5 sweet foodie gadgets you can’t live without

I should preface this by saying that I am not, in principle, a gadget person. I have a small apartment on the beach with a kitchen befitting my apartment’s size (you don’t even want to know my square yardage), and frankly I don’t need a lot of things that take up a ton of space and are only good for one thing. Although, as you can see by this list, I totally broke my own rule for a few items.

I get a lot of questions from readers about what sort of products I would recommend, so I decided to make a quick list of the gadgets I use regularly. Since as you know (and much to my mother’s chagrin), I do not get paid to write this blog or to recommend or advertise any product. If I tell you I like a thing and that you should buy it, it’s because I own it myself and I like it.

Also, I eat a lot of yogurt and rice, so I have a yogurt maker and a rice cooker as well. They take up very little space, and the yogurt maker especially saves me a lot of money in store-bought yogurt with who-knows-what added to it.

1) Everyone needs a slow cooker.

I use my crock pot for about a third of the meals I make — from pork carnitas to beans and greens to smoked chicken stock to every kind of chili or soup you can imagine, to apple butter for canning  (or not) and bacon jams for just about everything.

Plus, a crock pot, or slow cooker, isn’t technically a gadget, right? Everyone should have one. They’re cheap, they last a long time, they don’t require anything fancy, and most slow-cooker recipes are pretty fool-proof.

Even if you buy a really fancy and expensive one, it’s worth it. The first time you enjoy a hot, homemade soup that has been cooking slowly all day while you’ve been at work, the thing will have paid for itself.

crock pot stew

2) Princess.

I bought a Masterbuilt M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking system a few years ago. I bought it on Overstock, which for certain purchases gives you free shipping, and I paid about $160 total (although I have seen it on other websites for similar prices or cheaper). I paid another $40 for a used propane tank and another $30 or so for a fancy digital thermometer (which I would recommend regardless of the smoker).

The M7P use both charcoal and propane, and can be a grill or a smoker. It can also be a campfire grill  (you simply remove all but the base and you can lay firewood on it) a boiler (use the giant pot in the kit on the flame without the drum-shaped piece), and a steamer (add the big steamer pot to the other pot).

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

In addition to the insanely amazing smoked turkeys, chickens, hams, and grilled foods, I have been known to make a pretty kick-ass crab boil using my M7P.

beer can chicken and ribs
Even if you opt to not buy this particular model, I think everyone should have the ability to smoke their food … or at the very least, grill it outdoors. Don’t just use that propane grill or that charcoal smoker for special occasions, or even just for meat. Try roasting some pumpkins or squash for soup in it, or smoking some garlic and peppers to use for other dishes. Try smoking your wings.

3) I kill plants. Yet I love this mini-garden for non-gardeners.

How about THIS thing? Cool birthday present, a four-level seed sprouter. As you can see below, it takes up very little space on your countertop and it’s easy-to-clean plastic.

sprouter

It’s also very simple to use … you get some seeds. A few come with the kit, plus I got a few more as part of my present, but they generally cost less than $4 a pack. You soak the seeds for a few days, then spread the seeds on the sprouter.

seed sprouts

Once it’s done, you have a great pile of sprouts, perfect for sandwiches, salads, and a myriad of other dishes.

sprouts
4) Farmcurious fermenting set

I won this set in a cool contest from Killer Pickles this spring, and I’ve been using it pretty much nonstop. It’s basically a set of caps and airlocks.

Farmcurious set
This was my first use of the kit … some red cabbage, fermented with green garlic and green apple.
fermented red cabbage
fermented red cabbage and bratsIt made its debut with some Bratwurst at a Memorial Day party this summer, and it was SO AMAZING that I had to go buy some half-gallon-sized mason jars, which is the largest size jar you can buy and still fit the airlock caps. So … I’m not new to fermenting, but I needed to try all of my previous recipes using these bad boys.

Since then I’ve made some amazing pickles …

fermented dill pickles

… and tepache …

tepache fermenting

… and now some peppers are fermenting for sriracha.

fermented red jalapenos

I also fermented some pears with spicy peppers. I think they’ll be amazing on a cheese plate.

fermented spicy pears

5) Preserving on a different level with a food dehydrator.

