  Plug in the ice cream maker, add the bowl from the freezer, turn on the machine, and pour in the liquid.  Set your timer for 25 minutes if you're making this basic vanilla, 20 if you're adding in other things.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, pressing it down on top of the ice cream.  Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.


Chocolate-Mint:  Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder to the egg-sugar-cream mixture, before adding milk.  Add the vanilla extract, and 5-8 drops of peppermint essential oil (or peppermint extract).

Chocolate:  Same as above, omitting the mint.

Chocolate Almond:  Decrease milk by 1/2 cup. Increase the almond extract to 1 1/2 teaspoons.  After 20 minutes of churning, add 1 cup sliced almonds, continue to churn 5 more minutes.

Berry:  Decrease milk by 1 cup.  While the base ice cream is churning, lightly mash either fresh or frozen berries of your choice - one kind or mixed.  After 20 minutes of churning, pour in the berry mixture, churn 5 more minutes

Oreo:  Decrease milk by 1 cup.  While the base ice cream is churning, smash about 12 Oreos in a plastic bag, either to crumbs, or leaving chunks, as you prefer.  After 20 minutes of churning, pour in Oreo crumbs.  Churn 5 more minutes.

Chocolate Cherry:  Decrease milk by 1 cup.  After 20 minutes of churning, add in 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips or chopped semi-sweet chocolate, AND 1/2 cup dried cherries.  Churn 5 more minutes.

These are just SOME of the ones we make.  Be creative!

Plain old vanilla, churned and ready for some chillin' in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Home Made Yogurt

A quart sized container of organic, whole milk yogurt costs about $4.29 at most stores around here in Minnesota.

A quart of home made, organic, whole milk yogurt costs me $1.60 and takes a total of 5 minutes of my time to make.

You need a crock pot, 3 quart sized jars with lids, just under 3 quarts of whole milk, a few tablespoons of plain whole milk yogurt, an instant read thermometer, and a stock pot.

That's it.

So you dump just under 3 quarts of whole milk into your stock pot.  Set on the stove and heat to almost a simmer (little bubbles will form at the sides).  Turn off the heat, and let it cool back down to skin temp (use your finger).

Put a few tablespoons plain, whole milk yogurt into a medium bowl.  Stir a few cups of the warm milk into the yogurt, then pour it all back into the stock pot, stirring well.

Pour the mixture into the quart jars, leaving a bit of room at the top.  Lay the tops on the jars, but do not tighten.  I have the white plastic ones in the picture above, but a regular canning lid works great.  Skip the ring for now, just set the lid on the jar.

Fill your crockpot (oval shape is swell for this) and fill with a couple inches of water.  Set the jars in the water and turn on your crockpot to WARM, which is the ideal setting.  If you don't have warm, use LOW, but make sure the water (and the yogurt) never go above about 115 or 120.

The rest is up to you.  I like mine to "cook" for at least 8 hours.  It can go 10, 12, or more!  The longer it goes, the thicker and tangier it gets.  You can use your instant read thermometer to check the temp of the yogurt and the water.  I trust my warm setting, so I'll often start my yogurt before bed, and by morning it's ready to hit the fridge.

To serve, you can add sweet (honey, sugar, maple syrup), vanilla, fruit, whatever you like.  NEVER add anything to the yogurt while it cooks.  Thank you!

If you like thick "Greek" style yogurt, here's a nifty trick.  Chill your finished product.  Then, in a clean flour sack towel or several layers of cheese cloth set over a large bowl and in a strainer, dump your yogurt.  Let the liquid (the whey) drain off and after 30-60 minutes you'll have a lovely, thicker product.  Let it go even longer and you'll have "yogurt cheese" which can be doctored up with herbs and tasty things and used as a spread, or like ricotta cheese, or any number of other things.  SAVE THE LIQUID that drains off.  It's called WHEY and it's full of yummy good happy live bacteria.  Use it for soaking oats, or soaking other grains, or add to soup or smoothies.

That's yogurt.  Five minutes of work for a home made product that costs $1.60 vs. $4.29.


I'm a granola maker.  We go through heaps of it.

But my mister loves raw oats that have been soaked overnight with some yogurt to start the enzyme process, then cooked in the morning.  Fine and dandy, but he is not a man who cooks before work, and he did not marry a woman who gets up and fixes her husband breakfast before he heads out the door.  So far, he still loves me.

Well, lo and behold, I'm flipping through Jamie Oliver's "Return of the Naked Chef" cookbook at a friend's house, and here's a recipe for something called Pukkolla.  It sounds Finnish, doesn't it?  Either way, it's essentially muesli.  Bingo!  Happy husband breakfast, made simple.  I had to make some changes to make it work for us, but Jamie gets snaps for his brilliant idea.

