Sour Fermented Pickles (in half gallon jar)

I have made quick pickles before, in my mind that means they use vinegar.  Since last summer I've wanted to try fermented pickles- i.e. the old school type that used to be the only kind of pickle!

I guess in the old times people didn't use vinegar to pickle stuff, they relied on the fermentation process. Long scared by fermentation, I've been feeling more brave lately now that we successfully brew kombucha tea. So what's another crazy jar of fermenting stuff? And fermented pickles are supposed to be good for you with probiotics.

I scaled down this recipe by half and used a grape leaf instead of horseradish (another canning/pickling book mentioned grape leaves).  I didn't have any fresh dill (darn!) so I used some dry dill. However it floated up to the top so next time I want to use fresh dill that I can wedge into the bottom of the jar better.

Layer into a clean half gallon glass jar:
half gallon of pickling cukes, washed thoroughly and both ends chopped off
2 TB pickling spice
1 TB dried dill (or substitute 1-2 fresh dill seed heads)
3 cloves garlic (peeled)
optional: 2 grape or horseradish leaves (I've read this is supposed to keep them crunchy?)

Pour filtered cool water into a quart jar. Add 2.5 to 3 TB sea salt, lid and shake to dissolve.

Pour this brine water over the cucumbers in the large jar.  Make sure the pickles are wedged into the jar so they are under the level of the brine.

Cover with a paper towel and rubber band. Label the jar with today's date. Place in cool location.

Scoop the scum off every other day- mine got loaded up wtih the dried dill. I suppose that's why fresh dill fronds are better.

At 5 days, check a pickle. The brine in my jar looked a little disconcertingly opaque, greenish algea cast. But never fear, I think that's ok!

Pull one pickle out and cut it open.  If there are still white spots (see photo) that means it needs more time. I think you want the whole pickle to look like the less opaque green spots:

At the 8 day mark, my pickles were done. The top of the jar looked a little scary (see photo at right)- I can't tell if this was mold or the intended bacterial strains? In any case, I scooped it up with a spoon and threw it out.

Then I topped off the jar with some more filtered water, put a lid on it and put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

Bottom line: resulted in  really nicely flavored pickles with a good crunchy texture- not at all soggy like vinegared/cooked pickles.

Caramel Cinnamon Raisin Swirl in Banana Custard Pudding

I had milk and bananas about to go bad, so I thought why not combine all of my hubby's favorite things? Raisin, cinnamon, birds eye custard (pudding), and caramel. I started from my go to custard/pudding recipe then ad-libbed from there.

Mix 1/4 C raisins with 1 TB vanilla extract, 1 TB hot water and 1 TB cinnamon. Stir and set aside.

Caramelize in a wide heavy pan until bubbling:
2 TB butter 
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 C packed brown sugar

Pour out 2/3 of hte mixture into a heat safe container and reserve for later.

Add 2 cut up ripe bananas to the pan with the remaining caramel and heat and stir until you can smell the banana.

Blend the carmelized banana mixture with 2 C whole milk.

Return the banana-milk to the saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer.

Meanwhile, beat 3 eggs with 3 TB cornstarch. (I use an electric mixer b/c you don't want clumps of eggs- they might set up when mixed with the hot milk)

Once the milk is slowly simmering, temper the egg mixture and slowly incorporate eggs into the milk while whisking/stirring to prevent clumping. Continue cooking over medium heat until the custard sets up and gets thick.

Carefully stir in the reserved caramel and the raisin mixture. You want to stir just enough to get swirls in the custard.

Pour or spoon into small canning jars or ramekins. Serve hot, or refridgerate and serve cold.


Vegan Basil Pesto

For any good  that you buy, it's a good idea to know of at least one way to use up a bunch of it.  A lot of recipes only need a little of an ingredient (buttermilk, cheese, basil) and you're left with the rest sitting in the fridge. Unless you're going to make several repeats in the same week of that one recipe, you'd be well served to use up the rest in a bulk-type recipe.  For me this week, that's basil!

I was inspired by this "frugal" recipe using sunflower seeds, which reminded me of the vegan taco "nut meat" topping that is so delicious over kale salad. I was also inspired by this skinny recipe, where the nuts are omitted and oil is reduced. Wanting something cheap and vegan, I mixed it up into this version with sunflower seeds and no cheese.  I bet you could try this with other savory herbs like parsley, maybe cilantro, thai basil...

Eat the pesto as is or store in the fridge or in the freezer.  We like pesto on open face broiled cheese sandwiches, veggies or zucchini noodles.

When done up in tiny glass jars it would make a beautiful (although not shelf stable) gift/hostess gift during the summer entertaining/picnic season.

