Summer Bounty – Bread & Butter Pickles

You all know I say I am NOT a big fan of summer.  I’m really not.  I don’t like the humidity.  I burn when I look at the sun.  The only time I “like” to sweat is when I’m working out or cleaning my apartment or something.  I’m  not a super big beach/pool person so I could kind of care less.  I know that’s sacrilege for a lot of my friends!

BUT…

The more I think about growing up in rural Ohio (I’ve been getting seriously nostalgic lately) the more I realize there are things about summer that I absolutely love.  So many of my favorite memories as a kid happened during the summer time.  And so many of those memories are wrapped up around our garden, the local farmers, spending time harvesting lots of veggies and spending a lot of time with my Grandma in the kitchen as she cleaned, prepped, and canned green beans, beets, tomatoes, made jam, and made her own homemade pickles.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stand pickles.  Well I should say, I don’t like dill pickles.  Growing up I would tolerate my Grandma’s bread and butter pickles but get anything dill anywhere near me and I would run the other way.  As I’ve gotten older and my tastebuds have grown with me I have finally discovered a love of all things pickl-y.  I’m still not a fan of dill but my world has been opened up to so many amazing ways of preservation in the last few years that I’ve been much more adventurous and have found some things I can’t live without.

One of my latest summer staples has become the humble bread and butter pickle for sure.  It’s amazing how easy they are to make and how just this simple little pickle will make a burger, or even a simple turkey sandwich something really special.

I’ve been working to perfect a new smoked turkey recipe that isn’t quite ready for the world yet but I had to go ahead and share this quick and classic pickle recipe that you can enjoy all summer!!

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I need to get my Grandma’s recipe but this one has become my go-to!

Bread & Butter Pickles

2 pounds medium Kirby cucumbers
2 cups small dice sweet onion
¼ cup kosher salt
1 pound ice
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups cider vinegar
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
3 whole cloves
½ jalapeno pepper, sliced paper thin

 

Sterilize three quart canning jars, along with the rings and lids. (I recommend checking out the Ball canning website for tips if you’ve never canned before, http://www.freshpreserving.com/canningmenu.html.

 

Cut the blossom end off the cucumbers and slice the cucumbers into 1/8-inch thick slices. To draw out the excess liquid and increase the crunch, layers the cucumber slices with onion, salt, and ice in a glass or stainless steel container. Weight with a plate large enough to cover all the cucumbers and keep them submerged when the ice melts. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

 

Drain the cucumbers and onions, put them in a large stainless steel, and add the sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, vinegar, bay leaf, cloves and jalapeno. Bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Using a digital thermometer to check, make sure that the internal temperature of the cucumbers reaches 180° and stays there for 90 seconds. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.

 

Divide the hot cucumbers among the sterilized jars. Ladle the remaining hot vinegar mixture over the cucumbers, leaving a ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the rims and threads clean. Place the lids and rings on the jars and tighten the rings. Cool the jars on a clean dish towel or a rack, not directly on the countertop.

 

Refrigerate for at least 1 week to let the pickles cure before eating (you can skip this step but the wait will be worth it!). Unopened, the pickles will keep for up to 6 months in the refrigerator. Once opened, they will keep for up to 3 weeks longer in the refrigerator.

 

Source: Heritage, Sean Brock

 

Key West State of Mind -Cuban Sandwiches

I have a confession to make.  Some days I just want to run away and be a starving artist in some place beautiful and inspiring.

This feeling usually hits me about mid-week when I’m bogged down with work and life and Friday is just out of reach.  I especially feel this way when it’s the middle of May and dreary and chilly (less than 60 degrees, in May, in the South, what?! Remind me that I was complaining about this when it’s sweltering in August).

On days like today I dream of warm places, filled with culture, interesting people, and of course great food.

Five years ago we visited Key West for the wedding of some very dear friends and absolutely fell in love with the laid back atmosphere.  I often dream of warm, lazy days sitting on the porch, drinking, rum, and reading Hemingway with my pet cat.

Speaking of Hemingway, I’ve become slightly (okay maybe not so slightly) obsessed with him and his time in Key West since we visited there.  After visiting his home and his stomping grounds I am completely fascinated with that time and way of island life.

My husband and I often talk about the day when we win the lottery and run away to Key West.  We have a dream of opening a restaurant, cocktail lounge, and cigar bar combo that has just the right amount of class but still that not a care in the world vibe that would be the place that discerning “tourists” and locals would call home (or home away from home).  This all means a lot of rum, international flavors, and all things Cuban of course.

A girl can dream, right?!

