pickles in the rainforest

There are a few things in this world that I just can’t cope with; tops on the list being bugs. I’m not proud of this and I try to be brave when faced with one needing “relocation” but really… Blech! Glack! Eeek! (with a shiver thrown in for good measure.) However I’ve come to realize that for me location totally factors into my bravery quotient. When I discover a GIANT spider among the cucumber plants, only after I’m elbow deep attempting to harvest what’s ripe, I’m totally calm, cool and collected. Yet if the same spider should happen to show up in the house (or god forbid in my car), I come completely unglued. Sad, yet true. But here’s my theory: The universe places obstacles in your path as an opportunity for growth. It’s then up to you to deal with and overcome the obstacle or to allow it dictate the journey. And since I’m the kinda girl who prefers to be the captain of her own ship, I’ll be damned if I let a spider or two determine my path. (Not to mention what if one day the opportunity for an all-expenses paid trip to the Amazon rainforest should come along. I need to be prepared to laugh in the face of creepy, crawly things!)

Okay so back to cucumbers. (What, you didn’t know that’s where all this was headed?) This year my garden produced an abundance of cucumbers like never before. I would harvest an armful in the evening and find a bunch more ready for picking the next morning. In the past when I’ve had more cucumbers than we could eat I attempted to make pickles. The results can only be categorized as a total epic fail. Nothing but a heartbreakingly salty, vinegary, mushy mess in a jar. I swore I would never waste my beautiful homegrown cucumbers to pickling again, but that wicked and wily universe I spoke of earlier had other ideas. Flash forward to this Summer’s bumper cucumber crop. My daughter (and fellow cucumber lover) and I have eaten cucumbers as a snack on a near daily basis, I’ve exhausted every salad and sandwich recipe I have in my repertoire, I’ve sent them to work with my husband and given dozens away… yet I’m still faced with more on the vine. “Pickles Mom. Just make pickles.” my daughter says matter-of-factly. I considered the idea. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was letting past failures dictate my journey. Maybe it was time to get over it and get on with it.

And so that’s just what I did.

Simple Refrigerator Dill Pickles
These were delicious and the perfect way to use all your homegrown lovelies.

image

3 cups distilled white vinegar
5 tbsp. kosher salt
6 tbsp. sugar
5 cups cold water
3 1/2 lbs Kirby cucumbers
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
handful fresh dill sprigs
2 – 1 quart jars with lids

  1. Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar in a large sauce pot and whisk over medium heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cold water. Refrigerate the brine while you prep the cucumbers.
  2. Cut the cucumbers into equally sized spears and set aside. Divide the coriander seeds, garlic cloves, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and dill sprigs between each of the jars. Tightly pack the cucumbers spears in the jars and top with the chilled brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, giving a little shake now and then. The longer the cucumbers are allowed to sit in the brine the less “new pickle” they will be and the more “traditional” dill pickle they will become.

*adapted from once upon a chef

matzo balls + divine intervention

There’s a kosher deli not far from our house that my family loves to go to. They’ve got killer pastrami, fantastic chopped liver, an open face turkey sandwich that makes my daughter swoon and some of the finest matzo ball soup around. Just thinking about it makes me what to jump in the car and head there…PRONTO!

As you know by now we eat a lot of soup in our house. Anything from Red Lentil, Homemade Wonton or Smoked Chicken & Corn Chowder to Curried Carrot & Parsnip, Creamy Broccoli & Kale or nothing fancy but always delicious Chicken Soup. When I make chicken soup I typically serve it with some sort of noodles and a healthy sprinkle of grated cheese on top (I guess that’s the Italian in me). One recent afternoon I returned home from the store with a meaty chicken destined for the pot, only to discover a package from Cooking Light sitting in my mailbox. It contained two copies of their latest cookbook “Lighten Up, America!”. One copy for me to add to my collection and perhaps try a few recipes from and one to offer to my readers as a giveaway. Nice right?

Lighten Up, America! is filled with all the classic down-home recipes you’ve come to love, tweaked up a smidge to make them less of a guilty indulgence and more of an everyday option. Bacon and Corn Chowder with Shrimp, thickened by pureeing some of the soup rather than with loads of cream. Pound Cake that replaces the butter in the batter with canola oil that’s been flavored with a vanilla bean and Green Goddess Dressing that substitutes Greek yogurt and canola mayonnaise for traditional mayo and sour cream. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Anyway back to the soup… As I was flipping through the book trying to decide which tasty recipe to try first I discovered a recipe for matzo balls. I don’t know about you, but it struck me as a bit of divine intervention that a cookbook with a matzo ball recipe should arrive on my doorstep the very same day that I intended to make chicken soup! Seriously, how could I possibly ignore that kind of direct message from the universe… And so I made matzo balls.

I may not have grown up eating my Grandmas matzo balls (she was a tiny meatballs and pastina in her soup kinda Grandma) but I have eaten enough matzo ball soup in my time to say that this recipe was pretty darn good. The matzo balls were light and fluffy, fresh and flavorful, easy to make and a lovely change from the typical noodles. My family may still prefer to go the noodle and grated cheese route, but I’m a girl who likes variety and is quite happy to now have a matzo ball card up her sleeve!

