Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cool n' Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar

The perfect mix of sweet, tangy, little bit fiery, and fresh. The stuff my Nanny (read: grandma) always had in the fridge in summer as soon as the cucumbers were ripe in her Tennessee garden. My version is sweeter than it is tangy and has a spicy little bite from hot peppers. I use it as a topper for salads, a side dish at almost every meal, and on sandwiches all summer..except maybe PB&Js. This week the Farmer's Market yielded golden cucumbers and new red onions which made the wonderfully colorful jar on the right. And within 24 hrs it had a lovely pink hue from those onions.

I look for smallish cucumbers usually, but this long english cucumber (like the kind shrinkwrapped in the store) makes a really good choice because the seedy part is minimal and never mushy. The golden cukes turned out to be fairly green inside and quite seedy so I scooped that  part with a spoon.

I think these are best when cut very thin. A mandoline makes quick work of this step. I use my ├╝ber cheap, ancient Ronco slicer-dicer gadget (set to #2, for anyone out there who is lucky enough to have one of these little baby dinosaurs lying around). Go ahead and layer cucumbers alternating with onions in the jar before pouring on the liquid.  Mix 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water with 3/4 cup vinegar, good pinch of salt and pepper. I whisk this together but it really doesn't matter whether the sugar dissolves now or after you pour into the jar. It will all work out.
Ratio is 3 times as much vinegar as sugar.

Slowly pour the liquid until it is almost to the top. The cucumbers will release more juice and top it off within a few hours. For the yellow cukes I used Champagne vinegar. You can try various others, but plain white is the standby.
I add the peppers last because they're easiest to get into place after the liquid. Slip a butter knife into the jar to gently press back the vegetables and make room to slide the peppers in all around. I know they're beautiful, but don't get too carried away unless you like it HOT! Because it's still a little early for fresh red peppers I used these dried Ancho Chiles which turn bright red again in the jar.

I added one more flavor element to this jar. It's a garlic scape, the top part of the growing garlic that is chopped off early in the season. These keep for ages in the fridge and I still had some from weeks ago. They impart a nice mild garlic flavor and look kind of interesting in the jar and not snakey at all, hmm. Some fresh dill goes in last right on the top. I only had a little to add this week, but the more the merrier, if you have plenty. Give these a day to flavor up and have at 'em! They only get better and better as the days go by, not that you can expect them to last very long.
4-6 small cucumbers
1 vidalia onion
fresh dill

    Today you can find me on the Food Network website! Summer Fest is underway at FN Dish and this week we're all blogging about Cucumbers. Stay tuned for more summer fruit and veg posts throughout the summer and in the mean time check out these other great blogs about cukes:

    What’s Gaby Cooking: Cucumber-Basil Gimlet
    In Jennie’s Kitchen: Radish-Cucumber Crostini
    Grecian Kitchen: Summer Cucumber Salad
    Cooking With My Kid: Cucumber Limeade
    CIA Dropout: Relishing Cucumbers
    Healthy Eats: Cool Cucumber Soup
    Food for 7 Stages of Life: Cucumber Cherry Salsa
    Cooking With Elise: Green Tea Cucumber Pops
    Virtually Homemade: Cold Thai Cucumber-Mint Soup
    Daydreamer Desserts: Cubanita Margarita
    Sweet Life Bake: Agua de Pepino
    The Sensitive Epicure: Tzatziki with Grilled Gluten-Free Pitas and Fresh Cucumbers and Peppers
    Zaika Zabardast: Cucumber Gazpacho
    Cooking with Books: Summer Fest: Cucumbers

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Fresh Peaches and Cream No-Bake Pie

    Fresh peaches, sweet and juicy when in season, are prime for this perfect unbaked pie. Yes, yes, it requires a baked crust (buy one if you wish), but the sweetened cream cheese layer needs no cooking and it would be a travesty to lay the heat to those luscious and lovely peaches and alter their perfect texture and bright flavor. This one is honestly the FOURTH Fresh Peaches and Cream No-bake Pie that I've made in the past two weeks and I doubled one of them in a 9x13 dish to take to a lakeside cook out with friends. The recipe is just that good. 

    I start by cutting and sugaring the peaches, 4 or 5 with 1/3 c sugar to let the juice accumulate, and then do the crust. Now, I know I'm always saying that a certain ready made crust in the red box is so good that I don't bother making my own anymore, but I recently came across Never Fail Pie Crust in an old cookbook of Virginia Bentley's (source of this yummy pie) and saw that it was literally a 5 minute project. Well, here I am making homemade again since I do sometime find myself in need of pie and lacking the red box in the fridge. After the directions for the pie I'm going to indulge you with the directions for this oddly made but flaky tender crust that absolutely anybody could do, even on the first try, without ruining it.
    For the creamy layer of the pie use a spatula or wooden spoon to blend together an 8 oz block of softened cream cheese with 1/4 tsp almond extract and 2 tablespoons of sugar. This is easiest if you soften the cream cheese in the microwave just enough to barely get it warm, not hot. It will also be easier to smooth into the pie crust. Drop it in there in a couple of blops and press it around with the back of a big spoon or spatula, WITHOUT lifting the spoon until completely finished or you may pull up a chunk of crust. Next add the peaches, after pouring them through a mesh strainer with a small pan underneath to catch the juices. Very gently press the peaches without squishing them to extract all collected juice or just shake the strainer a bit, then add them to the pie. 

