Archive | June, 2011

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

28 Jun

As a side note during the epic canapalooza weekend I made sugar snap peas (mentioned here).

They take 2 weeks to pickle so they were just ready this weekend.

Like I said, they were a side note, so I popped open a jar not really expecting much. Boy was I wrong.  Unfreakingbelievablydelicious. I think the name should be changed to unfreakingbelievablydelicious pickled snap peas.  These were a huge hit. HUGE. My ever faithful testers Desiree Van Tassel and Tony Lodico pronounced them wonderful, but the proof is in the eating. We nearly finished one of the big jars.

I served them tossed into a salad with watermelon and feta cheese and a tarragon basil vinaigrette which was phenomenal.  Desiree, who is a watermelon junkie, actually ate the last peas off the salad leaving behind the watermelon.  These were so good I decided they needed their own post.  I strongly strongly strongly urge you to run, don’t walk, to your local farmers market, grab some peas, and make these for yourself.

The best part? These couldn’t be simpler to make. You prep your peas, make your brine, mix it together and wait.  That’s it.   The recipe is from a book called The Joy of Pickling by Linda Zieder (which I have on order!) however I found it on my favorite website Epicurious.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas, stemmed and strung
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 or 2 small dried chile peppers, slit lengthwise
  • 2 tarragon sprigs

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the liquid cool.

Pack the peas, garlic, chile peppers, and tarragon into a 1-quart jar. Pour the cooled liquid over the peas, and cover the jar with a nonreactive cap.

Store the jar in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks before eating the peas. Refrigerated, they will keep for several months.

My big unanswered question is can I process these in a hot water bath so they are sealed and can be stored out of the refrigerator for several months. Any canning experts out there that want to weigh in?



27 Jun

I bought a dehydrator two years ago and have barely used it. I’ve been meaning to make Jerky for. eva. but just never got around to it.  Aside from a visit to the Johnstown Flood Museum (*nerd alert*) making jerky had the honor of being the oldest resident of my bucket list. No longer. This weekend we finally jerked some meat.

Starting this project required research! I had a number of questions including: What cut of cow should I use? What are my marinade options? How long do I marinate it? How long to I dehydrate it? Should I use the smoker instead? Could I use the smoker instead? And so on. So I consulted the googles and a few cook books and found out there are as many ways to make jerky as there are jerks.

I came up with some basic recipes for dehydrator beef jerky, smoker beef jerky and salmon jerky (and a few more from a cookbook) and quickly wandered off down my own path.

First, let’s talk meat.

So there are a ton of different recommendations, and being a recovering vegetarian I really didn’t have an opinion. I asked Rob and he suggested top round or maybe flank steak.  With his two suggestions and the 27 I got from the interwebs I arrived at the meat counter completely flummoxed.  I asked the butchers at the Waterfront (is it a Market District?) Giant Eagle. Awesome bunch of folks they came out from behind the counter to help me pick.  We settled on this “beef round sirloin tip.” I asked them to cut it, hoping it would go on the deli slicer, but they did it by hand for me. Which was incredibly nice, but it didn’t get thin enough, I think.  Next time I’ll freeze it and cut it myself–though DO NOT do that if you don’t have a good knife.

Next for the marinade.  Again, found a lot of riffs on the theme, but the basic marinade seems to be:

  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Garlic powder (next time I will probably use real)
  • Onion powder
  • something hot (I went with cayenne, but might do hot sauce next time)

Then you could veer off and go terriyaki with some sweetness, add liquid smoke (which I did) or really whatever you can think of. We visited the Beef Jerky Outlet in Gatlinburg TN last summer which boasts over 200 varieties. Along with the sweet cherry bourbon and the bloody mary varieties, their product list might help inspire you if you need some ideas!

But we started simple this time. Loosely following several recipes I approximated amounts and adjusted to taste my ingredients in a plastic freezer bag and threw in my beef.

Suggested marinate times ranged from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Though I figured somewhere in the middle would work, I experimented and took some out after about an hour to see what the result would be.   Honestly it was fine and my meat, done in several batches, marinated 1 hour, 6 hours and 16 hours showed little difference.  The dehydrating time however is less flexible.

