picklelicious

Thanks to Darrin and Amanda, I found myself in possession of a Mezza Luna Farms box of veggies last week. Among the goodies was a pickling cucumber and a GIGANTIC Japanese cucumber. I do not exaggerate.

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Clearly, something had to be done.  Something of the briny variety.

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I used Ted Allen’s Refrigerator Pickle brine times 2, since I wasn’t sure exactly what my yield would be. According to the recipe, one batch makes 2 quart jars and I figured 4 jars would be a safe guess. Turns out I was right on. BUT if you use the recipe below as written, be aware it will only make enough brine for 2 jars (though I did have some leftovers).

For the brine:
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups white vinegar
6 teaspoons kosher salt
Several sprigs of fresh dill
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns (if you have ’em)

*I also added maybe 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a couple slices of jalapeno to each jar. So far they have a bit of spice but not too overwhelming.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil, reduce the heat so the water simmers and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt, raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves.

In 2 clear 1-quart jars, place a few sprigs of dill. Divide the seeds and peppercorns between the jars. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the brine and place 5 cloves in each jar.

I sliced the cucumbers fairly thinly, maybe 1/4″ to 1/8th, and packed the jars with them. I then poured the boiling brine on top to cover completely. Let them cool, and then cover and refrigerate. They will taste like pickles in a few hours and get better after a few days. The recipe says they keep for about 3 months.

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rhubarb coffee cake

As is typical for any spring/summer weekend in Seattle before July 5th, it has been pissing down rain for days now. Mother Nature cares not that it’s a 3 day weekend or that people in other parts of the country are enjoying BBQ’s and sunshine on this holiday.

Which means that I was left with inside projects. I’ve been meaning to purge the pantry for sometime now. There were things in there from 2011! I do not fully understand how that is possible, since i HAVE purged it since then. I blame gremlins. Or my children. Which I realize is redundant.

In any case, 1 screwdriver of the liquid variety, a couple of hours and multiple trips to the compost/recyling bins later, and the pantry was back in shape. As a reward, I made this cake.

It is a coffee cake slightly adapted from a recipe in The Family Baker. She suggests you can use nearly any fruit, but I like it best with tart apples or, in this case, rhubarb diced small. For berries, I prefer a cornmeal coffee cake, but knock yourself out if berries are your thing. I think the sweet of the cake plays nicely with the tart of the rhubarb, and the cinnamon/sugar topping makes a crispy, spicy contrast to the tender interior. Even better, it’s a cinch to mix up.

RHUBARB COFFEE CAKE

(slightly adapted from The Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy)

Topping:

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine for topping.

Cake:

2 1/2 cups diced rhubarb (or tart apples, or berries of your choice)

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 salt

2 eggs

1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ square baking dish.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. (Or if you are lazy like me, just add them all to the top of the mixed wet ingredients, next.)

Whisk butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Add fruit and mix gently. Spread in pan. Sprinkle topping evenly.

Bake about 35 min or until done. Let cool if you are the patient type, but I will tell you, it’s pretty divine served warm. I’d even gild the lily with some vanilla ice cream for a dessert.

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countdown to christmas

It’s December 21. As always around this date, a wee panic sets in. A little bit of a Groundhog Day feeling – haven’t I been here before? Maybe 365 days ago? Doing and saying exactly the same thing? I am sure it is the same for lots of people – there are just certain things/traditions that MUST happen in order for it to be Christmas.

Now is when the fear of not buying/making enough or not equally distributing the loot takes over. The budget has long been busted. The spreadsheet is seemingly in a foreign language. Then I let it go, say it will just have to be good enough. And it usually is.

But then I SWEAR that NEXT YEAR I will not find myself in this predicament. I will plan better, further ahead AND STICK TO THE PLAN AND THE BUDGET. For real. (Perhaps I should look in the archives – I bet I reminded myself then.)

Eh, the gifts are what they are. What REALLY causes panic is not getting all the baking done. I am woefully behind in this area.

Made so far: Santa’s Whiskers and Doris’ Ginger Cookies. There will be brioche cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

NOT MADE: Russian Tea Cakes, Sugar/Gingerbread Cookies. Matzo Roca. This is unacceptable.

Tonight I will try to crank out some fudge. But that doesn’t even begin to cover the things I’ve been wanting to make for YEARS and can never seem to get to. I wonder how much I can cram in 4 days.

Arkansas Fig Fruitcake?

Reindeer Feed?

