Pickles of another sort

Pickles by definition are vegetables and fruits - or in the case of pig’s feet, meat - preserved in a brine. (Not recommending or suggesting those - just mentioning). According to Cook’s Illustrated (Sept/Oct 1994 p. 18-19), brine usually consists of a vinegar based solution containing salt, sugar and other flavorings. The vinegar provides the acidity (ranging from 4 to 7.9% depending on the type) necessary to preserve the food of choice by hampering bacteria growth. Cook’s illustrated has an entire page of pickle plans including the more traditional cucumbers, pearl onions, okra and even turnips and fennel. I, however, am fond of making Japanese pickles known as Tsukemono.

My go-to guide for these is Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono. This line of cookbooks is the best in my opinion. I have the easy Tsukemono, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean and use them all regularly. The directions are user friendly and simply laid out and the pictures really help pinpoint the correct ingredients when shopping in a somewhat confusing Asian grocery.

The Tsukemono book is unique in that it divides the recipes by seasonal availability. Japan, I learned while living there, has very specific seasons when it comes to fruits and vegetables – more so than here in the United States. Yes, on the rare occasion, one can find out of season produce (for a hefty price). Generally, though, fruits and veggies are only available for perhaps a month or two out of the year. For example, momo (peaches) are found July/August, kaki (persimmons) and nashi (Asian pear) are fall fruits, and mikan (mandarin oranges) are available in the early winter.

Cucumbers, bell peppers, green beans, and okra are among the recommended summer fare and are fortunately (and not coincidentally) widely available right now, so I decided to make some Japanese misozuke cucumbers and Korean zucchini namul.

Misozuke Cucumbers
2 cucumbers sliced into ¼ rounds
3/4C Miso (7 ounces by weight)
2T mirin

-Mix miso and mirin well
-Layer on plastic wrap 1/3 miso mixture, paper towel, ½ cucumber slices, paper towel, 1/3 miso, paper towel, ½ cucumbers, paper towel, 1/3 miso
-Wrap tightly with more plastic wrap and let stand 2-6 hours

The recipe in the book actually calls for thin sliced sticks of celery - not cucumbers - but this style of cooking lends itself nicely to mix and match. It would probably be good with any firm veggie like carrots or zucchini. Speaking of zucchini, I made one of my favorite Korean vegetable “side-dishes” (namul) last night with two medium sized zucchini.

Zucchini Namul
2 medium or 4 small zucchini (about a pound)
1/2t garlic powder (can be made with fresh, but I prefer powder for this dish)
1t sugar
3T soy sauce

2T toasted sesame oil

-Slice each squash in half lengthwise, then into cut into 1/4-inch thick half-circles.
-Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the squash, return to a boil and let cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.
-Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
-Add the squash and toss to coat well.

-Let set for 30 minutes to an hour, tossing ocassionally, and serve at room temperature.

(Note – Keep sesame oil in the refrigerator to preserve flavor and prevent it from getting rancid)

Loco Moco

Some time ago I wrote about the famous plate lunch that epitomizes popular Hawaiian cuisine (at least in my mind). When I was on the Big Island in April, I was able to get my plate lunch fix by going to L&L drive-ins on two separate occasions. The food was good and plentiful as ever, and even though I shared one three ways, we were unable to finish the rice, macaroni salad, bbq beef, chicken, and short ribs that are included on the “combination plate.”

Another thing I had to have was loco moco. A stop at Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo was the sure place to order up a bowl. Considered the ultimate Hawaiian comfort food, this dish is comprised of a generous serving of steamed rice topped with a hamburger patty then one or two over-easy eggs and finally a rich brown gravy. Delicious!  (For the hearty eater, Ken’s offers the Sumo Moco made with six scoops of rice, two hamburger patties, and three eggs all smothered with gravy, and when this dish is ordered, a bell is rung and everyone in the place yells, “SUMO!”)

I pride myself in cooking delicious, nutritious, vegetable intense foods for my family but have been craving loco moco for days now, so that’s what we had for dinner.  (My daughter did point out that I used farm-fresh organic eggs and lean beef)  As I sat down to the steaming, delicious smelling bowl of gravy drenched Hawaiian Heaven, I almost felt like I was back in the islands…

Visit Ken’s online or be sure to eat there when you go to the Big Island – just turn right out of the airport and go a little way. (Order the most awesome pancakes - available 24/7 and served with Guava, Passion Fruit and “Kokonut” syrups, Yum!) http://kenshouseofpancakes-hilohi.com/

$11 Well Spent

This morning I headed out to my favorite honor system farm stand in search of something to go in between the chicken pieces for tonight’s kabob dinner. I never know what will be available but hoped for zucchini, yellow squash and perhaps a green pepper or two. I visit regularly to see what they have, as produce varies by season and by what is ready for picking each day.

Sometimes I am truly surprised by what I find and have had the opportunity to try things new to me like patty-pan squash. Today, I found exactly what I was looking for and also grabbed a pint of little tomatoes to brighten up the dish. I rounded out the day’s purchase with a couple big, ripe tomatoes, 3lbs of new potatoes, three cucumbers and – today’s new treat – a canary melon. (I’ve never tried this type of melon but imagine it will taste similar to a honeydew). 

I wait anxiously each spring for them to open the stand for the season because, even though it is a few extra miles from my house, I find the whole experience to be charming.  Sometimes the owner is there dropping off a bushel of fresh picked green beans, corn or tomatoes, but more often than not, I have the place to myself.    

