I Can Pickle That! Indiana Produce meets Eastern European Preservation

While dining on some tasty falafel at the previously reviewed Mediterranean joint Sahara, I gluttonously chomped into a garnish of what I assumed to be watermelon but was most definitely not.  I was informed that it was, in fact, a piece of pickled turnip. I’m generally a fan of brined, pickled, fermented, and other low-pH foodstuffs, and decided I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to buy a bunch of pretty hermetic glass jars and hoard the summer produce.

Let it be known from the outset that this is a shameless rip from Smitten Kitchen’s Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw.  I changed exactly nothing from her recipe, because I don’t fix what isn’t broken.  If I had access to some fresh dill, I may have thrown that in.

Pickling mixture:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 cup cold water

This is hard, now, so pay attention:

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Find your picklable objects.

I used cucumbers (the firm kind used for pickling, not “slicers” like you would put on a salad), banana peppers, radishes, and carrots.  I also diced half a jalapeno and added that to half my jars.  Use whatever firm vegetables you can find at your roadside farm stand or be a heathen and buy them at the store.  Message me if you aren’t sure whether your veggies are ok to pickle, because contrary to what Portlandia says, you DON’T want pickled potatoes or kumquats or glass.

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Slice them thin enough to soak up lots of pickly flavor.

I did what I like to call a “lazy julienne,” which is where my knife skills suck and nothing winds up the same size at all.  If you have a mandoline, now is the time to use it. I threw mine away more than a decade ago in a fit of rage after slicing off a knuckle, but my food processor did a great job on the radishes.  Photo Jul 23, 8 25 08 PM

Pack those veggies into a jar.

These are fridge pickles, so no sterilizing, pressurizing, or otherwise making yourself sweat is necessary.  But don’t get crazy, they should be clean.  I used the prettiest jars I could find, the volume of which totaled about 2.5 quarts.  Try to pack the veggies tightly into the jars because they will float.  Photo Jul 23, 8 38 06 PM

Heat all the ingredients in the pickling solution except the water to simmering.  Turn the heat off, add the cold water, and wait until the mixture reaches tepidity. Pour it over the veggies.  Done.  Photo Jul 23, 8 41 08 PMPhoto Jul 23, 9 03 38 PM

You can refrigerate these up to a month, which gives you plenty of time to pawn them off on everyone you know.  You can also eat a lot of them right out of the jar with a fork a few hours after making them.  Hypothetically.

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Anna Cooks: Birthday Dinner

I’m something of a sentimentalist when it comes to my birthday dinner.  If I’m at home with my family, I always want lasagna and this amazing garlic bread my mom makes.  But this year, my parents threw me a curveball and made lasagna for dinner just days before my 24th birthday!  I took the opportunity to branch out and make one of my favorite recipes, an Ina Garten salmon dish recommended to me by Foodie Friend Kristin.  It’s so delicious, fast and easy that I make it over and over, despite my serious distaste for Ina.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • A large ovenproof skillet or a skillet plus a baking dish
  • 4 filets of salmon, skin on (6-8 oz each, but for this meal I made mine about 4 oz)
  • 2T Dijon mustard
  • 2t parsley (or 2T fresh)
  • 1 large lemon
  • About 1/2 t each salt and pepper
  • 2/3 panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 T oil as usual, I prefer canola for high temperatures

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1.  Preheat the oven to 425 F.

2.  Zest the lemon entirely.  Add the zest to the breadcrumbs, then toss in salt, pepper, and parsley until thoroughly combined.

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3.  Add enough oil to the breadcrumbs that they come together into a coarse meal.  This should be about 1T of oil.

4.  Spread each filet of salmon with 1/2 T Dijon.  This seems like a lot, but I swear it’s delicious.

5.  Divide the breadcrumb mixture evenly and mound each portion onto the top of the Dijon-covered salmon.

6.  Heat remaining oil in your skillet on medium heat until shimmering.  Add the salmon, skin side down, and sear 3-4 minutes.  Don’t worry about all the panko that WILL fall off.  Don’t turn the salmon!Photo May 30, 7 36 03 PM

7.  Stick the whole skillet into the 425 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, uncovered.

8.  Pull the skillet out with an oven mitt-gets me every time! And let rest a few minutes.Photo May 30, 7 57 01 PM

9.  Slice up that lemon you zested and serve liberal amounts of wedges with the salmon.Photo May 30, 6 52 10 PM

Wasn’t that just the easiest thing?  This makes a wonderful cold dish for lunch as well.

