Sunday, July 22, 2012

Emerging Foodie Test Kitchen... Er, Make That Bar

In my previous post about my foray into pickling, I mentioned that I had a few fresh cucumbers left over, which I planned to combine with the first gleanings from the jalapeno plants in my garden to make the cucumber-jalapeno margarita my buddy Andy Jackson had published as his Margarita of the Month for July at his Disney food blog Eating (and Drinking) Around the World.

Today, coming home after a few hours of doorknocking with my favorite candidate for state senate, I needed a drink, and what better one than this? I won't detail the procedure — all I did was follow Andy's recipe — but the short version is that I combined (homegrown) jalapeno, (locally sourced) cucumber, cilantro, lime juice, agave nectar, silver tequila, and Cointreau to make a genuinely delicious cocktail.

The earthy tang of the tequila, the smooth cool of the cucumber, the heat of the jalapeno, and the acid of the lime are all in perfect balance, with just the right amount of sweetness coming from the agave nectar. Even with the spice, it was the perfect ending to a long, hot day.

I urge all my readers (all two of 'em!) to try Andy's other margaritas of the month(s): I've never failed to enjoy one of these recipes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Actual Cooking: In a Pickle!

A couple weeks ago, I heard Terry Gross's 2-part Fresh Air interview with fermentation guru Sandor Katz, and was instantly moved to go out and buy his new book, The Art of Fermentation. You'll have to wait for a review — it's a massive tome, and I've barely scratched the surface — but the reason I was so hot to get the book right now was the fact that pickling cukes were in season at the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, and Katz's description of making fresh sour pickles made it seem so easy even I could do it.

As of tonight, I can tell you that it is and I have! Last Sunday I picked up 4 lb of small, straight pickling cucumbers, a bunch of dill (to supplement my own heat-ravaged dill plants), and a fresh head of garlic, all from local farms, and Tuesday night I got "cooking" (no heat involved, actually):

I put the cukes in a large bowl of ice water and let them soak for about an hour. In the meantime, I mixed up about 3 quarts of a 5% brine (50g of sea salt per liter of water), using filtered tap water (just the built-in filter in our fridge). I rinsed the head of garlic and cut it in half crosswise (it's not necessary to even peel it); rinsed a goodly handful of dill fronds, plus some dill flower heads from my garden; and on a whim, peeled and quartered a small organic carrot (also from the CRFM): Everything went into a 1 gal glass jar (purchased from a local winemakers/homebrewers shop). Mindful of Katz's recommendation to include something high in tannin to help preserve crunch, but not having grape leaves or a green banana peel, I tossed in a tea bag.

Then I drained the cukes and loaded them into the jar, and then poured in the brine to fill. I was worried about how I would weight down the vegetables, to make sure they were well covered with brine, but the shape of the jar made that unnecessary.

Within an hour or two, small bubbles were rising in the brine; by the next day, a small amount of foam (but no visible mold) was floating in the neck of the jar. Thursday (yesterday), I tested one. It was definitely pickling, but not quite done; my Lovely Bride™ declared the flavor delicious. Tonight I tested another: It was clearly pickled all the way through, and really tasty... almost as good as the ones they serve at Rein's Deli here in Vernon (OK, I may be a tiny bit overly proud, there).

Later this evening, I'll transfer them to clean quart Ball jars and put them in the fridge. Since they're not preserved or processed, they'll need to be kept cold, and they won't keep forever, but I don't think that'll be a problem!

The best part is that I have a few cukes left over, and fresh jalapenos in the garden, so tomorrow I'll be able to try my buddy Andy's hot-off-the-(Word)presses Cucumber-Jalapeno Martini of the Month!

[edited for minor punctuation error]