I’ve been making homemade jams and pickles and preserves for a few years now, and I had been focusing on them so much that I neglected one of the best and oldest forms of preservation – drying. I scored a Nesco brand dehydrator — a promotional version of the 4-tray dehydrator called a “Jerky XPress” that comes with a jerky gun and spices and curing salts for making jerky.

parmesean kale chipsdried strawberries

Of course, it can be used to dehydrate anything … lately for kale chips with parmesan cheese, fresh berries, and spicy peppers.

Check back later to see what I’m making with those dehydrated peppers. 🙂

 

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The perfect cheese plate

Ok, I am not an expert on most things, but since I was a little kid, there are a few things I know I can do well.

I can write well. I can put on eye makeup without the assistance of a mirror. I can smell when milk is even slightly sour. I can write my name using a pen between my toes. I can make an excellent mix tape … and that was back in the day, when you made a mix tape from recording songs off of the radio, and you had to be super-fast to hit the “stop” button before the DJ came on, talking over the end of the song you were trying to record. Nowadays the kids have it much easier with the mP3s and playlists. But I digress.

cheese plate

And I can make an excellent cheese plate. This isn’t hubris or boasting, it’s a simple fact. Part of the reason is because it’s nearly impossible to make a BAD cheese plate … I mean, honestly, just take a look at Pinterest one of these days and search for the term “cheese plate.” (Or check out mine right here! Shameless plug!)

mini cheese plate

Some people seriously pull out a pretty platter, slice a few bits of cheese and meat, and call it a day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it …. if you’re going to have a great party and you want to really hit it out of the park … there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

1) Have a good selection.

Don't be afraid of the sample basket!

Don’t be afraid of the sample basket!

Seriously, people. No matter how much you love that one awesome cheese, not everyone at your party is going to like it. Present a blend of hard cheeses, soft cheeses, and stinky cheeses, and switch up the types of cheese as well … you want some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat cheese and some cow’s milk cheese.

cheese selection

My favorite local cheese shop keeps a basket near the register full of the odds and ends and weirdly-shaped chunks of cheese they have left over. This is an excellent way to sample certain cheeses you might not otherwise try.

2) The cheese is just the star. It needs a limo.

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

Don’t forget the rest of the plate! You want a nice crusty bread and at least one type of cracker, and some vehicles for cheese that are fresh fruits or vegetables.

apples and gjetost cheese

apples and gjetost cheese

Try mixing up different breads and crackers, and different fruits and vegetables like apples, pear, strawberries, endive, celery, carrot sticks, and radishes (slice them lenthwise).

endive and spicy cheese dip

endive and spicy cheese dip

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

Always have at least one savory spread and one sweet spread on the plate. I love the selection of jams and toppings from the Friend in Cheeses Jam Company, a small buisness that specializes in things that go great with cheese. (Seriously, how awesome is that?) More than once, their amazing creations like salted watermelon jelly, strawberry tarragon conserve, carrot marmalade and pisco pear butter have been the best parts of my cheese plates.

bacon jam and cheddar

bacon jam and cheddar

Meat items are also important to keep a good balance on your platter. The salty and sweet punch of bacon jam, or the smoky depth of smoked chicken liver pate or storebought liverwurst, are excellent accompaniments to most cheeses.

3) It’s a carpenter, not his tools. But get some nice tools.

mini cheese graterOk, not crazy tools. Or expensive tools. Just things like a tiny cheese grater so you can grate your cheese on the spot. Or a few of those tiny forks and knives for spreads and cheeses. Just a handful of toothpicks for your olives and your bits of meat, and a few small bowls or rammekins for those jams and jellies.

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

4) Be an artist about it.

cheese plate 2

I usually set up my larger selections on a handmade wooden board, but it’s certainly not necessary. A cracked plate works as well as a fancy decorative platter. What matters is how delicious everything looks.

cheese plate 3

cheese plate 4

October Unprocessed: Starts tomorrow!

