Thursday, August 28, 2008

10 Day Pickles are 10 times better

Just as I suspected, the longer the cucumbers hibernated in my fridge with their roommates garlic and dill, the better they got. It took no small feat of patience to wait the 10 days for the pickles to....pickle. Many (namely my Grandpa Lou) dismissed 10 days as "much to short for a real pickle." Well, I think he may be surprised. This recipe satisfied my desire for pickle-y-ness and kicked up the heat with hot red pepper.

Spicy Dill Pickles Bon App├ętit | August 1993

Makes three 1 1/2-pint jars.

12 pickling cucumbers
2 cups water
1 ¾ cups distilled white vinegar
1 ½ cups packed coarsely chopped fresh dill
½ cup sugar
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 ½ teaspoons dill seeds
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Combine all ingredients except dill sprigs in large bowl. Stir, let stand at room temperature 2 hours until sugar and salt dissolve.

Transfer 4 cucumbers to each of three 1 1/2-pint wide-mouth jars. Pour pickling mixture over to cover. Place a few dill sprigs in each jar. Cover jars with lids and close tightly. Refrigerate at least 10 days. Pickles will stay fresh for up to 1 month. Keep refrigerated.

I tasted the first pickle on Monday and a few more today. They just keep getting better. Good flavor and great color. The garlic was wonderful. I upped the amount red pepper flakes-- a great call if I do say so myself. Alas, I haven't reached pickle Nirvana. They seemed a little too vinegary, and not perfectly crisp, however I suspect that the cucumbers had sat on my counter too long.

My genial critic, Grandpa Lou has promised to send me his mother's pickle recipe, so I may be at it again. But for now, I'll all pickled out. Good luck with this one, happy snacking!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pickles: Day 2

Is it really possible to get a great pickly flavor in a few short hours? Well, sort of.

I'll admit, I was anxious and looking for instant gratification, so when I stumbled upon a Cooks Illustrated recipe for Double Dill Pickles ready with in the day, I pounced. The recipe (as detailed in my previous entry) calls for gently simmering pre-salted cucumbers with a spice bag packed with fresh and dried dill, dill seeds, pepper corns and garlic, garlic, garlic! The three inch Kriby, or pickling cucumbers turn a dull olive brown when done, but are not unpleasant to look at. After tossing the whole lot in the fridge for several hours, I gave them a taste.

When I opened the refrigerator door, I knew something went well, it smelled like a picnic in there! The pickles had a good dill-garlic flavor, but it was not complex. It succeeded in delivering the concept yet failed to elaborate. Strangely enough, the aftertaste was distinctly sweet, though no sugar was used. This pickle eater likes it spicy, not sweet.

When it comes to picking, I suspect time is the magic ingredient and there is no such thing as immediate gratification with 100% satisfaction. Never fear, I've got a 10-day batch humming in the mason jars!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kitchen Experiments: Pickles Day 1

"How camest thou in this pickle?" Alonso asked Trinculo in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and centuries this blogger asked herself staring into a sink full of cucumbers. It all started with a request, a trip to the Minneapolis farmer market, and a dream (chuckle, chuckle).

As any good adventurer should, first I ga
thered information. The Pickling process was originally developed to preserve any number of foods from going bad and maintain a food supply during winter months or times of famine....that is, until its deliciousness was fully appreciated. The pickle has its roots in 2030 BC Mesopotamia when travelers brought cucumber seeds from India to the Tigris valley. Pickled food immediately took on an international flare. In China, construction workers ate fermented cabbage (not unlike German Sauerkraut) as they built the Great Wall around 200 BC, Vitamin C-rich pickles were fed to sailors to prevent scurvy during Columbus's quest for America in 1492 and now in 2008, I'm just learning how to make the tangy morsels. I feel so behind the times.

Pickling food works by lowering natural pH level, and increasing acidity to kill its bacteria and enzymes. The American Pickle is a product of a brine based or acid based fermentation process, but there are other ways to pickle a pickle including Lye-based, Dry-salt and sugar-based processes.