Protein, whole grains, fat, enzymes, fruit - ALL in one bowl.  Breakfast of real champions.

A couple of ingredient notes:
1.  PLEASE use whole milk and whole milk yogurt.  Skim, lowfat, nonfat - those words and products have no place in a healthy kitchen.
2.  Old Fashioned Rolled Oats are what you should use for this.  Not instant or quick.
3.  Choose your favorite nuts and dried fruits.  Pick what you love, what you will eat.
4.  It is very true that soaking oats overnight make them more digestible.  We're using milk and yogurt here - the yogurt is the key ingredient to start the enzyme process.
5.  You can add fresh fruit for serving.  Jamie adds grated apple, smushed banana, and/or fresh berries.

In a nutshell, this is what I made and it was declared "Ah-May-Zing" by Eric this morning.  It'll keep nicely in an airtight container for weeks.


8 cups organic rolled oats
1 1/2 cups oat bran
1 cup chopped, dried apricots
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sliced almonds

Mix all those in a big bowl.  Keep in an airtight container.

TO SERVE:  The night before, put a cup or so of the muesli into a smaller container, add whole milk to cover and a dollop (tablespoon) of whole milk yogurt.  Stir to combine.  Cover and refrigerate.  The next morning, add honey to taste, another dollop of yogurt, and fresh berries or sliced banana if you like. 

Here's a picture of the dry muesli:

Summer Groove

What in the world have you been doing lately, Sassy?  Why so quiet?

Let me tell you.  When you (ok, I) homeschool, it often takes a few weeks to figure out how to do summer.  Later bed times, later rising in the morning, new activities, garden to plant and weed (ok, plant), friends visiting, VBS, library reading program, parents coming back for the summer.  Whew.  Don't even get me started about July.

You'd think the open schedule would be great, and it mostly is, but it takes me a while to sort out our daily plan.  Plus, to be perfectly honest, I really enjoy some days of chillin' out in my bed in the morning, sipping coffee, watching the Today Show, and marveling at the idea that putting my kids to bed later actually makes them sleep later.

But now it's time.  My teen is working video and such at VBS this week, and two of my kids are attending.  Since I'm getting up and going in the morning, I thought it would be a good week to give myself a proverbial kick in the fanny.  First step has been kitchen catch-up.

Monday found me making bread, granola, chicken broth and ranch mix.  Yesterday I made a big batch of museli (post to come), strained and froze the broth, and baked brownies for us and rice krispie bars for VBS.  Today?  Yogurt is humming along in the crockpot (post to come).

I've been grilling up a storm, too!  We have a Weber charcoal grill that we got for a wedding gift 20 years ago.  Yep, charcoal.  Like, you have to light the coals, even.  There is no better flavor.  Oh, sure, I wish I could flip a switch and get grilling instantly, but the taste of charcoal-grilled food cannot be faked.  We buy the natural hardwood coals, not the chemical funky ones. 

Seems like lately there's always someone extra on our deck with us for dinner.  Our friends who live in Singapore for most of the year are home for their visit, and Melissa and her two boys are regular fixtures in our lives.  We cram it all into a few short weeks, and then weep like babies when they take the long flight back to the equator.  I love friends who love both me AND good food!

Speaking of food, I've eaten about a dozen BLT salads lately.  Cutting down on carbs is awfully tasty.  Greens, nitrate free bacon, tomato wedges, blue cheese (love my local St. Pete's blue), sometimes sugar snap peas, and a drizzle of blue cheese dressing.  Good stuff.

The garden is growing.  The weeds are doing nicely, too.  Next week we'll be eating radishes and lettuce.  Everything else is sitting there shivering in our stupid weather, waiting for sun and heat to really get going.  My herb garden, however, is going gangbusters!  Oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, garlic chives, tarragon, rosemary, sage, basil, parsley, and mint.  I use fresh herbs every single day.  Herbs are SO easy to grow.  I'm also thankful for my perennial garden, which (no thanks to me), produces lots and lots of colorful flowers all summer long.  Eric keeps expanding it for me, patiently splitting plants and helping me move things around, putting in more edging and wood chips.  It's the first thing I see every morning out my bedroom window.

Below is a picture of my dining room table.  I have a thing about vintage tablecloths.  A few stains add to the charm :)  I tend to chose patterns with red and yellow, often with some green and blue.  They don't always fit my table, which is matters little.  I've got quite a stack collected, from friends, family and garage sales or junk stores.  They go on my deck tables, too.  The flowers in the picture are from my garden - Lady's Mantle, Yarrow (paprika), and something pink I forget the name of, plus hosta leaves.  The shells are from this year's trip to FL, and the bowl belonged to my MIL's mother.  The flower pitcher?  A cream jug from Ireland!

