the one that got away

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I admire the sneaky ones who hide under the leaves, trying to develop to maturity.  But Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm posted a link to a German recipe on his newsletter that seals their fate, too.  Old, overripe, yellow cucumber pickles!

And their name: senfgurken.  Irresistible.

Sorry, guys.

Anthony says he substitutes tarragon vinegar for the white wine vinegar.  I haven’t tried the recipe, but it looks great, not to mention dissertation-writing-neglectful-gardener friendly.  Maybe I’ll let a few more go.

nam myo ho ren ge kyo: lotus root pickles

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I’ve been so busy lately with writing and teaching that I haven’t been cooking much.  We’ve been living on quick meals and take-out, which in Eugene is a sickening prospect after a day or two.  My biggest foray into new dishes was a delicious Peruvian ceviche the other day, but the photos make it look like a jumbled mess, so I won’t bother posting.

The acidic zing of vinegary dressings has captured my attention again, obviously.  Great for mid-winter blues and the heavy, thick food we eat when the weather’s cold.  One quick pickle I’ve been snacking on — lemon and yuzu citrus lotus root.

The lotus root is a rare creature in the vegetable kingdom.  If you have access to fresh lotus roots, the buff-colored segmented plain jane that reveals its gorgeous creamy white flower pattern when you cut it, they’re beautiful to add to stir-fries.  They do need to be kept in acidulated water after you peel off the buff skin, though, and blanched until slightly softened before stir-frying or making pickles.

Or you can cheat like me, since I don’t have any other options here in Eugene, and buy a fresh, refrigerated package of already sliced and acidulated lotus roots at an Asian market.  Don’t buy the canned ones.  Trust me.

Drain the water in the package, then add the lotus root slices to a wide, flat, glass or plastic container with a secure lid.  Mix together a solution of 2/3 rice vinegar and 1/3 water, add a few long strips of lemon zest (or yuzu zest if you have it, yuzu being a Japanese citron with a lovely scent), a small scoop of salt, an even smaller scoop of sugar to balance the flavors.  Pour over slices, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days.  Eat as needed, preferably within a month.  Breathe deeply as if you’re on a mountaintop temple, zen up your apartment with bamboo shades and an Amida Butsu candle, and throw around Buddhist lingo like a nirvana-attaining badass.

when she laughed she shook like a box full of jelly

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I’m preparing my holiday gift packages, listening to Esquivel’s Merry X-Mas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad to console myself.  Word from the mountain is that the Retrogrinch has mandated a moratorium on Christmas jazz and novelty tunes.  Guess who’s getting a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce for lunch?  Locally made and organic, too.  (Am I the only one who pondered actually turning this line from the Grinch song into an appetizer — sauerkraut, sauteed boletes with a bit of cream, crushed almonds, puff pastry?)

Anyhoo, I have a sleigh full of jam and pickles to give away, and as I’m packing them up for shipping, I started wondering what other homemade gifts were being given this year.  Are you making your own food gifts?  Is this an old tradition for you or a new one?

I also wanted to direct Pacific Nor’westers looking for ideas to check out the post I made a few months ago about Oregon/PNW food gift possibilities.   The comments section has more ideas.  I’d love to list as many ideas as possible, so if you know of local products or ingredients you include in your own gifts, please add your own comments!  Also check out the links to the right to read other food blogs from PNW writers with fantastic ideas.  (Edited to add:  Some PNW cheese possibilities are here, courtesy of the cheese whiz at the excellent Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.)

For the record, the 2008 Culinaria Eugenius Cannery Catalogue follows.  All fruits and vegetables are local and either from my garden or a nearby farm, except the Grinch pickles, which fittingly (?) were made from cucumbers shipped in from CA to our neighborhood Asian market.

