Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wilbur's Dill Pickles

Wilbur Wright is a great man. No, not that Wilbur Wright, the aviation pioneer. I'm talking about Wilbur Wright the nuclear engineer, outdoorsman, carpenter, and pickle maker extraordinaire. Wilbur is the grandfather of my good friend, Mason, and he is one mean pickle maker.

Every year at this time he gets the itch to make pickles. We go up to the family cabin near Grand Rapids, MN, and "put up" a few dozen quarts of cucumber pickles. We usually have a few other pickling side-shows as well, such as beets, jalapeños, northerns (pickled fish recipe coming up!) or eggs (never had a pickled egg? You're missing out!). Here is Wilbur's dill pickle recipe. It's a project, but it makes the best pickles ever!

Wilbur's Dill Pickles
Makes 5-6 quarts of pickles -- multiply the recipe as needed

Pickling Solution:
6 c. water
3 c. white vinegar
1/2 c. pickling salt (aka, canning salt)

For the Pickles:
A bushel of smallish cucumbers (look for 3-4", very fresh, firm cucumbers)
6-12 heads of fresh dill
20-25 cloves of garlic, peeled, the ends trimmed off
5-6 T pickling spice (typically coriander seed, dill seed, bay leaf, mustard seed and other spices)
Optionally: red pepper flakes, peppercorns, whole cloves

Additional Materials:
6 quart-sized jars, with rings and lids to fit. Jars and rings can be re-used, but lids must be new. You'll also need 2 large stockpots and two small saucepans.

Day 1 - Prep
Shop for your cucumbers, dill and garlic. A farmer's market is almost always the best source. A note on dill: you want dill that has gone to seed and has nice heads at the top. If on dill weed is available -- dill with soft tendrils and no seeds, it will work, but you should add an additional 1/4 tsp of dill seed to each jar during pickling.

Identify a workspace and lay out all required materials. Lay a clean towel over the area that will be used to stage the finished pickles. Carefully wash the pickling jars with soap and warm water; rinse and dry thoroughly, and place open side down on the workspace towel.

Day 2 - Pickling
Prepare a batch of the pickling solution by mixing the water, vinegar and pickling salt in a large stockpot and heating to near boiling. Fill a second large stockpot with water only, and bring it to a boil. In the mean time, rinse all of the cucumbers to remove any sand or dirt. Scrub off any stubborn dirt with a soft brush. Drain and place in a large bowl. Prep all of the garlic. Check over the dill, removing any brown or blackened bits, rinsing as needed, but taking care not to wash away the dill seed. Trim the heads from the stems.

Heat some water in a small sauce pan to boiling, and place the rings and lids in it to sterilize them and soften the rubber seal on the lids. Separate the lids from each other before placing them in the hot water, or they'll be really hard to get apart -- and hot!

Now you're ready to make pickles! Get your helpers and start by packing the jars with cucumbers (nothing else goes in yet). Place the jars in a sink or on a large sheet pan, and fill each with the boiling water from the water-only stockpot (ladle it in, or use a small saucepan as a ladle). Allow the cucumbers to blanch and heat through for 12-15 minutes.

Working quickly, pour off the hot water, and fill jars with remaining ingredients: 3-5 garlic cloves, 1-2 heads of dill, 1 T of pickling spice, plus 1/4 tsp of each of the additional spices, as desired. Now fill each jar with the pickling solution (water, vinegar and salt), leaving about 1/2" of airspace at the top. Make sure the rim of each jar is free of debris so the lids will seal. Next, drain the lids and rings (they'll be hot!), and carefully put a lid and ring on each jar. Using a towel or hot pads, tighten each ring firmly, turn the jars upside down, and arrange on the towel on your workspace. Cover the jars with a thick towel to keep them warm. Allow to cool for several hours.

Check each jar to make sure the lids have popped in, indicating a good seal. You may actually hear them popping as they cool! Store the jars upright at room temperature, or in a cool basement, for at least 10 days, but they are best after a month or more. They will keep, unopened for a year or more. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is a deeply personal -- and for those of us who love it, nearly religious -- expression of baking. Whether it evokes memories of your grandma, a favorite Thanksgiving, or a hole-in-the-wall on Bourbon Street (which is the case for me), the deep nutty goodness of pecan pie seems capable of evoking deep emotions like few other desserts. Unless you just don't like pecan pie, in which case I'm very sorry for you.

