Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Cheers to those extraordinary moments, those breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, those unexpected connections.  The ones in which my spirit awakens, in which I feel most alive and for which I am filled with a deep sense of appreciation.

It is to a place seen only by those fortunate few that I dedicate this piece.

I never expected to find myself at a lake in the middle of Michigan.  I never expected to fall in love with this place either, let alone visit here at all.  But I did, three times over.

The lake is called Higgins, and it’s where the Gillespie family has called their summertime home for over three generations.

With each visit I am shown again of the unwavering generosity and warmest of welcomes.

To visit Lake Higgins is to take a step back in time, to a slower pace unconcerned with life’s most consuming trivialities.  Anyone is invited, everyone pitches in, and nobody’s counting.  Out there, it’s about the simplest forms of enjoyment, and enjoyment there is to be had.  It’s a gift alone to be a part of it.

The Gillespies have a neighbor and friend who also spends her summers at the lake.  Her name is Foxy, and her effervescent demeanor is a welcomed wake in the tranquil morning waters of Higgins. She’s just a joy to know.

When she heard of my passion for slow foods, canning, and farming, her excitement grew impossibly greater.  She grew up on a farm, she told me, and she’s been eating food from jars since before refrigerators were a household staple.  She even offered me a taste of her latest batch of homemade hot dog relish for me to taste and a recipe to bring home. It was her Grandma Norma’s recipe from when she was just a child, and it was simply delicious.

I followed the recipe once I returned home to Portland.

In cooking recipes both traditional and unique, there is something to be said for those tried and true, the ones that are passed down from generations before.  For in those dishes lies the flavor of hard work and memories, the flavor of deeply rooted family traditions.  It is the flavor of a weekend spent at Lake Higgins.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ground (well chopped) cucumbers
  • 3 cups ground onions
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Hungarian hot peppers
  • 2 ground sweet red or yellow peppers
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp. celery seed

Add salt to water, combine and add to vegetables.  Let sit overnight.  Drain and rinse lightly.

Heat white vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed to boil. Add vegetables and cook slowly, 10 minutes. Seal in hot jars.

A special thank you to The Gillespie Family for an always wonderful visit to Michigan and the lake.  Also, to Foxy for the inspiration and wonderful family recipe.

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Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a blog post devoted to kale chips, but they’re just so gosh darn delicious (and addicting, I might add) that they deserve to be brought back to the forefront of my blog for this evening.

HA! Tricked you.  You totally thought this was my veggie garden, didn’t you?

I WISH.

Actually, my rad new neighbor(s) stopped by for a chat this morning and mentioned that their backyard veggie garden is in serious summer surplus mode and demand is at a premium.  It’s. A. Rough. Life. For. Us.

As a self-diagnosed veggie hoarder (note the pic of the current state of my fruit/veg drawer in the fridge), I pretty much teleported myself to their backyard as soon as I possibly could to get my hands on some.

Among the wide variety of awesomeness I found, I came home with some basil, rosemary, a few leaves of rainbow chard, and kale.  I have some manners.  Some.

Having just picked up a new bunch of purple kale at the farmer’s market yesterday, I knew that throwing the leaves in the fridge would likely result in a mess of yucky smelly goo on the bottom of the veggie bin. It’s never a good thing to let fresh food go to waste, let alone a very nasty waste.   And anyone who’s ever suddenly found themselves with a surplus of kale can likely attest to this phenomenon.  If not, then you my friend are a jedi of kale.   But for us less gifted, there is one solution to this problem and it is a good one at that: kale chips.  Make a batch and, I swear, you’ll be down to a workable amount of fresh kale before you know it.  These babies are so addicting (and guilt-free), they’ll be gone before you leave the kitchen.  Literally.  As in, I put them in a bowl to share with everyone else and just stood in front of the bowl shoving them in my mouth for like five minutes until they were gone.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips 

Ingredients:

  • One bunch of organic kale, de-stemmed and chopped into large pieces
  • One healthy dose of olive oil, maybe two to three tablespoons, poured in small increments
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Flakes
  • Two or three large pinches of nutritional yeast (“healthier” alternative to cheese, many vegans use it as a substitute to that cheesy flavor.  For instance, my old roommate Susan used to make vegan mac ‘n cheese with nutritional yeast.  It doesn’t compare to cheese in texture by any means, but I actually really enjoy using it  on popcorn, scrambled eggs, kale chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 250 (any higher and your kale chips will burn).  In a bowl, toss kale with the rest of ingredients and ensure an even coating.  Spread out evenly on a baking sheet or large piece of aluminum foil.