And the holy grail: Stollen. I have several recipes clipped and long saved.

Next year I vow to bake and make all these things and SEND them to friends and family.

None of those things matter though. IT WILL NOT BE CHRISTMAS UNTIL “A CHRISTMAS STORY” AND “HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS” HAVE BEEN VIEWED.

I better get busy.

Happy Holidays! I hope you get a moment to relax and enjoy friends and family. What it’s really all about.

Though cookies are nice, too. And egg nog with brandy…

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summer making

Since we are sticking around this summer for the most part – not camping and no weddings this year – I’m looking forward to lots of BBQ’s and dinners and day trips involving picnics. Which means I’ve been perusing my Pinterest boards for new things to try. Pinterest is a double-edged sword. A great resource for keeping things to try later, IF you remember to go and actually DO that.

Slight problem. The board I started pinning food and drink things to has gotten out of hand. Like 600+ things out of hand, making it hard to track down things I remember pinning. So I started reorganizing, but man, it wears a person’s hand out clicking on each pin 2-3 times to finally move it to another board. But I am working on it.

Take Drinks for example.  Good stuff on here, but I’m thinking we’ll be trying some sort of sangria sooner rather than later since I’ve never had it.  This one, perhaps? Or maybe this one? Good thing the summer is long enough to try most of the things on this board…

Having some Wenatchee folks in town this weekend for Father’s Day Extravaganza, and that means some serious eating.  We’re planning to hit the U District Farmers Market to source as much as we can for a big dinner Saturday night.  Thinking these along with a couple other crostini, including the FABULOUS and oh so simple Irish butter with GOOD quality anchovies (Ortiz from Spain is a winner in our book). Even if you are unsure about anchovies, you really need to try this. Seriously.

Probably do some brined chicken breasts for protein, and a grilled veggie pasta salad.  Maybe a big greens and herbs salad with the Herbfarm dressing. And THIS for dessert – depending on the berries we find.

Picnics will be crying out for Pressed Sandwiches. And at some point, this eggplant will make it on the grill. And these refrigerator pickles will be mine.

I really want to do a brunch this summer. So many options.  This potato salad instead of hashbrowns? Lemon blueberry loaf? And somewhere I have a candied bacon recipe. Baked eggs, yes please.  Minty Dogs, of course. And this for the kidlets.

Looking at all these pictures of food so early in the morning is probably unwise. Now I am starving. But oh so looking forward to the tasty things to come in the next few months.

Hope you eat well this summer, too.

lentil stew

The Geek has long sworn that lentils “taste like dirt”.  Apparently his mother cooked them a little too long – apologies to her if she ever reads this – and I have a feeling that is an understatement.

My mother never cooked lentils. In fact, I’m sure I’d never heard of them til well past college. I’d had a lentil soup or two and didn’t mind it though, and I recently made a sausage and lentil soup that was pretty tasty.

Tonight’s dinner was a lentil stew. And what follows is not a recipe, per se. More like a set of guidelines, so those of you who need precision will be aggravated. In any case, The Geek ate it willingly.

LENTIL STEW

1 bag of lentils (any sort will do)

1 pound of Italian sausage – spicy if you like

2 carrots, diced

half an onion, diced

spoonful of minced garlic

pinches of oregano and thyme

box of chicken broth

2 cans diced tomatoes

fresh baby spinach

Saute the sausage in a big pot or dutch oven til browned.  Add vegies, garlic, and spices.  Cook til softened, a few minutes.  Add lentils, stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cover – turn to low heat.  Cook til lentils are softened – I’m guessing this was about 45 minutes?  If it gets too thick, you can add some water – I added a tomato can-ful since the lentils weren’t quite soft. When the lentils are soft, throw in as much spinach as you like, and stir a few minutes – it will soften in the heat. Season with salt and pepper as you wish.

Eat and enjoy with some crusty bread.

You can change this up with celery, maybe some red peppers, smoked sausage instead of Italian, zucchini. More broth if you want a soup.

yum

pinteresting

It’s sweeping the nation, nay, the world, you know. This Pinterest thing. I know some of you already are on board. “On board” – ha, that’s funny.

It’s basically a visual way to collect your favorite things online – a virtual bulletin board. Any time you see a photo of something, you “pin” it to the board of your choice.  I currently have 1,441 pins on 18 boards.  You can find things in your own internet travels, or on the boards of someone else – that’s called “repinning”. You can even “follow” the boards of friends or people who seem to have similar taste.