One recipe called for dehydrating for 3 hours. I cannot imagine that works unless you have paper thin meat.  While some small thin pieces were close to done after 4 or 5 hours we ended up drying it over 12 hours at 160 degrees. I checked it regularly, finding that the timing works fine as an approximation rather than exact science. I took it out when it seemed like the texture and consistency I was looking for. I am sure I could have taken the beef out a little earlier, or left it in longer.

Results: Its. All. Gone.  In one day.  Between Riley and Robby they demolished two pounds worth of beef, jerked (obviously it would be lighter, but I can’t guess as to how much lighter)  in 12 hours.  It was good.  Really good. It was a HUGE hit. Easy, not overly time consuming (other than the wait) we will be making this again.  Next time I might ration it, and I need to find discount meat (if there is such a thing).  It went so fast I didn’t get a picture of the finished product.  The view at the left is almost done, but I think that is still several hours out from done.

Ok, so you know me, I tend to go full throttle when I get an idea in my head. So as you see above, I figured since I was making beef jerky, I might as well throw in some salmon too.

Salmon loves Asian flavors and takes terryaki like a dream so I marinated the salmon in soy sauce, garlic, sugar, molasses, powdered ginger and crystallized ginger.  Similar to the beef, some was in the marinade a few hours, some over night and again it didn’t seem to make much difference. I loved the crystallized ginger chunks as they really stood out against the soy sauce and salmon.  A lot of the other flavors get lost against the saltiness. I also froze the salmon to make it easier to cut, so I was able to slice 1/4 inch segments easily.

Results:  The texture of the dried salmon is different. Almost crunchy. Not sure if that is normal because I’ve never had salmon jerky before.  Cut too thin, the salmon also fell apart so we ended up with little pieces. I’d cut it thicker in the future. The taste is wonderful–if you like salmon. The drying process seems to have enhanced that distinct flavor salmon has and testers who were iffy about salmon did NOT like this.  Then there was my daughter who said (in her most exuberant and articulate 11 year old way) “eh…oh…OOOOOHHHHH!”  So if you like salmon, this is great!


You can do it in the oven, but this little beauty sits on the counter rather innocuously using less power and kicking off less heat (though it did heat up the kitchen some).  Obviously you shouldn’t necessarily run out and buy one, but I’m a kitchen gadget fanatic. (Ice cream maker is next!)  Up to this point I’ve used it mostly for herbs but I think that is about to change.

Whiskey Bacon Jam

24 Jun

It started with this:

Intrigued, I followed the link and found a recipe from an Alaskan Blogger* for WHISKEY BACON JAM. Yup.  Could it get any more perfect for me?  There’s booze. There’s bacon. There’s preserving. NIRVANA!  If you read my Summer Berry Cake post you know I’ve found preserving to be a refuge from the ick that is politics right now.  So yesterday I left work, bought the ingredients for this and set out to make me some Whiskey Bacon Jam.

Ok, so right off the bat I have to tell you, I experienced a severe crisis of faith in the making of this. There was a point in the middle where I was convinced “unmitigated disaster” characterized the experiment.  But I held on and powered through and I have to say I’m SO glad I did.  We made a few adjustments, and would make a few more in the future, but I’m so happy with the results I’ll be serving it to company next week.

This is the original ingredient list:

Whiskey Bacon Jam
3 pounds thick bacon
5 walla walla onions
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 1/2 cups coffee
1/2 cup whiskey+an extra splash
dollop of maple syrup
dash of balsamic vinegar
dash of hot sauce**more depending on your tastes
sprinkle of cinnamon
sprinkle of cayenne
couple good dashes of smoked paprika
fresh grated nutmeg–about 1/4 of one?

So basically this is an onion marmelade/chutney/jam with bacon.  Except it is a lot of bacon!

First adjustment was first mistake. For reasons not entirely clear to me I decided to only put in four onions.  Should have gone with all 5. Nice big ones too. Use vidalia or some other sweet onion.  The onions have the pectin, the “juice” and the bulk you need to make crispy bacon into jam. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of them.

Second adjustment, the amount of liquid (gee, maybe it was the missing onion!) seemed low, especially for something that cooks for 2 hours.  I added at least another 1/2 cup of coffee and plenty more Whiskey. In fact, I dumped in most of this bottle.  In most recipes you want to be careful about watering it down with too much liquid. Not so here. Add away.  It could have taken more even, the end product is a tad dry.

