Posted by: Rachel | May 28, 2018

in a pickle

I’ve heard about refrigerator pickles for years. They pop up every so often in those “10 must have foods for summer picnics” sort of articles, and this summer I started to wonder if they were really as easy to make as those articles said. Then I got en email from my local grocery with what appeared to be a very simple recipe. I figured why not try.

Wish I’d tried years ago!

Yes, it is that easy. The hardest part, I think, is slicing the cucumbers. I let my mandoline do the work, though. I set it to about 1/4 inch and (using great care, of course) had at it!

I followed the recipe exactly and ended up with a pickle that is a tiny bit more tart than I like. I think next time I’ll try adding maybe a tablespoon of sugar to the “brine”. And more fennel but more about that shortly.

See, at the end of their recipe they make suggestions for spicing up your pickles. You may know, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that I love fennel (almost as much as the black swallowtail caterpillars do!). My yard has several nice stands and rather than harvesting the bulbs, I use the fronds. They’re dandy on salads, in smoothies, or just for munching. And, they are delicious chopped and added to cucumber pickles!

Here’s the short version of what I did. Only thing is, do be careful about the cukes. Grocery cukes are often waxed and for pickles you don’t really want to peel them. I recommend either the “English” or seedless kind – the long skinny ones that come in plastic wrap, or going to your farmer’s market and buying fresh off the vine.

Truly Easy Refrigerator Pickles

1 English/seedless cuke
1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds (optional)
1 Tbsp cumin seed (optional)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
1 tsp salt
(1 tbsp sugar – optional)

Put everything but the cuke, fennel, and cumin in a stainless steel or glass pot, heat to boiling, remove from heat. Cut the cucumber into roughly 1/4 inch rounds. Pack into a clean glass jar, interspersing the layers or cucumber with some fennel, some cumin, and the barely-boiled garlic.

ready to pickle!

Pack tightly. Once that is done and the liquid has cooled for about 5 minutes, pour the liquid over the cucumbers et al to cover. Let cool to room temperature, cover tightly and store in fridge.

pretty pickled

The recipe says to wait 3 days for best flavor, but you know I just couldn’t. I tried them after 24 hours and they were good. They do get stronger in flavor after a few days, though. My question to you is, does it count as “raw” if the brine is boiled? The cukes aren’t…

In any event, I’m envisioning a long hot summer of pickling a variety of vegetables. And, of course, sun-drying something or other in the car but that’s another story!

Stay hydrated and wear your sunscreen!!

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Posted by: Rachel | April 28, 2018

all shook up

I needed some lemons, three to be precise, for a flower arrangement I was entering in a show. Once the show was over (and it was great fun I must say) I wasn’t about to let the gorgeous lemons go to waste!

Grandmother’s Pantry was the theme. Yup. (grin)

Now, it may be spring in much of the world, but here in central Texas it is feeling summery. Hot during the days already and, while it is still cooling off somewhat at night I got to thinking about lemonade.

There’s a grocery near here that carries what they tout as “gingerade”. I love the stuff and figured I could come close here at home. Here’s all I did.

my take on “Gingerade”

fresh-squeezed juice of one large beautiful lemon
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 cup simple syrup**
12 oz or so cold water

Put everything in a shaker bottle or any bottle with a tight fitting cap. Shake well!! Chill, and shake again before drinking. Mmmmmm… refreshing!!

**I used the same “syrup” I feed to the hummingbirds. I keep a pitcher of it in the fridge so I can fill their feeders as needed.
***

There, that’s easy enough, and I like it fine. And, if my lemon trees do what I’m hoping for, I’ll be making a Meyer variety of this in the late fall. We’ll see – I’ll let you know. Meantime, stay safe, stay well, and stay hydrated!

Posted by: Rachel | March 25, 2018

walk with me (west coast edition)

A few weeks ago I visited my friends in California. We were lucky with the weather and I had a great time. One day we drove up to the town of Napa, famed in song and story for wine, but I will always think of the olive oil.