I love mashed potatoes but never bother making them just for myself, so we ate simple green beans and mashed potatoes with this and it was a wonderful light summery meal.  Photo May 30, 7 56 19 PM Photo May 30, 7 59 29 PM

Oh, and of course, German Chocolate Cake.  I’m sure everyone has that one cake that, to them, IS birthday cake.  German Chocolate is mine.  Photo May 30, 7 56 27 PM Photo May 30, 8 23 12 PM

Anna Cooks: Orange Cheesecake Bars

Photo May 14, 4 35 58 PMMy parents stopped by briefly on their way through town this week.  Maybe this is a girl thing, but I always try to have my digs spotless when the parents roll through so they won’t think I’m living in squalor and make me take on a housekeeper.  The end result of this compulsion is me cleaning for hours, then not wanting to leave the house for snack items and throwing together something with what I have in the fridge.  This recipe is quick, summery, and made from things you probably already have on hand.  I adapted it a touch from a recipe in a recent Better Homes and Gardens, which I subscribe to despite having neither a home nor a garden.

You will need:

  • A food processor or a great imagination
  • 1/2 cup coconut  (The original recipe calls for “raw chip” but I use the regular old shredded sweetened kind)
  • 3/4 c graham cracker crumbs (If you’re making them yourself, this is about 7 cracker sheets)
  • 2T sugar
  • 1 t finely shredded orange peel
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 (8oz) package cream cheese, about room temp
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (I obviously squeezed this fresh but I guess you could use Florida’s Natural and that would be ok.  Not that I did.  I didn’t.)
  • 1 egg

Note:  I don’t always have fresh oranges around, shockingly.  My friend Annie gifted me this awesome dehydrated orange peel from Penzey Spices and I reconstitute them all the time for bread and cake and cheesecake. Highly recommended.Photo May 14, 2 04 59 PM

Make the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Spread coconut in a 8×8 pan and bake 4 or 5 minutes, stirring once, until coconut is golden brown.

Photo May 14, 1 41 53 PMNo, that’s way too dark.  Rule #1 of nut and coconut toasting:  Never Walk Away!  Rule #2:  Everyone Knows That and Walks Away Anyway.  Just keep extra coconut on hand.Photo May 14, 1 48 00 PMThat’s more like it.  Now let that coconut cool.

2. Put 2T of the toasted coconut in the bowl of a food processor and pulse.

3.  Add the graham cracker crumbs (or whole graham crackers), the 2 T sugar, and the orange peel to the bowl of the food processor and pulse until blended and/or pulverized.

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4.  Pour the melted butter into the running food processor slowly until the crumbs begin to come together and look like this.

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5.  Press the crumbs into the 8×8 pan and bake 10 minutes, then cool about 15 minutes.  Photo May 14, 1 57 21 PM

Meanwhile, Make the Filling:Photo May 14, 2 02 22 PM

Note: I like to just wipe out the bowl of the food processor and use it again to save dishwashing later.  I like to think that simply wiping the crumbs out of the bowl rather than washing ties together the flavors of the crust and filling.  That could be true, right?  This method will yield a few air bubbles in your mixture, so if you like perfect looking cheesecake, use a mixer…or pop the bubbles with a toothpick prior to baking.

1.  Beat the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, and vanilla.

2.  Add the orange juice to the mixture, blend, then add the egg.  If using a food processor, be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally during this process to avoid lumps.  The mixture will be fairly runny.Photo May 14, 2 27 47 PM

3.  Pour the filling mixture onto the warm crust and bake about 15 minutes or just until set. Note: I use the rule of thumb that the center of the cheesecake should look wet but not wobble when you tap the pan.  It always looks undercooked but if you wait for a cheesecake to look nice and golden, it will be way too dry.  This is especially helpful when making larger “real” cheesecakes or even custards.Photo May 14, 2 45 13 PM

See?  Doesn’t look done, but I promise it is as soon as the middle stops being wobbly!