Pulse in food processor until the seeds are finely ground:
1/4 C sunflower seeds1 clove garlic
1/2 to 1 tsp lemon juice (to taste)
pinch sea salt
pinch black pepper

Now add and pulse to chop (but not totally obliterate):
1 C basil leaves
1 TB good olive oil (I'm currently in love with the Costco Toscano 2012 oil)

Scoop into container and cover with a thin layer of good olive oil.

I like to use small glass canning jars for freezing large quantities or to keep in the fridge for serving/cooking.  This time I spooned the pesto into ice cube trays to freeze. Then when frozen, pop them out and store in a ziplock bag in the freezer-- when you need a little bit of pesto you can grab just one ice cube!


Birds eye custard in mason jars

I made up more bird's eye custard using my standard recipe.  (Americans, myself included, would call this vanilla pudding but I like to use the British name for it that my husband grew up with). 

It's actually pretty quick to make and tastes so much better than any pudding cup from the store.  You just have to remember that once it gets warmed up you have to pay attention and stir, stir, stir!! But aside from a few minutes of focused attention, it is pretty fast start to finish.  And when you pack it into small mason jars with lids, it's a perfect packable dessert.

Cast Iron Chicken Peanut Stir Fry with Broccoli Raab & Green Onion

Tried a recipe out of a cookbook but it was way too spicy- it used Schezwan peppercorns  (not sure how to spell that!) and tons of ginger and too much soy sauce.  But I liked the way the cornstarch and thinly cut chicken cooked in the cast iron pan- perfect chicken texture. Next time this is what I'd do.

Pound 2 chicken breasts until flattened to even thickness, then cut into 1/4 inch strips. Marinate in mixture of 1 TB cornstarch and 2 TB soy sauce. Set aside.

Toast 1/3 C raw peanuts in hot cast iron pan, then turn out onto a bowl or cutting board. Chop or leave in pieces as desired.

Cut broccoli raab into 1.5 inch pieces, discarding tough woody stem ends (optional: use green beans instead of broccoli rab)
Cut 4 green onions into 1 inch slices on the diagonal.
Remove skin from 3 cloves garlic, finely dice.
Peel and grate 1 tsp ginger root.
Cut 2-3 dried red chilies into a couple pieces (not too small so you can't pick them out of hte finished dish). 
In hot cast iron pan, add 1 TB peanut oil. Add the dried chilies and 1/4 tsp black pepper.

Now add the broccoli/green beans and stir to coat. Once they turn bright green (but not necessarily done cooking), add the marinated chicken pieces, garlic and ginger. Let the chicken cook on each side before turning. Lower the heat if necessary.

Once chicken is done then add the green onion, optional chiffanode-cut basil or thai basil, 1 TB water and optional 1/2 tsp honey or agave.  Stir and cook until the liquid thickens.

Serve hot on top of cooked brown rice.


Turkish Bulgur Pilaf

I was surprised how good this was! The combination of chicken stock (savory) and cinnamon (usually sweet) is especially nice.

Saute 1 diced onion and 2 cloves garlic in 1 TB olive oil and sprinkle of salt until softened and maybe slightly browned.

Add 1 stick cinnamon and toast in the oil for a minute.

Now add 1 cup bulgur wheat and 2 cups chicken stock, stir and bring to a boil with lid on.  Peridocally stir-- cook until bulgur has soaked up all the liquid and is soft- apporx 15 minutes.

Season to taste with additional salt if needed.


Bouchon Bakery Blueberry Streusel Muffins

This was the best blueberry muffin I've ever had.  I'm so glad I tried this one out from the Bouchon cookbook.  Of course I had to reduce the sugar (and they still tasted sweet to us!!), and I used coconut oil when I ran out of butter, and I don't keep milk in the house... you know how it is.

The batter rests in the fridge for overnight or up to 36 hours (the book says it  improves moisture of finished muffins, and gives a better crumb texture-- and judging by the results I'd say they were right!!).  Theoretically if you have 1 hour to spare in the morning you could get these ready for brunch/breakfast snack?

The streusel topping reminds me of Mexican breads and Japanese melon-pan where a cookie mixture is layered over the top of the bread, and scored into a pattern.  Here the cookie mixture is crumbled over the top, giving two textures and colors.  I had leftover streusel so I used that as crumb crust on a berry pie.

The real danger is eating just one a day.  My strategy: put the rest in a freezer bag in the freezer, then put the muffin you intend to eat on a pretty plate, sit down with some tea and enjoy. (and then the rest of the pan isn't sitting there calling to you once you've finished your muffin!)

Whisk together dry ingredients:
86 g whole wheat white flour
109 g cake flour
1/2 + 1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 + 1/8 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp fine salt

Beat together wet ingredients in another bowl:
96 g softened unsalted butter and/or coconut oil
1/4 C sugar
40 g blackstrap molasses
54 g honey
2 small eggs (the recipe says 72 grams eggs)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 C rice milk (or you could use real milk or buttermilk)

Mix together the wet and dry. Cover and keep in the fridge for overnight or 36 hours.

