Hot & Sweet Freezer Pickles

I heart pickles.  Pickles are a wonderful invention. They’re really a bit strange when you contemplate soaking tiny cucumbers in vinegar and salt, for months (or years), and then eating them as a snack.  But I won’t think too much about the process, and just focus on the sour, salty, crunchy delight that is a well made pickle. In the summer of 2009, Kevin, his parents and I made 50 jars of dill pickles.  These pickles are so good, friends beg for jars, and we no longer have store bought pickles in the house. However, I cannot share the recipe, it is a family secret, and you’ll just have to get invited to my house to try their magnificence. We didn’t make dill pickles this year, as there are still about 10 jars left, but I’m sure the summer of 2011 will see us repeating the pickle sweatshop at the family cottage.

I’ve always enjoyed bread and butter pickles, and have been thinking about the merits of these with cheese and crackers, as we have been eating nothing buts dills for a year now.  I saw freezer pickles on the Everybody Likes Sandwiches blog a few weeks ago, and have had some sweet and crunchy cukes in my sights ever since. This weekend on the grocery run, I grabbed an English cuke and a package of mini cucumbers, to make some sliced pickles and some pickle spears. We had some small hot peppers from Kevin’s father’s garden, and a ton of onions from our now finished CSA box. A rummage in the pantry turned up salt, vinegar and sugar, and without much fuss, I had my pickle ingredients.

Most freezer pickle recipes recommend using freezer containers, like ziplocks or leftover plastic tubs, but I just couldn’t face the esthetics of that approach. I put some of my empty glass pickle jars (from last year’s home made dills) through the dishwasher and decided to risk the glass in the freezer.

Every freezer pickle recipe starts the same way: Thin-slice your cukes and an onion, cover them in salt and let them mingle in a bowl for 2-3 hours. I guess this dehydrating process helps them stay crispy- get rid of some juice before you add the brine.  Many of the recipes called for celery seed, pickling spice, mustard seeds, or tumeric, but I had none of these in my cupboard. So….living dangerously….my hot peppers had to take the lead as flavouring agent.

I was a bit torn about the vinegar to sugar ratio….some had 2:1 sugar to vinegar, some had 1:1, others had some water in the mix. I decided to try the 1:1 ratio, with no water.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced cucumber
  • 1 onion, thin sliced in rings
  • handful small hot peppers
  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups white vinegar

Instructions

  1. Thin-slice your cukes and an onion, cover them in salt and let them mingle in a bowl for 2-3 hours. Drain liquid and do not rinse.
  2. Boil sugar and vinegar together.  Arrange cucumbers and onions in jars while the brine cooks.
  3. Pour hot brine into jars, leaving 1 inch room at top of jar. Seal jars.
  4. Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Thaw in fridge before serving.

Because I used canning jars with proper lids, and poured the brine over while still very hot, my jars actually sealed themselves. I feel like this defeats the “freezing” step, as that seems to be for preserving them when using plastic containers that don’t seal like a jar does. So, I put one jar straight into the fridge and left it over night. Because I have no self control, I then opened it the next day to go with a lunch of crackers and cheese. The results? Fantastic! So delicious: crunchy, sweet, a bit spicy, and totally already pickled. I think because the pickles are sliced and then salted, they are primed to suck the vinegar and sugar right up. We leave our traditional dills for 6-8 weeks before eating, which makes sense because the cucumbers are pickled whole. But this method appears to be instant gratification.

I did freeze my 2 remaining jars, and the glass did just fine because I left a lot of head room. I thawed out a jar after the fridge version rapidly disappeared. The taste is really no different, the pickles are just as crunchy, but the pickle itself is a bit more transparent. I think the unfrozen ones are prettier. My guess is that freezing is only necessary if you’re using a container that you can’t seal with a traditional canning method. But who knows! It’s difficult to unravel the mysteries of canning- an age old process with much oral tradition.

Linguine with Meatballs, Mushrooms and Fresh Tomatoes

My fridge has been bursting with fresh ingredients lately, and I’ve been feeling inspired to try new ways of using common items. I was reading another blogger’s recipe for a fresh tomato-basil sauce a while back, and have been thinking about fresh tomatoes and pasta.

At the market, I picked up some ground beef and fresh pasta, and then threw some portobello mushrooms into the mix to make sure I didn’t fall back on the same old tomato sauce. The roma tomatoes, garlic and plethora of CSA onions waiting for me in my fridge rounded out my ingredients.

I started with the meatballs, using my go-to recipe, only changing the onion and garlic to grated instead of finely diced for better texture. I cooked them until nice and brown on all sides, and then set them aside while I worked on the pasta and sauce.

For the sauce, I sauteed 3 cloves of garlic and 1 diced onion in olive oil until translucent, then added 3 sliced portobello mushrooms. Once everything was nicely browned and softened, I added 3 large diced romas to the pan. I put a lid on it, let it all come together with some salt and pepper, while my linguine cooked. Once that was al dente, everything went into the sauce pan (meatballs included) for a few minutes to get acquainted. A dusting of fresh parmesan finished the masterpiece!

The sauce was nice and chunky yet simple, which partnered well with the meatballs.  Lots of textures and flavours and colours. I look forward to trying another fresh tomato sauce someday soon. It probably would have been more ideal to get inspired with this a little earlier in the year, when I had tomatoes growing on my back deck, but the hot house variety will do me fine until spring.

Roasted Lemon & Garlic Chicken and Autumn Vegetables

Roast veggies.

The days are getting colder and darker, and more and more I find myself wanting to pull a hot meal from the oven. Over the past few weeks, our CSA veggie box has contained a lot of root vegetables and squash. When I came upon a local and affordable whole chicken at the market, I knew exactly what was for dinner.


