Sunday, July 27, 2008


Not me... Although this glass of Rose was pretty delicious...

I'm really referring to this kind of pickling:

I suddenly have an abundance of yellow cucumbers. Gee... Could it be because I planted, um, 15 plants??? Well, I do love cucumbers. Dill pickles are quite tasty too. So, in the interest of preserving the bounty (which is what I am constantly doing these days), here's a very simple recipe for garlic dills. To maximize their flavor they will need to sit for a few weeks, so I'll let you know in a couple of weeks, just exactly how they turned out...

Garlic Dills

makes 6 pints (approximately)
(adapted from 'Quick Dill Pickles' in the Kerr Kitchen Cookbook)*

2-2 1/2 Lbs. cucumbers, washed and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds or cut into spears
(if using pickling cucumbers, which is recommended, the quantity is approximately 7 Lbs.) If you have more than enough cucumber, just keep making batches of brine until you've packed all the jars you filled)**

6-12 heads of fresh dill (be sure to rinse the dill and pat dry before adding to the jars)
6-12 cloves of garlic, peeled

For the brine:

6 Cups of water (I used spring water)
3 Cups of distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tb. Kosher salt
1/3 Cup pickling spice (optional)

Sterilize your jars and lids (I like the wide-mouth jars/lids for this - I find they are easier to pack) and ready the water bath.

Combine the brine ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. When jars and lids are ready, pack the cucumber slices into the hot jars along with 1 or 2 heads of dill and 1 or 2 cloves of garlic per each jar - leaving 1/2-inch head space. Pour the hot brine (including some of the pickling spice, if using) over the cucumbers and fill to within 1/2-inch of the jar rim. Using a clean butter knife or thin spatula, go around the inside edges of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims with a clean towel and place the sterilized lids on the jars. Lightly screw on the bands and process jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from the bath and check the seals. Any jars that did not seal properly can be refrigerated and used within a month or so.
*For canning instructions and/or questions, please visit the website for The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
**Many recipes I've seen regarding cucumber pickles say that to get a really crisp pickle you should soak the cucumber slices in an ice water bath for about 2 hours before canning. I didn't do this - my cukes had been in the refrigerator for a few days, so I skipped this step. I think in addition to 'icing' the cukes, it also helps to use pickling cucumbers, though any kind of cucumber will still work for pickling. Mine were rather large in circumference and will most likely not be too crisp (I personally don't mind).
***In case anyone is wondering - the 'yellower' pickles in the foreground of the above photo are 'Spicy Garlic Dills' that were made using a packaged pickle mix (Kerr's) and the addition of 2 garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes per jar.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

tasting color

In the height of summer there is a performance in the wild. The cicadas have arrived, their drone the sound of summer to my ears. Fireflies illuminate the dusk in pin-prick blinks and there is a mysterious peppery scent in the cool green canopy of river bank trees.
And color has come to the garden. Golden beets, purple beans, crimson tomatoes (almost here!), yellow cucumber, deep green zucchini, lime green tomatillos, snow white fennel, and a palette of carrots in purple, yellow and orange. Each trip brings back a little edible rainbow and a basket full of inspiration:
Warm Summer Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette


3/4 Lb. golden beets (other beet varieties are suitable substitutes), trimmed, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths depending on size (pieces should be about 1 - 1 1/2 inches)
1/2 Lb. any combination of purple, yellow, and/or orange carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the beet pieces
1 Tb. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1/2 - 3/4 Lb. purple beans (green are fine also as the purple will turn green upon cooking, anyway), trimmed

For the Shallot Vinaigrette:

1/3 C. minced shallots (about 2)
2 Tb. fresh lemon juice
2 Tb. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 C. olive oil
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small roasting pan combine the beets and carrots. Drizzle with olive oil, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes (stirring once) or until vegetables are tender.

While beets and carrots are roasting, prepare the purple beans and the vinaigrette.

Fill a sink or a large bowl with very cold water (add a handful of ice, if necessary). Set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the beans. Cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove beans from boiling water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the cold water to stop cooking. Remove the beans to a clean towl and pat dry. Set aside.

Make the vinaigrette:

Combine the first 6 ingredients (shallots through olive oil) in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to combine, then add the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Give another shake to combine. Set aside.

When beets and carrots are done, transfer them to a large bowl or platter. Add the cooled beans and drizzle with shallot vinaigrette to suit your tastes (I used about 2 tablespoons*). Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 small servings or 2 large servings.

*The remaining vinaigrette can be refrigerated in the jar for 1 week (shake to combine before using).

Monday, July 7, 2008

stones and pits

One day last spring I visited some friends who happen to run an incredible organic farm in Pennsylvania. After a brisk evening camping on the grounds I was treated to some the best blueberry-oatmeal pancakes and the most welcome cup of coffee a frozen camper could ever appreciate. That one breakfast initiated a chain of blueberry pancake weekends that saw me through the whole season. I still haven't quite got the craving out of my system and just might not be sure if I'm hungry for the pancakes or simply wistful and nostalgic. Isn't it amazing how good company can make something so simple transcendent?