Ok, it’s getting down to the wire here. All weekend, I have been trying to get rid of all of the processed foods in my kitchen, and working on a meal plan that will make the next 31 days go by a little easier … and I’ve discovered a little bit about my eating habits already.

For one, I eat a lot healthier than I assumed I did. Bar the occasional box of cookies that I am sure someone brought to my house and left behind, the vast majority of “processed” food I have is simply convenience food: pre-made, frozen meatballs and sausage (they’re just easier to toss into a pot of sauce or soup), frozen shrimp (probably not very processed, but I think they are injected with water and probably other preservatives), premade salad dressing (honestly, I don’t even know why I have this; my own dressing is unprocessed and superior in every way to this), and pasta sauce from a can (who has time to make sauce?) and condiments of every kind.

This weekend, I used up my premade salad dressing, frozen shrimp and Parmesan cheese for a Big-Ass Salad …

shrimp &  sunflower greens salad

… and used the sausage and meatballs, plus canned pasta sauce and more of that processed parmesan from a can, over some spaghetti squash. Awesome!

Secondly, as far as condiments, I think I have that covered. I have made my own ketchup (seriously, homemade curry ketchup is like the greatest thing in the world), my own mustard and relish, and my own habanero salsa. So I guess I am covered if I can find myself some unprocessed hot dogs (do those even exist?) and a big bag of unprocessed tortilla chips. I plan to make some more ketchup this week when I get my CSA box on Wednesday.

Thirdly … I am SO glad I signed up for a CSA box! I live in San Diego, so there are quite a few local farms, and most of them offer a version of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from a local spot called Suzie’s Farm. It’s a good 45 minutes away from me, but I can pick up my box at the farmer’s market just two blocks away. 🙂

This week (well, on Wednesday), I will pick up my box, which this week, contains pea greens, kale, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, summer squash, melon, and Blue Hubbard squash. Based on the good stuff I get this week (but won’t actually pick up til the day after the October Unprocessed Challenge starts), I have tentatively written out my menu for the next week.

Here is my plan for the next 7 days … a few pointers. I am a huge fan of the leftovers-for-lunch. I am a single girl and it’s beautiful and rare to find a good recipe that is worth cooking that is only for one person. Almost everything I cook has leftovers, and taking what’s left from dinner to work the next day allows me to be sure what I’m eating, and, more importantly, to not be tempted by the office lunches, packed with who-knows-what. I also don’t usually eat a very big or filling breakfast, so most of my breakys will be a piece of fruit, an acai bowl or a smoothie.

Tuesday:

B: acai bowl

L: carrots & hummus

D: stir-fry veggies and rice

Wednesday:

B: smoothie

L: leftovers

D: roast pork tenderloin/ carrot fries baked with chimichurri / green beans

Thursday:

B: melon

L: leftovers

D: spaghetti squash baked with kale/ salad of sunflower greens and pea greens

Friday:

B: smoothie

L: leftovers

D: Autumn chuck roast and blue hubbard squash/ steamed green beans

Saturday:

B: banana and smoothie

L: leftovers

D: tuna/lemon/garbanzo bean/ kale salad

Sunday:

B: acai bowl

L: leftovers

D: sauerkraut/ bacon/ potato soup

Monday:

B: acai bowl

L: leftovers

D: stuffed baked sweet potato

What are your meal plans shaping up like for October? Please share!

Pickles and probiotics … four recipes in one

*Cabbage Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles and Hot Sauce

My apologies for not posting a new blog post in so long, as you can see I have been busy with experimenting.

A little over a year ago, I tried my hand at fermenting — my own homemade kimchi in a few different-sized mason jars. I adapted this recipe from Recipe for Disaster, using a mixture of pre-made, store-bought Thai curry/chili paste, and pureed fruits and vegetables, which I used to coat cabbage, fresh herbs and shredded carrot. I then put the kimchi in a few different jars and let each jar ferment for a different amount of time so I could determine which one I liked best.

