Category Archives: Cooking

Half Sour Pickles

We’ve got a bumper crop of cucumbers from the garden right now, and fermenting is an easy, quick way to preserve them.  I find that it’s less work than canning, and the crunch of a fermented cucumber is hard to beat.  I’ve been referring to The Art of Fermentation by the fermentation guru, Sandor Ellix Katz, for guidance.  He recommends a 3.5% salt brine to make a crunchy, short fermenting pickle, and I’ve used this brine with great results.

To ferment cucumbers, you’ll need some basic fermenting equipment: a one quart canning jar, a weight, a lid with a seal and an airlock.  For the salt, I’m using Himalayan salt that I purchased from Fermentools, but you can use any salt that you prefer to make the 3.5% brine.  The weights I’m using are from a four piece set called Pickle Pebbles.  We made lids for fermenting with a box of the Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage caps.  Frank drilled a hole in the middle of each one and then placed a BPA-free food grade silicone grommet in each hole.  A reusable food grade silicone seal goes inside each cap and a plastic airlock goes on top.

To make pickles in a one quart jar, I used approximately one pound per jar.  You may need more or less than this depending on the size of the cucumbers.  I have found that the smaller cucumbers result in the tastiest, crunchiest pickles, so save the big cucumbers for another use. After cleaning the cucumbers in water, remove the blossom end and slice into spears or leave whole.

Make the brine by adding Himalayan salt to filtered water and stirring to dissolve (if you choose to use a different salt, use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of sea salt or pickling salt to two cups of water to make a 3.5% brine).  To help the cucumbers stay crunchy, Katz recommends adding “grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves, or other tannin-rich plant materials”.  I’ve got a Champanel grapevine in my garden, so I’ve been using one grape leaf in each quart jar.  The leaf goes in the very bottom of the jar, and then you pack the cucumbers in the jar along with dillweed or dill seed, and garlic if you like.  I also sometimes add a dried chile or fresh pepper along with some black peppercorns or mustard seed.  Fit in as many cucumbers as you can, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.

Place the weight in the jar, and pour the brine in until the cucumbers and the weight are fully submerged.  Place the seal in the lid, and then screw on the lid and add the airlock.  (The airlock should have water in it up to the top line).Ferment for about eight days in a 75 degree kitchen, taking care to keep them out of direct sunlight.  Fermentation could occur in a shorter or longer time period than eight days, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.  I would taste the cucumbers after a few days to get an idea of how far along they are.  There is really no right or wrong answer; they are ready when they taste good to you.  The jar on the left below is fully fermented while the two on the right are the ones prepared for this post.

After eight days, my pickles are ready.  Remove the weight and the airlock, put on a new lid and refrigerate.  These will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Half Sour Pickles
Author: 
Serves: 1 quart
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb pickling cucumbers, blossom ends trimmed
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 1 dill head, washed or 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1 grape leaf, washed
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled (optional)
  • 1 dried chile or 1 fresh pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Add the salt to the water to make the brine.
  2. Place the grape leaf in the bottom of the jar.
  3. Add the dill head, or dill weed to the bottom of the jar.
  4. Add the pepper and garlic, if using.
  5. Pack the cucumbers into the canning jar, leaving ½ inch headspace.
  6. Add the weight. Pour the brine over the cucumbers until the cucumbers and the weight are covered.
  7. Place the seal in the lid, and screw the lid on the jar.
  8. Put water in the airlock, and attach the airlock to the lid.
  9. Ferment for about eight days, tasting along the way as needed.
  10. When the pickles taste ready to you, refrigerate.

Ranch Dressing

All of the broccoli, radishes, and cauliflower coming out of the garden this month inspired me to create a personal size veggie plate with ranch dressing.

First, put a cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.  Add onion powder, celery leaves, marjoram, dill, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Parsley would be good, too.  Add some lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Stir in the buttermilk and mix well.  Add more buttermilk if needed to thin it to a pourable consistency. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for about a week.

It works equally well as a dip for veggies or drizzled over garden fresh lettuce.


Ranch Dressing
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried celery leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together.

 

 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

kitchen-counter-paperback-final-aug2012

Have you ever read Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School?  This book is a great resource for beginner or experienced cooks. Flinn brought together a group of people who were not confident in the kitchen and offered them classes on kitchen basics such as chopping, braising, taste testing, and saving money on groceries with the goal of teaching them how to choose and cook delicious, healthy food, and then documented the entire process in her book.

What I loved about this book was how Flinn makes the case for cooking at home.  She’s able to demonstrate that many dishes that people often prepare from a mix, box, or jar can easily be cooked at home if you buy the ingredients and cook from scratch.  As well, she talks about all the added ingredients in store bought foods, which caused me to really look at food labels.  Flinn points out that salad dressing often has many ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce or recognize, and there is usually added sugar.  This inspired me to stop buying salad dressing–I easily and quickly make it at home.

basket-of-lettuce salad

There’s lots of lettuce coming out of the garden now, so I’m sharing my balsamic vinaigrette recipe that was inspired by Flinn’s book.  It has raw garlic and oil in it, so it should be eaten within four days.  Once it is refrigerated, the oil often solidifies, so just take it out of the fridge ahead of time and then shake as needed to combine.

salad-on-plate

I like to use this vinaigrette on a salad made with mixed kinds of lettuce and topped with diced honey crisp apples, a little feta, kalamata olives, and chopped walnuts.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper (less can be used; season to your taste)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (or the juice from about a whole lemon)
  • ¾ cup olive oil
Instructions
  1. Pour the vinegar in a bowl with the garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne and whisk until salt dissolves.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Whisk in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. (Or place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine.)
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Oven Fried Chicken

The first cookbook I ever cooked from was Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  I turned to this book first as a kid learning to cook and later as a mom feeding two hungry boys.  When my kids were growing up, I often made oven fried chicken and my version is based on the recipe in this book.  My son Trent really loves this dish and it’s the one he most often requests me to make when he’s craving comfort food.  He’s a college student now and recently became interested in cooking it himself, which inspired me to post the instructions in case I’m not available for a phone consult!  This post is for you, Trent.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay the chicken on a clean cutting board and season with salt and pepper.

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I buy one pound packages of chicken that contain two large pieces, so I cut these in half to make four pieces total.

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Line the baking dish with foil for easy clean up.  Put the butter in the baking dish and melt it in the oven while the oven is preheating.  Be sure to remove it as soon as the butter is melted so that it doesn’t burn.

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While the butter is melting, dredge the chicken in the flour to coat both sides.  Gently shake off the excess.

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Now sprinkle the paprika liberally over the chicken. The paprika helps give the chicken a nice brown color.

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Take the hot baking dish out of the oven.  Lay the chicken, paprika side down, in the melted butter.  Sprinkle paprika on the side facing up.

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Put the chicken in the oven and bake for ten minutes; then turn it over and bake ten more minutes or when the juices run clear when cutting into the thickest part.

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Oven Fried Chicken
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound of chicken breasts
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Line a baking dish with foil.
  3. Heat the butter in the baking dish until melted.
  4. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  5. If necessary, cut the chicken breasts into the desired number of pieces.
  6. Coat the chicken in flour.
  7. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of the paprika.
  8. Place the chicken, paprika side down, in the baking dish.
  9. Sprinkle the side facing up with the remaining teaspoon of paprika.
  10. Bake uncovered for ten minutes.
  11. Turn the chicken and cook about ten minutes longer or until juices run clear.