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.

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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

rub me the right way

Last weekend may have been the unofficial start of Summer, but in my mind it actually began a few weeks ago. You see for me the early days of Summer have less to do with the calendar and more to do with rediscovering life outdoors. It’s little things like; starting each day off with coffee on the deck, my vegetable garden being fully planted and prospering, the remaining school year being counted in weeks rather than months and the grill and smoker working overtime churning out something delicious nearly everyday of the week. Yeah, it’s definitely the little things that best tell the story of the season for me.

My husband received an offset smoker as a birthday gift about a year ago and has been on a mission to become the ultimate backyard smokin’ guru ever since. He spent last summer perfecting smoked chicken and ribs— he modified the firebox, researched optimal fuel types and temps, watched countless hours of BBQ Pit Masters and collaborated with yours truly on marinades, rubs and sauces. We spent a considerable amount of time developing a wet rub that was initially our go to recipe for ribs, but after giving it a try on chicken it ended up our go to recipe for just about everything. Shrimp, ribs, chicken, pork roast… it’s a winner every time.

Basically all a rub consists of is ground spices, sugar and salt, pretty simple. Rubs are typically massaged into the meat and then allowed to sit for a few hours so that the flavors can permeate. Our recipe starts out pretty much the same as all the others but then we add a twist— apple cider vinegar. You see we wanted to develop a rub recipe that would ensure the meat would stay moist during its long cook on the smoker, would provide plenty of flavor and would work to tenderize and “flavorize” the meat rather quickly. (While we always plan our smoking adventures well in advance we’re not always so quick on the fire building prep and execution!) In the past I’ve used balsamic vinegar as a quick marinade for grilled pork chops— the acids in the vinegar help to tenderize the meat in a very short amount of time and keep it moist while it cooks. Balsamic is a pretty strong flavor, but I thought apple cider vinegar would achieve the same results with a much more appealing profile. We mixed together our spices, added brown sugar and kosher salt, poured in the vinegar, blended until it was a watery paste and schmeared it all over the meat. Holy moly it was amazing!

And as they say… the rest is history.

Best Ever BBQ Wet Rub
This rub works well on everything. Seriously, everything.

rib rub2

1 tsp. smoked paprika
1-2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
2 tsp. ground cumin
3 tsp. kosher salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
5 tsp. brown sugar
5 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Schmear all over the meat and allow to sit for a few hours before smoking or grilling*.

*Because of the brown sugar in the rub be sure to grill the meat slowly over a medium-low flame to avoid charing.

spring into chimichurri

After having endured a longest, coldest, harshest winter of memory, Spring couldn’t come soon enough for this girl. Cool mornings, warm afternoons, flowers blooming, birds chirping, the world seeming to suddenly come back to life as if overnight. Just the mention of Spring makes me feel relaxed; like the burden of boots, coats and scarves has been lifted. But wait, what’s that falling from the sky? Snow… in April… Are you kidding me!? And that sound, is that rain? And rain and rain and more rain. WTF Mother Nature— because we haven’t been through enough? Seriously girlfriend, you suck. But I digress…

Regardless of the type of Winter I’ve just lived through, Spring is always a welcome season in my book. It’s fresh, green and full of promise. It makes me want to be outside, to simply slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature rediscovering the world. Spring always makes me think of herbs and herbs make me think of pesto. I love pesto. I love the fresh herbal taste, the pungent garlic and the salty cheese combination. I’ve been known to use it on everything I can think of and sometimes I even eat it right off the spoon. Yeah, I really love it. So it would only seem natural that Chimichurri (the Argentine answer to pesto) would be right up my alley.

I’m lucky to live close enough to Newark N.J. (that’s right, I said lucky enough) that we think nothing of taking a trip to the Ironbound section for dinner. The Ironbound is filled with amazing Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish and Argentinian restaurants; each paying a subtle homage to its neighboring cuisine. Years spent frequenting this little world unto itself has taught me a lot about food; more specifically how simple can become extraordinary with a few little twists. The perfect example; steak on a stone. Steak brought to the table and quickly seared on a screaming hot stone or terra cotta tile, finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and served with some beautifully green and garlicky Chimichurri. It is the epitome of simple ingredients resulting in extraordinary flavor.

Since our last dinner in the Ironbound I’ve started making Chimichurri at home. It’s as easy to make as pesto, fills my salty/garlicky/spicy/herbal perfectly and has quickly become my condiment of choice for just about everything. No joke, everything.

Chimichurri
I am totally obsessed with this stuff. Drizzled on steak, tossed with potatoes, splashed on greens or even eaten right of the spoon. Hello deliciousness!

chimmichuri2

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6-8 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup good quality olive oil

  1. Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to process until smooth.
  2. Transfer the Chimichurri to a serving dish and let stand for at least 1 hour before serving. (The Chimichurri can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving.)

*adapted from food & wine

pickled red onions

Last weekend I decided to drag out my crock pot and make a little pulled pork. I didn’t have a pulled pork recipe to follow, but what I did have was the recipe for those crazy good Pulled Turkey Tacos that I blogged about a while ago. I figured I could swap a pork loin for the turkey cutlets and serve it on rolls instead of soft taco shells. And so a pulled pork recipe was born.

The pulled pork turned out just as I had hoped; the meat was super tender, it had just the right amount of sauce and it was a touch spicy but not so much so that the kids declared it inedible. And one of the best things about having a crock pot full of pulled pork— there’s always plenty of leftovers for during the week! Not surprisingly I decided to serve the leftovers as soft taco filling, just as I had the pulled turkey. But while the turkey tacos were delicious with your standard issue cheese, lettuce, sour cream etc., I wanted to jazz my pulled pork tacos up a bit. How you may ask, well with pickled red onions of course! I already had it in my mind that I wanted to try pickling my own onions (I had tried to make cucumbers last summer and they ended in disaster), so now that pulled pork tacos were on the menu it seemed like perfect timing.

The onions were amazing! I added them to the pulled pork soft taco along with some aged cheddar and fresh cilantro and it seriously made a good taco into an extraordinary one.

Pickled Red Onions
These pickled onions are a fantastic addition to tacos, sandwiches and salads. They add a lovely bright and fresh crunch.

pickled onion in jar

1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced

  1. In a small saucepan stir together the vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Placed the sliced onion in a glass jar and pour the vinegar brine over it. Squish the onion down so that it is fully submerged in the brine, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.

*adapted from rachel ray/bobby flay