Tag Archives: acid

In a Pickle

I get inspired by food in various ways. Sometimes travel will inspire my path of meals and recipes, like my recent trip back to Santa Fe. A visit to a local farmer’s market is always great for inspiration, with their abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients. Other times I will find inspiration online, through a plethora of food sites, blogs and recipes.

growing fresh vegetables in your garden taste great!

Red Jalapeños simply have spent more time in the sun than their green amigos.

But what inspires me most often, is what I already have on hand. Whether that be in the pantry, the fridge or in my own front yard, I try and maintain a fair amount of food staples at the ready. The ability to have choices allows for a more creative kitchen and table. Usually I will sit down over the weekend and ‘guestimate’ what we may have for meals the rest of the week. Depending on the season and weather, that will have the biggest influence on what get’s cookin’.

For example, if it’s 90 degrees outside (and therefore at least 80 degrees inside), the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven. A braise? No way. Casserole? Uh uh. And please, I love salads, but I usually don’t feel satisfied making an entire dinner out of one. And if you have kids in the house, you pretty much know this will never fly. A stove top or outdoor grill is always a good solution.

The New Mexican image for Peppers

Creative Pepper Placement is Phun!

But back to the inspiration part. Last week I was putzing in my very modest garden, the last couple weeks of summer coming to an end, the produce following suit. The remainder of our ‘bounty’ was limited to a few bits of arugula, and some jalapeño peppers. I grew jalapeños this year because it is one of the few peppers that I can actually grow with some success here along the Central Coast.

With all past attempts at cultivating bell peppers, poblanos and various other types of caspius here, it’s just not hot enough for an extended season to get those babies to bust out. They start with the proper growth, blossoms and hearty stocks, then the peppers start to come in, and…

They just never get any bigger. Like they just got tired and gave up. So I gave up too. But jalapeños like it here. And I like them, so it’s been a good match.

However, my use of these little guys hasn’t really been all that, well, here’s the word again: inspiring. They fought so hard just to make themselves big and strong in my little garden, and all I was doing was dicing them up in guacamole. Or slicing a few in a quesadilla. Quite frankly, I think they were a little hurt. Yes, I have a strange relationship with food, I know this. I honestly believe food has a soul, especially food that is grown from the earth, with sun, water and nourishment. Vegetables have souls; yes. Yes, they do.

Last month when I went back to Santa Fe, one of my girlfriends brought over a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles, which she made from my recipe (which I can’t find right now, but I’ll make a post of it later, I promise). Basically, it’s vinegar, pickling spice, sugar, some oil and not much else. Kirby cucumbers are sliced in nice size chunks, the vinegar and spices are brought to a boil, then the chunks of cucumbers are packed tightly in a few mason jars, and the hot liquid goes inside for the ride. After a few days, you have sweet, tangy pickles.

Well, kirby cucumber season is long gone, but I’ve got some cute little jalapeños that might like a vinegar bath, so I gave it a shot. Since I had only a meager pound of peppers (which would hopefully be pickled perfectly), I threw in some carrots and onions too. If I had some fresh cauliflower laying around, I would have put some of those florets in the mix as well.

The recipe came together in about 15 minutes. And no, I didn’t bother with the whole canning process because honestly, for 2 jars of the stuff, I figured the sheer amount of acid from the vinegar and the refrigeration would ward off any spoilage for a couple of months.

I tasted the recipe after a couple days in the fridge. Meh. I was disappointed. Not much flavor from the pickling spice came through; the vinegar was really overpowering and hadn’t mellowed like I had hoped. Boo. I promptly placed the jar back in the cooler and forgot about it until today.

What a difference a week makes. Wow.

I was rummaging through the icebox this afternoon, trying to throw a quick lunch together while watching some football, when I spotted the jars. I knew I had some whole wheat tortillas and some good queso fresco in house, so I whipped up a batch of quesadillas.

I simply took out a few of the peppers, some carrots and onions, diced them all up and threw them into the tortillas with the cheese. As they seared in the pan, I dug my fingers back into the jar, plucked out a pepper and tasted.

The vinegar had mellowed as I had hoped. It now blended with the pickling spices to create an earthy yet bold hit. The heat from the jalapeños were serious, and they had spread their joy to the carrots and onions. This was a hit!

pickling spice, vinegar and love

You can throw this recipe together while drinking beer and watching football. Score!

