Lemon Cucumber Quick Pickles

The color and subtle flavor of these super quick pickles is spectacular!  They use the round, yellow, very mild lemon cucumbers that you can find at the farmers market this time of year.  The resulting pickles are only the tiniest bit sweet and you could reduce the sugar even further if you’d like.  The fresh tumeric and pink peppercorns can be mildly tricky to find, but are worth the effort.  Powdered tumeric and white peppercorns can be substituted in the same amounts.  If you can’t find lemon cucumbers any mild baby cucumber will do.  You could also substitute freshly grated ginger root for the crystalized ginger, that reduces the sweetness and ups the bite a little bit.  In any case, the longer the pickles chill, the more intense the flavor.  One quarter cup of pickles is one point.

Lemon Cucumber Quick Pickles

  • 1 1/2 cup unpeeled, quartered, and sliced lemon cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup quartered and thinly sliced sweet onion
  • 1/2  cup  white vinegar
  • 1/4  cup  sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  mustard seeds
  • 1/4  teaspoon  celery seeds
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly grated peeled turmeric root
  • 1/4  teaspoon pink peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped crystalized ginger
  • 2  garlic cloves, peeled & grated
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Place cucumbers and onions in a glass bowl; mix well. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a two cup glass measuring cup; stir well.  Microwave for 2 minutes. (or pour in a non-reactive pan on the stove top and bring to a rolling boil.) Pour over cucumber mixture; let cool to room temperature.  Pour into 2 cup glass jar with lid and chill overnight.  Good for 2 weeks.

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Orange and Red Wine Poached Salmon with Potatoes and Onions

I recently saw an old episode of The Two Fat Ladies where one of them cooked a recipe from the famed old English cook, Robert May (see awesome title sequence).  Robert May was the cook to the King of England and published his book “The Accomplisht Cook” in 1660.  To quote May:

“Wherein the whole Art is revealed in a more easie and perfect Method, than hath been publisht in any Language. Expert and ready wayes for the Dressing of all sorts of Flesh, Fowl and Fish: The Raising of Pastes; the best Directions for all manner of Kickshaws, and the most Poinant Sauces; with the Tearms of Carving and Sewing. An exact Account of all Dishes for the Season; with other A la mode Curiosities.”

Wow!  That must have been quite a book.  I haven’t seen the original, but as presented by the Fat Ladies it was simple and remarkably healthy.  Theirs had only 4 ingredients: oranges, red wine, salmon, and nutmeg.  I just had to put my spin on it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Orange and Red Wine Poached Salmon with Potatoes and Onions

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 peeled and thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 large yukon gold potato, unpeeled and sliced very thinly
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 lb salmon fillet
  • freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
  • 1 peeled and sliced navel or Valencia orange
  • 1 peeled and sliced blood orange (2 of the above will work if you can’t find blood oranges)
  • approximately 1 cup of red wine (depending on the size of your skillet)

Place olive oil in a large skillet and swirl to coat.  Place onions in a single layer on bottom of skillet.  Add potatoes in a layer on top of the onions.  Salt & pepper to taste.  Place fish fillet on top of potatoes and sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Layer the oranges on top of the fish and potatoes and pour red wine over top of entire dish.  Cook, uncovered on stove top at high heat until wine is boiling.  Then turn down to medium heat and cover with a tight fitting lid or foil.  Poach until fish is cooked through and potatoes are starting to soften.  It will take about 15 minutes depending on thickness of fish and potatoes.  Remove lid.  Remove fish from skillet, place on warm plate, cover with foil and set aside.  Cook potatoes and onions uncovered at medium heat for 5 minutes, turn heat up to high and cook until wine is reduced to onion level and potatoes are fork tender.  This will take maybe another 10 minutes depending on your skillet, how much wine you used, and how thickly you cut your potatoes.  Watch carefully during this time, you don’t want to lose all the wine and burn your onions.  Serve 1/4 of the fish over 1/4 of the potatoes topped with onions, sauce and oranges.  Serves 4 = 6 pts per serving.