Make streusel topping- food process until almonds are finely ground:
90-120 g flour
120 g almonds
1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt

One the almonds are finely ground, mix in and combine until it is clumpy: 
100-120 g cold butter

Store the streusel topping in the fridge. 

On baking day, preheat oven to 425 F. Spray muffin tins with olive oil. Bring batter out and let rest at room temp 5 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup blueberries into batter.  Spoon batter into muffin tins. Top with 3 TB cold streusel mixture, crumbled between your fingers.

Lower oven temp to 325 F, bake muffins for 36-40 minutes.


Strawberry salad on the patio

I love sitting out on the patio in the summer shade.  This is one of my favorite salads- strawberry spinach salad.

Berries are in season now, feel free to swap in raspberries or blackberries instead.  Use hazelnuts instead of hemp seeds.  Use tender greens or spinach.  I've even used chunks of watermelon instead of the berries!


Panko Chicken Nuggets (oven baked)

Somehow I was craving chicken tenders/chicken nuggets. I saw some recipes and blog posts that inspired me and I merged them a bit into this. Pretty simple and tasty. You could use leftovers in sandwiches, or I wonder how they'd fare frozen? Perhaps these could be baked and then frozen for microwave reheating later... too bad there weren't any left to try it out!

Pound 2 lbs boneless, skinless  chicken breasts until relatively evenly thick with a meat mallet.

Cut chicken into strips.

Toss with:
1 TB kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
0.5 tsp garlic powder
optional 1 tsp sugar

Let sit for 5 minutes while you prep the rest. If you were trying to prep these for a busy weeknight meal, I'd imagine you could do this the night before and leave the chicken in the spices in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Beat one egg until liquid/homogenous in a mug or bowl.

Put out 1 cup of panko (or bread crumbs) in a shallow bowl.

Dredge each piece of chicken in egg, then in panko/bread crumbs. Place on a baking sheet.

Optional: spray with olive oil

Bake for 8-10 minutes on the first side. Then flip over and cook for 5 more minutes or until done.

Serve with spicy mayo (i.e. home made mayo + chipotle pepper), or honey dijon or bbq sauce.


Fennel Apple Salad

Spotted some fresh fennel at the farmers market and decided it was time I learned how to cook with it. I've had roasted fennel at the work cafeteria before and it is delicious. But I hate putting the oven on for that long at high temps just for a small bit for the 2 of us. So salad it was!

Many blogs are doing the fennel apple combo, and rightly so. Somehow the apple brings out the best in the fennel. This was very refreshing-- would be great for a picnic, potluck or summery meal or side.

 Cut off the root stem of the fennel and the stalks with the fronds on it. I used a veggie peeler to take off the rough/discolored bits on the outside of the bulb- not sure how necessary that was. 

Use a mandolin slicer to thinly shave the fennel bulb. Thin is the operative word here- it helps make the fennel and apple mix well.

Also thinly slice the apple on the mandolin as well. I quartered the apple slices. Red peeled apple looked really nice but you could use green.

Make a vinaigrette of olive oil (or other delicate nut oil), lemon juice (or white wine vinegar) and a touch of salt.  Toss that with the apple, fennel shavings along with some of the chopped fennel fronds.

Pineapple Coconut Lime Smoothie

This is awesome. And simple.  It's like a fancy tropical drink but without the alcohol. A great way to end the work day!


Blend up 1/2 pineapple, 1/8 C shredded unsweetened coconut (or fresh if you have it) and lime juice form 1/2 to 1 lime. Add some water (or coconut water) if you need it to get the blender going.

Optionally, I like to add fresh mint leaves to the blender at the end and blitz just a little to combine and have little bits of mint here and there.


Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip (or toasted walnut) Muffins

Found this in a vegan cookbook and I like how simple the ingredients are- especially that it doesn't require milk/yogurt/buttermilk since I rarely have those in the fridge. Sorry folks- obviously this is not my best photography- I think it was a last ditch attempt to get a photo before diving in to enjoy the goods!

Stir together dry ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat flour (or mixture of 1 C whole wheat flour and 1 C of other flour- cornmeal, cornflour, rice flour, hazelnut meal, etc.)
1.5 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp kosher salt

Beat together wet:
1/4 - 1/3 C coconut oil (or substitute other oil)
<=1/2 cup sugar (the original recipe had 1 cup sugar; but I thought with 1/2 a cup it was still pretty sweet like cake. Next time I'll try 1/4 C sugar)
3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed
vanilla extract
1/4 C water

Mix together dry and wet, don't overmix. Now add 1/4 cup or up to 1 full cup chocolate chips (or mini chocolate chips or chunks of chocolate) OR, optionally use chopped toasted walnuts.