4.  Cool the bars completely and refrigerate about 2 hours.  Serve with toasted coconut on top and if you have it, fresh fruit.

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This allegedly makes 16 bars but….8×8 inch pan, you do that math.  I’d say 9 happy people or 16 cranky ones.  Next time I make these, I personally will be doubling the filling because, well, then there will be twice as much cream cheese.  

Sunday Night Roast Chicken

Ever since foodie friend Deborah generously shared a start of her prodigious sage plant, I have been obsessed with using it on my poultry.  Mind you, this doesn’t mean I’ve actually USED it, just that I’ve thought about it a lot.

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Deborah was kind enough to also share her favorite use for this sage, a recipe for roast chicken from Cook’s Illustrated that I have ammended ever so slightly.  Last night was the night before a big exam, so naturally I was in the mood to cook something hearty and delicious at 10:30 at night, so I gave this recipe a try for the second time, with even better results than the first.  Bonus:  it’s a CHEAP and FAST dinner that feels anything but.

Plus you get to use shallots.  Shallots are in the onion family but look like a giant purple clove of garlic.  The cashier will say “What is this?”  and you’ll get to say “Oh that? That’s a shahhhhh-lot…it’s in the onion family”  They’re actually quite beautiful and have a much milder flavor than white onion, luckily for onion-hater-Anna.

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You will need:

  • 2 split chicken breasts, skin on (I’ve also done this with a whole chicken, spatchcocked, for a more folksy meal with dark meat)
  • 1/2 cup salt (regular iodized, or 1 cup kosher salt if you’re feeling fansay)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Vegetable Oil-please resist the urge to use fancy olive oil, it’s unneccessary and will SMOKE at the temperatures we’ll be using!
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 4 fresh sage leaves, torn (you could also use fresh thyme or another herb, or I’d just throw in a clove of raw garlic….actually, I think I’ll do that next time…) If you don’t have fresh sage, ask me for some!!!!!! I STILL haven’t killed the plant she gave me!!!!!!!
  • 3 tablespoons butter, separated

Le Chicken:

1. Dissolve the salt in 2 quarts of cold water.  Submerge chicken breasts in salty water for 2 hours (If using whole chicken, brine 6 hours or as long as you can wait)

2. Preheat the oven to 450.  That’s not in Kelvins, folks, this is hot!

3.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.  (The rinse doesn’t need to be super thorough, you’re just rinsing excess salt, but the drier the chicken is, the nicer and crispier your skin will get!  )

4.  Season chicken breasts with pepper.

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5.  Heat a tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat in a heavy ovenproof skillet until it begins to shimmer, swirl to coat the pan.  Place chicken breasts skin-side down in skillet and sautee about 5 minutes or until the skin is nice and brown.  Flip the breasts and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.

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6.  Stick the whole skillet in the oven and roast the chicken for 15-20 minutes – until a meat thermometer reads 160 at the thickest part of the breast.  You do use a meat thermometer, right????   Fine, fine, until the juices run clear when you poke the chicken with a knife.  

7.  Pull the skillet out and let the chicken rest off the heat for at least 10 minutes while you make THE SAUCE.

Le Sauce:

REMEMBER!  A skillet which has just been removed from a hot oven will have a handle that is hot.  I remind you because I NEVER remember this.  See handle–> Grab –> Curse.

1.  Pour off all but a tablespoon or so.  Just kidding, I never do this.  But you probably should, as my shallot always turns out more deep-fried than sauteed.

2.  Add the minced shallot to the skillet and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until it softens but doesn’t brown.  If you are using garlic, saute that now as well.  Take a whiff.  

3.  Add wine, stock, and sage to the pan and cook until reduced to about 3/4 c.  (This will take about 5 minutes of simmering.) I hate when recipes tell you how much sauce you should have at the end of reduction….I can’t eyeball 3/4 cup in a 12′ skillet!!!

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4.  Off the heat, whisk in each tablespoon of butter until full incorporated.  Stir in any juices that have come off the resting chicken.

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5.  Pour gravy ALL OVER the potatoes and green beans you should have made while the chicken was cooking and FEAST!