Ready to carve.

I like to keep roast chicken simple. Cut up a lemon, peel a few cloves of garlic, grab the olive oil and S&P and you’re set. I stuff the cavity of the chicken with most of the lemon wedges and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Then I rub the chicken with a lemon wedge and grated garlic, finishing with a coating of olive oil and salt and pepper.  I start the oven off at 450F, but reduce it to 350F as soon as the chicken goes in. A medium chicken takes about 1.5-2 hours to be juicy and cooked through, and if you keep an eye on it and keep spooning the juices over it, the skin will be perfectly crispy. The juices end up really garlicky and lemony, I didn’t make gravy, but I think if you did it would be tasty.

Time to eat!

For the vegetables, I chopped up 2 carrots, 2 parsnips, 1 onion, 15 mini potatoes and a small squash. I have a new roasted veggie technique: you grate onion and garlic over them, toss them in lots of olive oil and S&P, and roast them for 45 minutes at 375F. The onion and garlic really gives flavour to the vegetables, and the mix of sweet from the squash and parsnips and the savoury from the rest is a nice combination.

This hearty fall dinner made my house smell delicious, and also made me feel a bit old fashioned. I wondered how many farm women would have cooked a meal like this 100 years ago during the harvest season. What was wholesome then is just as delicious today.

Curried Squash Soup

Ready to eat.

This week, a very fat and sassy butternut squash came home in our CSA veggie box. Since it has been quite rainy and cold lately, soup has been on my mind, and the squash was begging to be part of it.

I’ve been making this recipe for so many years, I forget which cookbook it comes from, and it is definitely a cold weather standby. It’s got a great mix of flavours- the curry, the cream, the honey and cinnamon, it’s a little savoury and a little sweet.


Squash puzzle pieces ready for roasting.

Time for the wine.

Curried Squash Soup

  • 1 butternut squash, quartered and roasted
  • 1 package sliced mushrooms
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsbp. curry powder
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup light cream or milk
  1. Roast the butternut squash cut-side down on a baking sheet at 400F for 30 minutes. Peel it and mash the flesh.
  2. Saute onions and mushrooms in butter until tender in a large soup pot.
  3. Add curry powder and flour, cook a few minutes.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, then add chicken stock. Simmer ingredients 10 minutes.
  5. Add in mashed squash, honey and spices, cook another 15 minutes.
  6. Once the soup is fully cooked and the squash is mixed in and smooth, add the cream or milk and cook a few more minutes.

Barbequed Beets & Carrots

Roasted Beets and Carrots - Done!

Sweet roasted root veggie perfection.

A few weeks ago, our CSA veggie box contained some particularly fat & sassy beets, and the first carrots of the year. I love roasted beets, and the carrots were crying out to join their purple cousins in tinfoil on the barbeque.

Roasted Beets and Carrots - All Cleaned Up

Peeled and ready for chopping.

Roasted Beets and Carrots - Mixing

Seasoned with S&P and garden herbs.

Simply chop the beets and carrots roughly, toss them in olive oil and chopped garlic, sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme, and pop this all into a tinfoil package. It can go on the BBQ for 45 minutes over indirect heat (one burner on high, the other off, package over the off burner) or in the oven for 1 hr at 375F.

And there you have it- simple, healthy, tasty and local.  And this cooks up just beautifully while steaks occupy the other side of the grill!

Eat Your Greens!

Week 3 CSA Share

Kevin & I joined a community shared agriculture (CSA) program this year and were very happily surprised to get our first share at the beginning of June. My post about our lack of a garden and which farm we chose can be found here.

It is week 3 of the 22 week season, and I must say our fridge is overflowing with greens!  We have bok choy, leaf lettuce, spinach and mixed mustard greens vying for attention in the crisper as I write.  It’s hard to decide who to devote your attention to, especially as not all the greens have a terribly long fridge life.

Gigantic salads seem to be the order of the week. I think we’ll see how far we can take this before we can’t stand to look at another leaf. Luckily the greens were accompanied by radishes, small turnips, kohlrabi and green onions to make a salad a bit more interesting. I never would have thought a turnip would be tasty in a salad, but these are crisp and sweet, nothing like the bitter mash that is inevitably served at holiday dinners.

It sounds like the share will evolve over time, and not always be so “green.”  I’m looking forward to the appearance of carrots, beets, and peas.  We’re also growing some treats on our back patio: tomatoes, red peppers, spinach and every herb you can imagine.  So far the basil and mint have gone wild.  My next post should be about pizza and mojitos! Going local on those will be no problem.

Cheers to many tasty summertime salads to come!

Community Shared Agriculture

Image from Root Radicals CSA- July 2009 weekly share

For years now, I have wanted to belong to a community agriculture program. Last year, Kevin and I tried our hands at growing some tomatoes and herbs on the patio, but were dissatisfied with our limited space to grow food. We have since moved into a house with even less space to grow veggies (unless we planted some lettuce between our parking spots), and decided this year to take the plunge with a farm program.

After searching the web for local programs, we settled on Root Radicals Community Shared Agriculture, based from a Gananoque farm. For $400, you get a weekly share for the 22-week growing season, delivered to several pick up locations in the Kingston area. There will be several work bees throughout the summer that we hope to volunteer at and get our gardening fix for the year. I think a full share may be a lot of produce for Kevin and I, but hopefully it will force us to get all of our recommended servings of vegetables and give us the opportunity to share with friends.

The first delivery is slated for mid-June, and I don’t know how I will contain my excitement for the next 3 months.  I’m already thinking of future posts about the virtues of kohlrabi, kale and garlic scapes (all of which I have no idea how to prepare).  I look forward to expanding my vegetable bubble, and on this grey March day I am already thinking about all the crunchy green salads to come.