Archive for the ‘pickling’ Category

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

pickles

 

 

6 fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
handful of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again, trying not to crush or squeeze the cucumbers.

Roll the plastic bag tightly, squeezing the air out of the bag, then zip it and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

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PICKLING BEETS

Posted: May 10, 2017 in beets, Food, pickling, Recipes
Tags: , , ,

Growing up in a Lithuanian family, there was a small group of foods that I had to love to survive, since they constantly appeared on the dinner table: potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, herring, and beets. Fortunately for me, I loved them all, despite my Mom’s desire to boil everything to death.

One of the many uses for beets, besides a cold summer soup and a hot winter soup, was pickling. Pickled beets are an excellent side dish for any hearty meat dish. (I love ’em with kielbasa!)  Store-bought pickled beets pack way too much sugar in every jar, so it was time to make my own. The addition of hard-boiled eggs to the mix is a personal one. If you don’t like ’em, leave ’em out and add more beets.

A real time saver is a product called Love Beets, which you can find in any supermarket. If you use them, you can skip the roasting of the beets altogether.

beets

 

4 to 8 beets, scrubbed (your favorite variety)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 red onion, sliced
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled (optional)
6 fresh dill sprigs

Pre-heat the oven to 450. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about an hour, until tender. When they’re cool enough, carefully peel and quarter them.

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, peppercorns and salt. Bring it to a boil and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let the pickling liquid cool to warm, about 15 minutes.

In a heat-proof glass jar or container, layer the beets, onion, eggs and dill sprigs and then cover with the pickling liquid. Let it stand at room temp for 2 hours, then place it in the fridge overnight.

They stay fresh for a week, but they won’t last that long!

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

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Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I get a plastic juice pitcher, place the bottle of Stoli inside it, and fill with water just below the brand name on the label. I have a deep freezer that allows me to keep the pitcher right-side up until frozen.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. Blue Hill Bay herring in dill marinade (an Acme product) is wonderful and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel.

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To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

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Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

 

My friend, Cindy, has cucumber overload in the home garden right now. Thanks to her for requesting a re-post of this recipe.

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when I’ve got a cucumber surplus in the garden. These won’t last beyond the season, but if you want fresh pickles in a hurry, this is a great method to use.

No water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work.

pickles

 

 

6 fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
handful of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic Ziploc bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again.

Squeeze to remove air from the bag, close it tightly and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

asparagus2013

Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

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PICKLED ASPARAGUS
Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that spears are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut into pieces that will fit smaller jars.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add the garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing in refrigerator.

WHY DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It is also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system. Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some of you can eat all the asparagus you want without stinking up the place. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. (It has to do with your DNA.)

It’s mind-blowing how many new and exciting restaurants keep popping up in Portland, Maine, and even more interestingly, how they’re all thriving! With a great arts scene, historic New England waterfront, and a young crowd eager to spend their money, Portland is just exploding.

I work in Providence, Rhode Island, a city whose food scene has had a lot of attention in the last few years in a variety of national magazines. But really creative restaurants here are hard to find, perhaps five in the entire city. In Portland, you’ll find five on one block!

Portland is big enough to be a destination, and small enough that you can park your car once and walk everywhere you want to go all day and into the night.

Oysters at Eventide.

Oysters at Eventide.

Three of the best restaurants in town just happen to be owned by the same three guys: Andrew Taylor, Arlin Smith and Mike Wiley. They called their company AMA LLC, though now I think they go by the name Big Tree Hospitality. All three restaurants are located right next door to each other on Middle Street: Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw. If you go nowhere else in Portland, hit this one block. If you’re just passing through for lunch, it’s right off 295. Just take the Franklin Street exit.

The block. From left to right: The Honey Paw, Eventide, and Hugo's. And if you stay at the Hampton Inn, like we did, you walk less than a block!

The block. From left to right: The Honey Paw, Eventide, and Hugo’s. And if you stay at the Hampton Inn, like we did, you walk less than a block!

 

The bar at Eventide.

The bar at Eventide.

Our love of Portland started years ago with Eventide, an oyster bar serving the freshest and most creative small seafood plates in the city: a killer brown butter lobster roll, tuna crudo that rivals the best sushi anywhere, blackboard special plates like char tartare, and a dozen oyster choices served with inventive accouterments, our favorite being the pickled red onion ice. Our non-seafood-eating daughter loved the buttermilk fried chicken bun and Eventide burger. And probably the most ignored-but-shouldn’t-be entry on the menu is the fish sandwich: best you ever had or I’ll eat it for you. They use pieces of fresh-caught hake, a fish that’s somewhat unknown unless you’re a local. A full bar and a surprisingly friendly staff, despite the fact they’re jamming all day long.

