Belt and Suspenders

“Do you cook?,” the seller’s agent asked me. “You are just going to love having two stoves, especially if you do any preserving.” She really didn’t need to sell me on the kitchen in our now-house; it’s huge and filled with the light. Yes, it was a little odd to have an electric stove top at one end of the counters and an entire electric stove and oven on the other end, but I just went with it.

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(Rich would like to assure everyone that we replaced the electric stove and oven with an electric induction unit. It was pricey but about equal to getting a gas line and a mid-range gas stove. Induction uses electromagnetic fields to heat up the pot itself instead of the cooktop. Your pots need to have some magnetic material in them, but we made sure almost all ours would work before we pulled the trigger. It really is magical – safer than regular electric, with the heat control of gas. And it boils a whole pot of water in like 3 minutes.)

In the past year I have used both stove tops exactly twice. First it was to fry piles of latkes at Chanukah, when it really did cut down on time to have four frying pans going at once. The second time was at Pesach, where there are never enough burners or countertop space for all the cooking that needs to get done. Now it’s summer time, so prime pickling and preserving season. And just as the realtor foresaw, the two stove tops really have come in handy.

I did pause for a moment considering if I should be sharing pickling recipes with you, because chances are you don’t have a second stove top to set an enormous pot of water on to boil and continue making dinner on another stove top. But I saw a very old, very dear friend on Sunday who is preserving nonstop right now in a not-huge New York kitchen. Perhaps some of you feel the same, or would with a little nudge.

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The driving force behind all the pickling and preserving is the book Ball Canning Back to Basics: A Foolproof Guide to Canning, James, Jellies, Pickles & More, an absolutely terrific book that breaks the recipes down into clear, step-by-step directions. Honestly, the recipes are so clearly written and easy to follow that I’m constantly opening the book up to search for something new to make. It’s become rather addictive. As the cover touts, “If you can boil water, you can make your own delectable jams and jellies, try your hand at fresh-pack pickling, and jar savory sauces.”

Now, I must admit it helps if you have a little hardware at your disposal, including jars, a massive stock pot to process the jars, heat proof gloves, and a canning set. But you buy those things once and then you have them for years.

First thing I pickled were the pickling cukes from the CSA, but those took a little work. I had to brine the gherkins overnight, then make the pickling brine, sterilize jars, add the pickles, dill, brine and process. It took some doing, I’m not going to lie. But the pickles were great, and I highly recommend the recipe.

What I am going to share with you is the pickled hot peppers, or pepperoncini, because it’s prime hot pepper season. I love having a jar of there on the door of the fridge. I add them to sandwiches for a little kick, or chop them into a salad with roasted beets, chickpeas, feta, cucumber and sunflower seeds. Or I just pop one into my mouth as I walk by the fridge.

 

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The directions are to make 5 (1-pint) jars, but if you only want to make 1 or 2 jars you have my permission to do so. You can buy several gallons of white vinegar for about $3, so don’t worry about saving leftover brine and not enough peppers.

To prep the jars, wash them in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Pepperoncini – Pickled Hot Peppers from Ball Canning Back to Basics

Ingredients

3 pounds hot peppers (such as banana, jalapeno, or serrano peppers)

1 quart plus 2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)

2 cups water

3 garlic cloves, crushed

Ball Pickle Crisp Granules (optional – I just used kosher salt I had in the house)

Directions

Rinse the hot peppers under cold running water; drain. Remove the stems and blossom ends from the peppers. Cut the peppers into 1-inch pieces. Place the peppers in a large bowl.

Combine the vinegar, water, and garlic in a large stainless-steel or enameled saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove heat to a simmer; simmer 5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic.

Pack the hot peppers into a hot jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Ladle the hot liquid over the peppers, leaving ½-inch headspace. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt to jar, if desired. Remove air bubbles. Wipe the jar rim. Center the lid on the jar. Apply the band, and adjust to finger-tip tight. Place the jar in the boiling water. Repeat until all the jars are filled.

Process the jars 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat; remove the lid, and let the jars stand 5 minutes. Remove the jars and cool.

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Over Yonder

I’ve been going through a Southern thing lately. I was offered a near-free subscription to Garden & Gun magazine, much to the dismay of Rich, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The articles are interesting, the writing is excellent and the recipes are creative. He grumbles about it, but I point out that some of the best American writers of all time are Southerners. (Not counting John Grisham, and I say that having gobbled up four of his novels 20+ years ago.)

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When I was in college Sylvie and I went on a road trip to Graceland. We actually didn’t make it — there was a dental emergency in Nashville — but the scenery was breathtaking. Honestly, if you’re looking to see some of the best of what the United States has to offer, visit the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, and drive the Shenandoah Skyline. The beauty of Appalachia will make you weep.

Over the past few months I’ve borrowed a number of Southern cookbooks from the library. Truth be told, there wasn’t a thing I could eat in Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles. My Two Souths also relied heavily on things that oink and creep and crawl on the bottom of the ocean, but there were some gems in it. Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard was a good book, but too sprawling; she could have spread all those recipes out across two or even three books. Sean Brock’s Heritage is excellent, although there’s still a ton in the book I can’t eat. (If you’re curious about what Jews can and do eat in the South, definitely check out Marcie Cohen Ferris’ Matzo Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South.)