We enjoyed tapas at Zuzu for lunch, walked around the town, and visited the town’s visitor center. The back room is filled with bottles of local olive oil in a variety of infused flavors and balsamic vinegars from Modena many of which are also infused. I tasted a maple infused balsamic that was the best thing I’ve had in I don’t know when. Oh my.

My friends (who are very very good friends, mind you) bought a big bottle to take home, and bought a small bottle (airline requirements for carry-ons and all that) for me as well. Oh la la… we drizzled it on our oatmeal and blueberries the next morning!

maple balsamic, indeed!

I’d be happy to stop right there and go fix myself a bowl of yogurt and maple balsamic, but first I want to share a little more about the trip.

After lunch we went to the Oxbow Market.

I got so involved in everything I was seeing in this huge covered market that I forgot to take pictures! I’m sorry…

It reminded me a little of the Marche Victor Hugo in Toulouse. Lots of vendors and each display more intriguing than the last. I definitely recommend that, should you have lunch plans, you go there after or you might (or at least *I* certainly would) nibble, nosh, snack, and sample through the market and never make lunch at all.

Because they are very good friends and they know me all too well, we spent another day at the Ferry Building Marketplace. We actually took the ferry to it, got off, poked around, ate lunch and ferried ourselves home!

This time I remembered. Walk (and ferry) with me…

It was a foggy ride over.

foggy morning

But it was warm and enticing inside. Mmmmmm…

almost enough choices…

moi aussi! mmm…

Lots of things to taste, too.

how to choose, how to choose…

And beautiful implements as well. Oh la la…

so pretty

And tastes from everywhere that have me rethinking “local”.

a tad hot for me but oh, so tasty

And bonbons like bijous. I’ve never seen a candy store like this!

truly amazing!

The whole visit was a lot of fun, fascinating, intriguing, appetizing, and all in all just grand. Thanks again to my friends, and looking forward to our next time together, where ever it may be! Mmmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | February 27, 2018

what’s in a name?

A few years ago I was lucky enough travel in Tuscany with my mother. It was our first trip together and our first ever traveling with a tour group. We had a wonderful trip, stayed in Sienna and visited a number of the hill towns in the area. The hotel had a very good kitchen, so good that we ate there almost every night!

One night they served us a cup of tomato soup for our starter. It was thick but not heavy, and like no other tomato soup I’d ever had. I asked one of our tour guides if she could give me the recipe. She looked askance at this request, shook her head and informed me that she was from Umbria. Mind you, that’s all of 10 miles down the road. Gives on a whole new slant on “local”, for certain!

The menu called it “pappa al pomodoro”. Apparently “pappa” translates as baby food or “pap”. It may sound less than appetizing, but I’ve found salads and soups in France, Spain, and Italy that incorporate yesterday’s bread and I am a fan. Remember this no-cook soup? This is almost as simple.

Actually, I hadn’t planned on making soup just now. I was inspired by a gift. A friend brought me a bag of croutons from a French bakery here in town. They were beautiful, scented with herbes de Provence and lavender, and I enjoyed some on salads but I got to thinking about this soup.

This is one of those “un-recipe” recipes. I’ll tell you what I did as best I can, but you’ll have to play with it to get it the way you want. You can add herbs, fresh or dried, you can top it with cheese with you serve it; you could even serve it in a bread bowl, I suppose. Have fun!

Here’s my cheater’s version of all-too-easy tomato bread soup. Enjoy!

can you smell it? mmm…

Quick Pappa al Pomodoro

1 medium onion, rough chopped
olive oil
fresh or dried herbs**
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes
1 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
vegetable broth
slightly dry good sourdough bread, cut in cubes, to make about 4-6 cups

In a heavy soup pot, sautee the onion in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. (**I added some fresh chopped rosemary and some fennel seed) Add the canned tomatoes, about 1 cup of vegetable broth and the bread. Simmer for an hour, covered, then puree with a stick blender (or in a blender but, of course, be careful!!). Add more broth if you think it is too thick, add more bread if you think it is too thin.

smooooooth!