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In praise of: Local Food

I know it sounds like I am just throwing around the hot buzzwords when I say this, but seriously, I LOVE local food.  In other words, I love food that was grown or raised within a fairly short distance of where I am cooking and eating.  There are multiple reasons for wanting to focus my cooking and eating this way.  First off, it simply tastes better most of the time.  Why?  Because if you don’t have to pick your berries when they are mostly green so that they can ship across the country without getting smushed, then they taste better. (Or ever had eggs fresh from the farm, the taste difference between that and what you buy at the store is unbelievable.) Second, it supports local economies.  Local food is often grown by small, independent farmers rather than big corporate entities.  So, all the money stays local which certainly benefits my whole local community.  Third, it reduces my environmental footprint.  If my food was grown down the street it certainly has less environmental impact than if it was grown in another country or state and shipped here.  Although there is some debate about whether is is “greener” to eat organically or to eat locally – if you can’t do both.  I have seen several articles about this, and frankly I think local may often trump organic IF you must choose.  Part of the problem is that getting certified organic though the USDA is often cost prohibitive for small non-corporate farms.  So even though your local farmer might not be certified, they might be using organic practices that are safer for the environment and your health.  OK and finally, it is usually cheaper!  So: tastier, greener, economically & socially sounder, and cheaper.  What is not to like?

There are few ways that I keep up with what is fresh and available in my local area.  First off, I shop at least once a week at my local farmers’ market.  Almost every community has one these day.  In North Carolina we have 5 state run markets in the 5 largest counties in the state.  They are permanent and open all year.  Most other communities here have seasonal markets that are only open on the weekends during the growing season.  I visit a few of those once in a while too because they will often feature specialty producers that don’t come to the main market.  Surf around the internet and I’m sure you can find one that operates locally. 

Another way to follow local trends in food and drink is read the local version of Edible Communities.  Mine is called Edible Piedmont and the Summer 2010 issue just showed up with the other free periodicals outside of my local Whole Foods.  The articles are really well written and the recipes always feature local produce and are often by locally famous chefs.  If nothing else, the ads can give you a great idea of which restaurants and shops sell local food in your area.  This issue features recipes with fresh tomatoes and peaches, two of my summertime favorites!

Another way I keep up with seasonal, local food is by being a member of a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture is a way to “subscribe” to a local farm and get a box of goodies from that farm every week.  It helps support your local farmers and often exposes you to fruits, vegetable, and proteins (mine even gives us fresh cut flowers in our weekly box) that perhaps you wouldn’t buy normally.  There are lots of ways to find out about CSAs in your community.  One way is through is websites and organizations such as Local Harvest.  You can also just google CSA and your state and you’ll find listings.  Most CSAs will be closed for membership already for this year, but you can get yourself on a waiting list for next year so you don’t miss out! 

You can also find local food blogs and participate in local chapters of organizations like Slow Food USA.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to totally give up ingredients I love just because they can’t be grown in NC (artichokes anyone?) but I am trying to spend more of my time and dollars in this way.  I think we all win.  Eat Local!

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More cucumber salads

Ok, my potential cucumber glut has become an actual cucumber glut.  Really, 6 plants is WAY TOO many for a couple of people.  We are giving them away to anyone who will take them and eating them like they are going out of style.  Here are a few recently bookmarked recipes I found while surfing the web looking for new cucumber ideas.  I will be trying all these this week!

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Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

This is adapted from a fairly recent recipe from Weight Watcher’s Magazine.  I have made it twice now for two different groups of folks and it was a huge hit both times! 

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

  • 1 1lb flank steak , trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced against grain
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup celery, sliced into thin halfmoons
  • 1 cup baby carrots, cut into matchstick strips
  • 1 cup sliced button mushrooms
  • 1 cup yellow crookneck squash, cut into matchstick strips
  • 1 cup zucchini, cut into matchstick strips
  • 2 cups mixed colored (red, yellow, or orange) bell peppers, cut into matchstick strips
  • 1 cup fresh snow peas, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine

