sweet cucumber relish

So I totally made up this recipe, and it worked.  If you like sweet relish, and if you know how to make bread-and-butter pickles, then you can easily adapt your B&B recipe to make your own sweet relish.  (So long, store-bought relish with its high fructose corn syrup, thickeners, etc!)  This is the real deal, and you–and your hot dogs–will be very happy if you put up some homemade relish this summer.

The method is simple: chop up cucumbers and bell peppers (add in some onions, if you want), simmer the veggies in your B&B brine along with your B&B spices, strain and then can your finished product.  You can use my method with your favorite B&B brine and spices, or you can follow my recipe.

sweet cucumber relish

Yield: About 5 half-pints

Time required: About 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 pounds cucumbers (any pickling variety), finely diced

1 pound red bell peppers, finely diced

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup filtered water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/8 cup salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 teaspoons celery seeds

Equipment:

kitchen scale

large sauce pan

strainer

rubber gloves

hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)

half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids

jar funnel and ladle

Sharpie or other magic marker

 Method:

Prepare the veggies:  Finely dice the cucumbers and red peppers.  Yes, this will take a while.

Prepare the B&B brine:  Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a large sauce pan and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Let’s make relish!  Add the veggies to the brine along with all the B&B spices (salt through celery seeds).  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer the relish for about 10 minutes.  Lightly strain the relish.

Ladle the relish into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean and put the lids on the jars.  Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own.  Do not over tighten the lids.

Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the hot water (it should be steaming heavily but not boiling).  Process the jars in the hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the hot water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool.  Tighten the lids slightly.

Check the lids after a few minutes (or after you start to hear “ping” sounds).  The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat.  If any of the jars failed to seal, keep the jar in the fridge to use as a fresh product.

Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid with the contents and date.

Finally:  Grill hot dogs.  Top with sweet relish.  Repeat throughout the year!

Vietnamese tomato-crab soup (bún riêu)

Neah invited his mom over to teach him how to make another classic Vietnamese dish, bún riêu, which is a soup of chicken broth, rice noodles, tomatoes, fried tofu slices, meatballs made of crab, shrimp and pork, and aromatics.

Here are some photos of mother and son working on the dish together:

plucking leaves and splitting stems of on choy

slicing tomatoes

seasoning the broth

 

Isn’t my hubby cute???

Anyway . . . let’s dive right into the recipe, shall we?

Vietnamese tomato-crab soup

(bún riêu)

makes 8 large bowls

Ingredients:

2 whole chicken legs (i.e., 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks)

4 lbs. chicken bones

2 onions, roots removed and peeled

1 quart chicken stock (homemade, if available)

1/2 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. lump crab meat

1/2 lb. shrimp, ground in the food processor

1 and 1/2 jars Pantai brand crab paste with bean oil (see photo below)

3 eggs

16 oz. tofu, fried and sliced 1/4-inch thick

5 large tomatoes, vertically cut into 1/2-inch slices

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 16-ounce packages of rice stick noodles (Neah always uses Bún Tháp Chùa brand, which comes in a red package with a picture of a Buddhist temple)

1 tablespoon fish sauce, more or less to taste

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

fresh on choy stems, split, and some of the leaves

4 scallions, thinly sliced

fresh mint leaves

fresh shiso leaves (rau tia to) (these look like large basil leaves that are green on one side and purple on the other)

fresh bean sprouts

lemon wedges

chile garlic sauce

Method:

To make the soup base:  Put the onions, chicken legs and bones in a large slow cooker and fill the crock with filtered water.  Cover and slow-cook on low overnight or for 8 to 10 hours.  The results will be a light chicken stock that is not richly flavored, which is fine because the broth will become more complex after it is simmered with the tomatoes and other seasonings.  (Apart from the seasonings unique to this dish, the chicken-tomato broth will be similar to the base for a minestrone.  This is my best way of describing the broth for those who are unfamiliar with this dish.)

Strain the slow-cooker chicken stock into a large stock pot.  (You may reserve the leg meat for another dish.)  Add one quart of traditional homemade stock to give the base a bit more depth of flavor.  Then, season the stock to taste with salt and fish sauce.