So when I was offered Fruit, A Savor the South cookbook by Nancie McDermott, I jumped at the opportunity: A Southern cookbook based on foods I could actually eat. Well, sort of. There are some fruits I just can’t find up here, and some I’ve never even heard of, like mayhaws, scuppernong grapes, and pawpaws. But for the fruit I can get hold of, the recipes are terrific: fresh peach fritters, watermelon-rind pickles, Okracoke Island Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, horchata made with cantaloupe seeds.

The recipe I decided to share with you is the strawberry shrub. I figured most of you have best access to strawberries. A shrub is a fruited drinking vinegar that has its roots in the sultry climates. The root of the word is from the Arabic sharab, which means “to drink”.

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As Nancie puts it, “Shrubs are a lovely means of preserving summertime berry goodness for sipping on the porch while lightening bugs flicker or by the fireplace come winter. Vinegar adds a tangy kick to the ruby fruit, making a syrup that can be added to club soda or sparkling water to make a homemade soft drink, or stirred into a champagne, white wine, or cocktail for a spirited refreshment.”

We cut ours with seltzer from the Soda Stream and it was refreshing and delicious on a warm July night. It’s a bit like having a homemade Italian soda, now that I think about it. Rich put some in a beer, and said it was a little like a Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer often drunk with raspberry syrup. In this case, the tartness comes from the syrup instead of from the beer.

The recipe calls for the jar to be set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours and to make sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light. I tucked mine away in the basement for two days. But since I found a snake in the basement last night, I’m never going back down there again. I’ll have to find another place to age my shrubs.

To sterilize the jars, I used the method from Artisan Preserving:

Wash in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Strawberry Shrub from Fruit by Nancie McDermott

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

3 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups trimmed and quartered fresh or frozen strawberries

3 cups sugar

Directions

Prepare a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid as directed.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar until it is just about to break into a bubbling boil and remove it from the heat. Place the strawberries in the prepared jar and pour the vinegar over them, making sure they are covered by an inch of vinegar. Let cool to room temperature and then cover tightly. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours (be sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light.)

Strain the vinegar into a medium saucepan and discard the solids. Add the sugar to the vinegar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the shrub cool to room temperature. Pour the shrub into a clean, sterilized jar and cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Beet Maestro

I recently came across this essay from Chez Panisse alum Tamar Adler’s new book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I think the opening line really sums up an excellent life rule: “A salad does not need to be a bowl of lettuce. It just needs to provide tonic to duller flavors, to sharpen a meal’s edge, help define where one taste stops and another begins.” The entire essay is worth reading, especially in these upcoming months when our summer tomatoes are a distant memory. Root vegetables, Ms. Adler reminds us, can do much more than serve as a warm starch on the side of a plate.

Of course, root vegetables require a little more work than summer veggies. Beet preparation in particular, I have discovered by trial and error, can be a messy, messy undertaking. As much as I love steaming, pressurizing, and grating the root, the collateral damage of peeling – garnet-stained hands – can be frustrating, especially when hosting dinner guests. As a result, roasting has become my go-to beet prep method; it is the easiest, cleanest and tastiest method. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe, anyways.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but as the Suzuki method has taught us, if I catch you early enough in your beet journey, and with constant repetition, you, too, can be a beet maestro. If you’re ever at home for more than an hour, crank up the oven to 400. Fully wrap each beet in a piece of tin foil, place them on a baking sheet to prevent drips onto your oven floor, and roast away.

Beets are very low-maintenance, so now you’re free to do whatever you want. My own tastes run towards petting the cat, reading library books, and/or catching up on the latest news via Perez Hilton – or, um, I mean, working out.

At around the 50 minute mark, test your tin-foiled beet by sliding a fork into it. If the fork does not easily slide in and out, give your beets another 10 minutes and test them again. Repeat this method until the fork pierces the beet with little to no effort, then remove from the oven. Once the beet is cool enough to handle, open the foil, head on over to the sink, stick the beet into a stream of running water and rub off the skin. It will be quick and clean, but make sure to wear an apron, just in case.

And turning your beets into an Adler-esque salad is almost as easy as roasting them. Just toss them with a quarter cup of roasted nuts and a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil. The only real work involved in this dish is making sure your nuts don’t burn. Think 325 for about seven minutes, with an eagle eye and the nose of a bloodhound.

I usually toast my nuts in the toaster oven my friend Brian bought me with his Jeopardy winnings.

(A fresh apple or two, diced into the same sizes as the beets would be a nice addition to this salad. I did not, however, add them to this salad, because fresh apples give me a bellyache, and I am going to eat this salad now that it’s been photographed.)

This blog post and ridiculously simple recipe was in support of Sweet Local Farm’s Home Grown Food Challenge.

Perfect Strangers

For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.

Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.

So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.

At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.

(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)

As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.

Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.

Three Bean Salad

I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.

Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans

1 pound wax beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white distilled vinegar

½ cup oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
  4. Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
  5. By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
  6. When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
  7. Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
  8. Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
  9. Toss.

Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.