Toss steak and 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a medium bowl.  Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet (or wok) over high heat.  Stir fry until just lightly browned, do not overcook.  Transfer to plate and cover with foil.  Reduce heat down to medium high, pour in remaining oil and swirl to coat pan.  Add garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes.  Stir fry until fragrant and garlic starts to brown.  Add onion, celery, carrots, and mushrooms.  Stir fry just until onions start to soften and mushrooms start to wilt.  Add remaining vegetables and wine, stir fry until peppers just start to soften.  Stir in steak and remaining soy sauce, cooking until vegetables are crisp-tender and steak is hot.  Serve sprinkled with fresh basil and cilantro.    Makes 4 servings  at 5 pts each.   I have really bumped up the veggies in this such that I don’t find any starch (like rice) necessary with it.  But, it would certainly be nice with a 1/2 cup to a cup (per serving) of brown rice or udon noodles, both of which would add 2 to 4 points per serving.  Option:  you could also add a small, drained can of water chestnuts and/or bamboo shoots to this when you add all the veggies the second time.  They add nice flavor and no additional points.

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Medicinal Value Negates Points

I have been laid up for the last few days with the dreaded summer cold.  You know the one.  It is 95 degrees outside and beautiful, but you are inside on the couch under a blanket snarfing, sneezing, wheezing, and coughing.  You have been through untold numbers of tissue boxes already and have taken such a variety of cold mediciations that you could write a dissertation on the differences between home remedies and standard over-the-counter solutions.  Anyway, you feel my pain.  You’ve had those sleepness nights and foggy days.  For those times (no matter what the season) where that combination includes coughing, sore throats, and wheezing I recommend the following:

Hottentoddy

  • juice of 1 whole large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of strongly flavored honey (I prefer sourwood)
  • 1 to 2 shots ridiculously strong Kentucky bourbon or whiskey or scotch (I prefer Elijah Craig)
  • boiling water

While water is coming to boil…in a large coffee mug, combine the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the honey.  Stir well and add the shots of bourbon.  Stir well and fill to rim with boiling water.  Stir until all honey is dissolved and booze is evenly distributed.  Drink immediately,  as quickly as you can, while the temperature starts to drop.  The hotter the better.  It should be held directly by the nose and mouth while waiting for it to cool a little and while drinking. Breathe in the vapors because they are helpful for sore throats, wheezy chests, and stuffy noses.  Careful though!  This is strong stuff.  If you aren’t a regular drinker, this will knock you on your butt and send you to bed with your fresh box of tissues.  I would also caution you about drinking one of these in combination with a bunch of other cold medicine.  My parents both claim they were given this when they were little, but society had already determined that it was inappropiate for the kiddies by the time my brother and I were around.  As a side note, my mom also says that when we were babies and teething really badly they would rub booze on our gums to numb it.  Different times for sure!  So, in keeping with societal norms I would leave this “cure” to the 21 and older crowd.  I’m feeling too crappy to calculate points here…eh, maybe 4?  But, I am pretty sure that when you are drinking something for medicinal value the universe negates the point anyway.  Plus if you are only eating popsicles, chicken noodle soup, and saltines, pretty much anything goes.

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Steak Diane

Much like Crab Louis, Steak Diane is a classic.  For me, it brings to mind martinis and Mad Men style but, the origins of this dish are much, much older.  Believed to be named for the Roman goddess Diana, goddess of the hunt, there are references as old as the 1800s.  Foodtimeline.org has a nice history.  My version is adapted from the recipe I got from a good friend’s grandma…hers uses 3 times as much butter!   I like to serve this with steamed mushrooms & green beans or Roasted Asparagus.

Steak Diane

  • 4 6oz  strip sirloin steaks, ½” thick, trimmed of all fat, pounded to 1/4″
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ c shallots, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

If desired, pound to ¼” thickness.  Dry steaks with paper towel, then season both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat skillet.  Add 3 teaspoons butter and heat until foam begins to subside.  Add steaks and cook 1 minute on each side.  Remove steaks from pan and set aside on warm dish.   Melt the remaining butter in the skillet.  Add shallots and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Return steaks to pan and cook 1 minute each on each side.  Transfer steaks to a warm platter.  To the juices left in the pan, add lemon juice, parsley and chives, stirring until heated through.  Pour over steaks and serve.  Serves 4 = 7 points each.

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