To make the meatballs:  The crab meatballs are the star component of this dish.  In a bowl, use a fork to combine the crab meat, ground shrimp, ground pork, crab paste, eggs and about a teaspoon of black pepper.  This is the brand of crab paste that my mother-in-law always uses:

What, you think this ingredient sounds a bit sketchy?  I agree, but don’t ask questions — just use it.

To make the meatballs, bring the stock to a boil and drop spoonfuls of the crab mixture into the pot, dumpling-style.  Idealy, the meatballs in the soup will be fluffy and taste like the meaty part of an egg roll.

To finish the soup:

Briefly saute the sliced tomatoes in olive oil and garlic, and then add the tomatoes to the soup and simmer until the tomatoes have somewhat broken down into the broth but are also still chunky.  Add the tofu slices to the soup, too.  Keep the soup simmering to meld the flavors.

Meanwhile, boil the rice noodles in water until done (they should be al dente, not mushy).  Drain the noodles and rinse them well with cool water so that they don’t stick together.  Set aside.

Prepare the “grass” (as Neah’s mom calls all the aromatics) while the soup simmers: First, find this tool at your local Asian market:

. . . and use it to split the stems of the on choy, and put the split stems in ice water to create on choy curls.

Next, rinse and spin dry the mint, shiso leaves and bean sprouts, and set them on table with the lemon wedges, thinly sliced scallions and chili garlic sauce.  Each person will add these elements to his or her bowl of soup, to taste.

To serve the soup: Use a large soup bowl for each person.  Put a handful of rice noodles in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle the soup over the noodles.  Serve the soup bowls.  At the table, add fresh herbs, sprouts, on choy curls, a squeeze of lemon and garlic chili sauce, to taste.  Toss and stir the soup components using an Asian soup spoon and chop sticks, and enjoy!

mmm, a delicious bowl of tomato-crab soup

plum-cinnamon jam (or, stalking fruit)

Stalking fruit pays off.  Let me explain:

Early last Friday morning, I entered the office kitchen and saw a bowl brimming with smooth, purplish-black plums.  Most Californians have some variety of fruit tree in their yards, and apparently a co-worker had brought in a bowlful of harvest to share with the office.  How nice!

Hmmm.

I wondered if this co-worker had more plums.  After all, where there are twenty plums offered for free at the office, there are many more plums still on the tree that the owner is trying to use or give away before they spoil, right?  In this circumstance, I decided that Miss Manners would say that it is okay to ask if there are more plums available for the taking.

And so I set off to find the person who was the source of these plums.  I was stalking plums!  After a few inquiries, I learned that Bonny, our office administrator, had brought in the plums.  I asked her if she happened to have lot more plums that she needed to get rid of.  I told her that I would love to have some for making jam, and — with Miss Manners in mind — I said, “Of course, I would give you a jar!”  Bonny quickly agreed to give me some plums, relieved to have another outlet for the glut of plums at her home.  I was giddy.  This really seemed like a win-win.  A good deal for sure.

Monday morning, I was so super pleased to find a paper grocery bag full of plums sitting on the floor behind my desk.  They were all perfectly ripe and smelled sweet and delicious.  I could hardly wait to make jam with them.  The tricky thing, however, was that they were perfectly ripe now, and they wouldn’t last until the weekend.  I would have to find time during the work week to make jam.  Somehow, I managed.

These plums were sooo juicy that it took an hour to cook them down to the gel point.  But the results were totally worth it, and it felt really good to give Bonny a pint of jam today.  I gave her a small basket of heirloom cherry tomatoes from our garden, too, as an extra thank you.  Hopefully we can do this again next year.

plum-cinnamon jam

Yield: About 8 half-pints

Time required: About 2 hours

Ingredients:

8 pounds of plums, halved with pits removed (other stone fruits may be substituted, e.g., apricots, pluots)

2 pounds of evaporated cane juice (a.k.a., “raw sugar”)

1/2 cup of lemon juice (freshly squeezed or use bottled Santa Cruz Organic brand)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)

Equipment:

a large tub or other container large enough to contain the fruit (I use the crock with lid from my slow cooker)

kitchen scale

large stock pot

potato masher

wooden paddle or extra long wooden spoon

rubber gloves

3-4 small clean plates, in the freezer

hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)

half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids

jar funnel and ladle

Sharpie or other magic marker

Method:

Prepare the fruit:  On the night before the day when you plan to make the jam, wash, halve and pit the plums and put them in a large lidded tub (I use the lidded crock that came with my slow cooker).  There is no need to remove the skins because they will break down during the cooking process and add texture to the jam.  Add 2 lbs of raw sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the fruit and stir to combine.  Put on the lid and let the fruit macerate over night.  The plums will release liquid and this will give a jumpstart to the process of cooking down the fruit into jam.