  • Oregon Albacore Tuna.  Young, fresh, single-piece, troll-caught days before I canned it, no mercury issues!
  • Pickled Green Tomatoes with Celery.  Kosher-style, with vinegar.
  • Grinch Extra Sour Pickles.  Fermented cucumbers stewing in their own salty juice, extra garlic.
  • Purple Cauliflower Pickle.  Brilliant magenta color comes from purple cauliflower.
  • Mixed Pickle.  Dilled garden vegetables: kohlrabi, green beans, cherry tomatoes, Hungarian peppers, ripe jalapeños, cauliflower, garlic.
  • Sauerkraut with juniper berries.
  • Vegetable Salts.  Carrot and celeriac.
  • Willamette Valley Dark Fruit Honey Jam.  Wild blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries with meadowfoam honey.  Low sugar.
  • Lingering Autumn Cider Jelly.  Willamette Valley fresh cider, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa nibs, hint of chili pepper.  Low sugar.
  • Strawberry Pinot Gris Jam.  Benton strawberries, Sweet Cheeks 2006 Estate Pinot Gris syrup, hint of Szechuan pepper.  Low sugar.
  • Oregon Strawberry Elderflower Jam.  Benton and Honeoye strawberries, elderflower syrup.  French-style (no pectin).
  • Tayberry Jam.  Pure, unadulterated, musky, complex tayberries, a blackberry-raspberry cross.
  • Raspberry Apricot Preserves.  Willamette raspberries, apricots.  French-style (no pectin).
  • Apple Cranberry Sauce.  Mixed local apples, Bandon cranberries.  Low sugar.
  • Brandied cherries.  Sour pie cherries, Courvoisier.

A personal note to my friends and family reading this:  let me know which ones you’d like, if you have a preference!  I can mail everything but the Grinch Extra Sour Pickles, which are refrigerated, but I’m driving to San Francisco and plan to bring a cooler.  Love, me.

brew of black(berri)est night

In my continuing efforts to stop the addition of sugary tastes to every single thing we eat as Americans, I make berry vinegars.  They are lovely as salad dressings, of course, but I find they add a pang of lost love to root vegetables, soups, and meat deglazes, a haunting undertone that speaks of berries gone by.

By far, the simplest concoction I’ve brewed up is marionberry-thyme vinegar.  I put up a mason jar or two during blackberry season, using fresh berries or berry pulp I have left over from making jam, but it is completely acceptable to make the vinegar in the end days of fall from frozen berries.  When berries freeze and thaw, their cellular structure is compromised, so they release their juices into the vinegar easily and thoroughly.

The method is easy and offers endless creative possibilities:  fill your clean jar with no more than a third with blackberries, add three fresh sprigs of thyme and a half-dozen black peppercorns, and top off with white wine vinegar.  You may subsitute other berries or herbs.  Use a plastic cap, since metal jar lids will rust with the acidity of the vinegar.  (I use the white plastic lids they sell with canning supplies.)  Let sit in a dark, creepy place for a month or so before using, shaking gently once every other day for the first week or so.

The reason I like to use fresh blackberries is because they hold their shape, and then I can punctuate my campaign against sugar with a zombie pickled blackberry in dishes I serve to unwitting guests.  Exhibit A:

To normal people, this looks like a perfectly gorgeous fall-colored side dish of roasted Chioggia beets and yellow peppers dressed in a vinaigrette with thyme leaves…with a blackberry garnish?  But to those of us with vinegary agendas, it’s an explosion of dark, earthy, smoky, piquant flavors.  The pickled blackberries work as counterpoint to the caramelized sugars in the beets and the peppers, and the fresh thyme sprinkled on top picks up the thyme notes in the vinaigrette.  It’s a sophisticated mix of tastes, and gorgeous to boot if you use multi-colored beets and peppers.  This dish is like Harvard beets (sweet and sour boiled beets, pickled with onions and lots of sugar) on steroids, and prettier than that old battleaxe.

Try berry vinegars whisked together with olive oil over any sweet root vegetable, and let me know what you think!

portrait of an autumn weekend

I’ve been working basically non-stop for the past month, and I finally hit the wall.  Decided to take a couple days “off” and reacquaint myself with my husband and our house.  Here is a photo-essay of some of the food activites that went down.

Saw that my neighbor’s “free garden” had copious amounts of green tomatoes left on the vine.  Picked them.  Thought I’d use ‘em for fermented tomatoes in my crock, because I had already pickled a bunch in my end-of-the-garden pickling jamboree the day before.  I put up four quarts of green tomatoes, two pints of cauliflower, one pint of purple cauliflower, and a bunch of pints and half-pints of mixed pickle made with green cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, peppers, kohlrabi and green beans.

Went to the farmer’s market for inspiration, and found it in autumnberries, a tiny red berry with a flavor reminiscent of cranberries softened up by cherries.  Also called autumn olives, these little zingers are tart when raw, but they made a lovely sauce with pinot gris syrup, butter, riesling vinegar, black pepper and a pinch of salt.  Perfect on pancakes with a cup of steaming hot coffee with milk.

To gild the lily, I used more of the autumnberry sauce on a fat pork chop from Emmons Meat Market in Corvallis, grilled by my in-house BBQ Master, and mixed a bit of the stuff into a rice pilaf with my own dried chanterelles.

