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Monday, July 27, 2015


Some accidents are happy accidents. Case in point? A simple little salad to take on the run for a snack between events. I tumbled diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and candy onions into a small disposable container.  After drizzling them with extra virgin olive oil, I splashed the market vegetables with white wine vinegar before crumbling fresh chevre over the top. Nothing fancy. No big deal. Here's the deal, salads on the go get jostled around. By the time I got around to eating my marinated salad, the goat's cheese had swirled through the olive oil and vinegar, creating an unexpected cheese-speckled vinaigrette for the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. A happy accidental win.

As haphazard as it was, I've found that it works with any vinaigrette. Whether homemade or store bought, it just doesn't matter. Fleck fresh chevre into a vinaigrette and let the creamy bits float around or whisk them into a creamy emulsion. The combination is unexpected and fantastic.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Tomato-Chevre Vinaigrette.

It's high tide for tomatoes at the farmers market. All shapes, sizes, and colors undulate like waves over endless seas of tomatoes. While I fall for the pretty ones like most folks, I'm always lured by the siren song and drawn to the uglies. Happily serenaded and shipwrecked.

The beasts and the beauties.

The Beauties.
After quartering/halving a few meaty Orange Persimmon, sugary Sun Gold, mellow Yellow Roma Banana Legs, smoky Chocolate Cherry, plummy Indigo Rose, and achingly ripe red Carmellow tomatoes, I tossed them with slivered candy onions before finishing with a scattering of fresh basil.

The Beasts.
Armed with a few "Uglies But Goodies" from Henkle's Herbs and Heirlooms, I went full out tomato on tomato with a tomato vinaigrette. I've done the cheesecloth-lined drippity drip pure tomato water thing. While it's a great way to capture the essence of tomatoes, it takes a very long time (up to 24 hours) for the magic to happen. Drip...drip.........drip. To harness the same essence without all the fuss, I simply cored the tomatoes, sliced away the dried splitting seams, chopped the tomatoes into 1" pieces, pureed them in a blender (seeds and peels), passed the puree through a fine mesh strainer, mashed the pulp to release every drop of tomato-ness, and set the jus aside.

To whisk or not to whisk? Although emulsified creamy vinaigrettes are fine and dandy, they can be a bit heavy handed when dressing fresh summer tomatoes, so I kept it loosey-goosey by opting for a broken vinaigrette. I combined 1/4 cup tomato jus with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon local honey, and 1/2 cup olive oil. After adding a pinch of salt and ground white pepper, I gave the mix a gentle stir before flecking creamy bits of Bluegrass Chevre into the vinaigrette.

Gorgeous heirlooms kissed with a fresh tomato-chevre vinaigrette.

Vibrant summer sweetness.
Soft bright acidity.
Subtle creamy tang.
Tomatoes on tomatoes.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Pucker Up

Goodness knows, I've pickled just about everything under the sun. Name it and I've pickled it.
Although  I gave up full blown pickling and canning a couple of years ago after putting up loads of pickles only to give every last jar away, I still dabble in the pickling biz. Nowadays, I keep vinegar-marinated summer cucumbers in the refrigerator all summer long and whip up small batches of quick pickled what-nots from time to time. Quick pickled red onions, carrots, okra, turnips, and radishes are great to have on hand when bright bites are needed for perky acidity. All in all, I've never met a pickle I didn't like or love. While my love for all things pickled is steadfast, my shameless lust for fermented stuff is unbounded. Merely thinking about the fabulous fermented funk of kimchi. saurkraut, injera bread, fish sauce, gouchujang, or anchovies, pounds my inner drums. To ferment or not to ferment? Sure, some of the heavy hitters (like fermented rotting fish) might be better left to the big guns, but some things are manageable enough to easily and safely throw together on a smaller scale.  Case in point? Half sour and full sour pickles. Unlike vinegar-based processed pickles, half and full sours are brined in a simple salt/water solution and left to stew in their own juices. When the natural sugars react with the salty brine, the lactic fermentation transforms the vegetables into lip pursing pucker-tastic jewels. Prio-biotic lacto-fermented treasures.

Half and Full Sour Pickles.
Simple pickles. There's no need to drag out a huge enamel canning pot, sterilize a drawer full of lids, dig for tongs, or search for funnels. Sour pickles are very basic. Cucumbers. Salt. Water. The most important thing might be the brining solution or the ratio of salt to water. Some folks swear by a lower ratio (3%) while others stand by a higher ratio (10%). I fall somewhere in the middle with a 5% ratio or 1 tablespoon salt per 1 cup water.

After slicing the blossom ends off of 1 pound smallish Stonehedge Farm kirby cucumbers, I thoroughly washed them in iced water before cramming them into a quart mason jar with 5 sprigs of fresh dill, 4 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons whole allspice seeds, 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons whole Tellicherry peppercorns, and 1 sliced Fresno hot pepper.

I dissolved 4 tablespoons of kosher salt in 4 cups of filtered water and filled the jar with enough brine to completely cover the cucumbers. Now, sticky uppy bits are not a great thing. The cucumbers must be covered and submerged in the brine for proper fermentation to occur. If not covered, the wrong kind of bacteria could take over. Not a good thing. I used a small demi-tasse saucer to weigh down the cucumbers and keep them submerged.

Gurgling living food needs to breathe.  If sealed too tightly, the gases from the fermentation have nowhere to go and could...well...explode. I've had my share of gaseous brined saurkraut mishaps. After  making sure the pickles were submerged in the brine, I covered the mouth of the jar with layers of cheesecloth and secured the cloth with a rubber band. Although hardly high tech, I knew the cheesecloth would keep the bad things out of the pickles while still allowing them to breath and let the gases escape.

Covered and banded, I nestled the quart mason jar into a bowl ( to catch whatever might bubble over) and placed the bowl/jar/cucumbers in a cool dark corner of the garage.

Here's the deal. The great thing about sour pickles is that the process is fairly quick. Saurkraut can take up to 6 weeks to ferment. Depending upon the desired level of rot, kimchi might take months. Half sour pickles might be ready to go in 5 or 6 days. Full sours hit their full pucker punch in about 2 weeks. The level of sourness is totally subjective. Tasting  along the way is key.

After 3 days, I peaked under the cheesecloth to see if anything was happening. With some bubbling action going on, I knew the pickles were off to a good start, so I slid them back into their little hide-away and left them alone.

After 8 days, the somewhat shrunken pickles bobbed away in the murky and cloudy brine. It wasn't pretty, but it was normal.  I snacked on a few pickles, covered the jar, and decided to let them go for another week. The full monty. Full sours.

After 15 days, I slid the pickles into the refrigerator to chill. Sour pickles can last for a month in the refrigerator before they start to soften. They're fantastic as snacks, piled onto fatty deli sandwiches, or served with anything  barbecued. I treated the pickles like big boy cornichons and tumbled  them onto a cutting board alongside bourbon-spiked chicken liver pate topped with snipped chives and extra virgin olive oil.


Pucker up.