So after the onions cooked down and we added the rest of the ingredients, my future jam is bubbling away, looking dry, and scaring me.  At this point I’m certain of disaster.  Enter Chef Rob.  He tastes it and decides it needs…something. You have to understand how he works. He isn’t interested in creating a replicable recipe when we cook at home. He wants food to taste good. So he just starts adding stuff. A little of this, a little of that. Maybe some more from column A…and so on.  So I can tell you what he added, and why, but not how much. Very much like the original blogger, we added dollops and sprinkles and heaping doses. Have fun making this at home…


  • more sugar (brown)
  • molasses
  • vanilla
  • rice wine vinegar (I’m certain that was an intentional choice over more balsamic, but I don’t know why)
  • jalapeno fresh from the garden
  • more balsamic vinegar (my addition at the end)

So I started feeling better as the taste started coming together. After this all simmers for 2 hours you put it all in the food processor and…Viola! Whiskey Bacon Jam!

Ok, so the end product?

A Homer Simpson drool is about the best way to describe this jam. I wanted to eat it by the spoonful out of the jar all night.

Couple of things I’d change. I’d include the full amount of onions and maybe even more.

Second. More whiskey. MORE WHISKEY.  In fact, I’d add some at the end, possibly after its been taken off the heat to keep the full whiskey bite.

Another recipient of the tweet heard round the world, @gregorthecat, also set out to play last night and made Apple Brandy Bacon Chutney,  suggesting that really once you had the concept, you could go quite hog wild with this idea!

Looks a little suspicious, but tastes like heaven!

Now the question comes, what to do with it?

The original poster, hey what’s for dinner mom had a few suggestions, including putting it on grilled cheese, which sounds delicious.   I think it would be great on thin sliced baguette with goat cheese. Also, I’m thinking as a garnish for hot dogs.  Yep, hot dogs. Drooling just thinking about it. (Side note, why hasn’t anyone introduced the slider version of hot dogs yet?)  I’d love to hear about other riffs on this idea (whiskey bacon jam) and brainstorms on what to do with it.

Also threw this together

Whiskey Blueberries

What else would you expect me to do with left over whiskey and berries??

* hey mom what’s for dinner is a really neat blog.  She lives in Alaska and is basically living out my fantasy (except in mine I somehow have enough land IN the City of Pittsburgh to pull it off, because you know I’m NOT LEAVING.)  Her post today is about making bacon!  That is totally on my list! I bought a cheesy preserving book when Borders was closing just because it had a chapter on making bacon and preserved meats. In fact this weekend we are making beef Jerky.  I can’t manage, nor do I really aspire to, the level of rigor and ideological purity most of these folks manage  (from her profile: “I refuse to microwave, I won’t eat food that comes in squeeze pouches and I try to avoid ‘real flavor added’ products. My kids don’t know what pop-tarts are and have never had gummy fruits. “) but I admire it and love the inspiration they provide. Like Smitten Kitchen, you can expect to see hey mom what’s for dinner to show up regularly.

Summer Berry Cake

24 Jun

Don’t want to talk about the news. Just want to say that I’m going to need a chutney/marmalade/pickle fridge and a Jelly/preserves cupboard soon if the news continues its trend, and I continue to preserve my sanity by preserving produce. I made Whiskey Bacon Jam last night, and it is pretty spectacular. But first, because I needed to really scrub my soul clean from the day I baked a cake for my family using seasonal produce…

Soul cleansing began by whipping up a little Summer Berry Cake, an adaptation of the Strawberry Summer Cake at my new favorite blog, Smitten Kitchen.

I made it with strait flour (no buckwheat, not for lack of trying, even the Market District Iggle in the Waterfront didn’t have any) and mixed berries.  A spring-form pan ensures easy serving, but you could use any deep dish pan, just butter it well.

All dressed up and ready to bake

 Apparently I have the same problem with food I make as I do with food I order in the restaurant–getting so excited I forget to photograph it before I eat.  You can see I already began to cut myself a piece of this before I remembered to take a pic!  Unlike at Smitten Kitchen, my cake completely enveloped the berries. It’s less spectacular looking than her cake, but its purely aesthetic, I think.