There is a scale to weigh my goods and a little pad of paper, pencils and a calculator to add up my purchase. I drop my money in the green metal box on the wall, pack my produce in my own shopping bag or grab a recycled plastic bag from the holder on the shelf, and pause for just a moment to enjoy the peace and solitude that’s an added bonus of driving a little extra out of my way.

This round of grocery shopping was done, and plans were made for the squash, peppers and tomatoes.  Now...what to do with the rest.  Potato salad? Creamed potatoes and peas?  Kombu-zuke (a type of Japanese pickled cucumber)? Who knows.  Only my imagination knows.  And, I can't help but wonder what he'll have next week.

Cobbler, Crisp, Crunch, Crumble

Yes, I know we broke all kinds of records this weekend with the heat, but I baked blueberry muffins Sunday. I had produce that needed using and wasn’t about to let a little 105 degree heat wave stop me.

Last Monday, my neighbor and I went blueberry and blackberry picking. I made a cobbler with all of the blackberries and let the kids munch on some of the blueberries. The rest would later be destined for the aforementioned blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes (I add 1/4 cup of berries to each individual scoop of batter to ensure there are adequate berries in every bite). I had intended to make Alton Brown’s Blueberry Buckle too but ran out of berries. See the link for an absolutely delicious blueberry treat: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/blueberry-buckle-recipe/index.html

I also made a fruit crisp. I had four not-too-pretty peaches and three mangy apples and decided to combine them all into one crisp. After I sprayed the cooking dish (non-stick spray has got to be one of the greatest inventions. I love it when I remember to use it and curse myself when I forget), I peeled and cored the apples, sliced all the fruit, tossed the whole mess with 1/3 cup raw sugar and 1/4 cup of apple jack – yes, the booze – and packed it into the Pyrex. For the topping I combined 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1t cinnamon and crumbled in 1/2 stick butter with my hands (it’s just easier that way). I then topped the fruit with the topping and placed the whole mess in the oven (375 degrees) for 35 minutes until the topping was browned and the crisp was bubbly. It was delicious – the apples were sweet and the peaches a little tart. Who knew!

Monday’s blackberry cobbler and Sunday’s crisp got me thinking. What IS the difference between the two? This reminded me of the scalloped/Au Gratin potato discussion I had with my Aunt Carol many years ago. The jury is still out on that one. Back to the fruit desserts…

I once also heard cobblers got their name because of the dough’s semblance to a cobblestone street, and a little research in my handy-dandy Cook’s Illustrated (July/August 1996, p. 18-20) led me to believe this may be true. While any fruit will do (less maybe watermelon), the difference lies in the topping. To quote:

“Cobblers usually have a biscuit topping, while crisps and crumbles have a crumb topping. To further differentiate, crisps are topped with a mixture of butter, sugar, flour and nuts, while crumbles have the same topping, with oatmeal taking the place of the nuts.”

(PS - Cook’s Illustrated offers recipes for four versions of cobbler toppings: butter cookie dough, rich shortcake, flaky pastry and batter. )

In retrospect I did make a blackberry cobbler - I used the batter style topping but have tried the butter cookie dough and found it a little too sweet for my taste - but apparently actually made a apple/peach crumble. Crisp, crumble, cobbler – they all may be a little different; however, all taste GREAT with vanilla ice cream!

Now...what about buckles and Bettys? Streusels and strudels?

My shopping style

I like grocery shopping because I enjoy picking out the foods I need to cook, but I hate the tedium that is the act of shopping itself. However, this time of the year I rarely venture into the grocery store. I do buy milk (organic!) and browse the flyers to see who has what meat on sale (a particular favorite is the buy-one-get-two boneless, skinless chicken breast special one local store frequently offers). Other than that, there are no major expeditions to stock the pantry and deep freeze. As a matter of fact, I have vowed to get to the bottom of the freezer and back of the pantry using every last thing I may find on this sort of archeological dig. Why?  For starters, I tend to hoard, stockpile, gather - whatever you want to call it - food items and need to thin the herd, so to speak. And, secondly…from early May to late September I primarily “shop” at the local farmer’s markets and fruit stands – and there are so many to choose from in this area.

Take my latest haul. I hit one market, the Old Beach Farmer’s Market, last Saturday morning and literally spent every penny I had on me. I went for steamer clams and corn but walked away with much, much more. After I secured the clams (I paid 30 clams for 100 clams - haha) and a baker’s dozen ears of corn (as well as eight beautiful peaches and two plump ‘maters from the same stand), I started thinking how good a loaf of the fresh baked French bread would be as an accompaniment. After I picked up a loaf, I remembered the dairy stand around the corner and figured fresh butter would go nicely with the clams, the corn and the newly acquired bread.
Both reusable grocery bags were packed to the top when I walked past the organic veggie stand and spied the most beautiful red, white and blue new potatoes. Of course I needed to get a couple containers. They were $4.00 a quart or two for $7.00 tax included. I wanted to get a pack of white and a pack of blue. Alas, as I scrounged around in my pocket, I found I only had $6.90 left. The kind lady running the stand spied my pile of crumpled ones and assorted change, and I confessed my shortfall. She smiled and gave me a quarter off the register left by a previous customer. I returned the favor by leaving my extra 15 cents in the same spot and left with taters in tow.

Back home, my bounty spread out on the counter, I contemplated lunch. As is often the case, I bought too much, so I opted to skip the potatoes after all. I warmed the bread in the oven, dropped the corn in my biggest pot (with some sugar and salt added to the boiling water) and the clams in my next largest (steamer bucket installed), melted a little butter and rallied the troops.

As we feasted, I decided I liked my shopping style.  It was good for my patience, the local economy and my stomach!