If you grow your own tomatoes then make this in the summer with your harvest! I’ll stick with buying good canned product and make this year-round! Enjoy!

Posted by: Rachel | January 24, 2018

fun with endive

Endive is, in my opinion, vastly underappreciated. This is due, I think, in part at least to it being a shy green. You may have to ask your grocer where they are hiding it. That’s because, if stored correctly, it is well-kept from daylight. If it could, I think it would sport spf60+ sunblock.

OK, this sounds silly, but its true. Endive is grown in the dark, potting mixture heaped on it as it aims for the light of day.

When you do buy it, and I hope you will, look for the whitest firm-fleshed heavy in the hand heads you can find. They may look a bit anemic but trust me, the greener they are the more bitter they will be.

pale and lovely

Endive should have just a hint of bitter along with the almost sweet crisp crunch of late spring. To me it is not a winter green. I think it is best served as the main attraction of a salad, along with various co-stars of your choosing. Here are two versions that I like.

You can see a recipe for this version here. Endive and blue cheese and walnuts, oh my!!

so happy together…

Or, if you are lucky enough to live in a town that has a Burmese market you can make a fine tea salad. This is usually made with romaine but I figured I could change it up a bit and it was delicious! I bought the fermented tea leaf dressing and the crunchy bits (fried garlic, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds… etc etc) and had at it. Tasted like summer to me!

happy crunchy salad!

Caveat: There are at least two versions of the dressing available commercially. One involves hot chili oil. Read the label *carefully*… cough cough…

You can also cut the endive leaves near the base and turn them into little “boats” to hold, oh, goat cheese and dried cranberries or most anything you like for an appetizer. See? Fun!

Enjoy the feast of spring greens that will be hitting the markets soon, and keep an eye out for endive!

Posted by: Rachel | January 16, 2018

and a happy new year! (brrr edition)

The weather folk were bang on this time, and luckily I believed them. Snow and ice twice in one winter in central Texas?? Astonishing but yes, its true.

So this morning I woke up with that “snow day, woohoo!” feeling. I guess maybe once you know how it feels you never lose it. There’s a certain rush of “day off-ness” even if you’ve been responsible and already cancelled or rescheduled your life just in case.

I went to the grocery two days ago (yes while it was still in the 50s) and prepared for the 24-hour freeze that we were promised. Only 24-hours, not really winter, but long enough to enjoy a few things that I don’t usually make as they need a really cold day outside to taste right.

The same way that Pastis doesn’t taste right in the winter (at least in my opinion), kielbasa and kraut doesn’t taste right when the temperature outside is much over 35F.

This is a super easy, quick, down and dirty version of a friend’s mother’s recipe. That recipe called for baking for at least an hour. Mine is a fast-food equivalent if you will, but I think it is acceptable. It warms the house and the belly, and is perfect for a filling winter lunch. Here’s all it takes.

Get to the grocery before the expected cold snap and the crowds of panicked shoppers. Get a package of pre-cooked beef kielbasa, and a jar (not *ever* a can) of sauerkraut. Cut the kielbasa in rounds about 1/4 inch. Sautee them over medium heat until nicely browned, turning as needed. Add drained sauerkraut to the skillet. Mix well. Add a few sprinkles of brown sugar and sautee a few more minutes. (You do keep brown sugar on hand, right? That’s why I didn’t tell you to buy any.) Toss a few times, plate up and enjoy – and feel like a real smuggy for being so well prepared.

Now I suppose you could do something similar with chicken sausage, and if you have the time and inclination (I would have except I was *hungry*!!) you can pepare this on the stove then transfer to a baking dish, cover and bake for about 1/2 hour covered at 350F then another 1/2 hour or so uncovered… or even do this in a crock pot although I’d still brown the meat in advance. Lots of options all with pretty much the same yummy outcome.