So when I’m missing Key West, I make myself a good Cuban Sandwich, shake up a classic daiquiri, and get lost in the world of The Old Man and the Sea.  Maybe one day we’ll call that world home.🙂

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Cuban Sandwiches
(makes 4-6 sandwiches)

 

Mojo Pork:
1-2 pound pork roast or boneless pork ribs
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime
½ cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small onion, chopped
Salt & pepper

 

Cuban rolls
½ pound deli ham
Mojo Pork
Swiss cheese
Yellow mustard
Bread & butter pickles (I prefer homemade but your favorite store bought is great too!)
Butter

 

For the pork: Put all of the ingredients for the pork in the bowl of a slow-cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Shred the pork for sandwiches. (Any leftover pork you have is great served over rice, with black beans, and some fried plantains!)

 

To assemble sandwiches:

Butter the outside of the Cuban rolls. Spread mustard on each half. Top one half with swiss cheese, a couple slices of ham, a good amount of pork (not too much or everything will fall out when you press it), and pickles. Top with the other half of the roll.

Press sandwiches on a panini press (or in a cast iron skillet topped with another heavy skillet) for 3-4 minutes until toasty and the cheese is melty.

 

Source: Ruth’s Table

 

Taco Tuesday – Korean BBQ Tacos

My boss recently asked me what my favorite thing is to cook.  I’m always at a loss on how to answer that.  The answer could change every week, every day even!  It’s really hard to pinpoint just one thing that’s my favorite.  I just love to cook!  Period.🙂

When I get asked that question I almost always respond with:

What time of year is it?  Is it spring and asparagus is in season?  If so, then simple roasted asparagus or spring pasta with asparagus, peas, and herbed breadcrumbs.  

Is it summer and perfect grilling weather? Then a juicy cheeseburger with a big slice of heirloom tomato.  

Is it cold and rainy so all I want is soup?  Well then that could be butternut squash soup, posole, or chili.  

Are we talking Asian food?  Stirfry, Pad Thai, potstickers, I could go on and on.  Give me everything Asian.

Mexican food?  Enchiladas, every kind imaginable.  

All American food?  Definitely a recipe from my childhood, either meatloaf or my Pappa’s pork chops.

Well, what about desserts?  Lemony (my preferenc)?  Chocolatey?  Cookies?  Pies?  

Do I have all day to work on a meal?  Definitely something “fancier” like roasted chicken or beef bourguignon.

Or am I just getting in the door after sitting in traffic for an hour and want something super quick?  Greek Chicken and Couscous it is.

Am I cooking for family?  Friends?  Just me and my husband?  Just me?  What day of the week is it?!

Well, if it’s Tuesday that could very well mean tacos at my house.  Taco Tuesday has definitely become a thing for me lately and I’ll put it in writing that they are probably my favorite thing to cook.  Today.  Or until someone asks me that again.

I’ve been experimenting quite a bit lately and have finally perfected what has become one of my favorite fusion recipes.  I am a HUGE Asian food fan and my hubby is a big Mexican food fan so I smashed it all together (and took some cues from one of our go-to date night places) and voila, Korean BBQ Tacos.

This Taco Tuesday inspiration is just in time for Cinco de Mayo.  Why not change things up and try something new?!  AND it’s a perfect Slow-Cooker Sunday meal too.  It’s perfect to prep ahead of time to make Taco Tuesday super easy after a long, hard day at work!

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Korean BBQ Tacos

2 lb. beef roast
Hoisin, heaping tablespoon

Korean BBQ Sauce:
1/2 cup hoisin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon ginger, grated
1 Tablespoon lemongrass, grated
3 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons honey
Sesame oil
Rice wine vinegar, just a splash
Liquid smoke, just a few drops

To serve:
Flour tortillas
Shredded cabbage
Pickled vegetables
Cilantro
Siracha mayo
Limes

Mix all bbq sauce ingredients together. Put beef roast in the bowl of a slow-cooker. Pour sauce over beef. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Shred the beef and cook in batches until just a little crispy around the edges. Add a heaping tablespoon of hoisin to make it saucy.

To serve, warm tortillas, top with beef, shredded cabbage, pickled vegetables, cilantro and siracha mayo.

Source: Ruth’s Table

 

 

Happy Birthday to Me – Asparagus and Mushroom Carbonara

It’s my birthday so I can eat whatever I want, right?!  Duh.  Of course I can.  Calories don’t count on your birthday.

Today has been an awesome day filled with amazing friends.  From my staff who decorated my office with balloons and streamers, to my co-workers who conspired with them to schedule an important meeting (scheduling it a week ago so I wasn’t suspicious!) only to surprise me with cake, to all the texts,  phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and topped off with a quiet, cozy night at home with my hubby this girl is feeling super loved!

