Notes on a Recipe, Molly’s Spicy Pickled Carrots

Prepped

The following originally appeared on 5/11/09 at Exit 51.

Notes on a Recipe – Molly’s Spicy Pickled Carrots

That Molly, she doesn’t mess around.  Those pickled carrots, they knocked my socks off.  First, because they were good.  Second, because they were HOT.  SFC thought they were just right but they were too spicy for me.  So depending on your tolerance, you might want to turn down the heat by reducing the red pepper flakes and maybe not cracking the black pepper corns.

Also, Molly’s basic brine is beautifully versatile.  After the carrots were safely tucked away in the fridge to do their thing, I cooked up a second batch for some asparagus.  Instead of red pepper flakes and thyme, I used fresh dill.  A quick taste hints at a slightly sweeter flavor with a more traditional tang.  Next time, I will wait and add the dill after the brine is off the heat to prevent some slight dill discoloration.  And instead of putting in whole bunches of dill, I will give it a rough chop.  Because having a big dill frond cling to your pickled asparagus is not good eating.

In case you missed the recipe, here it is.  I encourage you to mix things up and use vegetables and herbs and spices that you like.  Because, as I said to our guests as we devoured a plate full of pickled carrots and asparagus, this is ridiculously easy.

Molly’s Spicy Pickled Carrots

From A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, plus more for topping jars
  • 2 cups water, plus more for topping jars
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 6 (5 to 6 inch) sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 pounds small (finger sized) carrots, or standard sized carrots cut into sticks about 1/2 inch wide and 3 inches long

Combine 1 1/2 cups vinegar, water, sugar, thyme, garlic, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt, and mustard seeds in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove pan from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add remaining 1/2 cup vinegar.

Put carrots in large heatproof bowl, pour warm brine over them. Cool to room temperature.

While the carrots cool, wash two quart sized canning jars and their lids in warm soapy water.

When carrots and brine are cooled, divide carrots evenly between jars, arranging them snugly.  Using your fingers and wide mouth canning jars makes this easier.  Divide the brine evenly between the jars.  The carrots should be completely covered by the brine.  If not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.

Seal firmly and refrigerate three days to a week.  The carrots take time to absorb the brine.

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Flashback Friday – Oven Roasted

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 8/27/08 at Exit 51.

Oven Roasted

It would seem illogical to crank up the oven in the middle of summer.  But the application of intense heat can transform simple summer staples into oven roasted nirvana.  Got a bumper crop of tomatoes? Tired of gazapcho?  Break out the sheet pan and turn the oven on.  In one afternoon, you can work some magic of your own.  The oven does all the hard work, leaving you free to spend a few hours doing something you REALLY enjoy, not standing in front of a hot box.  And really, isn’t that delicious?

Roasting

Oven Roasted Tomato Soup

Adapted from The South Beach Diet

  • 2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, halved
  • 1 onion, thickly sliced
  • 2 roasted red peppers (jarred is ok)
  • 1 can vegetable broth
  • sweet paprika (or smoked, if that’s your thing)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Place onions and tomatoes (cut side up) on baking sheet.  Be sure not to crowd them on.  You want them to roast not steam.  Use a second pan if needed.  Drizzle cut tomatoes and onion with olive oil and season with kosher salt.

Roast until the tomatoes sink into themselves.  Start checking after 40 minutes. If they start to sink but also start to scorch, turn the heat off and let them sit in the oven with the door closed for about an hour.  Remove from oven and place in food processor.  Add one half cup vegetable broth and process until smooth.  Transfer mixture to medium sauce pan set over medium heat.  Meanwhile, place two roasted red peppers (discard liquid if using jarred peppers) in food processor and pulse till smooth.  Add red peppers to saucepan and stir to combine.  Add additional vegetable broth to reach a consistency you like.  Season to taste with paprika and balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy for lunch, dinner, or a quick snack.

Eat Fresh

Fresh Picked

The following originally appeared on 5/13/09 at Exit 51.

Eat Fresh

Advertising executives may want you to believe that eating fresh means patronizing a certain fast food chain.  To me, it’s something entirely different.  My definition of eating fresh is cutting down, as much as possible, the  journey fruits and vegetables take from the grower to my plate.  Since I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will never be the house in the neighborhood that has a killer vegetable garden, I am eager to find an alternative.  See those beautiful spears of asparagus?  That was my first attempt.