The next day:  Clean the jars and set aside.  Put the small plates in the freezer.  Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from hot jam splatters.

Pour the contents of the fruit tub into a large stock pot and mash the plums with a potato masher.  It is okay to have skins floating around because they will break down.  Turn the heat on high and bring the plum mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden paddle or long wooden spoon to avoid burning the jam.  The objective is to boil off enough liquid and raise the heat of the mixture high enough to reach the gel point for jam.  The cooking time depends on how wide your pot is and how juicy the plums are, but keep stirring and boiling the plum mixture until you notice that it has reduced some and has started to thicken (30 to 45 minutes or more).

We’re thickening the jam naturally using sugar and cooking time, and so it’s important to start checking for the “gel point” after you notice that the mixture has started to reduce and thicken.  To test the gel point, take a small plate from the freezer and use a small spoon to put a dollop of jam at the center of the plate.  Return the plate to the freezer for a minute.  (This process mimics what the jam will be like at room temperature.)  Retrieve the plate from the freezer and hold the plate up to allow the jam mixture to run down the plate.  The jam is ”set” when it stays in a clump as it runs down the plate.

Once the jam is set, move the pot off the burner and to the side.  If you are adding cinnamon, add the cinnamon (a teaspoon at a time, to taste) and stir the jam thoroughly to combine.  Ideally, the jam will taste of sweet plums with a warm, cinnamon-y aftertaste.  Heavenly!

Fill the hot water canner with enough water to cover the jars by a couple inches and bring it to a boil.

Ladle the hot jam into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean (this is essential to ensure a complete seal) and put the lids on the jars.  Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own.  Do not over tighten the lids.

Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the boiling water.  Process the jars in the hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the boiling water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool.  Tighten the lids slightly – just an 1/8 or 1/4 of a turn — because over-tightening could prevent a complete seal from forming.

Check the lids after a few minutes.  The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat.  If any of the jars failed to seal, simply re-process them in the boiling water for a few more minutes.

Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid of the jar with the contents and date.

Remember: jam is not just for breakfast!  I think this jam would be delicious with roasted duck breast.  I will give that a try this fall or winter and post the results!

how to make jam (with a recipe for raspberry-vanilla jam)

Making jam has given me a new appreciation for summer and a greater appreciation for the very brief growing seasons of fruits like strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  I savor these fruits more so than before and I’m excited that I’ll be able to enjoy them again this winter thanks to the jam-making and canning skills that I learned from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.’s jam-making workshop.  (Food in Jars is another inspirational and informative resource.)

Making jam seems to involve two mysteries: (1) making the jam, and (2) safely canning the jam.  I’m still a novice, but the task really is quite simple once you try it and gain confidence!  I learned from my workshop that fruit is the safest thing to first try canning because fruit is naturally acidic and therefore less prone to botulism.  Boiling the jam kills off bacteria, and so the only remaining “issue” is to ensure a proper seal when you hot-water-bath the jars of jam.  So long as you can see that the lid is sealed, you’re in the clear!  Please give it a try — making jam is so satisfying and addicting!

I learned some basic jam recipes from Happy Girl Kitchen that are low in sugar and do not call for pectin.  Fruit naturally contains some pectin (important for causing the jam to gel) and sugar is also instrumental in creating gel.  Many recipes call for a ton of sugar — many I’ve seen call for equal parts sugar and fruit! — but that much sugar really isn’t necessary and it can drown out the flavor of the fruit.  Sugar absorbs moisture and so it assists with creating gel, and it is also a natural preservative.  The recipes that I use call for just enough sugar to lend sweetness to the fruit and to create gel; more sugar would ensure a longer shelf life once you’ve opened the jar, but it won’t last very long anyway!

raspberry-vanilla jam

makes 7 half-pints

Time required: About 2 hours

1 flat of organic raspberries

Ingredients:

5 pounds of raspberries (or other bush berries, e.g., blackberries, blueberries)

2 pounds of evaporated cane juice (a.k.a., “raw sugar”)

1/2 cup of lemon juice (freshly squeezed or use bottled Santa Cruz Organic brand)

1 Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean (optional)

Equipment:

a large tub or other container large enough to contain the fruit (I use the crock with lid from my slow cooker)

kitchen scale

large stock pot

potato masher

wooden paddle or extra long wooden spoon

rubber gloves

3-4 small clean plates, in the freezer

hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)

half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids

jar funnel and ladle

Sharpie or other magic marker

Method:

Prepare the fruit:  On the night before the day when you plan to make the jam, wash the raspberries and put them in a large lidded tub (I use the lidded crock that came with my slow cooker).  Add 2 lbs of raw sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the fruit and stir to combine.  Put on the lid and let the fruit macerate over night.  The berries will release liquid and this will give a jumpstart to the process of cooking down the fruit into jam.

raspberries and their liquid, after sitting in lemon juice and sugar over night

The next day:  Clean the jars and set aside.  Put the small plates in the freezer.  Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from hot jam splatters.

Pour the contents of the berry tub into a large stock pot and mash the berries with a potato masher.  Turn the heat on high and bring the berry mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden paddle or long wooden spoon to avoid burning the jam.  The objective is to boil off enough liquid and raise the heat of the mixture high enough to reach the gel point for jam.  The cooking time depends on how wide your pot is, but keep stirring and boiling the berry mixture until you notice that it has reduced some and has started to thicken (15 minutes or more).

We’re thickening the jam naturally using sugar and cooking time, and so it’s important to start checking for the “gel point” after you notice that the mixture has started to reduce and thicken.  To test the gel point, take a small plate from the freezer and use a small spoon to put a dollop of jam at the center of the plate.  Return the plate to the freezer for a minute.  (This process mimics what the jam will be like at room temperature.)  Retrieve the plate from the freezer and hold the plate up to allow the jam mixture to run down the plate.  The jam is “set” when it stays in a clump as it runs down the plate.

testing for the gel point

Once the jam is set, move the pot off the burner and to the side.  Fill the hot water canner with enough water to cover the jars by a couple inches and bring it to a boil.

If you are adding vanilla, cut the bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the hot jam and then toss in the bean.  While you wait for the hot water to come to a boil, stir the jam occasionally to allow the raspberry and vanilla flavors to marry.  Taste the jam occasionally and remove the vanilla bean when you’re satisfied with the flavor.  (I left it in for about 15 minutes.)

Ladle the jam into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean (this is essential to ensure a complete seal) and put the lids on the jars.  Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own.  Do not over tighten the lids.

Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the boiling water.  “Process” (i.e., allow to sit) the jars in the hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the boiling water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool.  Tighten the lids slightly — just an 1/8 or 1/4 of a turn — because over-tightening could prevent a complete seal from forming.

Check the lids after a few minutes.  The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat.  If you see this, congrats!  The jars are sealed!  If any of the jars failed to seal, simply re-process them in the boiling water for a few more minutes.

Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid of the jar with the contents and date so that you know what’s in the jar and when you made it.  The jar of jam can last more than a year, but every source I’ve encountered encourages consumption within a year to enjoy the best color, texture and flavor.


Finally, for all you urbanite canning virgins out there, here’s a note on canning etiquette:  If someone gives you a jar of jam, please return the jar after you eat the jam.  If you give someone a jar of jam, it is ok to say, “please return the jar after you enjoy it.”  Jars are reuseable, after all!  Return the jar, get a refill!  🙂

Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

out of balance

I have been in document review overload at work these last several days, dictating summaries and deciding which documents to hand over to plaintiffs’ attorneys’ grubby hands.  (I am a defense attorney and proud of it!)  And so, although I have made time for making jam — my new obsession!! — I have not yet had the time to craft the kind of post that I want to dedicate to that effort.  But it will come . . . after I make my way through these 20,000 pages of documents.