I can think of many great ways to serve this condiment. Throw some in a bowl the next time you make an antipasti platter. Tuck a few of these spicy treats in a panini before your grill it. Top your favorite burger or roast beef sandwich with a scattering of these delectable delights. Nachos? Oh yes. Jazz up a cheese pizza. Sprinkle some into your next batch of soup just before serving. One taste of these heavenly spiced bombs will hopefully convince you to ignore those jars of green grey, soggy ‘pickled peppers’ that have been camping on a shelf in your local grocery store for the last 18 months. Ick. Really.

Spicy vegetables are yummy

Jalapeños & Vegetables? Meet Acid & Spice. Get cozy.

These babies will make you sweat. They will make you smile. And when they are gone, they will make you sad.

The recipe below will make 2 pints of pickled vegetables. You can double this recipe if desired. And feel free to play with this recipe. Add some cauliflower, sweet peppers and baby corn to the mix. Get inspired. That’s the funnest way to cook!

Pickled Jalapeños and Vegetables makes 2 pints.

Ingredients:

  • Approximately 2 dozen jalapeños
  • 1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1- 1/2 tablespoons pickling spices
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly

Directions:

  • Puncture each jalapeño with a toothpick or skewer, 3 or 4 times. Pack the peppers, carrots, onions and any other vegetables you may be using tightly in pint size mason jars.
  • Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Stir to combine well. Remove from heat and carefully pour hot liquid evenly into jars, to about 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Seal with lids and screw tops tightly. (At this point, if you wish to make a larger batch and extend the shelf life, you can process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Click here for canning tips).
  • After mixture has cooled, place jars in refrigerator, and keep chilled. The mixture will be ready to eat in about 5-7 days. Mixture will keep refrigerated, up to two months.
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If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

The heat wave continues its assault here in Santa Barbara. Despite a recent ocean breeze offering some relief, it’s still too hot to cook inside.

My kitchen has cooled off a bit, but I can’t imagine spending the next hour or more in its inferno. I have some steaks which I’ll throw on the grill tonight. I’ll toss together a salad and open some wine. Done. Grilled steaks are fine, but after years of working in bistros I know how a sauce partnered with a steak can transform the meal. A plain steak just seems, well.

Plain.

A great sauce requires a few basics. A pan. Some pan seared protein. Liquid to de-glaze the brown bits from the bottom of said pan. Additional ingredients such as stock, vegetables and herbs are needed. Butter makes it better. Cream? Bring it. But since I won’t be sautéing anything tonight, the pan is out of the equation. Now, I could in theory devise a sauce separate from the steak, but it’s just too much damn work. And let’s remember the heat factor people. Sauce is out.

Luckily I have plan B, insuring tonight’s meal won’t disappoint. A lean, grass fed sirloin has been getting cozy with a marinade of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic and ginger for a good part of the day. Over some hot coals I’ll sear the steak, grill some ciabatta on the side and top it all off with a generous spoon of Red Onion Marmalade.

This delicious condiment is a mainstay in my fridge and easy to prepare. All you need are a few ingredients and a bit of time. The jam cooks on the stove top, and while it takes a good hour to make it requires little supervision. You can make this any time of day while you do other things. This jam holds beautifully in the fridge for several months, the sugar and acids serving as natural preservatives.

The marmalade will serve you well with its multiple ‘personalities’. A perfect match to beef and pork, it’s also a wonderful addition to a grilled panini, as a topping to slather on flat bread or mixed into your favorite meat loaf or meatball recipe. It can turn an ordinary burger into an extraordinary meal. Ketchup? Doesn’t stand a chance. I’ve even used it as a topping for pizza. It works.

Tomorrow I will post the recipe; I encourage you to make it soon. Having a jar (or two) at the ready may not be life changing, but right now? I’m not in the kitchen. I’m enjoying a glass of wine outside, the grill is ready to fire up. The salad is chilling, and so am I.

Life changing? Perhaps.

You Say Tomahto…

Summer Tomatoes = Love

Summer Tomatoes = Love

I am finally able to post the Summer Gazpacho Soup recipe here for you.

After yesterday’s debacle, I found myself unable to sleep last night. I think I finally nodded off around 2 am, only to awaken again at 5. It was not the best way to start the day. However, I am pleased to report my caffeine induced nightmare is behind me and although somewhat sleep deprived, I am no worse for wear. I did refrain from coffee today though, and I am heeding my father in-law’s advice and having some red wine tonight!