Hope your summer is going well.  Tell me what summery foods you're making, books you're reading, things your finding that give you joy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Green Rice

I've been on a green rice kick lately.  Partly because my herb garden is abundant, and partly because my kids all love rice.  Doesn't it seem to go with so many things?

You can use white or brown rice for this recipe.  You can use quinoa, couscous, millet, wheat berries, bulgur.

Also open to interpretation are the herbs. Depending upon your garden, farmer's market, CSA, or grocery store, almost any green herb would be great in this dish.  Oregano, basil, chives, lemon balm, parsley, sage, thyme, mint.

The key is use a lot of herbs.  The name is Green Rice.  You want a definite green hue to the grains.  This means generous handfuls of each herb, chopped fairly fine and stirred into the warm rice.  It's way more about the herbs than the rice :)

Lemon or lime?  Kinda depends on the herbs and your pleasure.  The only "for sures" at my house are salt and butter.  If you prefer olive oil, go for it.  Just use the good stuff.

So what do we serve this side dish with?  Hmmmm.  Chicken-Fish-Beef-Beans-Kebabs-Veggies.  Really, you choose!  It's especially delicious with grilled food, as the light -n- fresh, herby -n- citrusy goodness balances out the charcoal-cooked smoky goodness.

The other night, I made White Rice cooked with butter and salt in the water.  I added more butter and salt to the finished rice, and stirred in chopped Oregano, Garlic Chives, Parsley, grated Lime Zest and Lime Juice.

Tonight it was Brown Basmati Rice with butter and salt, and added chopped Lemon Balm, Parsley, Chives, and grated Lemon Zest and Lemon Juice.

Pretty sure there will be some Orange Zest and Juice in our future, no doubt combined with Sage, Mint and Parsley.

When the Basil is in full glory, it'll combine with Lemon, plus Garlic Chives and Olive Oil to make me feel all pesto-joyful.

You get the general idea, right?  Use what you have and what you love.  Find your favorite combinations.  Enjoy the freshness!

Double Chocolate Brownie Bite Cookies

Martha Stewart's July magazine had this recipe in it.  I didn't have semi-sweet chocolate, so I subbed semi-sweet chocolate chips.  No one is suffering.

The honey in this recipe is SURPRISING and REALLY GOOD.  I'm generally not a "honey should replace sugar in desserts because sugar is bad" person.  I use good sugar (less-refined organic cane juice crystals).  And it is dessert, right? 

Honey adds depth of flavor here.  Depth of flavor, easily translated, means more flavor.  Use it :)

Got milk?

Double Chocolate Brownie Bite Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, room temperature (if you use salted butter, decrease salt above to 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Martha said to use 7 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl.  In a medium bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy, add honey, beat a minute more.  Gradually add dry ingredients until smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 325.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll dough by the heaping teaspoon in your hands, then in the granulated sugar.  Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

Bake at 325 for 9-10 minutes until the tops just start to crack.

Cool on wire rack.

Martha said it makes 6 dozen.  Ours made 4 dozen.  Child-sized helpers like their cookies bigger :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lemony Pesto Pasta Salad

If you like your macaroni with miracle whip, peas, ham and cheese, you might not like this pasta salad.  But if you're ready to branch out from the usual suspects, this is a good start.

My husband and 3 of my children do not like pasta salad.  Of any kind.  Oh, fine, Eric will eat it if it's served to him, but he would never order it or ask for it or take seconds.  Keep track, if you plan to have us at your place for a meal sometime :)

Myself, I have rarely met a pasta salad I didn't like.  What's not to like about a) pasta; b) protein; and c) colorful vegetables.  Add in some mayonnaise or vinaigrette and you've got a winner in my book!

I had a friend come for lunch today, and ladies eat pasta salad at lunch in the summer.  More so if it's 100 degrees in Minnesota, which almost never happens but did happen today.  So pasta salad it was, served with cantaloupe, two different cheeses, and some lovely iced tea.

I've been on a shrimp kick lately, no doubt.  We didn't eat it for many years for a (wrong) idea that maybe Eric was allergic to it.  We seem to be making up for lost time around here.  Love that I can get big bags of it at Costco to satisfy my cravings from time to time.  This salad would be just great with chicken.  It would be fine to do it without meat, but then I'd add in some cheese, like fresh mozzarella, cubes of provolone, or crumbled feta.

The pesto comes from my abundant herb garden of last summer.  I made heaps of it with all the basil I had and froze it in tiny baggies.  Am I ever glad!  Now fresh basil is growing again and it won't be long before my blender is going full speed whipping up the most summery of sauces.

Do you know how to make pesto?  My basic recipe is several handfuls of fresh basil, a few cloves of garlic, a big pinch of salt, and a good amount of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth paste.  I do NOT add cheese to my pesto at the get-go; it's something that can be added later, or not at all.  I'm also to cheap to add pine nuts.  If you want a treat, use half parsley and half basil, and toss in a handful of walnuts.  Mmmm hmmmm.