Some people may think I’m weird for making my own birthday dinner but you know me, I love to cook!  AND I got to stay in my yoga pants, bonus!!

So what did I choose as this year’s birthday dinner?  One of my absolute favorite pasta dishes of course, carbonara.  With the addition of in season asparagus and my favorite go-to ingredient, mushrooms, it was the perfect, creamy, comforting meal to celebrate!
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Asparagus and Mushroom Carbonara

1 shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb. asparagus, sliced into bite-sized pieces
8 oz. mixed mushrooms
12 oz. spaghetti
Kosher salt
2 oz. proscuitto, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
⅓ cup grated Pecorino plus more
2 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over high heat. Working in batches, add shallots, garlic, asparagus, and mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until charred in spots and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (about 7 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring often, until slightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Add pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to keep pepper from burning; reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a thick, glossy sauce forms. (Taste as you go and switch to hot water once sauce is adequately seasoned.)

Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat. Add Pecorino; toss to combine. Remove from heat; mix in egg yolks. Add reserved veggies; toss, adding pasta cooking liquid (or hot water) as needed to thin sauce.

Serve pasta topped with more Pecorino.

Adapted from a recipe by Philip Krajek, Rolf & Daughters, Nashville – Bon Appétit Magazine, September 2013

It’s Not Delivery – Curry Chicken Pizza

Ugh, Monday.  And tax day.  That’s should be against the law or something.  That’s a lot of “ugh” to handle at the beginning of the week!  And I don’t know about y’all but taxes were brutal this year!  Oh the joys of self-employment.🙂

Making it through this day, or any rough day, calls for pizza.  Pizza is comfort.  Pizza is joy.  Pizza is one of my favorite ways to mash up some of my favorite flavors and create something new and exciting.

I can’t take all the credit for this one though.  We recently went to a pub/sports bar in Clarksville and got super excited about a curry chicken pizza on the menu.  We ordered it with high expectations and ended up pretty disappointed.  It was good but not as good as I knew it could be.  No worries though, I decided to take to the kitchen and put my own stamp on it.  Success on the first try!!

This pizza comes together quickly thanks to a prepared pizza crust.  It is also very budget friendly for me (I need that after tax day!) because all the ingredients for the sauce are some of my pantry staples.  Pizza is very forgiving so take a look at what you have in the cupboard, think about your favorite dishes, and get creative!

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Curry Chicken Pizza

1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 cup caramelized onions*
1 small red bell pepper, diced
Mozzarella cheese
1 prepared pizza crust (or homemade if you have the time)
1 5oz. can tomato sauce
Splash of chicken stock (I always have a box of stock open in the fridge, water also works fine)
2 Tablespoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Pinch of sugar
Salt & Pepper
Cilantro

Preheat a pizza stone or cookie sheet in a 400° oven.

In a small saucepan, combine tomato sauce and next 6 ingredients (through S&P). Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce is fragrant.

To assemble pizza, spread sauce in a thin layer over prepared dough (use as much or as little as you like, depending on how saucy you like it), add shredded chicken, onions, bell pepper and top with shredded cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until desired browned bubbliness.

Garnish with cilantro, slice and devour!

*For the caramelized onions, slice one small onion thin.  In a pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until fragrant.  Reduce heat to low, add salt & pepper and cook until brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Source: Ruth’s Table

Pantry Staples – Greek Marinade

Spring has finally sprung!  The sun is shining.  The birds are singing. My eyes itch and I’m sneezing my head off.  Darn it, I’m still going to enjoy the beautiful weather!

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Now that the weather is nice I start craving all kinds of spring/summer foods.  I want to be grilling, eating veggies, and making all kinds of fresh salads.  BUT I don’t want to spend a lot of time in a hot kitchen.  Give me quick and easy and I’m a happy camper!

My biggest tip for putting together a quick and easy dinner is to make sure you keep your pantry stocked with a variety of things to throw together a meal quickly and with very little effort.  One of my favorite, go-to pantry marinades is my Greek Marinade.  I use it on chicken, shrimp, veggies, fish.  It is so versatile and easy to put together!  Pair some chicken with a quick side dish of veggie couscous and you’re set.

For marinades I almost never actually measure ingredients.  Once you’ve done it a time or two you’ll get it just the way you like it.  My rule of thumb for a marinade is pretty simple: 2 parts oil, 1 part acid, salt & pepper, herbs and spices of your choice.  The best method though is just to taste it.  You know what you like. Trust your instincts!