I was recently asked for my own pecan pie recipe, and decided to share it here. Every recipe I've ever seen has the same few basic ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, pecans. The differences come in nuances -- add bourbon or rum? Any brown sugar? Light or dark corn syrup? Whole pecans or chopped? The variation below is my favorite so far in my experimentations...yet it doesn't quite live up to my memory of the slice I had in that little joint on Bourbon Street...

Pecan Pie
1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite recipe)
1 egg + 1 tsp water, whisked (for brushing the crust)
2 c. pecan halves
3 large eggs
3/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar (I like dark brown)
1 c. light corn syrup
5 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 T. bourbon or whiskey (use good stuff)
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for about 5-8 minutes, rotating and jiggling the baking sheet partway through. Do not let them burn. Remove the sheet from the oven and allow to cool until able to touch.

In the mean time, prepare the pie shell and line a glass pie pan, fluting the edges just above the rim of the pan. Brush lightly all over with the egg mixture.

Whisk together all remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl, starting with the eggs and sugar, then adding the rest.

Break the pecans into pieces and scatter on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the egg-sugar mixture over the pecans.

Baking time will vary based on your oven and the initial temperature of the ingredients -- may range from 35 or 40 minutes up to an hour. Test by gently nudging the pan. When it's done, the edges will be firm and the center will be mostly set, but slightly jiggly like gelatin. Rotate the pan during cooking as needed to ensure even baking.

Allow to cool until warm but not hot before serving. If completely cooled, warm slightly before serving. You can serve with ice cream or whipped cream, but I like it plain.

Passion Fruit NA Punch

It's summertime! This refreshing punch is a crowd pleaser. It's tangy and refreshing and slightly exotic. You can also "punch" it up a notch by adding a shot of whiskey and a shot of orange liqueur such as Triple Sec, Gran Marnier or Countreau to each glass before pouring in the punch.

Passion Fruit Punch
(makes about 2-1/2 liters)
1 liter club soda (chilled)
1 liter passion fruit juice (I use Ceres brand)
12 oz. frozen orange juice
1 c. ginger syrup (see below)

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Serve over ice.

For the ginger syrup: combine 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water and 1/2 cup rough-chopped ginger in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a storage container, or directly into the punch. Press excess liquid out of the ginger. Makes about 1 cup. I usually make about 3 cups at a time. It will keep, refrigerated, for a couple weeks.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Guiltless French Onion Dip

Is there anything as delicious and decadent as good French onion dip? You can eat it with anything -- potato chips, of course (Ruffles are my favorite), but pretzels and veggies are great, too. Top a baked potato with it. Dollop it onto scrambled eggs or an omelet. spread it inside a grilled cheese, or on a cold sandwich with mâche, radish and smoked turkey. The possibilities are endless.

If only it didn't have 3g of fat and 31 calories in every tablespoon! Well, now it doesn't. I've been using fat-free Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream in lots of dishes, and recently created this one. It's a winner, and very simple. Greek yogurt has no fat and only 65 calories per half cup, so snack away!

French Onion Dip
(makes about 1-1/4 cups)
1 c. non-fat Greek yogurt
1 large sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
dash of olive or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. Worchestershire Sauce
salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp)

Put the oil, onion and about 1/4 tsp salt in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Stirring very frequently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, cook until the onions are softening and starting to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to caramelize, stirring often. Use the moisture in the onions to scape and remove browned juices and bits that stick to the pan -- this is flavor! Keep caramelizing until the onion is deep brown but not black. Be very careful not to scorch them, or the dip will taste bitter. But also don't stop too early -- all of the flavor comes from the caramelization. This process will take about 15 minutes or more. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Put the yogurt into a food processor with the Worchestershire sauce and onions and puree thoroughly. There should be almost no visible pieces of onion left...this will take a couple minutes. Periodically stop processing, remove the lid and scrape away unblended onion and yogurt. Taste for saltiness and add more salt as needed. Transfer to a serving dish, or to a plastic container and refrigerate for up to a week.