The problem is I’ve been spending too much time “pinning” and not enough time going back to try the stuff I’ve pinned!  What good is collecting it if you never use it!  So tonight I’ll be making this off my Yummy board –

Chicken and dumplings

In crafty land, there are MANY, MANY things I would like to do off my Craft board. One hardly knows where to begin.  Maybe this –

DIY Atomic Starburst Mirror

Or this –

Pleated Bag

The beauty of Pinterest is when you pin something, the original URL to the item is preserved, so you can go back to the recipe or pattern or whatever the source is. And it’s so FUN to see everything collaged in one place.

I’ve got a Garden board to help with outdoor inspiration. Scenes like this move me to get going on the backyard –

Now that's a garden

Or this paver patio I love –

Paver Patio

If there is a photo, you can pin it. Some of my favorites are my Little Bits of Awesome board.

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Zombie Survival

To start pinning, you need to request an “invite”, which can several days or even a couple weeks. Once you’re accepted, prepare to lose hours of your life. Even the Geek pins! Mostly guns and robots, but still.

Happy weekend! I’ve got things to make and cook, zombies to survive…

fall shortbread cake

Today, I did a bit of harvesting, a few tomatoes and berries and these beauts.

They grow on the tree in the front yard. In years past, they’ve never turned this delicious red color and they’ve been really sour.  No idea what kind they are, either.  This year it looks like we got lucky.  They are really tasty!

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the good stuff to make and eat (this week’s wacky warm weather notwithstanding). So I got out Baking – From my Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, to see what I could do with these guys. I am a sucker for anything involving apples, since it usually also involves ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  There was quite a few options but this one had me at “shortbread”.  The recipe as written uses a cramberry jam filling, but in the notes she suggests apples as an alternative. I made a a few other tweaks as noted below and this is what came out.

It did not suck. Happy fall baking!

Fall Shortbread Cake 

Adapted from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Cake batter:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 stick plus 5 tablespoons room temp butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla (*I was out, so I used an *ahem* liberal splash of amaretto. Feel free to try some for quality control first.)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.  In a mixer, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Reduce mixer to low and add egg and yolk, mix until absorbed. Beat in vanilla or whatever you are using. Add the flour and mix only until incorporated; you may wish to finish by hand to avoid overmixing.  It will be more like a soft cookie dough than a cake batter. Divide into two disks and wrap in plastic; refrigerate 15-30 minutes (or overnight but let sit out about 30 minutes before using).

Make filling.

Apple filling (as I made it)

2 apples, peeled and sliced

3 T butter

About 1/2 cup brown sugar, less if your apples are sweet – mine were on the tart side

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 grated nutmeg

Melt the butter til foamy and add the apples, let them soften for a few minutes. Add the brown sugar and let it thicken a bit. Add the spices and cook a bit longer, but you don’t want applesauce. I happened to have some dried cranberries on hand so I threw a handful of that in too. Preheat oven to 350.

Roll out one half dough and lay on bottom of springform pan. I gilded the lily a little here and spread some of last year’s apple butter on the bottom before I spread the cooked apple filling on top, your choice here. Roll out the second disk of dough big enough to fit the top of the cake and set it on top – mine was slightly too big so I just rolled the edges  and smooshed things together a bit to seal it.  Sprinkle with some sanding or raw sugar if you like.  Bake about 30-35 minutes. Cool. (Or not, if you are impatient like me. A little ice cream would not go amiss.)

Enjoy.

the great piecobblercake experiment

I have some friends who are fond of desserts.  When one was celebrating a recent birthday with a BBQ, I offered to bring dessert.  Pie, cobbler, cake, said I.  The cobbler won out, based on a previous showing.

But that seemed a little safe.  And it occurred to me that putting those three TOGETHER in one fine baked item would be a winning combination.  I pondered the logistics for a bit and came up with a plan of attack.

Really, it would all come down to the timing, I thought.  I’d use my favorite recipes for each component, and try to get them all to finish baking at the same time.  How hard could it be?!

At first, I planned to layer each thing – pie, filling, cake, filling, cobbler. But Mike pointed out that the cake might have issues rising.  More pondering. I decided to do pie, filling and then alternate cake/cobbler for the top.  Off to the races!

rhubarb - secret ingredient #1

The filling was blueberries and blackberries, with some rhubarb I happened to have on hand as the first secret ingredient.  The second was…cayenne pepper!  I threw some in with the sugar, cinnamon and tapioca, which thickens the filling.