Place in oven and bake for about an hour, or until the chips are completely dehydrated and crispy.  Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Lesson learned today: Dino kale is the best type of kale to use for chips due to its rigidity.  It’s the kind with the long and thinner crinkled dark green leaves pictured above.  A close second is the green kale- the firm, almost sharp looking leaves that you can usually find in the market or grocery store.  Try to avoid using Russian or Purple kale.  Also, don’t over oil the greens.  Use only enough to very thinly coat each leaf, as the oilyness comes out when crispy and the idea is to avoid greasiness.

Lucia’s Lemon Confit

This one time, I ate a meal at the house of my wonderful friend Lucia.  It was simple and clean, a salad with just well dressed greens, a warm frittata and some red wine.  Nothing fancy, nothing extravagent or complicated, and yet it was probably one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten in a long time.  The reason for this is still very much so on the tip of my tongue: the dressing.  And you know what’s funny?  That was simple too.  Three ingredients to be exact.  Nothing more than a healthy dose of olive oil, some lemon and salt.  So, what I learned from this meal is that it’s not the ingredients themselves that can make the meal, but rather how you use them.

With every bite there was something new that I tasted in that dressing, on a warm spring night at Lucia’s, sitting on her balcony overlooking Mount Sopris.  The dressing itself had so much flavor, an “umami” quality describing a depth of flavor that is rarely present in food.  I asked her how she had prepared the dressing, and rather than tell me she simply got up, walked to her kitchen and showed me what she knew I was so curious about.  She retrieved a jar from her cabinet that contained a yellowish gel-like substance, similar looking to a marmalade but more opaque and thicker than the traditional.  She explained that what I was tasting was lemon confit, or lemons preserved in salt and their own juices and that it wasn’t a flavor that could be achieved easily.  Much like preserving or pickling, it is a process that occurs over several weeks or months even in order to achieve the ideal taste and consistency.  Still tasting the flavors of that confit in my mouth long after the culmination of the meal, I practically got down on my knees and begged her for the recipe.  She hesitated, as a magician would hesitate to tell his secrets to a young apprentice if at all, insisting that this was a recipe I couldn’t take lightly as it must be prepared with proper tools, ingredients and with great care.  We spent the next hour documenting and discussing the recipe, her recounting the story of how she came about the recipe long ago with intense physical expression and exclamation in her voice that exuded a passion rarely seen, me listening intently and asking many questions along the way.  At the end of the dinner I left her house carrying the recipe on a piece of lined paper as if it were sacred, handling it with care and placing it folded neatly into my Joy of Cooking hardcover that I protected diligently throughout my entire journey from Aspen to Portland.

And just like that, I find myself in Portland, Oregon, living in a newly rented house scattered with luggage, boxes and recently purchased thrift store essentials.  A few days ago, as we eagerly unloaded what possessions we were able to carry with us along the journey from Tim’s exhausted sherpa of a vehicle into our new place, there were a few items that I just couldn’t wait to bring back into the light of day.   One of these was my Joy of Cooking, and not because of the necessity  of those thousands of recipes in it.  Rather, it was the lemon confit recipe that I had been dreaming about since the night I left Lucia’s house a week or so before leaving Colorado.  I had explained to her that night that I, very unfortunately, wouldn’t be able to start it until after arriving in Portland because of the time constraints.  And now that I had arrived, it was time.  Within a few days I had collected all of the necessities of the recipe, including an air-tight clear glass container that I found in the back of a dusty shelf of a vintage furniture store just a few blocks down the way, and after purchasing I practically sprinted home to get the party started.

Yesterday, I gathered the ingredients in my new somewhat cute, somewhat disheveled kitchen and went for it with much enthusiasm.  Although it will be time before I can sit down and enjoy my own homemade salty sour deliciousness, I wanted to share the recipe with whoever my still be reading this sorely neglected blog, in the language of the beloved Lucia, so that you too may enjoy such a delicacy in only a few week’s time.

Lucia’s Lemon Confit

Ingredients

10-20 good quality lemons

Salt (must be course, good quality, I used Kosher but Lucia prefers sea salt)

Olive oil

A wide-mouthed, clear, glass, air tight container

Take 5 or 6 (depending on the size of the lemon, however many you think will fit into the jar) remove ends and cut in quarters lengthwise, but leave one end still connected.  Take each lemon and place in the jar one by one, pouring a generous tablespoon of salt into each quartered lemon, and pack them in tightly.  Juice the rest of the lemons and pour the juice into the jar to fill about 3/4 to the top.  Top it with a generous tablespoon of olive oil and seal it tightly.  I first sealed it with saran wrap and then closed  the lid as tightly as possible.  Place it in a dark place, such as the back of a cabinet, for a month at least, tipping it ninety degrees each week.