While blueberries are abundant for the time being, the following recipe takes advantage of two of the season's other specialties: yellow peaches and sweet cherries. My *appreciation* of cherries of all kinds is well documented among those who know me, so it might not be too much of a surprise that I post a recipe or two here including this most loved fruit. And who wouldn't love a sunny bowl of yellow peaches and blushing Rainier cherries with their breakfast? So, in nostalgia and hunger I offer this recipe:

Corncakes Two Ways: Yellow Peach and Sweet Cherry Compote and Butter and Maple Syrup
(I adapted the recipe for Corncakes from the cornmeal pancake recipe on the package of the highly regarded Bob's Red Mill Medium Grind Cornmeal)

Makes about 8 corncakes


For the Corncakes:

1/2 C. boiling water
1/2 C. plus 2 Tb. cornmeal (medium grind, preferably, such as Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 C. plus 2 Tb. buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 C. whole wheat flour (I most often use King Arthur flours)
1/4 C. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 Tb. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 Tb. granulated sugar (brown sugar might work well also)
2 Tb. corn oil, plus more for the pan

In a small bowl sift together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Set aside. In a separate medium bowl, pour boiling water over cornmeal and whisk until thick. Add buttermilk, whisking to combine. Whisk in the egg. Add the flour mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir in the oil.
Heat a skillet or gridle over medium heat (add a little oil, if your pan is not non-stick) and pour batter by small ladle-fulls onto the hot skillet. The batter will be thin and the cakes will not puff up as much as regular pancakes. When small bubbles begin to appear and pop on the surface (about 1-3 minutes), carefully flip the cakes over and cook another 1-2 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove from the skillet and place on a plate lined with a paper towl. Serve warm with Yellow Peach and Sweet Cherry Compote or the classic butter and maple syrup.

Yellow Peach and Sweet Cherry Compote
(double this recipe to have enough compote for all 8 corncakes in the previous recipe)


1 medium yellow peach (slightly underripe is fine), peeled* and cut into quarters and then into thirds (12 slices altogether)
1-2 handfuls sweet cherries (Rainier's are quite nice if you can find them, but any sweet variety will be delicious), pitted and sliced into quarters
1 Tb. granulated sugar
1 Tb. water
1/2 small pat of butter (optional)

Heat fruit, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until fruit begins to soften and water and sugar thicken - about 5 minutes. If desired, finish with butter: Add butter to fruit mixture and continue to stir until melted)

*The easiet way I know to peel a peach is to drop the whole peach into a pot of rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water just until the peach is cool enough to handle - the skin will peel away easily at your fingertips. However, as I was only using one peach in this recipe I just cut the peel away with a paring knife.)

**If your fruit is very ripe, cooking is not necessary. Simply slice the fruit and place in a bowl with a little bit of sugar (to suit your tastes) and let sit 30 minutes or so to release the juices.

Butter and Maple Syrup

Well, this is obvious and self-explanitory, but there is something really scrumptious in the combination of salty butter, sticky-sweet syrup and satisfying cornmeal. Just a suggestion with the syrup: the aforementioned farm friends introduced me to Grade B maple syrup for pancakes. If you can find it, it really does have more of that maple-y flavor.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Black Beauty

I'll start by saying that I've just recently resumed rural living since buying an old farmhouse on a 2 acre lot after living in the historic district of a rapidly growing, not-so-little-anymore city for 7 years in a 900 square foot duplex with a yard about the size of a sandbox. So I planted 27 Black Beauty zucchini plants.
(And 40-some tomato plants, but I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about that later...) Nevertheless, I'm not daunted. They're taking over. I didn't give them quite enough space. I have to tip-toe through like a soldier sweeping the jungle in some Vietnam War film. Slowly, deftly (well, a little clumsily), pushing head-sized leaves aside and sometimes muttering to myself, all the time trying not to step on one of the sometimes not so obvious fruits. I love every minute of it though. They are just starting to come in, and I may have a very different point of view by this time next week, but for the time being I'm going to savor each one.
Zucchini Couscous with Feta and Basil

(A note on quantities: the quantities in this recipe are really not so crucial - the couscous and water should be the same ratio, but other than that, feel free to add as much or as little shallot, zucchini, feta and/or basil as you desire. Add as much olive oil as you feel necessary - I use just enough to moisten the couscous a bit)


1/2 C. water
1/2 C. couscous (I used organic whole wheat bought in bulk from the local co-op)

1 Tb. olive oil
2 small shallots, chopped very fine
2 small zucchini (or one medium), sliced in half lengthwise then cut across into 1/2 inch slices
salt and pepper

4 oz. Feta, crumbled
2 Tb. fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 Tb. olive oil

Prepare the couscous:

Heat water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When it reaches a boil, add the couscous, swirl pan or stir to be sure couscous is covered by the water. Put lid on and remove pan from heat to rest for 5 minutes.

While couscous rests, prepare the zucchini:

Heat 1 Tb. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot (but not smoking) add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add the zucchini and season with a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until just tender. Remove from heat.

Fluff the cooked couscous with a fork and place in a medium bowl. Add the zucchini mixture, Feta and basil. Drizzle in 1 Tb. olive oil and fold all together gently. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary and serve warm or at room temperature.

*Variation: This dish is also quite tasty with 1-1/2 Tb. each of toasted pine nuts and golden raisins added in with the Feta and basil.