The amazing fish sandwich at Eventide.

The amazing fish sandwich at Eventide.

Hugo’s made Portland a food destination thanks to its previous chef/owner, Rob Evans, who sold it in 2012 to concentrate on his newer joint: Duckfat. The three guys: Taylor, Smith, and Wiley, worked there before it closed down and they grabbed the opportunity to take over, bringing a cutting-edge American menu served over a series of exciting tasting courses. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian or seafood lover, you’ll find some wonderful choices here. Our night featured raw and cooked beef selections, lamb bolognese, ankimo (monkfish liver) and unusual veggie plates like sunchokes and smoked parsnips.

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Paul, the bartender, is a mixologist of the finest kind. My wife sipped on a Jasmine Fizz before we plunged into the eclectic and inspired wine list chosen by Big Tree Hospitality’s wine director, Brian Flewelling, who happened to be our server that night.

My wife enjoyed a sip of my Pappy's as well.

My wife enjoyed a sip of my Pappy’s as well.

 

And it didn’t hurt that they had three kinds of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon on their shelves…something I haven’t seen anywhere else. (These are the bottles that go for over $1500 on line.) Needless to say, Paul the bartender and I bonded over a taste of the 20-year-old Pappy.

A bourbon conversation between my newest best friend, Paul and myself.

A bourbon conversation between my newest best friend, Paul, and myself.

The third and newest restaurant in the group is The Honey Paw, featuring an eclectic Asian menu. The intense flavors come from all over Asia, and we wondered how these young chefs could be so knowledgeable. We found out that the company flies its employees to countries like Singapore and Malaysia on a regular basis to give them the experience they need to create and serve this amazing food. I swear, I wanna work for these guys! I haven’t seen any company anywhere treat its employees with such respect, and all of that trickles down to how they treat the food, the community, and their customers.

The Honey Paw's mind-blowing albacore tuna sashimi.

Beautiful plates at The Honey Paw.

Like their other two restaurants, The Honey Paw sources most of its ingredients from local farms. So when we ordered a plate of coppa, it was housemade from rare mulefoot hogs raised in Maine, topped with pickled husk cherries.

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I’m a huge fan of whole-fried fish, but very few restaurants take on that challenge. Even many of my favorite New York Chinese restaurants no longer feature that on the menu. The whole fried black bass I had at The Honey Paw is something I will have every time I return.

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We did leave the block, eventually! Though not big on atmosphere, Sur Lie was another restaurant in the long list of new establishments in the city featuring small plates full of exciting flavors.

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We enjoyed tapas like a plate of “Surryano” ham, the West Virginia version of Spanish Serrano…fried milk-braised cauliflower…Hiramasa (Yellowtail Amberjack) crudo…carrot agnolotti (pasta)…and a nicely cooked hanger steak. Good food, good service, and a nice selection of Greek wine.

We walked a lot in Portland. Loads of small shops, art galleries, and stores with collectibles. We hit a couple of comic book stores with our daughter, who’s in that phase…art galleries that enticed my wife, the artist…and an unusual shop with rare, collectible barware in the storefront and an actual bar in the back to do some serious sipping: a place called Vena’s Fizz House.

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One of the more interesting products they sell at Vena’s was a variety of infusion kits: dried fruits and spices just waiting for vodka or tequila to bring their flavors to life…

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Sometimes we did jump in the car to get to the other side of town. Portland boasts one of the largest–and coolest–Whole Foods stores ever. The selection is fantastic, and they sell wine and local spirits in a special section that comes with its own wine expert to help you make the right choices!

A short hop down the road from Whole Foods is a line of distilleries and breweries on Fox Street just waiting for thirsty customers. We stopped in to Maine Craft Distilling for a tasting of their creations.

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Here’s the thing that tells you you’re in Maine: we arrived at Maine Craft Distilling, and they told us they were sold out of just about every spirit because of the holidays. But they still poured us free tastings of all their booze! That would not happen anywhere else. Their logic was: if you like it, you won’t forget it and you’ll buy it the next time around. Friendly and informative, and their blueberry spirit called Blueshine, is worth a trip back.

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Back along the waterfront, on Commercial Street, we tucked into the Flatbread Company, a wildly popular pizza joint that now has 15 locations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and even Hawaii. Great pizza (with gluten-free options), salads, and an awesome view of the water.