For my first batch, I wanted results quickly, so I opted for a recipe in which the cucumber are cooked with a bouquet garni filled with two types of dill , pepper corns and loads of garlic. I was skeptical of the cooking....would it produce mushy pickles? Can you really get great taste in a few hours? Check back to find out, better yet, cook a batch along with me!


1 pound pickling (Kirby) cucumbers , each sliced lengthwise into 4 spears
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
6 cloves garlic , smashed
½ cup chopped fresh dill leaves plus 1 additional tablespoon
1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
½ cup ice

1. Toss cucumbers with salt in colander set over bowl. Let stand 1 hour. Discard liquid.
2. Place peppercorns, dill weed, garlic, and 1/2 cup fresh dill in paper coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and tie tightly with kitchen twine. Bring spice bag and vinegar to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and add cucumbers. Cover and cook until cucumbers turn dull olive-brown, about 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.
3. Transfer cucumbers and liquid to glass bowl, add ice, and stir until melted. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon fresh dill. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 1 hour before serving. (Pickles can be refrigerated in covered container for up to 2 weeks.)

Cooks Illustrated

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bread Line: Simply Delicious

Finding a perfect sandwich is not easy, but when you do, it’s a little slice of heaven. This is my brunch sandwich at Bread Line on Pennsylvania Ave and 17th street last Friday; and it’s a thing of beauty.

Thinly sliced smoked salmon, dill caper cream cheese, red onion and water cress. The cream was spread so delicately on the bread that it did not weigh the sandwich down, just conveyed intense creamy-fresh flavor to my mouth (and protected the bread against potential sogginess, a common sandwich downfall.) I was impressed with the watercress, a innovative selection that gave the sandwich bright tasting crunch.

My dining partner, (and frequent guinea pig for my personal culinary endeavors) ordered southern pulled pork on a Kaiser roll, but it was messy and gobbled up before I could get a good picture!

I’ve also had a few salads from Bread Line, black lentils and feta as well as chicken curry. All salads are served on top of crispy mesclun and a roll on the side. The lentils were dynamite, but i have to stop ordering curry chicken, I hate mayo-i-ness!

Bread Line is 7:30 until 3:30 on weekdays and sadly closed on the weekends. Get in there whenever you can. There is nothing like the smell of fresh baking bread to signal a great sammie. Hey, free WiFi too!

Bread Line
1751 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 20006

Takeout: 202.822.8900

Hours: Mon - Fri; 7:30 -3:30

Kramer Books and Afterwords Cafe

"Excuse me, but what delicious thing did you order?" I asked the innocent women unwittingly seated next to me at Kramer Books and Afterw0rds Cafe. The plate of beauty had three little mounds of grain: farro, cracked wheat and quinoa, surrouned by slow cooked chicken and slices of deep purple heirloom tomato. I ordered it immediately with the recommended white wine and it was exactly what I needed on a hot and steamy night.
I consider myself pretty well verse in the world of unusual grains, but farro and I only have a casual relationship; whereas quinoa and cracked wheat have been good housemates for for quite sometime. So, I begin dating farro. What do you do with a new potential? Google him of course!

Farro is one of the oldest grains is the ancestor of modern wheat, first cultivated domestically around 11,500 BC in the fertile crescent near Israel. The french saved this traditionally Italian grain from anonymity by introducing it to haut cuisines in hearty vegetable soups. Farro has almost double the protein and fiber of conventional wheat and it is full of complex carbohydrates for long burning energy. I would describe this grain as the Cabernet sauvignon of the grain world, moist and full bodied.

Farro is staging a resurgence in restaurants all over the country. It can be used in almost any recipe calling for barley or spelt (its closest sibling) but the cooking time must be adjusted. Usually, I think of farro as a savory item, but as noted in Cook & Eat, making farrow pudding is an outstanding concept. I like the looks of this epicurious recipe: Farro Salad with Peas, Asparagus and Feta.
I followed my delicious and healthy dinner with a equally tasty, but nutritionally lacking strawberry shortcake (do you think the cookie cancels the antioxidents from the berries!?). This was one of my favorite nights in DC. Thanks DuPont Circle, I'll miss you, I'm back home in Minneapolis on Saturday, and looking forward to some Minnesota sweetcorn!