Honestly, this recipe reminded me of the joys of doing a fourth grade science experiment!  Not only was it pretty easy and basic, but it was also messy and fun and contains in it the excitement of knowing that you are responsible for its creation and nurturing until it is ready for using!  And just as I find myself in a time of growth and transformation in this new place filled with all kinds of exciting and awesome things to do and see, so too is my beloved lemon confit.  So bear with us (the confit and myself) as we do a little bit of adjusting and at the very least by the end of the month I will have a delicious new creation to add to my cooking adventures.

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE

Week 2

Jalapeño Escabeche with Cauliflower

My very good friend Vanessa owns a cow.  Well, sort of.  You see, in the state of Colorado you must own a cow in order to legally consume raw, unpasteurized milk.  Or at least, you must own part of a cow.  Thus, she is part of a co-op in Carbondale whereupon paying her monthly dues entitles her to a portion of a cow’s raw milk.

The great thing about raw cow’s milk is the flavor and consistency.  For those of you who have never had the opportunity to enjoy raw cow’s milk, imagine as if the happiest cow on earth was kissed by a thousand angels and was then immediately milked.  With an incredibly creamy and rich consistency, it really is that good.  On the flipside, however, having been unprocessed there are no chemical additives or preservatives to keep the milk from going bad within a few days.  Not wanting it to go to waste, for the past couple of weeks Vanessa has been delivering me a small portion of this luscious nectar.  This past delivery was gone within one day without fail, my milk mustache smiling from ear to ear with each sip.

As she refuses to accept monetary compensation for her gifts, I’ve been brainstorming ways of repaying her.  This past delivery was given in a glass jar similar to what one may use as a container for pickling, so I thought why not pickle some vegetables in this jar of hers and deliver it back to her for a tastier form of repayment?  By combining a few online recipe suggestions, I came up with my own simple recipe for Jalapeño Escabeche with Cauliflower, a fancy way of saying pickled jalapeño with cauliflower, carrots and onion.

Jalapeño Escabeche with Cauliflower

Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 whole jalapeños, destemmed and sliced in 1/4 inch wheels
  • 2 or 3 carrots, skins removed and sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
  • Half an onion, chopped in large pieces
  • Half of a cauliflower head, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 large cloves of garlic, chopped in half
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. whole black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a pot and head on medium to high until boiling.  Stir continuously until the jalapeños change color from bright green to a darker olive green, about fifteen to twenty minutes.  Turn off heat and allow to cool before pouring mixture into a sterilized jar.  To maximize flavor, allow to refrigerate for 24 hours before eating.

I cannot confidently tell you that this recipe beats the flavor of raw cow’s milk, a true gift from the heavens, but if there’s any consolation then this is it.

Golden Beet, Fennel and Chickpeas Over Quinoa

I’ve known that there are a ton of fellow amateur food bloggers just like me all over the web, but actually getting out there and finding the ones that really appeal to me has always seemed like such a daunting task.  That is, up until a few days ago when I came across the website thekitchn.com where upon a little browsing I found a list of the nominees for Best Recipe Blogs of 2012.  Holy hell I am obsessed.  I literally cannot stop looking at all the other food blogs on this list.  It seems like every two seconds I find a new way of using an ingredient that I never thought of, or a technique or type of dish that makes me want to try my own spin on.

There are a few key themes running through many of these the blogs that appeal to me.  For example, pickling.  There are also some ingredients that keep popping up all over the place.  For instance, fennel.  Similarly, it seems like one of the most commonly utilized vegetables these days is the beet.  Just today at Gwyn’s High Alpine (the restaurant I work at) the special appetizer was a Roasted Tomato and Beet Napoleon with Basil Goat Cheese, an Avocado Vinaigrette and  Balsamic Drizzle.  Yum.

What I love about the beet is it’s versatility as well as the fact that you can cook with the greens as well.  Beet adds a sweet component to any dish without overpowering the other ingredients.

Golden Beet, Fennel and Chickpeas over Quinoa

Ingredients:

  • Half an onion, coarsely chopped
  • A few cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 or 4 golden beets (regular red beets can be used as well), chopped in one inch cubes and roughly de-skinned
  • Greens of 3 or 4 beets, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • Half a bulb of fennel, coarsely chopped
  • One can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
  • Half a jalapeno, seeds removed, minced
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Teaspoon ground cumin
  • Half teaspoon turmeric
  • Half cup of quinoa
  • One cup water
  • Drizzle of olive oil, for sauteing
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add beets.  Boil for 15-20 minutes, just until beets are tender then strain.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium-high.  Add onions and fennel, stirring frequently.  Add water to prevent burning.  Saute until onions start to become translucent, five or ten minutes, then add garlic, beets, beet greens, and jalapeno.  Saute for ten or more minutes until the fennel is cooked through and the beet greens are wilted.