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Watching these talented chefs work the oven is better than television. I could watch all night!

Watching these talented chefs work the oven is better than television. I could watch all night!

A must-stop at least once on any Portland trip is the classic Porthole. Featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” they open for breakfast and rock all through the night. I dropped in for some breakfast to go on New Year’s morning, watching those at the bar chug down their Bloody Marys: a little hair of the dog after a long partying night.

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Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the trip (and mainly because it has received so much hype from magazines and friends) was The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club. I was told not to go here for the food, so we passed on that. But while my wife and daughter spent some time in the shops nearby, I decided to go in and check the place out for a cocktail.

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The bartender was friendly enough, and when I asked for a Manhattan with his choice of bourbon (he used Baker’s), he made it with flair and it tasted good. But it was also something I could make at home just as easily. I don’t know…maybe I needed to order something else. Maybe I should give the place a try in the light of a summer day and not a cold winter’s night. It just seemed kind of dumpy and not at all what I was expecting: uncomfortable metal benches at the bar, a stuffiness in the air like the vents in the kitchen weren’t working. I need to come back and give these guys another chance.

 

For more on Portland, Maine, check out my blog from July of 2013. A lot has changed in a year and a half, but there’s still some good info there. http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-g3

 

 

PICKLED BEETS

Posted: August 23, 2015 in beets, Food, pickling, Recipes
Tags: , , , ,

Growing up in a Lithuanian family, there was a small group of foods that I had to love to survive, since they constantly appeared on the dinner table: potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, herring, and beets. Fortunately for me, I loved them all, despite my Mom’s desire to boil everything to death.

One of the many uses for beets, besides soups, was pickling. Pickled beets are an excellent side for any hearty meat dish. (I love ’em with kielbasa or steak!)  I add hard-boiled eggs and hunks of onion to the mix because I like them. If you don’t like ’em, leave ’em out and just add more beets.

I combined store-bought already-cooked beets (the brand is called Love Beets) with Chiogga beets that I grew in my own garden and peeled and roasted before pickling.

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4 to 8 beets, scrubbed (your favorite variety)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 Vidalia onions, quartered
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
6 fresh dill sprigs

Pre-heat the oven to 450. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about an hour, until tender. When cool enough, carefully peel and quarter them.

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let the pickling liquid cool to warm, about 15 minutes.

In a heat-proof glass jar or container, layer the beets, onion, eggs,  and dill sprigs and then cover with the pickling liquid. Let stand at room temp for 2 hours, then place in fridge overnight.

They stay fresh for a week, but they won’t last that long!

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Whether it’s the Italian Giardiniera or the French spelling of Jardiniere, it’s a delicious mix of vegetables that get their kick from soaking in a vinegar-mustard seed brine. My Mom used to make Chow-Chow, which is similar, using vinegar and yellow mustard. Either way, I love the taste of this veggie medley that really has no rules: use whatever your favorite vegetables are, brine them, and enjoy.

I got carried away and used a gallon-sized glass jar for this recipe, perhaps far too much for most applications. This recipe has been reduced to fit a quart-size Mason jar.

 

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2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1/2 head organic cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 celery stalk, sliced very thin
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 garlic clove, through a press
1 tablespoon whole yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil

 

In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, just until all the ingredients have dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Chop the cauliflower, onion, pepper, celery and carrot, placing them into the Mason jar. Feel free to use more of what you love and less of what you don’t!

Once the vinegar mixture has cooled, add the garlic, mustard seeds and oregano to the mixture and stir to combine. Pour this mixture into the Mason jar of veggies, seal the jar and shake the jar to thoroughly mix everything.

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Store in the fridge. It’ll be ready to eat in a couple of days…if you can wait that long!

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

asparagus2013

Granted, a few shoots breaking through the soil doesn’t qualify as “taking off,” but it’s an exciting time of the year in the home garden.
Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them, salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

asparagus

Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that they are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut them into pieces that will fit a smaller jar.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add a garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill the jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing them in refrigerator.
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THE AGE OLD QUESTION: WHY DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It is also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system. Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some can eat all the asparagus they want without stinking up the place. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. (It has to do with your DNA.)

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when I’ve got a cucumber surplus in the garden.

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work.

pickles

 

Ingredients:

6 fresh cucumbers

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)

handful of fresh dill

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again.

Squeeze to remove air from the bag, close it tightly and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.