Out of the oven, out of the pan, ready to eat!

This cake was super easy, and super delicious. What a great go to dessert for company in the summer. Its a little heavier than a fruit crumble or cobbler, but also more elegant. I actually went back to the ingredient list several times to see why it was so delicious. I don’t know. Its a very basic cake, nothing fancy, nothing to suggest how yummy its going to be.  Rich and tender it has a bit of a salty taste (I used salted butter) that I think makes it more complex than a simple sponge.

Served with whipped cream (ok,  as you can see its really “redi-whip” out of a can, but it was a work night) for my daughter, I enjoyed it with no embellishment. Rob ate it with whipped cream AND ice cream and loved it!  You can see the berries oozing out of it.

Berries fall out of the sides as it waits for Riley to eat it.

I predict you will see Smitten Kitchen’s name pop up here a lot. Beautiful photography and clearly passionate about fresh food.  I think I’M in love with Smitten Kitchen!

The Simple Joy of a Garden

23 Jun

Started with a food post. Devolved into I’M SO ANGRY AT THE INSANITY post. Erased it. Still angry. Still trying to calm down by looking at jelly recipes. Going to post about one of my happy places.  My garden.

We started on mother’s day, with a lot of dirt, 200 egg shells (perk of having a chef in the house) and saved up coffee grounds:

Rob is a little, um, obsessive, maybe even compulsive about his hatred for weeds and unsightly extras in the garden (or anywhere). So I relented and we put down weed fabric.  We moved the herb garden (it apparently didn’t belong with the vegetables) and got a very tidy bed ready for some lucky plants.


We dug some holes with a pole digger, went and bought a bunch of plants…


and Viola!  Garden.

Well, 1/2 a garden. The front yard took  a few more weeks.  That was mother’s day. May…whatever.  Fast forward a month…

We aren’t sure why the zucchini on the left is a monster compared to the one on the right, I think it’s some sort of mutant! A delicious mutant.

Heirloom tomato nestled in the leaves

This year we planted several varieties of tomato, including plum, cherry, heirloom black and yellow, early girls and big boys.

Along with the 2 zucchinis you see, we also planted beets, eggplants, green pepper, red pepper, banana pepper, at least one type of hot pepper, peas, black beans, cantaloupe and watermelon.

Blossoms promise a bountiful harvest

Peas never made the climb, but produced plenty

The steady summer march of ripe berries begins!

I’ll tell you something, I love flowers. Love them. But my preference is for an entirely edible garden. I favor hibiscus and purple cone flowers because you can make those into tea. And I like shrubbery that bears fruit. Currently along with the annual veg we put in we also have perennials that include a grape vine, a growing raspberry patch, a struggling blueberry bush, echinachia (purple cone flowers), lavender (which I harvest and dry for cooking) thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary and sage.

Annd we have a non perennials herb garden that we put in pots on our porch this year in the optimistic hope we’ll bring them in for the winter. There we have dill, basil, fennel, stevia, and tarragon.

Herb pots stand watch over the veggies they will accompany

See? I feel calmer just talking about my garden. I will not think about SB1 or any other foolishness this evening. Instead I’ll head outside in my bare feet with a glass of wine and a bowl in which to put some harvested snap peas.

June Cleaver eat your heart out

16 Jun

The day started with this:

And ended with this:

I’m not a sweets person, but this strawberry jelly is so good, I went back for spoonfuls all night long. That’s ok, it’s a fruit, right??

It was a bad year for strawberries, but we still had a lovely Sunday morning at the farm picking 2 baskets of berries.

I used these strawberries for my first real attempt at canning something.  The experience was fraught with learning.

Some things I learned:

That may not look like a lot of strawberries, but it makes a LOT of strawberry jam. Especially when you add a LOT of sugar.

Also, Tbsp, as we all know is short for TABLEspoon but if you misread the directions and think it says 1 1/2 TEAspoons (tsp) of pectin per 1 1/2 cup of strawberries, your jam will NOT set.

Strawberry jam takes  A LOT of pectin.  I’m going to make my own pectin broth from apples for the next time I can. When you pour a whole bottle of pectin into one batch of jam, suddenly $5 a can seems more pricey.