At this point in a separate pot you will add the quinoa to one cup of water and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for fifteen minutes.  Simultaneously you will add chickpeas, lemon zest, lemon juice, cumin and turmeric to the beet mix.  Feel free to add a bit of water periodically to prevent burning, and also to get desired consistency for saute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve sauteed veggies on top of the quinoa.

See those crunchy looking garnishes up there?  Those are actually beet chips.  Pretty basic, really.  I just reserved one of the four beets and sliced it very thinly horizontally.  This is where a mandolin would have come in handy tonight.  Regardless, I have a great knife that can do a fine job slicing thinly.  I then coated the slices in olive oil, salt and pepper and baked for about 15-20 minutes while I was sauteing the rest of the veggies.  I recommend baking them at a lower temperature, about 350 or so, for longer so as to prevent burning.  The chips crisp up as they cool down.  They were awesome as a garnish, but I’d guess they’d be a perfect snack food as well.

My inspiration for this meal: The Kitchn, Couscous with Chickpeas, Fennel and Citrus

Lastly, I reserved half a bulb of fennel to try out this awesome looking pickling recipe I found on another food blog, Food in Jars.

Quick Pickled Fennel with Orange

Ingredients:

  • Fennel, thinly sliced (preferably with a mandolin but if you don’t have one then as thinly as possible)
  • Orange wedges
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinegar

Coat thinly sliced fennel pieces in sea salt and allow to sit for an hour.  Drain the liquid that is extracted from the fennel and combine fennel pieces with coarsely ground pepper and the orange wedges.  If there is extra juice from the orange that can be combined with the fennel mix as well.  Place orange fennel mix in jar, fill with the vinegar, seal and refrigerate.   It is best after 24 hours.

Source: Food In Jars 

Pickling Fail

I’m no Snooki, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for pickles.  Vlasic and Clausen were always my favorite pickles as a kid, but as I got older I began to appreciate the more unique flavors of home-made pickling recipes.  I think it’s super awesome when restaurants or small companies pickle their own ingredients from scratch, and I’ve always wanted to try my own.

Perhaps my most memorable pickle-themed story comes from a recent trip to visit old college friends in New York.  Before I moved out to Colorado I took a trip back east to visit Vassar as well as my friends in the city for a few days.  There was one night in particular where many of my closest college friends  planned to meet up at my girl Lisa’s apartment for a bit of pregaming before heading out to the bars.  A little wine, a little beer and the obligatory game of King’s Cup for old time’s sake, but it wasn’t until the idea of chasing whiskey shots with Vlasic pickle juice was brought to my attention that the night really took a memorable (or maybe not so memorable) turn.  Was this a good idea?  No.  But did I, at the time, think that this was the best idea anyone had ever come up with?  Absolutely.  After a few shots of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser, things for a little hazy and what happened afterwards I will probably never recall.  What I do distinctly remember, though, is the hideous hangover the next morning, tossing and turning on Lisa’s couch accompanied by periodic trips to the toilet to heave up sour lime green pickle juice.

And with that story in mind, allow me to tell you a bit about my first pickling experience.  I would like to start by saying this: please don’t be intimidated by pickling; it was a whole lot easier than expected.  All you really need is some fresh veggies or fruit and vinegar.  Now with those ingredients alone you will create a pretty bland flavor, so I certainly recommend spicing it up a bit in ways that are endless!  For my first batch, I thinly sliced cucumber, carrot and onion.  In a saucepan I heated up white vinegar, added a few tablespoons of sugar (to cut the sour),  some dried dill, a few halved garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, salt, course ground pepper, and a stick of cinnamon just for fun.  After the liquid was heated to a simmer, I removed from heat and poured over the veggies in a container, covered it and placed in the fridge.  Within an hour or so, the veggies were successfully pickled.

Now, I’m not giving you many specifics of this recipe because, frankly, I was not very satisfied with the end product.  After all, it was my first pickling experience and my goal here was just to throw a few things together to see what kind of flavor I could create.  After tasting, I felt that I went too heavy on the sugar and the cinnamon, in this case, was a bit odd for my taste buds.  But through this experience I’m feeling inspired to create my own pickling recipe that I will share with you all once it’s tweaked and fine tuned.  I just wanted to get the word out there that pickling isn’t as difficult as you may think, and that there’s a lot more to it than sour lime green liquid.