Once again, I did not measure.  This made a huge amount, plenty for a big family dinner or lunch, potluck dish, or some leftovers for another day.

Do NOT omit the lemon.  Trust me, it brightened up the salad and made it taste like summer.  The rest of it you can mess with as much as you like!

Lemony Pesto Pasta Salad

1 pound of pasta (I used penne), barely done, drained and rinsed under cold water
2 pound bag of small cooked and peeled shrimp (not salad size)
1 bell pepper (yellow or red or orange), seeded and chopped
6 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 cup large black olives, halved
1 pint grape tomatoes, left whole
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup homemade pesto
grated rind of one lemon
salt and pepper

Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl.  Add all the other ingredients.  Stir gently but well to combine.  Taste for seasoning and moisture, adding a splash of olive oil if necessary, or a bit more mayonnaise, more salt and pepper, whatever it needs.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Remove, taste, add more seasoning or moisture if needed.  That pasta soaks up a LOT of flavor and it usually needs another hit of something or other.  It should be fairly creamy, but also light due to the olive oil, rather than heavy due to the mayonnaise.

It would be so pretty if I had some fresh basil for garnish . . .

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sliced Tomatoes

Oh sure, you can put some sliced tomatoes on a plate, layered in a pretty circle with mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with a "chiffonade" of fresh basil, and then drizzle with olive oil.  That's good stuff.  Caprese, the Italians call it.

Sometimes you have to think outside the box.  Or in my case today, think inside the garden.  My freshly planted basil is tiny and I could not dream of cutting any precious leaves off for this salad.  My oregano?  Hedge.  It is a literal hedge.  Comes back every year.  I cut off hunks for friends and neighbors.  It's as full and lush as late summer in Greece just now.

There's also a bunch of garlic chives growing.  Lots of other stuff, too.

I can only imagine how good this will be in August, when the tomatoes themselves come right out of my garden.  Red and juicy and perfect.  Early June in Minnesota makes one settle for store bought, vine-on not-very-red tomatoes.  They're getting better, no doubt, but not the same as "Homegrown Tomatoes" as John Denver used to sing.

One way to bring out some juicy sweetness in off-season tomatoes is to drizzle a little balsamic or red wine vinegar at the last minute.  You can slice the tomatoes, add the chopped herbs and salt, pepper and olive oil.  Wait til the last minute to add the vinegar, though.  You don't want a pool of tomato juice on your platter.  The picture below is BEFORE the vinegar splash :)

I'm giddy for dinner tonight.  Grilled chicken legs, pasta with pesto (the last from last summer's garden), sliced tomatoes, spinach salad with blue cheese dressing, and watermelon for dessert.

Have a great Saturday night!

(recipe:  sliced tomatoes, chopped oregano, chopped garlic chives, drizzle of olive oil, sprinkling of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, splash of red wine vinegar at the end)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lettuce Wraps

Any time I can make something that tastes like a restaurant dish I like, I'm super pleased.

Do you have PF Chang in your part of the world?  We do here in Minnesota.  I've been a few times.  Their lettuce wraps are delicious.  I like the idea of a lettuce leaf in place of a rice pancake or a pile of rice.  Low carb, anyone?

My friend Gwen shared this recipe.  I barely tweaked it.  This amount fed our family just fine, with a large pile of rice to fill up the kids, and there's enough for Eric to take for lunch tomorrow.  That's always a good thing.

Use fresh ingredients if you have them, it's so worth it.  I used ground chicken, but you could easily sub ground turkey or ground pork.  And the iceberg lettuce?  Use it.  This is not about vitamins in your lettuce - there's plenty of other good stuff to eat here.  We had a pile of raw sugar snap peas and carrot sticks with our dinner.

You could serve this as an appetizer - great starter to any dinner. 

Lettuce Wraps

1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil (toasted is best)
1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tsp asian chili paste
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Simmer that in a pan for a few minutes, then set aside.

1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger (a "thumb")
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound ground chicken
2 large carrots, grated
1/2 cup chopped cashews
1 cup chopped water chestnuts

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic and ginger.  Saute over medium low for about 10 minutes.  Add the ground chicken, and cook until no longer pink.  Add the carrots, cashews and water chestnuts.  Add the sauce, stir to combine, and simmer on low for 5 minutes.

1 head of iceberg lettuce (or romaine, or butter), separated into large leaves
1 cup chopped scallions

Using a slotted spoon, scoop some of the meat mixture into a lettuce leaf.  Garnish with chopped scallions.  Eat and plan to be messy.  Serve with rice on the side and some raw veggies like peapods, carrots, peppers and broccoli.