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This meal will easily serve 2 people and actually will serve 4 if you are willing to serve halves of pterodactyl breasts that Tyson now sells.  I frequently buy and freeze packs of split chicken breasts and they work beautifully for this application when thawed.  

Christina Cooks Curry

My original inspiration to start writing a blog was all the talented and interesting people around me with such depth of knowledge.  In that vein, I’m thrilled to introduce my first guest poster, Christina!

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Christina is one of my most adventurous friends. Here’s us trying our hand at live lobster steaming-totally her idea.

I can still remember when I discovered Thai cuisine. Now, I use the word “discover” loosely because it’s not as though I was Columbus, discovering the New World. Instead, I found myself at a strip mall Thai restaurant called Exotic Thai II for a friend’s birthday dinner. She recommended the panang curry– it was love at first bite. Unfortunately for me (at least where my love for curry is concerned) I soon moved to Germany. The Germans do a lot of things well – Semmelknödel, Sauerbraten and Käsespätzle all come to mind. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a Thai restaurant that I loved. So I decided that I would learn to cook Thai, starting with that first dish, panang curry.

It took me several dozen tries, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out.

The first thing you need is a good cookbook. My absolute favorite is Quick & Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott, who learned the art of Thai cooking while in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer. These recipes are simple, fast, and delicious.

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Next, let’s talk ingredients. You can find most ingredients at your local store…but you shouldn’t. No offense to Thai Kitchen, but that’s just not going to cut it. If you are in the Indianapolis area, I recommend hitting up Saraga International Market, one of the best (and least expensive!) international markets I’ve been to.


Anna and I took a trip to load up on some international ingredients. Here are my favorite brands for:

  • Coconut milk

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  • Curry paste

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  • Fish sauce

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Here is my recipe for Panang Curry with Beef that is adapted from a recipe found in Quick & Easy Thai. Caution: this dish is spicy!

  •  Large pot or wok
  • About 1-1.25 pounds flank steak or sirloin, thin slices, sliced against the grain*
  • About 2 cans 14oz coconut milk  *Note:  use unsweetened coconut milk, also labeled “for cooking”*
  • Two tablespoons panang curry paste (or other Thai curry paste)
  • Two tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on preference)
  • Two large bell peppers cut into long, thin slices (I like to use red and green for color. Feel free to substitute other vegetables)
  • 1/2 cup water (depending on preference)

*If you have problems slicing the meat, pop it in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes to stiffen it up. It makes cutting way easier. You can also substitute chicken or shrimp (no need to slice the shrimp).

First, begin by cooking your beef. I’ve found that cooking the beef separately and then draining works the best because it can get a little too gritty otherwise. I like to cook the beef in a little coconut milk, but I’ve also used broth and just plain water and both have worked out OK. Add about ¾ a cup of coconut milk to your pot and cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring semi-frequently. Add the beef. Stir for a few minutes until beef is mostly cooked (it’s OK if it still pink).  Separate the beef from the liquid- set the beef aside and discard the liquid.

Next, add another ¾ cup coconut milk to the pot. Heat the coconut milk over medium-heat, stirring every now and then until it starts to thicken up. At that point, add 2 TB of curry paste. You want to make sure it is completely dissolved into the coconut milk. Next, add 2 TB fish sauce and 1 TB brown sugar. At this point, add the remainder of your coconut milk. Let it cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

After a few minutes, add your bell peppers and cook until they are still slightly crisp. Go ahead and add your beef, stirring constantly until it is fully cooked. Depending on how thick your curry is, you may want to add the ½ cup water to reach desired consistency.

Serve the curry immediately with jasmine rice. Yum.

One final note- when making curry, it really is about personal preference. You may want it slightly thinner or thicker, sweet or more savory, spicy or a little more mild. Sugar is one of the things that is very easy to mess up because it tends to hide inside of the beef when cooking. So, if you are just testing the sauce, it might not taste sweet enough. I recommend taking a bite with the beef and peppers so you get a true idea of what your curry is like. Usually if I want mine a little sweeter, I will just add a little more sugar to the individual serving.

I hope you enjoyed this guest entry!

Christina