I figured I’d need to blind bake the crust for a bit to make sure it cooked all the way. I hate doing that because no matter what I line the dish with, the sides slide down.

I baked it for about 20 minutes and added the filling.

tasty

I let THAT bake for maybe 20 mintues? Probably should have taken better notes….

And then I plopped down the cobbler bits (used the San Juan scone recipe here) and filled in around it with coffee cake batter.  Here is where the problem began.

I really thought the two toppings would bake pretty evenly, since the cake was in smaller sections. Not so!  That damn stuff took FOREVER to cook. I was worried about the cobbler pieces – I’m sure they were overcooked. I covered the edges with foil and hoped for the best.

I resisted the urge to sneak a bite before the party.  Packed the ice cream and off we went.

Well, I’ll be damned if it wasn’t dang good!  Next time – more cayenne. And a looser cobbler dough that will cook more evenly with the cake portion.  Here is the birthday boy enjoying his slice…

Piecobblercake. The best of three worlds.

a hell of a party

The Geek and I spent last weekend in Wenatchee, about 2 1/2 hours east of Seattle . My friend Jeff and his fiance Wai  are getting married in September.  His brother Mike is the best man, and Mike’s wife Jen is the matron of honor.  We were conned asked nicely to co-host a couples’ shower in their honor. Given that I can’t resist bossing organizing a party, of course I said yes.  Hence the madness began.

Originally, it was going to be a happy hour sort of thing.  Appetizers and drinks.  Pretty simple.  And boring.  So we upped the ante.  Dinner! Al fresco!  Family style for 25 people!  We went back and forth on the logistics of tables and food.  Could it be done?

Jen was in charge of decor and Mike and I discussed menu options for nearly a month. Eventually we came around to the vision of an Italian dinner.  Jen wrangled long tables and rented chairs and linens, and borrowed plates, etc. to make up the difference in what she already had.  Mike and I settled on the menu.  I even printed it up all fancy to put on the tables, but of course forgot that along with the placecards.

We went over Friday night to start getting ready,  which consisted of mainly of Mike doing prep work for his courses and us deciding that grappa is disgusting and had no place on the berries for the cake.  Bright and early Saturday, the real craziness began.  The Geek washed the greens and I made the Herbfarm dressing, then Jen and I ran out for pedicures and supplies at Costco and Safeway.  Once back, I made the cornmeal olive oil cake which would be served with balsamic strawberries and whipped cream.  Said cream was supposed to be whipped with mascarpone cheese, also forgotten in Seattle.  Dammit. No one seemed to mind. I was a bit nervous about the cake – I’d made it before but not as a half-sheet version.  I multiplied the recipe by 2.5 which resulted in some funky measurements, and I have to say I wasn’t very precise.  Tasted great though!

Next was outside setup.  We had 3 long tables, but needed to augment with their patio table so people wouldn’t be smushed.  That worked fine once we added linens and chairs, and the lanterns and flowers.  Looked great! We enlisted the aid of the two oldest kids for table setting, who looked up some fancy napkin folding instructions and got to work.

slave labor

Jen setting the table

We hit the wall about this point due to lack of food – Mike to the rescue with some tasty sandwiches.  All the while manning the oven and grill with his porchetta (Italian pork roast), cranberry beans, and watermelon gazpacho. He even made fresh ricotta for the crostini!  He’s a machine in the kitchen! Time for me and The Geek to cut a boat load of strawberries and stuff some endive with gorgonzola to be drizzled with chestnut honey and toasted pine nuts.

We finished setting up the bar outside, which include me having to empty the cooler (big enough for me to fit in) so that I could drag it from the upper yard into the lower section and then replace everything that had been in it. Did I mention that The Geek threw his back out loading a keg into someone’s car on Friday?  He could barely walk by this point, let alone heave a giant cooler around.

bar goodies

Time to get our party duds on and christen the event with a shot of tequila with Jen! (This part is highly recommended.)

We greeted people with a choice of a Watermelon Blush, a festive bubbly drink of watermelon juice, St. Germain (an elderflower liquer), dashes of Peychauds bitters and topped with Prosecco, or a Negroni, a vintage Italian cocktail of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin.  Not for the faint of heart – that Campari is bitter stuff.  Guests noshed on appetizers of the stuffed endive, crostini with fresh ricotta, frozen grape kabobs and watermelon gazpacho.  Sadly, the olives were forgotten in the frig.  Yes, I forgot many things.  Thankfully, nothing major.

hey there!

let's get this party started!