Recently, at a deposition, I was chatting with the opposing attorney about weekend plans.  I said I had plans to make strawberry jam.  He remarked that such activity seemed “incongruous with being an attorney.”  Those were his exact words, and I was delighted to respond: “I know it is, and that’s why I do it.”  Making jam is old-fashioned, slow and wholesome — the opposite of litigation.  🙂

My pursuit of balance continues, although my actual state of balance may not.

cedar-planked, dry-rubbed pork ribs with baked Walla Walla onion rings

It’s official: hubby and I are hooked on grilling with cedar planks.  Salmon is the classic application for cedar-plank grilling, but we discovered that grilling pork ribs “low and slow” over cedar planks yields pretty tasty results.

We teamed up with my beer-loving brother for this meal, so be sure to check out his post, aptly titled “ribs and beer,” to read about the well-traveled, Belgium IPA that we enjoyed with these ribs.

cedar-planked, dry-rubbed pork ribs

serves 3 (4-5 ribs each)

Ingredients:

1 rack of pork back ribs (about 2 pounds)

1 or 2 untreated cedar planks (depending on size, you may need to cut the rack of ribs to fit the planks, as we did)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ancho chile powder

2 teaspoons dried garlic granules

2 teaspoons dried thyme

3 teaspoons ground cumin

Method:

Soak the cedar planks in water overnight.

Prepare the dry rub:  Combine all the dry ingredients, brown sugar through cumin, in a small bowl.

Prepare the ribs:  Rinse the ribs with water and pat dry with paper towels.  Rub the spice mixture onto the fleshy parts of the ribs, using as little or as much dry rub as you like.  Keep any unused rub in a sealed container for future use.

Grill the ribs!  Grill the planked ribs over low heat with the lid closed until the pork is cooked through but tender, a little more than an hour.  (The planks may smoke a bit and they will become very aromatic.)  Remove the planks from the grill and allow the ribs to rest 5 minutes before cutting apart the ribs.  The ribs will be tasty as is, but you can serve them with BBQ sauce (I give you permission, haha).

**You can re-use the planks two or three times more.  Wash the planks with water only to remove any food bits (do not use soap because that will penetrate the wood and taste yucky, I imagine!).  Wrap the planks with plastic wrap and store them in the freezer.  Discard the boards when they’re too charred, warped and/or are no longer fragrant after being soaked in water.

It seems that sweet Walla Walla onions are in the store for only a couple of weeks each summer and then they’re gone.  If you see them at the store, take a break from yellow onions and snatch some up!

Making onion rings is a great way to showcase this onion’s sweet flavor, which is intensified by baking the onion rings in the oven.  This recipe involves the same breading station method that I used to make crunchy tofu sticks, and I credit food blogger Valerie Passonno, who recently raised my awareness of National Onion Ring Day, with the inspiration for this recipe.

baked Walla Walla onion rings

3 -4 servings

Ingredients:

1 large Walla Walla onion

1 pint (2 cups) buttermilk

2 eggs

all-purpose flour

panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

canola cooking spray

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare a breading station including four components: (1) buttermilk; (2) flour mixed with a pinch each of salt and pepper; (3) two eggs scrambled with a splash of water and pepper and (4) panko breadcrumbs.  Set up the station with bowls lined up left to right in the order listed above.

To prepare the rings, first slice off the top and root of the onion, so that the top and bottom are flat.  Then, cut the onion into 1-inch slices (you should get only 4 or 5 slices) and use your fingers to carefully press out the onion’s layers.  You should end up with a mound of rings!

Soak the onion rings in the buttermilk.  After about 5 minutes of soaking, start processing the onion rings through the breading station.  To bread the onion rings, use tongs to press both sides of each ring in the flour, then the egg (shake off excess) and then the breadcrumbs.

Line two baking sheets with parchment and place them to the right of the breadcrumbs so that they’re handy for depositing the onion rings as you bread them.  Arrange the breaded onion rings on the baking sheets (try putting very small ones inside very large ones to maximize space) and spray the tops with cooking spray.  Bake the onion rings for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serve the onion rings with ketchup.  Yum!

beautiful jams

I attended a jam-making workshop this past Saturday and we made these beautiful, delicious apricot and strawberry jams.  I highly recommend the hands-on food preservation workshops put on by Happy Girl Kitchen Co.  I’ll use my new canning skills to “put up” canned peaches and strawberry jam this coming weekend.  I can’t wait!