Still, it worked out ok, the jam is DE-LI-CIOUS and set just fine.  I even got to experience the full hot water processing method.  Listening to the POP as your lids seal after you remove them from the water is very satisfying.

As a bonus I found fresh sugar snap peas at Soergel’s so I was able to finally make the pickled sugar snap peas I’ve been excited to make.  These were also super easy, basically consisting of vinegar, water, a little salt, a little sugar, whole garlic cloves and hot pepper flakes (or actual peppers).  Put it all together in a jar and let it sit for 2 weeks.

Not quite as instantly gratifying as the strawberry jelly, but it sure beats the heck out of the 3 month wait for the cherries!

Along with being on my summer bucket list, preserving the local harvest satisfies me in so many ways.  It was lovely to spend the morning with my daughter picking strawberries. We talked about what it must have been like for my mother to grow up on a farm and how funny she would find it that we paid for the privileged of picking anything. She hated working on the farm, it is back breaking work, and ran as far and as fast as she could from the Murrysville farm on which she grew up.

It also calls to mind my fore-mothers, especially my paternal grandmother Olive England, who canned a good portion of what they ate every year.   The jelly reminds both me and my daughter of my recently passed Mother In Law who made Riley’s favorite raspberry jelly every summer. When we cleaned out her house Memorial Day weekend we found one last jar of jam.

We chose largely local produce to can–and plan to not only preserve our garden harvest, but the bounty from local farmers markets, the food that I hope this provides for the coming year not only is largely organic but it has an extremely light carbon footprint compared to most of what you buy in the Giant Eagle.

Really, I can’t think of too many things to do with my weekend that have such deep personal meaning, is generally good for the planet, is fun and food oriented.  Its like a fourfer!  We’ll see if I get distracted with some other obsession mid-way through the summer, but so far, I’m loving this.


13 Jun

On my bucket list for summer:  Preserve stuff.

I’ve vowed to do something productive or buckety every week so this weekend I decided to get cracking on the “preserve stuff” agenda item.  I started easy in what could also be categorized as cooking with booze.

  Inspiration struck last week …though I cannot for the life of me remember what inspired me… and I decided to put up some cherries in booze.  My preserving book recommended brandy, bourbon, gin, rum, or whatever suits your fancy.  A quick call out to twitter confirmed my inclinations to go with brandy and bourbon.  So a trip to the grocery store for hella pricey cherries, Lowe’s for canning supplies and the liquor store and I was off to the races.

My book suggested leaving the pits in, but offered no warning that it was essential, so I opted to pit my cherries.  I finally put the cherry pitter I own to good use!

The cherry pitter is what Riley is using, by the way, not Riley.  In fact, she gave up rather quickly and left the task to me.

After pitting the cherries I packed them into a jar and followed the very precise directions to “add enough sugar  to fill one third of the way up the side of the jar.”

Obviously you can adjust that depending on just how sweet you like your boozey cherries.

Next the fun part. Add booze of your choosing.  Again, based on twitter’s very wise wisdom, I chose both brandy and bourbon.

Easy so far right?  Now comes the hardest step…

Let sit for two to three months.  Yikes!! Really?

Sigh. Well, Come September (or more likely August) I cannot wait to rip into some yummy boozey cherries!

Boozey Cherries accomplished, I turned my attention to red onion marmalade.  This is going to be SO GOOD on some burgers! This recipe is also pretty easy.

Slice some red onions,

Cooke them down, add vinegar, brown sugar and wine, cook some more, and viola!

Where it get’s exciting though is in the “putting up.”  Things preserved in booze don’t really need a whole lot of “canning” because the booze is the preservative.  In these onions, the vinegar and wine do the preserving, but they are refrigerated not heat processed and required the whole sterilized jar bit.


I felt all old timey and traditional ladling my onion marmalade into a sterilized jar through a funnel.  So out of three or four onions, I got four jars of this yummy preserve. Better than the wait time on the cherries, there is still a one month waiting period for the flavors to meld. But you can bet I’ll be firing up the grill and popping open a jar on July 12 for sure!

All in all on Saturday I put up 4 jars each of Bourbon and Brandy Cherries, and 4 jars of Red Onion Marmalade.  And on Sunday, I did some for real canning. But that is a story for another lunch hour.