    Little Baby Mini Pie
    The juice should equal around 2/3 cup, but don't worry if it's a little less.Taste now to see if it needs a little more sugar and then add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Before putting this over medium heat, whisk it well to melt the cornstarch completely. Now stir steadily over the heat and it will thicken and turn clear again within just a few minutes. Let sit until cool and then top the peaches with this mixture. It's hard to wait but the pie does improve with a good chill in the fridge.

    Never Fail Pie Crust

    This oddball pie crust uses 1/2 cup OIL (not shortening) and 1/4 cup COLD MILK (not water) to 2 cups flour and 1/2 tsp salt. I thought that sounded like it couldn't possibly work but I really wanted a pie and something had to give. Don't bother pulling out an electric mixer because you truly will not need it. Just put everything together in a bowl and mix quickly with a fork.

    It will look like a mess. Ignore the shaggy pieces of barely stuck together dough because the less you work it the more tender and flakey it will be, just like with biscuits - something every southern woman knows and it's time we let everybody in on that secret. Touch not thine dough, except a little bit.

    Now just turn the bowl over onto a piece of wax paper and let the dough fall out. Don't try to tidy it up. Top it with a second piece of paper and press out with your hands to about an inch thick, then take to it with a rolling pin to work it into a big piece only 1/4" thick or so. There will be plenty more than you need for one pie. I used all of it for a 9x13 dish once and another day I made a regular pie and a mini pie, still another day (I told you I've been making pie like a crazy woman) I did one reg pie and 6-8 tarts in a mini muffin tin.

     Before moving the crust peel one side of the paper off and loosely replace; this will make it easy to remove when you shift it over to the pie pan. Flip the crust over and completely remove the other piece of paper then flip back over into the pan and ease into place, gently pressing in through the paper.
     It will hang way over the edges. Peel away the paper and cut all around the edge with a knife. Prick it well all over with a fork and put it in the freezer. That's right, freezer. For just about 10-15 minutes, no longer. If you do this step you can be assured of a perfect crust that will not shrink or slip down into the pan or bubble up in some crazy spot. If you skip it I'm not giving out any guarantees because it is the softest oddest dough that seems like it surely will not work but it does if you follow directions.

    Now it's ready to bake at 475 for about 10 minutes or until just turning brown, perfect, tender, and unfailingly delicious.

    4-5 ripe peaches
    1 lemon (for 1 Tbs juice)
    8 oz cream  cheese
    1 TBS cornstarch
    1/3 c+2 Tbs sugar
    1/4 tsp Almond Extract
    1 Pie Crust
          or 2 c Flour, 1/2 c Oil, 1/4 c Milk
    Today you can find me on the Food Network website! Summer Fest is underway at FN Dish and this week we're all blogging about Peaches. Stay tuned for more summer fruit and veg posts throughout the summer and in the mean time check out these other great blogs about peaches:

    CIA Dropout: Peachy Keen Panna Cotta
    What’s Gaby Cooking: Peach and Blueberry Cobbler
    In Jennie’s Kitchen: Easy Peach Preserves
    I Am Mommy: Peach Bread
    Cooking with Books: Peaches and Cream Cheesecake
    Cooking With My Kid: Peach & Friends Cobbler Pie
    White on Rice Couple: Peach Heirloom Tomato Salad
    Cooking With Elise: Bruschetta with Grilled Peach Chutney
    Taste With The Eyes: Warm White Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
    Recipe Girl: Fresh Peach Pie
    A Way to Garden: Farm Fresh Peaches Frozen to Perfection
    Napa Farmhouse 1885: Fresh Peach Cookies
    Sassy Radish: Peach, Apricot and Blueberry Cobbler with a Cornmeal Crust
    Sweet Life: Sweet Peach Ancho Chile Salsa
    Indian Simmer: Indian Peach Gujiya
    Dixie Chik Cooks: Peach Cobbler
    Food2: 5 Killer Peach Flavored Cocktails
    Healthy Eats: 8 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Eat Peaches
    Cooking Channel: Peaches on the Grill
    Add a Pinch: My Grandmother’s Peach Cobbler
    And Love It Too: Pan Seared Salmon with Fresh Peach Salsa
    From My Corner of Saratoga: Double Caramel Peaches
    She Wears Many Hats: Peach Wontons
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