Pour into lightly greased muffin tins and bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until done in the middle.

Freezes well- just pop out of the muffin pan when cooled and pack in ziplock bags.

Estimated Nutrition: If you pour into 14 muffin cups, then each muffin (1/14 of recipe) is approx 150 calories, 3 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat).

Veggie Omlette Sandwich

This is a great vegetarian sandwich for your next picnic.  I like how you can use the stuff in your fridge (or freezer in the case of our bread!) to make a sandwich, instead of feeling like you have to buy deli meat or pick up a sub sandwich. And since you have protein and fats from egg, avocado and goat these, this feels like a "real mans" sandwich.

Since it has egg, I'd try to keep it in the cooler as long as possible (i.e. probably not your top pick for smooshing into a backpack for a multi hour hike).

Makes 2 large sandwiches

Cook the eggs: heat a cast iron pan, then swirl in some olive oil to coat.  Beat 4 eggs with salt, pepper and some dried or fresh herbs (I used Penzey's Parisien spice). Pour into the hot pan. Once it sets a little, then drag an edge away from the pan and redistribute the liquid eggs to the hot surface. Reduce heat to low or medium low, cover and cook gently until the top is set (you might need to flip it over). Put onto a plate and cut into sandwich sized pieces.

Toast 4 slices of sandwich bread, multigrain bread or your favorite hoagie.

Assemble the sandwich with:
spinach or lettuce
thinly sliced cucumber
thinly sliced tomato
basil leaves
Goat cheese clumps
Avocado slices

I like to wrap my sandwiches with wax paper and secure with a rubber band or two.

Raw Vegan Coconut Cherry Tarts

Harvested some cherries for FREE (organic food for free- yes please!) from my folks' yard.  Decided to make some raw vegan tarts with them.  This the rough idea but tons of variations are possible.


Food process until fine crumbs:
1/2 Cup walnuts
1/2 Cup pecans
1/2 C shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 C delget noor dates

Then add 1 TB water and process into a dough.

Lay plastic wrap over a mini tart mold. Press 1 heaping tablespoon of dough into the mold, cover with plastic wrap and use your fingers to press the dough into the mold and up the sides firmly.

Uncover the plastic wrap, and invert the pie shells onto dehydrator tray (i.e. they are upside down, with the cavity on the bottom and the bottom of the shell on top-- it's more stable that way). Repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Dehydrate at 125 F for 2-4 hours or until dry.

Fill tart shells with pureed and chopped fruits, like pitted cherries.  I pitted a bunch of cherries, blended some of them and left the others whole. Then filled the tart shells with a little of both the blended and whole cherries.

Oven Roasted Salt 'n Pepper Asparagus with Mayo

I've been roasting asparagus for a while now. It is very simple and quick, so makes a good side for whatever else you are cooking.  And it is deceptively tasty- I can apparently eat a bunch of asparagus on my own this way (so if you are making this for a party, grab a few bunches!)

Snap asparagus stalks to remove the woody ends. Lay on baking sheet. Spray with olive oil, then sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Roast under broiler (450-500 F?) for 5-12 minutes until just starting to blacken in spots.

Serve hot with home made mayonnaise to dip the stalks in.

Whole Wheat Broccoli Cheddar Quiche

This makes good party/guest food as you can do the prep ahead of time then pull out of the oven when they arrive. I've also seen folks bake quiche ahead of time, refrigerate during the day and rewarm when guests arrive. I like to serve quiche with salad as it helps balance out the fat in the quiche (from the dairy, eggs, cheese and butter in the crust!!)

Prepare the crust ahead of time. I like a whole wheat crust.

Combine in food processor: 
1.25 C whole wheat flour
2 TB flaxmeal
1/4 tea salt
Now work in 8 TB butter in the food processor.

Finally pour in 3 TB ice water and blitz to combine. Bring into a ball on a cutting board and make into a flattened ball shape.

Chill dough for a few hours or more in a flat disc wrapped with wax paper or plastic wrap (you could make extra and freeze the dough if you wanted to).

Then roll out and shape into a deep pie pan or other circular pan.  Freeze for 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 F.

Place foil over the dough, pour in pie weights (I have old bulk beans I use for this purpose).  Bake for 20 minutes at 375.  REmove pie weights and foil, bake for 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk:
4 eggs
1.5 C whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Place filling items into the parbaked pie shell:
1 cup chopped steamed broccoli
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used Kerrygold cheddar which tastes like cheddar, swiss and parmesan at the same time)

Pour the egg mixture over the top.

Bake for 40 minutes at 375 F or until set.