Tomorrow’s post will take me down memory lane, and I’ll be writing about my early thoughts of food and how the comfort of familiar dishes can get us all through some bleak moments. For now, let us continue to enjoy the present and all its great summer flavors.

Mise en place for Gazpacho

Mise en place for Gazpacho

The key to this recipe is using the most gorgeous summer vegetables and herbs. Since this soup is cold and never cooked over heat where flavors can meld and intensify, I recommend you store this soup in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving. This batch improved greatly after a couple days of chill time.

Also, feel free to substitute cilantro for either parsley, basil or dill if you prefer. The vinegars can be traded out as well, balsamic or red wine, sherry or apple cider. I do find the acid of a Spanish Sherry Wine Vinegar is just perfect for this dish but honestly, use what’s in your pantry! As for the chile; if you like it, use it. If your palate is sensitive to heat, the soup will be lovely without it.

This is a peasant and rustic soup which is why I didn’t strain the finished product. I actually quite like the bits and flecks of color and textures swimming in my bowl. Also I figured the fiber alone from all the vegetables warrant leaving it as is.

Thanks to my brother and sister in-law’s lovely birthday gift this year, I whipped up this soup in 10 minutes flat. Cuisinarts and food loving family rule!

Chillin’ Summer Gazpacho Makes about 8 cups

Let your food processor do the work for you – a large rough chop of all vegetables are fine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 english cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small or 1/2 large spanish onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar, or vinegar of your choice
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
Sixty Seconds to Soup

Sixty Seconds to Soup

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in food processor and mix until smooth and blended. Taste for seasoning. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 24 hours, up to 5 days. Adjust seasoning as needed before serving.

If desired, finish each bowl with a spoon of plain yogurt, some sliced avocado and chopped chives or your favorite herbs.

Need a Lift? Drop Some Acid.

No, I am not tripping, nor am I advocating you do anything similar. I’m talking about using acid as a food enhancer.

I once worked with a very talented chef, who although I suspect was probably high half the time, taught me a few things about acid and flavors.

Chef explained that when food tasted ‘flat’, it could usually use salt or more often than not, a bit of acid. At first I was perplexed by this statement, but I learned what my chef was trying to teach me.

The kitchen crew would be busy preparing dishes for service, cooks heavy with tasks and  items to prep and complete. Chef would routinely come on line to sample the food, sipping sauces, dressings, tasting our recent projects.

Chef would then yay or nay our progress, asking questions about recipes used. Ultimately I would hear the following sentences often enough, I began to understand the process of ingredients, chemistry and their dance together.

“More salt.”

“Needs acid.”

When properly used, acid enhances the natural flavors in the food you are preparing. It won’t alter the dish so much, but it gives it punch. It has this wonderful ability to give foods another layer of flavor. This I learned, could turn a mediocre meal into a party in the mouth.

Let me give you a few examples that will make good foods taste even better. Chances are you already have a few, if not all these goodies in your pantry or fridge right now. The following list is a sample of what I call my “Arsenal of Flavors.”

This is only a sampling of acids I recommend, but this will get you started. They are extremely versatile and demonstrate the beauty of key flavors. Hopefully, they will transform your meals, get you cooking more  and enjoying great food!

  • Citrus juice and their zest (orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Spanish Sherry Vinegar
  • Champagne Vinegar
  • Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Red and White Wines
  • Some liquors and cordials such as Sake, Tequila, Port and Brandy
  • Pernod or Dry Vermouth
  • Mustards
  • Capers
  • Beer!
  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce

Here is a recipe I am using tonight which incorporates acid in a marinade, a great example which will impart maximum flavor versus just throwing the damn bird on the grill. No love or respect. Without further adieu, I give you:

Love and Respect Marinade for Grilled Chicken

This marinade would also work well for shrimp, scallops, various cuts of fish and pork. Tonight I’m using 1 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. This marinate makes about 1 cup, enough for up to 2 or 3 pounds of meat.

Key ingredients for the win.

Key ingredients for the win.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a measuring cup. Stir completely and pour over meat, chicken or seafood. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour, turning halfway if you remember.

Giving the chicken some love.

Giving the chicken some love.

Remove meat from marinade and season with salt. Discard marinade. Grill chicken thighs over indirect heat until cooked through, about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes.

I am grilling the chicken tonight because it is still hotter than the be-jesus over here. I suppose you could broil the chicken, or saute, but I think a marinade and summer should require an outdoor cooking vessel.

Speaking of which, time to stop blogging, and get cooking.