Greek Marinade

Olive oil
White balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
Zest and juice of one lemon
Salt & pepper
Greek seasoning blend (the brand I use has onion, garlic, oregano, mint)

Put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake it up. Marinate your choice of protein or veggies for about 15 minutes.

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Other variations:

Asian-olive oil, a dash of sesame oil, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, Sambal Olek (instead of pepper), soy sauce (instead of salt), garlic, ginger, honey

Southwest-olive oil, lime juice, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic, cilantro, splash of tequila

Greek Grilled Chicken and Veggie Couscous is one of our regular rotation meals.  It’s super simple, comes together in about 25 minutes, and is light and healthy.  You can have dinner on the table with very little fuss, very few dirty dishes, and can be back to enjoying the warm weather and extra hours of sunshine in no time!

Greek Grilled Chicken and Veggie Couscous

For chicken:
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
Greek marinade

For couscous:
1 box couscous, cooked according to package directions
Olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, cut into rounds
Grape tomatoes, halved if they’re really big
Garlic
Salt & pepper

For sauce:
1 cup greek yogurt or mayonnaise
1 cup feta cheese
Juice of a lemon
Parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the chicken in the marinade while you’re gathering your other ingredients, about 15 minutes. Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken and grill 2 minutes per side until you have some nice grill marks. Pop in the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking. Remove chicken when done and let rest a minute before serving.

While chicken is in the oven, preheat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and onion, saute until translucent. Add the zucchini and cook for a minute or two until it starts to brown a little. Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds until fragrant. Turn heat down to medium and add tomatoes and cook, stirring for another minute or until they start to pop and release a little liquid. Add the couscous, salt and pepper and toss together.

For the sauce, mix all ingredients together and serve with chicken and couscous.

To serve: top the vegetable couscous with a chicken breast (sliced to make the presentation pretty) and a tablespoon of the sauce. Garnish with a little chopped parsley and lemon zest if you want.

Source: Ruth’s Table

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Meatless Monday – Farro Risotto with Balsamic Mushrooms

I decided several years ago that I was going to give up meat for a month. I was doing it as a part of a fast with my church that asked us to give something up to refocus. I decided on meat and to focus on regaining control over my health. I’ve always been a lover of vegetables and meat is often an afterthought when I’m just cooking for myself so I thought it would be a breeze. There was only one problem. The first week of our fast included Memorial Day! How on earth did I miss that?! It also happened to be a weekend we were in Ohio celebrating my sister-in-law graduating so we were hosting a cookout! Seriously, I’m not sure how I made it but by the grace of God I did.

During that time I learned a lot of new techniques and recipes and how to adapt them so that my meat loving hubby would enjoy them too. Over the years I’ve tried to make it a habit of making the majority of our meal vegetables while keeping our meat consumption reasonable. I even thrown in the occasional meatless meal that is still packed with protein. With the increased availability of a lot cool grains and exotic veggies that makes things super easy!

One of my favorite things to make, especially when I’m going meatless, is risotto. A lot of people think risotto is difficult to make but really you can have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes start-to-finish. The only thing risotto requires is a little patience. It isn’t a meal you can just pop on the stove and walk away from. The repetitve stirring is very therapeutic after a long day though, trust me.🙂

I have recently discovered a love for farro. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture which make it a great option for meatless meals. It’s a great source of fiber and protein so it will fill you up and you won’t even miss the meat! Throw in meaty mushrooms and you’re all set!
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Farro Risotto with Balsamic Mushrooms

1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup farro
1/2 cup dry white wine (a big glug)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
Bay leaf
Mixed mushrooms (I get a package that includes cremini, oyster, and shitake)
Thyme
Parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Asiago cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable stock, water and bay leaf until just below a simmer.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil. Saute shallots and garlic for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add farro and toast about 30 seconds. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Reduce heat to medium and add one ladle of stock. Stir off and on until liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock. Keep repeating until farro is tender and creamy. This will take 23-25 minutes. I always set a timer and taste for texture starting at about 20 minutes.

Finish with thyme leaves, parsley, one tablespoon butter, salt & fresh cracked pepper, and grated Asiago.

For the mushrooms, heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat (I use a cast iron pan so they get nice and brown). Lower heat to medium. Add butter, sprig of thyme, and mushrooms. Leave them alone for a minute so they start getting brown and a little crispy. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and cook another 30 seconds until balsamic is a little syrupy. Season with salt & pepper. Remove thyme sprig.

Serve risotto topped with mushrooms and lots of shaved asiago.

Serves 2.

Source: Ruth’s Table

This is a perfect “fancy” dish to impress a date. I can’t wait to make this for my hubby on our next date night in!