I suppose this is sort of a cheater’s version of choucroute garnie, a dish my father poured love into but that I didn’t appreciate as a kid. That involved smoked meats, potatoes, sauerkraut and plenty of oven time (and no brown sugar, I don’t think). I still prefer this slightly sweet, tangy, quick version.

In any event, hope you and yours are safe and warm and enjoying a healthy start to the new year! More soon, I promise… mmm and brrr!

Posted by: Rachel | December 26, 2017

on a cold winter’s night…

We’ve managed to sidestep winter for a few years now here in central Texas. Finally, though, it is upon us. Temperatures are in the low 40s, there is a damp raw tang in the air, we haven’t seen the sun for a couple of days, and we actually had a snowfall that lasted over 12 hours before completely melting.

OK, you can stop laughing now. I too have seen winter, and for many of us even this nasty damp cold snap doesn’t really qualify. Still, this is as close as I want to get, thank you very much! It gives me a nice excuse to turn on the oven and actually enjoy the idea of heating up the house.

And it gives me an excuse (as if I needed one) to drink more hot tea.

Now understand, I usually consider myself a coffee drinker. Nothing like a nice cup of a good dark French roast to kick-start a day. But in the afternoon I do like a cup of tea.

I often find myself drawn to flavors and combinations that my British grandma would never have considered to be “tea”. I like my tea spicy!

The first time I had chai was many years ago after a yoga class. The instructor had a thermos full of something delicious, hot, savory/sweet and highly restorative, and shared tiny cupfuls with the whole class. I was enchanted.

This was nothing like the orange-clove spiced tea that was the only not-black tea I then knew. Nor was it anything like the dark smoky lapsang souchong I occasionally tried.

It was milky, sweet, invigorating, complex, peppery; I was intrigued and smitten. And I wanted more. I begged the recipe and was astonished at how simple it was.

All it involved was a base of black tea and the addition of cracked spices: ginger, cardamon, black pepper, a tiny bit of clove, and some sugar.

Now, of course, there are a million chai recipes out there. And there are chai products of all descriptions. There are bag teas, powdered teas, concentrates, all sorts of concoctions available, and you can probably find something that you like fairly easily. Still, tweaking a recipe or product to suit your mood or palate is easy and can give you a product that is even more pleasing.

I like ginger. I add it to all sorts of things. I like candied ginger in my oatmeal, pickled ginger in my morning smoothie (yes, really), ginger in a vegetable/chicken/beef stir fry, and, of course, I rely heavily on ginger in my chai.

I have no idea about any possible health benefits. If you have any questions or concerns, check with you doctor before upping the ginger in your diet. All I know is that I love the flavor, the curious bite/sweet peppery zing it adds. And, if it turns out that it is good for me, so much the better!

fresh!

So there you have it. I think I’m going to wrap this up so I can wrap my hands around a nice warm mug of ginger tea. Nothing to it but a few slices of fresh ginger, same of lemon, some honey, and fresh boiled water. Warms all the way down, the steam is comforting to the sinuses, and oh, it smells lovely!

A happy, healthy, safe, warm New Year to all… see you in January!

Posted by: Rachel | November 27, 2017

good things come… (part 2)

Remember that grand experiment I tried about making vanilla extract? It worked!

vanilla-y goodness, my goodness!

It was nothing more than vodka and vanilla beans and time (lots of time). Now it is a beautiful shade of brown, smells wonderful, and I’m looking forward to using it in all sorts of goodies! And, I can take the beans out at some point, dry them, and add them to my big sugar jar to make vanilla sugar. Mmmm!!

I could stop there but I won’t.

Remember those nasturtiums I planted a few weeks ago? They all sprouted!

wait for it…

OK, I’m still a few weeks away from having flowers, but the plants look really happy, so I’m happy as well. And I can wait.

My lemon tree, which has been confused for a few years now, is in full bloom and covered with tiiiiny little lemons. I can wait for those as well.

itsy bitsy, teenie weenie…

My mint, however, wasn’t so lucky. I planted 3 different varieties and sadly none survived. However, the cat smells yummy…

really? yes…

That’s pretty much it for today. If I don’t get to posting again before 2018 (although I will try…) enjoy whatever you celebrate, be safe and well, and I promise you nasturtiums one of these days (grin).