In case you were wondering, the 10-day batch and the 14-day batch were the tastiest.

kimchi-dinner-007

In all honesty, the kimchi turned out very well and lasted me quite a while, but I was wary of making it at home again after making it in mason jars. If you recall (or read about it, link above), one of the glass jars of kimchi BURST and shards of glass went everywhere. In my zeal to have the tastiest kimchi, I neglected to read about how it actually works … that is, the gas has to escape as the kimchi is fermenting, and as it’s bubbling and getting happy in there, if the gas has nowhere to go, it apparently finds a way.

If you have a mason jar with a lid that is closed, the jar will go boom.

Ruh-roh.

Ruh-roh.

Luckily, I was shopping at a local Korean grocery store recently, and as I was perusing the store’s massive Kimchi Department (no joke, a full section of the store was devoted to nothing but freshly-packed kimchi of various types and flavorings), I noticed this beauty. She was just sitting there on a table full of pots and pans, just looking at me.

001

She was about $25. I named her Peggy. Now I have no issues making any kind of fermented … anything.

Needless to say, I was inspired. I don’t know a whole lot about fermenting (although that’s starting to change), but I do know that a dark ceramic crock that can let gas escape while it keeps the goodness inside is what you use for pretty much all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Obviously it was designed for kimchi, but it can be used to ferment anything.

I did a little searching and pinning after I got home from Kimchi Land, and was amazed! I can make sauerkraut in there. Plus kimchi can be made from pretty much any type of vegetable, from ramps to cucumber to radishes to bok choy. Ooh then there’s fermented hot sauce and salsa, horseradish and miso, even fish sauce. And I can pickle turnips and beets, cherry tomatoes, even corn on the cob (!) and carrots and ginger for a healthy slaw.

Let me just say I was up late that night on Pinterest.

Had enough of the links? OK, I’ll continue with my experiments. Let’s roll.

Experiment No. 1: of course, I had to make kimchi.

I used the exact same recipe as before (see first link at the top), only I used chili paste from the Korean grocery instead of the Thai chili paste/red curry I used the last time. I pureed an apple and a pear, mixed it with salt and chili paste, and coated leaves of cabbage (Napa cabbage and regular green cabbage) and some shreds of carrot with the mixture.

Make sure every single bit of cabbage (or bok choy, radish, etc.) is thoroughly coated — I put gloves on and literally cover each cabbage leaf by hand to make sure. Then pack it tightly into the crock.

Before:

014

After:

005

Be sure to check it in the meantime — you will want to take a peek every couple of days to stir it up a little. After a few days, more liquid will form, and it’s important to keep everything mixed well, and as more liquid forms, keep the solid pieces of cabbage and whatnot underneath the liquid. This kimchi was perfect after exactly 14 days … a little soft but not soggy, and a little sweet but still spicy.

It was delicious.

Note: I should also mention at this juncture that the part between “before” and “after” was two whole weeks of fermenting. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. Of my whole house smelling like a spicy cabbage burp. I am the first to admit that my domicile is not conducive to many cooking experiments, in no small part because I have bad ventilation and no central air (I live on the beach in a cottage-style apartment). I also have no cellar or secure back porch. If you are trying to get started fermenting and you have a nice porch or a cellar, by all means, use it.  If you don’t, but there is a space in your kitchen next to an open window, that should be fine. Just make sure it’s not in the sun and is still in a relatively cool place. I had to make do with Peggy sitting on a kitchen counter in a stuffy apartment, so it was a little funky. It wasn’t much better with my next experiment …

Experiment No. 2: sauerkraut.

Talk about like, even easier than the kimchi. You basically have to measure salt and water (1 tablespoon salt to every 2 cups of filtered water), and shred the cabbage, and stuff it into your crock. That’s seriously all there is to it.

015

I really loved reading the Spunky Coconut blog and her discovery of this awesome recipe … you seriously can’t compare the deliciousness of fresh, homemade sauerkraut to anything else. As a child, I hated sauerkraut because the only kind I had ever tasted was the horrible canned mess you get slathered on your who-knows-what-those-are-made-of hot dogs at school or a hot dog stand. I visited Germany as a teenager and for the first time, tasted some homemade kraut, made in a lovely German family’s ancient fermenting crock. It was divine. Used to top an authentic, spiced, meaty, German bratwurst, it’s simply magical.