And, what the heck, I fried up some of the remaining green tomatoes, thickly sliced, in seasoned flour and Italian cornmeal, and served them on the side.  A bit incongruous, but still mighty delicious.

Sadly, the weekended, and I’m now back to work.  But I have my memories.  I have my memories.

of cabbages and things

Yep, it’s the End Days for the 2008 summer vegetable harvest here in Eugene.  Made tomato sauce with the rest of the ripe tomatoes and basil, and am now working on the green ones.

The bulb sale last weekend featured a workshop on sharpening garden tools, and never having sharpened my garden tools, I thought I’d risk humiliation and bring ‘em in.  And wouldn’t you know it, I won a giant red cabbage — freshly hacked out of someone’s garden — as a door prize!  I swear, my Polish magnetism pulls the cabbage out of anything.

Anyway, since my Harsch crock was already full of green cabbage sauerkraut, I turned to my auxiliary jar, and mixed up a batch.  I have a whole post about how to make sauerkraut here, but my notes are slightly amended below.  I should also add that red cabbage tends to be less juicy than green, so if you can get freshly-hacked-out-of-the-garden cabbage, all the better.  Cabbage stores well, as we all know, but the water content really drops as it sits in the crisper.  My sources also say that late-summer cabbage is the best for turning into sauerkraut.

Rules of thumb:

Use 3 T. of canning salt per 5 lbs. of cabbage. Be sparing with the juniper and caraway, since it’s a pain to pick out the former and the latter really packs a flavor punch.

After you slice the cabbage thinly, be sure to pound it down until there is a good layer of liquid over the cabbage to cover it completely in the crock or jar.  POUND IT!  THINK ABOUT THE ACADEMIC JOB MARKET AND MAKING $12K A YEAR IF YOU CAN’T GET A JOB!  AND THE ECONOMY IS GOING INTO THE COMPOST PILE AND YOU THINK YOU CAN GET A JOB *NEXT* YEAR IN THIS CLIMATE?!  AND YOU’RE 37 YEARS OLD!  O YEAH! O YEAH!  POUND IT!

Oops, sorry, got a little carried away there.

Remove all bits of stray cabbage you can find on the inside of the jar/crock above the water line, because they will mold.

If you’re using a crock like mine above, follow the instructions that came with the crock.

If you’re using a jar, make sure it will be big enough.  There should be 5-6 inches of space on the top.  Place a double-bagged gallon ziploc bag filled with brine (1.5 Tbsp. canning salt per quart water) atop the cabbage as a weight.  Be sure cabbage is fully covered, but leave space at the top since the cabbage will exude more liquid over time and the jar may overflow.  I place the jar on a tray in case of accidents.  Cover open jar with a clean towel, then put a large brown paper bag over the entire jar to preserve color and vitamins. Store in a relatively cool place until done to your liking. I usually wait about 3 weeks in cooler weather. Hot weather will make it process faster. Check after a week or so and skim off scum from top, if necessary.

And that, my friends, is how to make sauerkraut from a cabbage you won as a door prize.

there goes the sun

Sitting in my study, well, my husband’s study, where I sit in the morning because I love the Eastern morning sun, I hear the plinky plunky plinky of fat raindrops against the window.  I alone beweep the loss of my friend.  We’ll miss you, Mr. Sun.  For the fall rains have come, and with them falling leaves, smoky air, and all the delights of the winter kitchen.

I’m going to brave the mud and collect my unripe plum and cherry tomatoes this weekend to make green tomato relish, which beats the pants off commercial cucumber pickle relishes.  My tomatillo plant fruited late, so I might peek under their papery skirts to see if the tomatillos I have are big enough for pickling, too.

What else is planned for fall here at Culinaria Eugenius?  Once I get over this pesky, chronic condition I call academic workitis, I am going to start experimenting with winter squash, apples, and cranberries.  The cider we bought last week was so incredibly delicious, tart and alive as it always is with excellent early-season apples, that I think I’m going to try to turn it into no-sugar added cider jelly.  Stews and moist-heat cooking and roasting — these are a few of my favorite things, and I’d like to share some recipes with you.  Let’s see…I also have to sow my fava bean cover crop and close down the summer garden.  And it will be time to once again turn to Ethiopian food, my greatest nemesis, because I found a fantastic new injera recipe.  Will the fifth time be the charm?  Stay tuned, and stay dry in the mean time!