Posted by: Rachel | October 30, 2017

walk with me (2017 edition)

Well it was another delightful trip to New York this fall. If you’ve been reading for a while you know I go up for a visit every year around this time. You also know that I was there for hurricane Sandy. This trip was much calmer!

We had perfect fall days, cloudless, cool, slightly breezy, delicious! And, since my cousins are kind and put up with my notions, I’m not afraid to make suggestions about activities or even restaurants.

I watch tv. There, I’ve said it. I own it. And, in a city with 3 PBS stations (4, if you count PBS kids) I’m rarely at a loss for something entertaining, enjoyable, and often educational.

Now forgive me but I’m not entirely sure what the name of the show was.Something like Life of a Chef, I think, and it was about a guy who opened a couple of ramen restaurants in New York.

Nothing particularly special about that, except that Ivan Orkin is not of an ethnic background most often associated with ramen. He is (and I quote his web site here) “a self described “Jewish Kid from Long Island””. But he’s done his homework, and his ramen, or at least the bowl I had, is very happy-making.

And, happily, one of his restaurants is only a few blocks from my cousins’ apartment.

nom nom slurp!

They hadn’t been to this place, but they’re game for most anything and very kind about humoring me. We walked over and had an excellent lunch. I thought the prices were quite reasonable, everyone we met was very friendly, the place was bright and cheery, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

so pretty…

Generous, very pretty, and delicious – what more could one ask for?

sadly it was over all too soon…

The walk over was super too. We poked around the Essex Street Market where I saw piles of beautiful coconuts,

so pretty!

lots of fresh-smelling spices,

mmmmm….

some truly gorgeous bread,

oh la la!

and if I hadn’t had my mouth set for ramen I’d have happily eaten right there!

Oh my, all that and it was only part of one day! New York is a great walking town. I get a kick out of the mini-chalkboards that so many establishments sport. This one seemed appropriately seasonal:

And this one, well, I think it about says it all. Until next time, enjoy the season, be safe if you go trick-or-treating, and be well!

indeed…

Posted by: Rachel | September 30, 2017

(almost) too cute to eat

I don’t usually get carried away by cute (unless it involved kittens…) but I got involved in a discussion about quail eggs recently and it got me to thinking.

The only way I’ve seen them served at a restaurant is as a raw yolk on top of sushi. I like them that way, but that wasn’t something I was going to try at home. This, however, seemed a reasonable “do-at-home” idea.

Astonishingly, it went exactly as I imagined it!

These bites could be an appetizer, or perhaps something to serve as part of a brunch. They’re awfully cute and mighty tasty, and as is often the case with dishes I propose, you can customize as you like!

All I did was get the quail eggs, some mushrooms, a bit of garlic, and, of course, some olive oil. I took the stems out of the caps and set them aside. Then I sauteed the caps in olive oil.

I chopped up the mushroom stems with about 1/2 clove of garlic. I took the caps out of the skillet, added a small spoonful of the chopped filling, made a nice little indentation in each one, and carefully (they’re fragile after all) opened the quail eggs**. I set one quail egg in each. I carefully returned the caps to the skillet, turned down the heat, covered the whole thing and let them cook for about 4 minutes until the whites are well set.

I guess I’ll let the photos do the talking.

tiny but mighty

gently, gently…

almost there…

The only other thing I can suggest is perhaps a bit of chopped parsley or cilantro or chives or even scallion on top if you like. If I were a downtown restaurant I’d probably make some sort of colorful sauce to dress the plate, but I’m not so I didn’t.

**And, the only advice I can add is, don’t try to crack these like chicken eggs. They’re far too fragile. Just hold them carefully (firmly but gently) and use a sharp serrated knife to take the top off. Yes, really!

If you do decide to try this, let us know how it works for you. Mmmmm… and have fun!

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