After an hour or so of mingling/getting their cocktail on, guests sat down to a first course of mixed greens with Herbfarm dressing, a very simple starter.  It should be said that the food had to be brought downstairs to be served, and given that we could only carry 4 or so plates at a time, it was painful the next day.  Mike was busily roasting green beans and slicing porchetta – all prettily arranged on 3 platters, along with three bowls of cranberry beans and three baskets of homemeade focaccia.  Everyone oohed and ahhed, and dug in to some very tasty food and wine.

porchetta and roasted green beans with fennel

Time to clear (and thanks to a couple of guests who helped out in this area) and get on with the game!  Jeff and Wai weren’t too sure about this, but since we weren’t doing gifts, there had to be something showery!  So we came up with our version of the Almost-Newlywed Game.  10 questions for both of them, and the winner got to take the bag of *ahem* bedroom accessories that Jen so carefully picked out.  They were great sports and everyone laughed a lot.

bride and groom

Back upstairs for the dessert plating, which I had intended to serve at the table, but several people had to cut out early and others were up and about so most ate theirs standing.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it was a great dessert for a group that large.  Sadly though, since we weren’t at the table it was a little tricky to get the sparkling muscat out to go with it, so I walked around with that for those who were interested.

Darkness fell and most left, leaving us hardcore folks (read, JunkBelly members and wives) around the fire pit, and the hosts pretty well exhausted. But proud and happy it a) went so well and b) was over.  The clean up could wait til morning.

ahhh

Lessons learned:

Don’t even attempt this without at least 3 people, and those people better like each other. You could get away with less if you had it catered.  (Before this party came up, I’d been considering an outdoor dinner party for an event in September. I’d still do it, but I might get some of the food from another source like Whole Foods, or make everything ahead so it could just bake the day of.  I know guests would volunteer to help, but I just want them to be guests. And normally I would never consider outsourcing food, but in some cases you have to compromise.  I’d do it if it meant I could have everyone there I wanted.)

Keep it simple, and do ahead.  Food and setup.  See above re at least three people.

Have at least one person in charge of greeting and the bar.  It’s weird if guests walk in and you are madly scrambling in the kitchen.  Someone needs to handle the drinks. A few spare older kids are handy for errands like replacing the La-Cucuracha-singing bottle opener.

Mike would serve the gazpacho as a first course next time, to slow the dinner pacing down. And I think maybe doing the dessert before the game would have kept people seated for dessert, making more of a finish to the meal.

Finally: an endeavor this ambitious could have gone horribly wrong at any time. I know Jen was a bit stressed about table set up and Mike was a little cranky in the kitchen.  To be expected – it’s a lot of pressure.  All the pre-planning paid off, despite minor glitches like menu and mascarpone being forgotten. But really what made it work was the teamwork – we all knew what had to be done and kept the end vision in mind.  A Tuscan evening in the garden with good friends and food.

Something to celebrate, for sure.

sunday soup

Given the fact that it is apparently the season of never-ending winter up in these parts, some soup seemed like just the thing.  This one really could not be easier – not that any soup is hard.  Split pea!  With beer!  And sausage!

the goods

What you will need:

1 bag of split green peas, rinsed and picked over

3ish carrots, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 potatoes, chopped, bite size

package of ham hocks

1 bottle of beer – medium ale works best, I think

smoked sausage – I used smoked turkey keilbasa – chopped bite size

water

ground cloves

thyme

a spoonful of coarse dijon

couple of bay leaves

Chop the carrots and celery – if you want to add some onion, feel free.  Soften them in some butter, 3-4 tablespoons in your soup pot, maybe 5 minutes.  Add the peas, beer, 6 cups of water, ham hocks, mustard, pinch of ground cloves, and bay leaves. Bring to simmer, cover and simmer for about an hour.   Meat on the hocks will be nearly tender – you can remove them and shred the meat back in the soup if you like.  Add the potatoes and sausage.  Simmer another 30 min to hour, depending on if you like your soup chunky or smoother.  Salt and pepper. If you are especially ambitious, you can add a splash of apple cider vinegar.  We usually eat this with biscuits and jam, but cheesy biscuits would be good too.

maybe winter's not so bad after all

A few things of note:  I don’t chop this stuff too small, since it gets smaller on cooking and I like a chunkier finished product.  Totally up to you.  And if you like it thicker, leave the lid off.  Or thinner, add more water.  It’s pretty hard to screw up!  Enjoy!