I let my sauerkraut ferment for about three weeks … technically it was 25 days. However, as you can tell by the photo above, my cabbage was pretty chunky. I prefer it this way even though it takes a bit longer to ferment than it would if I had shredded it very finely with a mandolin or something. This way it was very flavorful and pungent, yet still nice and crunchy. Perfect!

012

Note: I should also add another tip here. Many of the fancier (ahem, pricier) fermenting crocks come with a nice weighted piece of split stone you can use to hold the cabbage under water during the fermenting process. These are usually the European-style (traditionally German and Russian) crocks, and they are lovely, but they are too expensive and way too large for my needs. Amazon has a comparatively very good price for a nice ceramic crock like this, but you can rarely find a similar one for less than $100. What’s more, they are usually upwards of 5 liters. I am a single girl, but I can’t imagine anyone needing 5 liters of sauerkraut or kimchi … and I bought Peggy for about $25. She holds about 2 liters.

But she didn’t come with a weight. I couldn’t find a plate that was small enough to fit into the crock yet wide enough to hold down the majority of the cabbage, so I improvised and took apart a pie gate, cross-crossing each piece (since it was nice and bend-y and plastic) to hold down the majority of the kraut and kimchi. After packing the mixture inside, I placed one or two whole leaves of cabbage on top, and then held them all underwater with the plastic. A few stragglers aside, it worked out perfectly.

015

Experiment No. 3: pickles.

I followed this recipe from My Simple Country Life, but it’s pretty basic: for the size of my crock (about 2 liters) I would need about 6 tablespoons of pickling salt for a good, salty pickle brine. Add some adorable Persian cucumbers, fresh or dried dill, a few cloves of garlic, and let it sit for about two weeks.

Before:

021

Just a couple of days later there were bubbles …

020

And after 10 days they were perfect.

025

Many recipes also call for grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves or some other leaf to add tannins to the mixture, but other recipes leave them out entirely. I made mine without any leaves and they turned out great.

Experiment No. 4: hot sauce/ sriracha

080

I used this recipe for sriracha from VietWorld Kitchen (by the way, a great blog for many other recipes and ideas, if you are trying to learn more about Asian cuisine and cooking), only I used brown sugar, and I used a variety of peppers that probably are milder than usually used in sriracha recipes.

010I seriously can’t get over how easy each of these recipes are. I found a bunch of peppers and diced them, diced a few cloves of garlic, added a cup of whey I saved from the last time I made cheese, and a few teaspoons of salt (I ended up needing to add more salt later, but I didn’t want my sauce to be too salty). The VietWorld blog post also has an interesting discussion about using fish sauce or certain types of sugar to make your sriracha more authentic … feel free to experiment. This was just my first try so I am sure I will have to try more variations.

012

I checked it every day, giving it a little stir and checking to make sure no mold had formed (if some has formed, just skim it off). After just a few days, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and then used my immersion blender to puree the last little stragglers of chunks of pepper or garlic.

020You can learn more about probiotics and all the awesome things they do here, at this great piece on the Kitchen Rag blog.

Happy fermenting!

Summertime condiments: Curry Ketchup and Roasted Corn Relish

I had never tasted curry ketchup until I spent a school year in Germany … they use it constantly there. Every dish of french fries comes with a puddle of it, and many German restaurants also have a killer curry-wurst sausage. I haven’t been able to find it in the states other than at the occasional German restaurant, so I decided to make some. 

Later, I amended this project to be a trio of condiments together for the San Diego Food Swap this month. I made spicy mustard (which I have made a few times, see here), as well as curry ketchup, and to change it up a little, instead of a cucumber pickle relish (booooor-iiiing, plus I prefer my pickles on the fried side), I decided to make a thick roasted corn and pepper relish.

All three condiments were a huge hit! Plus, they were all super-easy to make.

