Monthly Archives: May 2012

Pickling

In preparation for the long holiday weekend, I pickled some veggies yesterday. I plan on utilizing them a few different ways over the next couple of days. My first use was for dinner last night. I grilled a dozen spicy smoked sausages and slathered them in Pommery Meaux grain mustard and then topped the links with the pickled veggies (see above photo). The contrast of flavors: smoky, spicy, tart, and sweet, all in one bite, are scrumptious. Needless to say, we all went back for seconds.

Perfect meal to have with an ice cold glass of beer.

Pickling sounds like a complicated task, but it’s super simple. The only chore in the process is the julienning of your vegetables. Below are the ingredients and instructions for the pickling of say, a sliced whole onion.

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1.5 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup water (use distilled water if you plan on canning your veg)
Whisk the first three ingredients with the water until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Using warm water will help this process along.

Pour the vinegar mixture over your onion and let it sit at room temperature for at least one hour. This recipe will keep for two weeks in your fridge.

I decided to pickle half a head of green cabbage, one red onion, and a couple of carrots. In order to cover all of my julienned veggies with the pickling mixture, I tripled the above recipe.

As I said before, the only chore is julienning your veggies. Because the carrots I had were kinda on the small side, I decided to use my food processor with its julienne attachment to make my job easier.

I added my veggies to a large glass bowl and poured the pickling juice over them.

I placed a bowl on top of the mixture in an effort to keep everything submerged.

I let the mix sit on the counter all afternoon and we took what we needed for dinner and put the rest in the fridge overnight.

This afternoon I reserved about two cups of the mixture for a pasta salad (I recommend mincing the veggies for this purpose) and for dinner tomorrow night. The rest I decided to can for a future date.

I was able to can three jars of the pickled veg, and I’ve put them up in our wine storage closet. It stays cool in there all year long so it’s the perfect place to put up any canned items you might have.

Water bath, etc. is done and we’re waiting for the lids to pop (ensuring a good vacuum seal).

Monica just heard the first pop!

There are a couple of great books out there to help you with canning and preserving. The best one, in my opinion, is ” Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry,” by Liana Krissoff and Rinne Allen. Check it out!

Eat well!

April

Wild Anise & Orecchiette

Wild Anise

I was out walking in an infrequently traveled area with my pooch yesterday morning, when I stumbled upon an edible delight growing up out of a sidewalk crack. I reached down and plucked a few of the delicate fern-like leaves and rubbed them between my fingers to be sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. What I smelled was the sweet licoricey aroma of wild anise (a.k.a. wild fennel). During the remainder of my walk I began dreaming up a quick meal for dinner with my new discovery.

Delicate fern-like appearance

Wild anise originated in Southern Europe, Egypt, the Mediterranean, and Asia, but now it circulates the globe. It’s known for its many culinary and medicinal properties. And it is used as a diuretic and an aid in digestion in homeopathic treatments.

The fennel we’re all familiar with, and purchase at the local grocery store, is Florence fennel. Florence fennel has a large white bulb at its base, as you can see in the photo below. FYI, you don’t need to forage for wild anise for the recipe below. You can use the delicate fronds from Florence fennel, too.

After I got home from cutting the wild anise stalks, I began rummaging through the cabinets and the freezer to put the final touches on my dish. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time for dinner preparation, or for a grocery store run, so the dish needed to be uncomplicated. What I had was a package of Trader Joe’s jalapeño and roasted red pepper chicken sausages, about 3.5 cups of leftover San Marzano tomato puree, onions,  orecchiette, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Here are the ingredients and their measurements.

  • 5 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/2 of an onion chopped
  • Package of Trader Joe’s chicken sausage with jalapeños and roasted red peppers
  • 1/4 cup minced wild anise + more to add for garnish, and for boosting flavor at the end of simmering your sauce
  • 3.5 cups plain tomato sauce (I used San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 1 box of orecchiette
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • freshly shaved parmesan cheese and wild anise fronds for garnish

Mince your garlic

Get your onion prepared for chopping and then chop away. If you create this pattern in your onion prior to chopping, it’ll make your life a lot easier! It’s called ciselé.

Chop up your washed anise fronds until you have about 1/4 cup.

Open up the sausage package and chop the links into quarters.

Add the sausage quarters to your food processor and pulse until you have smaller chunks.

Add some EVOO to a skillet. Toss the sausage and cook it until it starts to caramelize a bit. Add the onion, garlic, and some more EVOO. Sauté this together until the aromatics (your onion & garlic) have softened. I took photos of each of these steps but, sadly, they didn’t come out!