I should preface all this by saying that there was a distinct lack of fresh vegetables in my house as a child.  We ate vegetables, but they came out of either a can or a bag and were destined to be boiled down into unappetizing mush on the stove.  Tomatoes were the exception.  There was always a  plate of  fresh (from the grocery store) tomatoes in the house.  My grandmother would work wonders with even the toughest, driest  tomatoes turning them into blt’s or frying them up in her cast iron skillet until the crust was perfectly browned and crisp.  Those were some of the best summer breakfasts.

So I grew up thinking that asparagus was mushy and tinny and came with an overabundance of sodium.  It has only been as an adult that I’ve discovered the true nature of the spears.  And thanks to the folks at the farm stand, I now know what asparagus aspires to be.  Having just been picked the day before I bought them, these spears still had life.  They were firm and strong, breaking with a clear snap.  The tips, usually the first place to show signs of  having been sitting around for a while, were tight and unbruised.  And the color?  It just screamed fresh.

Best of all was the taste.  The folks at the farm stand, who did the growing, assured me that I would taste a difference.  The only word I can come up with to describe what they tasted like is ‘green’.  It was like I was tasting Spring.  Bright and clean.

Now that’s eating fresh.

Pan Roasted Asparagus

This is our favorite way to fix asparagus (and string beans).  If you don’t have an indoor grill pan, use a large nonstick skillet.  This would also work well on a grill.  Just be sure to lay the spears perpendicular to the grill grates, skewer them together to make an asparagus raft, or use a grill basket.

  • Fresh asparagus, rinsed and stems trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Lemon zest

Lightly oil a nonstick grill pan, using either a silicon basting brush or paper towel to get a thin coat of oil.  Preheat pan over medium high flame.  Add asparagus and a big pinch of kosher salt.  Turn asparagus with tongs as they cook.  The color will turn bright green and the spears will begin to soften.  Dress with freshly grated lemon zest.

Why We Cook, Part 2

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote my Why We Cook post.  And it seems as though this journey is about to come full circle.  It’s essentially been a year of borrowed time that looks to be coming to an end. But I once again have an opportunity to be present in person and let the Universe guide me to where I need to be, when I need to be there.

The notion of preparing what could be my father’s last birthday dinner is heartbreaking.  But it’s also a gift, an opportunity to celebrate him while he’s here to witness it.  I fear that I may not find any words and hope that the act of simply being there and giving of myself in the one way that I truly know how will be enough.

I am getting on a plane today but I can’t say how long the final steps on this journey will take.  Or how long it will be before I find my way back into the kitchen once it is over.  To steal a line from my post last year…There are still new posts scheduled to go live here at BAH for a while, as well as all of the Exit 51 archives on Flashback Friday.  And I hope to be back soon to cooking and writing and commenting and following along with your adventures.  Until then, Bon Appetit Hon.

If It Ain’t Broke

The following originally appeared on 5/18/09 at Exit 51.

If It Ain’t Broke

I’m particular about all sorts of things.  From the way the dishwasher is loaded to which tshirts get folded and which get hung.  Basically, I like things the way I like them.  SFC can attest to that.   And when I’m forced to make a change, I get all out of sorts.  We’ve been in our house for three years and I’m just finally starting to get beyond the fact that my jeans have to be hung instead of being neatly folded and stacked.  That’s the downside of living in a small house that lacks closet space.

I guess you could say I subscribe to the notion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  New Coke?  I didn’t believe for one minute that it was just as good as Old Coke.  You’d think that the Coke folks would have learned from that fiasco, and yet now they have Coke Zero. Really, what the heck were you thinking?  If you have to spend millions of dollars in advertising to get me to believe that Coke Zero tastes the same as regular Coke, then clearly your product isn’t what you claim it is.  Move on and take that black labeled abomination with you.  I’ll stick to my happy red can, thank you very much.

But what about when I love a product and it suddenly disappears?  No warning, just gone.  I’m talking to you Starbucks.  First, you got me hooked on your After Coffee Mints.

sbmints1

More powerful than a “curiously strong” Altoid, smaller than a Tic-Tac, it was the perfect mint.  Ok sure, you redesigned the container along the way and that didn’t sit too well at first.  But I stuck with you.  And I even learned to appreciate the beauty of the redesign.  No longer would the bottom of my purse be filled with wayward linty mints because the tin opened wide and said “ahhhh”.  And it was even easier to get my mint fix while driving because the new tin let me shake them out one or two at a time.  No more fumbling around trying to get my fingers in the case and not knock mints in my lap or under the seat.  Yes, I came to see the beauty of the redesign.