For the curry ketchup, I followed this recipe from Coco Cooks, except I quadrupled the recipe to make multiple jars (and I swapped every single one, so it was worth it), and instead of running it through a food mill at the end, I used my immersion hand blender to puree it, and then I used a slotted spoon to scoop out the seeds, spices and stubborn tomato chunks left inside. I also simmered mine a little longer — I figured more time letting all of the flavors get happy together couldn’t hurt. It didn’t.

I halved and quartered about 8 lbs of various ripe tomatoes, and then added all of the sugar, spices and vinegar, and set it to simmer on the stove. As it was cooking for several hours in a huge pot on the stove, I placed a few cups of mustard seeds into a bowl of beer to let them soak …

… and started a fire in my grill outside so I could char some peppers and whole ears of corn for the relish. As always, with grilling whole corn, you pull back the outer husk, then pull out the soft hair inside. Then if you are going to season it, do it now, and pull the husks back over the corn. Then place it on the hot grill with a few bell peppers.

Once the corn is cooked, simply strip the corn by removing the husk entirely, and remove the corn by standing the ear on one end and running a sharp knife down each side. Since we are making a relish, don’t worry if the kernels don’t look pretty and perfect.

Don’t forget to chop those roasted peppers, as well as a whole onion (and additional jalapeno or other peppers, if you want an extra kick:

Then, once all of the corn, peppers, and onion are diced, add 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of sugar, as well as 2 tablespoons each of kosher salt, garlic powder and cracked black pepper.

Let it simmer for about an hour, until the corn and onion are a little tender but still crunchy. This is an excellent topping for grilled fish and baked salmon, as well as just for a simple and tasty dip for tortilla or pita chips.

Now that the relish is finished (and getting ready for its 20-minute hot water bath), I blend the now-soft mustard seeds with fresh and smoked jalapeno pepper and smoked garlic, and puree them all a little in the food processor. Then it goes on the stove with the remaining ingredients while I puree and skim the curry ketchup.

The ketchup is refrigerator-only, but the corn relish and mustard can both be sealed in sterilized mason jars in a 20-minute hot water bath.

Adventures in Pickling (Garlic, Mushrooms and, yes, Pickled Strawberries)

This April is the one-year anniversary of the San Diego Food Swap, a fun foodie event that I organize locally. It’s a great way to meet great cooks, practice your cooking skills, and get rid of surplus in your preserving pantry. This month I decided to make a few different pickles.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to step up my garlic game. Sure, roasted and even smoked whole heads of garlic are tiny blobs of heaven, but what about pickling them for extra punch? Preserved and Pickled has this delicious one, and I adapted it with a little extra white vinegar.

Pickled Garlic Cloves

(Try to keep the cloves whole, but trim off the hard ends.)

  • 2 Cups White Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seeds
  • ½ Teaspoon Mixed Peppercorns
  • 2-3 Small Dried Red Chiles

Try to keep the cloves whole, but it’s OK if they break a little. Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then fill sterilized mason jars and seal in a hot water bath for about 10-15 minutes.

I also did a version of my friend Belinda’s pickled red onions, which are a zingy compliment to pretty much any sandwich, wrap or burger. I added a bay leaf and a little more sugar.

I think my favorite of these are the pickled some cremini mushrooms. Knit and Nosh posted a fantastic recipe for these cheese plate darlings, and once again, I take a great recipe and make it my own with a little more spice — I used jalapeño instead of bell pepper and chili flakes, and added a little extra red onion.

Pickled Cremini Mushrooms

(Try these on your next cheese plate!)

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and cut into quarters
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup diced jalapeño
  • 1/2 cup onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn

Quarter (or halve the smaller) mushrooms, and dice the peppers and onions. Add to a pot with the vinegar, salt, and water, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars with peppercorns, and seal in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to seal.

I found this fantastic pickled strawberry recipe on The Daily Meal, and adapted it with different spices (star anise and a little coriander).

Spicy Strawberry Pickles

(This is a recipe for one big jar; adapt as necessary.)

  • 6-7 strawberries, stems removed
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 sliced or halved jalapeño or serrano pepper
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander

Slice or halve the strawberries and place into sterilized mason jar(s). Add the coriander, pepper and salt, while bringing the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Pour the hot brine into the jar(s) and place the two-piece lid. Give it at least three days to get to its full pickle flavor. Keep refrigerated.