Bring a pot of salted (should be salty like the ocean) water up to a boil for your orecchiette.

Add a little of the tomato puree and scrape the goodness off the bottom of your skillet.

Add the rest of the tomato puree and the wild anise to your skillet. Stir this all together and put it on a low simmer for 20 minutes to develop more flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, add some more freshly chopped anise (to taste) to brighten the flavor and check your seasoning one last time.

While your sauce is simmering, your orecchiette should be boiling away. Your orecchiette is done just before it reaches al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water prior to draining your pasta.

The name orecchiette comes from its shape. The name translates to small ear in Italian. An Italian chef once told me that it means “little earlobe.” Makes sense.

Add the tomato and sausage mixture to the drained pasta, then add the pasta water. Simmer this together, stirring occasionally, until the little ears are perfectly al dente.

Add some freshly shaved parmesan cheese and anise fronds to the top of your plated pasta for garnish. Enjoy!

“If music be the food of love, play on.” – William Shakespeare

Eat well!

April

Canadian Bacon + Mac + Cheese = Delish!

We hosted a large dinner party on Saturday night for a friend’s birthday and I was the chef/caterer. Therefore, I was not in the mood for creating an elaborate dinner on Sunday for the family. The kids wanted one of their decadent favorites (which means it’s going to be bad for our old arteries!), and I had all kinds of extra cheese lying around, so a strategy for dinner was put into place.

Turn your oven to 400 and begin grating all of your cheeses. I had unie kaas robusto (a firm and smooth aged gouda cheese made in the Netherlands with cow’s milk); taleggio (an Italian mild and soft cow’s milk cheese); gruyere (firm and smooth made with Alpine cow’s milk); parmesan (a hard cow’s milk cheese) and finally, some part-skim mozzarella (cow’s milk cheese).  All of the cheeses I’ve listed are fabulous for mac + cheese. Please see my measurements below.

  • 1 cup of taleggio
  • 1 1/4 cups of mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cups of gruyere
  • 1 cup of parmesan
  • 1 1/4 cup of unit kanas robust
  • You’ll also need 1 tbsp. of Dijon mustard for tang (I only had green peppercorn Dijon on hand but that worked just as well)

After your cheeses are grated, chop up your 8 oz. of Canadian bacon into 1 inch pieces. I gave them a quick sauté before moving onto the next step: béchamel.
I posted a béchamel recipe on the croque-monsieur blog about a week ago so you’re just going to triple that recipe and omit the last step.  I’ve cut and pasted it below.
Triple this recipe:
Béchamel (makes approx 1 ½ cups)
  • Melt 1 oz to 3 Tbsp. of clarified butter
  • Add 4 oz of flour to butter to make a roux
  • Add 1 1/2 cups of whole milk and bring to a slow simmer until it’s a sauce consistency. Whisking constantly.
  • Grated nutmeg to taste
  • Salt & pepper to taste
While your béchamel is cooking, you’re going to boil your pasta.  Since your pasta will continue to cook in the oven, you want to drain it just before it reaches al dente.  For this batch I used what we had in the pantry:1 box of pipe rigate pasta. You want to choose a pasta that will be completely covered, inside and out, with your gooey cheese sauce and this pasta fits that bill perfectly.

Once your béchamel has reached the right consistency, shut off your heat and add your cheeses and the Dijon mustard.  After the cheeses are completely integrated into the béchamel you can add my secret weapon: 1/3 cup of mascarpone cheese. Now whisk again until fully blended. Mascarpone cheese makes this dish extra creamy and gooey!

Now add your Canadian bacon to your sauce and then your underdone pasta. Check your seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

It looks like there’s too much béchamel but once you start baking the dish, the pasta will absorb the sauce and it will also release starches, further thickening the sauce.

My kids like Ritz crackers baked on top of their mac + cheese. So, I crushed a sleeve of crackers in a freezer bag and added 5 tbsp of melter butter to the cracker crumbs. Then I sprinkled them on top of the pasta.

If you’re using cracker crumbs, place your unbaked mac + cheese in the second rack from the bottom. If it’s too close to the ceiling of the oven, the crackers will burn. Another option is to pile more cheese on top instead of the crackers.
I baked my mac + cheese for 25 minutes, removed it from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes. You want the sauce to stop bubbling and absorb back into the pasta.
Outrageously good!

Not lo-cal but definitely to die for.

“Eating rice cakes is like chewing on a foam coffee cup, only less filling.” ~ Dave Barry

Happy eating!

April