Then you took it away. And what did you give me instead?  You gave me this.

sbmintscan1

And you really expect me to believe that these horse pills you call Classic Mints are comparable to my petite After Coffee Mints?  As if.  First of all, these things are ginormous.  After being conditioned to your ACM, this is like shoving a hockey puck in my mouth.  Second, they taste nothing alike.  The ACM packed a wallop of pure peppermint flavor.  The CM?  I might as well be sucking on a Starlight Mint.  Guess which one lists peppermint oil and menthol as ingredients and which one  just says natural and artificial flavors?  And by your own Nutrition Facts, 1 of the ACM counts as a serving (with 100 servings to a container) while it takes 3 of the CM (at only 10 servings per container).  So you’ve locked me into paying more and getting less.  Oh you’re clever all right.

But don’t go thinking that I will blindly follow you down this path.  You can keep your Classic Mints with its obscenely large tin that spills mints everywhere once you slide the top back.  As a point of information, this is not at all user friendly.

See, I’ve still got a few of those lovely After Coffee Mint tins.  And I think they are the perfect size to hold your competitor’s mini-Altoids.  At least those folks know that when something works, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Flashback Friday – Mary Had A Little Lamb

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 8/26/08 at Exit 51.

Mary Had A Little Lamb

Lamb is one of those ingredients that I have no luck with.  I don’t know if it’s the taste or the texture or that I’m just not preparing it right but I have yet to fix lamb at home and rave about it.  Not that I’m a quitter or anything but I don’t think lamb is my thing.  I’ve tried twice. Twice I’ve been disappointed. Continue reading “Flashback Friday – Mary Had A Little Lamb”

Semi Homemade

semi-homemade-collage

The following originally appeared on 5/20/09 at Exit 51.

Semi Homemade

I don’t understand people’s obsession with homemade tomato sauce.  Never have.  When I make sauce from scratch, I end up feeling that my time has been wasted and I should have just opened a jar instead.  Especially meat sauce.  For years, and I do mean many years, I convinced myself that I could not make meat sauce.  Because even when I started with jarred sauce and added ground beef, the results were dismal. Instead of being velvety and rich, I would end up with a greasy, thick sauce that had big chunks of tough ground beef.  It was more Sloppy Joe than spaghetti sauce.  Definitely not what I was going for.  And then Cook’s Illustrated showed me the error of my ways.

As it turns out, I was missing a crucial step in the process.  Namely, the food processor.  Not to get too technical, but the reason the ground beef was always tough and dry was that the cooking process squeezed every bit of goodness out of even the chuckiest ground chuck.  The solution was to insulate the ground beef with a mixture of bread and milk, called a panade.  Crazy right?  Here, I’ll let them explain it:

“What is a panade and what do you use it for? A panade is a paste of milk and bread that is typically used to help foods like meatballs and meatloaf hold their shape and moisture. Starches from the bread absorb liquid from the milk to form a gel that coats and lubricates the protein molecules in the meat, much in the same way as fat, keeping them moist and preventing them from linking together to form a tough matrix. Mixing the beef and panade in a food processor helps to ensure that the starch is well dispersed so that all the meat reaps its benefits.”

Sure enough, the addition of milk and bread to the ground beef worked like magic.   I began making the most fantastic meat sauce, even with really lean (93%) ground beef.  Incroyable!!

Yes, this method does require you to get the food processor dirty.  But I promise you, it will be worth it.  And once you master the technique, don’t be surprised if you find yourself making double batches so that you have sauce waiting at your beck and call in the freezer.

Like I said, I don’t understand all the to do over homemade sauce.  Being utterly shameless, I am perfectly happy to take a jarred sauce that I like and tinker with it.  If Sandra Lee can build an entire career out of the Semi Homemade approach, I can certainly use the philosophy so that my whole wheat ziti is not sitting naked on the plate.

Semi Homemade Meat Sauce

Science courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated

  • 2 jars spaghetti sauce
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (85% to 93% should work well)
  • 1 slice white bread, torn into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 shallot (optional)

Put shallot, bread, and milk into food processor and pulse until paste forms.  The milk and bread will combine completely and stick to the sides of the food processor work bowl.  If your panade is on the dry side, add more milk a teaspoon at a time until the paste forms.

Add the ground beef and pulse until the mixture is well combined.  It will look mushy and pasty, that’s ok.

Heat a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat and add groundbeef.  Cook, breaking meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula, until beef loses its raw color, anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes (or slightly more) just make sure that meat does not brown.

Stir in the spaghetti sauce, cover, and gently simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, for flavors to combine.  Add salt, pepper, and any other herbs to taste.  If you have some balsamic vinegar or red wine, consider adding a bit to the sauce as it simmers.

Serve with your favorite pasta and freeze the leftover sauce, that is if you can keep yourself from sopping it all up with chunks of hearty bread.