Crispedy, crunchedy … the perfect pickle is now a killer snack

I accidentally stumbled upon the perfect and most crowd-pleasing snack … one that anyone can make using their favorite spices and crunchy details. I learned to make pickles just last summer, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make a delicious pickle. Honestly I am constantly surprised when I learn how easy it is to make something from scratch instead of buying it packed with preservatives and salts (not the least of which are salad dressing, mustard, bacon and sauces), but this one still blew my mind.

The principle is this: there’s a difference between pickling and preserving. Preserving entails freezing something or cooking and sealing it in such a way that means you can store it in a mason jar on a shelf for an indeterminate amount of time.

If you want to make pickles that you seal in a mason jar and store on a shelf in your pantry or basement for months and/or years, you need to follow a specific recipe that creates a certain pH level and makes it safe for whatever vegetable you are canning to be sealed in a jar using either a hot water bath or a pressure canner.

BUT … if you just want a jar of fresh pickles, that you’ll keep in the refrigerator and NOT store in a cupboard or pantry, you don’t need to worry about any of that. You can make your pickles as spicy, as vinegar-y, as sweet, or as herby as you like, using whatever vegetables you love the most. It’s really quite brilliant.

From left, pickled eggplant, sweet peppery pickled cherry tomatoes and dill cucumber pickles. The results of my first hands-on pickling class.

For this recipe, I used some lovely whole baby cucumbers, with one end trimmed ever so slightly to fit four of them into a quart-sized wide mouth jar. The only thing you need to keep in mind is the time … refrigerator pickles take a long time to get their full flavor, particularly when the flavor needs to permeate a whole cucumber of a slice of one. I let these sit in the fridge for over 2 months before I sliced and pickled them.

Make the pickles according to your own tastes, but for me, it’s sweet and dilly.  Stuff a mason jar with four baby cucumbers, a clove of thinly sliced garlic, and one tablespoon each of kosher salt, whole peppercorns and dried dill. Then I brought two cups white vinegar, two cups water, and one cup sugar to a boil (just enough to dissolve the sugar and bring it to a rolling boil), and pour it directly into the mason jar. Once the jar is cool, refrigerate it until you’re ready to use the pickles.

I cannot stress enough the degree to which the flavors of this pickle are all up to you. Add peppers or even jalapenos. Add extra garlic to spice it up, or extra sugar (even honey) to make it sweeter. Maybe use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a different depth of flavor, or omit the vinegar altogether and pickle your cukes in nothing but water and salt, if that’s the way you like to eat a cucumber. It’s all up to you.

Then, we fry them. Fried pickles are a staple at many southern restaurants, and during my time in Tennessee and Texas, I had fried pickles a few times (not to mention a myriad of other fried things), and honestly I didn’t care for them very much … mostly because I really didn’t like pickles in any form. Now that my tastes are progressing, and now that I can make my own pickle just the way I like it, my chances of loving these little fried bits of goodness grow exponentially.

Now comes the fun part! You can take this custom-made pickle and make it into the most crowd-pleasing snack ever. The only tools you need are a serrated knife (seriously) and a pan for frying.

Heat your oil and slice your pickles using a serrated knife. Those ridges will help the crispy goodness to stick to your pickle during the frying process.

While your vegetable oil is heating, prepare a bowl of egg wash (eggs beaten with a little water) and a dish of flour and of your favorite crispy coating. I used panko crumbs, but you can use any seasoned or unseasoned breadcrumbs, corn meal … hell, use Doritos or corn flakes if that’s what blows your hair back.

Coat each slice in flour, then dip in egg, then coat in the crispy crumbs, then drop into the oil.

Cook for about a minute on each side or until they are golden brown.

I like to serve these with a little bowl of mayo mixed with a few tablespoons of the brine from the pickle jar. It’s amazing, but honestly, you don’t need a dip.

Eat them quickly – they’re best when freshly fried.

I almost forgot to take pictures first, and this was very nearly my best photo of the fried pickle project.