“Light As Air” Matzo Balls
This may not be the most traditional of recipes, but its a pretty tasty one all the same.

matza ball

1 tbsp. canola oil
2 large eggs
1/4 cup club soda
2/3 cup matzo meal
2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together the oil and eggs. Stir in the club soda, matzo meal, dill, salt, and pepper; chill 30 minutes.
  2. Wet your hands, gently scoop out a bit of the mixture and shape into 8 equal sized balls.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Gently drop the uncooked matzo balls into the simmering water, cover and allow to cook for 25-35 minutes or until matzo balls are tender and cooked through. (To test doneness insert a toothpick in the center of a ball, it should easily slide through.)
  4. Serve in a bowl of chicken soup or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*adapted from lighten up, america!

Now onto the giveaway… To enter to win your own copy of Lighten Up, America! please leave me a comment telling me what your favorite food indulgence is and if you’ve ever considered making/eating a lighter version of it.

lighten-up-america

What food do I find impossible to resist, that’s easy— potato chips. If there’s an open bag in the house I can’t keep my hands off them! I actually have considered trying to make a healthier baked version but honestly, I’d rather just eat a handful (or two) of real chips now and again rather than healthy ones all the time. So how about you, what food makes your resolve to eat healthy a distant memory? Is it a peanut butter and bacon sandwich? Pizza loaded with extra cheese and pepperoni? A triple scoop hot fudge sundae? Whatever it is I’d love to hear about it!

Please leave your comment between Monday, October 28, 2013 and midnight Monday, November 4, 2013. One comment per person please, US residents only. Entries must be left via the comment form at the bottom of this post. A winner will be selected using Random.org. on Tuesday November 5th and will be promptly contacted.

So please leave a comment and then feel free to…

  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Twitter.
  • Become a beets and blue cheese follower via e-mail
    (you’ll find the “follow me” button at the top of this page).
  • Like beets and blue cheese’s facebook page.
  • Share this giveaway with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck!

st. anthony’s + the spani-queen

As a blogger I work very hard at self-promotion. This doesn’t come entirely naturally to me but, if I want an actual audience to read my weekly type written blood, sweat and tears then I have no choice but to promote myself at every opportunity. However sometimes the audience actually finds me all on their own. And once they find me and read what I’ve been rambling on about they actually contact me to say “We like your sassy style and pithy prose, please join our posse!” And so I do…

I was recently invited to join in the preparations for St. Anthony Orthodox Church’s 37th Annual International Festival. Every November St. Anthony’s in Bergenfield, N.J. hosts a three-day event featuring a variety of homemade Greek, Middle Eastern, Slavic and Eastern European foods. In the weeks leading up to the festival the parish gathers together to make the vast array of foods that will feed hungry festival-goers. I’m never one to turn down a good culinary opportunity, so when invited to join the food prep fun I wholeheartedly agreed. The night I went to help they were making spanakopita, mountains and mountains of spanakopita.

I’ll be honest with you, prior to joining the crew at St. Anthony’s my experience with spanakopita was strictly limited to eating, but Master Spani Chef Jim Bogris wasted no time introducing me to the secrets of the perfect spanakopita. Jim’s recipe is based on his mother Angela’s, who as it happens was the festivals “Spani-Queen” for twenty plus years prior handing the reigns over to her son. She still lends a hand in the assembly but leaves the heavy lifting and stirring of an enormous caldron of spinach mixture to the younger folks. (Smart lady!) According to Jim what sets his recipe apart from others is the amount of fresh herbs he uses and the three cheese; Pecorino Romano, ricotta and feta. Oh and he has a motto that goes something like this “There is no such thing as too much butter. If you think you’ve used enough, use a little more.”

I think I need that printed on a shirt…

Yai-Yai’s Spanakopita
This recipe has been handed down through generations of the Bogris family. I wouldn’t think of tweaking it and honestly, it doesn’t need a thing changed anyway.*

group2

1 lb. #7 phyllo dough sheets
3/4 to 1 lb. clarified butter (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch dill, minced
1 bunch parsley, minced
1 lb. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 lb grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 lb. ricotta cheese (whole milk)
6 eggs, beaten
3 lbs. frozen chopped spinach (thawed, drained and squeezed dry)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In large pot heat olive oil, add scallions, onions, dill, parsley, and sauté until soft.
  2. Add spinach to pot and sauté another 10-15 minutes (mixing continuously so it doesn’t stick).
  3. In a large bowl mix crumbled feta, Romano cheese, ricotta cheese and eggs. Add to pot and mix thoroughly.
  4. Butter the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan and cover with a sheet of phyllo. Continue layering sheets of phyllo and buttering each layer with pastry brush, placing on the bottom a total of 8 buttered layers of phyllo dough.
  5. Top the phyllo layers with the spinach mixture.
  6. Cover with 8 more layers of buttered phyllo dough (again, buttering each individually while tucking in the sides.
  7. Score the top two layers of phyllo in triangles or squares, being careful not to cut into the mixture.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top.

*courtesy of st. anthony’s church

*According to Jim the spanakopita can be made ahead, wrapped in foil then plastic wrap and frozen for several months. Allow it to defrost in the refrigerator overnight and bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes at 350°F.

lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats