Friday, July 23, 2010

Caught my eye recently

These recipes:
Mixed Vegetable Curry - this one looks like it might be good for when I have an abundance of cauliflower
Dorie Greenspan's Anniversary Cake - from the blog of a fellow can jammer...what she calls a buttercream is really a Swiss meringue frosting, a favorite of mine.     Nothing exotic....everything is pantry/fridge staples for me
Yolanda's Famous Chicken - another recipe for chicken breasts that don't require exotic ingredients.  Great for when I have thawed out chicken breasts and don't have a clue with what to do with them
Hardboiled Eggs Masala - I tasted this when Tammy made it for breakfast at Selma, which is an Ann Arbor breakfast salon that supports local farms

These books:
Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington - there are a treasure trove of books out right now aimed at "radical homemaking"...the thrifty, sustainable, DIY culture that is a bon afide trend. Sadly, when things become trendy, boatloads of crappy books get written.   This one is the exception...it's practical and loaded with some wonderful recipes and very practical ideas about living more simply.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Can Jam: McClure's Pickles my way

Have you tried McClure's Pickles?














I'm not sure if you can get them nationwide, but you can certainly get them here in the greater metro Detroit area. They are made in Brooklyn and Detroit, so I am wondering if my NYC canning sisters Kate over at the Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking or Talia and Noerah at Inn Brooklyn or or even pickling goddess Tigress herself over at Tigress in a Pickle have tried them. They are terrific...a fresh pickle, and oh, so good! I wish they made a Tshirt with their logo on it, because I would buy one for sure. Isn't it cool?  I had to my hand at my own Mother's Kitchen pickle logo in their iconic style.

My only gripe with the yummy McClure's pickle is that they cost upwards of $8.00 per jar, and my kids have a serious pickle addiction.   At that price, I can't keep them in pickles!  It's been my goal since I tasted them to be able to make them at home, so this month's Can Jam challenge of cucubits made the time ripe, so to speak,  for this year's attempt at copying my beloved McClure's recipe.

No amount of flirtation and downright brown nosing the McClure's people at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market on my part has resulted in any recipe whispered into my ear, so I am reduced to my deductive powers of reasoning to try to discern how to make this pickle myself at home.  Their ingredients?   Cukes, vinegar, water, salt, garlic, dill.   Okay, I can do this.....last year, I attemped a fresh pickle from what I consider to be the holy grail of pickling, Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling. It came out too mushy, so I found Linda's website and emailed her and asked her what went wrong, and she suggested I pasteurize my pickles instead of boiling water bath canning them. I wondered if it was food safe and yes it is....check this info out at the National Center For Home Food Preservation on pasteurizing pickles. However, the rules for the Can Jam are boiling water bath only, not pasteurizing. So, I decided to try two ways to make pickles more cripsy...adding grape leaves to the pickles and pasteurizing them, and using pickling lime and boiling water bath canning them in this year's attempt at copying my beloved McClure's pickles.

Grape leaves are an old world firming agent that are supposed to make pickles crisper and more green. I have lots of wild grapes in my yard, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Pickling lime, or calcium oxide, is absorbed into a vegetable or fruit where it combines with it's natural pectin to form calcium pectate and thus a crispier pickle. These so called "lime pickles" are very popular in the South, but pickling lime fell out of favor in the 1970s when people were looking for more natural ways to make pickles. The stuff is still considered a key ingredient in making Southern favorites such as watermelon rind pickles.  However, commerical food processors never stopped using pickling lime. It is commonly added to many foods. It's important to use food grade lime, not stuff you buy at the hardware store....Mrs. Wages is the only brand I found around, and even then, it is still really hard to find.  The one cannister I found at Sparrow's Meat Market had a good layer of dust on it.    However, I was still interested in trying it out.  It's really important to follow the rinsing process - there are no short cuts.   If you recon back to your high school chemistry, you might remember that lime is alkaline, and when alkalines are added to acids, the pH goes up.   That means that if the lime isn't rinsed off properly, the pH of your pickles won't be food safe.   So make sure to take the time to soak and rinse.

So, here was this year's attempt at a McClure's style pickle....I have tasted it only a week in the jar...generally, pickles should rest a month in the jar to reach optimum flavor.   The result?   The pasteurized pickles with the grape leaves were just as crispy as the pickling lime version and as the McClure's pickles.  So, if you prefer a crispy pickle that is more natural, use grape leaves as a firming agent and pastuerize them, but that means spending 30 minutes stoveside carefully monitoring the water temp to keep it between 180 - 185 F.   However, pickling lime enables a more quick preserving process than pasteurizing, but the process of preparing the cucumbers takes longer initially.  However, it's just a quick 10 minutes of water bath to preserve.

How about the taste?   After only a week,  my pickles were defiitely more tangy than the McClure's version, but they are pretty darn good!  Note that it is not food safe to mess with the amount of vinegar in a pickling recipe, so I didn't.  However, Linda Ziedrich's book suggests using cider vinegar in place of the white vinegar for a mellower taste.  So maybe next year, I'll try that.  Also, check back in September and I will let you know if my pickles mellow over time.    Also, I've been experimenting with these new reusable kind of canning lids by a Michigan based company called Tattler.  They are a reusable plastic lid with a reusable rubber gasket, completely BPA free, if that is something you are worried about.   Locally, they can be purchased at Downtown Home and Garden or Lehman's if you aren't in Ann Arbor.  These Tattler lids work out really well - they cost less than $1.00 each and can be used an infinite number of times.  I can't say enough good things about these lids.   Give them a try!


Here's my recipe, two ways....the recipe makes about 14 pints at about $1.50 a pint vs. $8 for 12 oz. by weight of McClure's pickles.  If you prefer the spicy McClure's pickle, be sure to add the hot peppers.

Mother's Kitchen Fresh Dill Pickles (grape leaf method)

8 lbs small pickling cucumbers, sliced in half or quarters longwise
28 grape leaves
28 cloves of garlic (about 2 heads) peeled
16 dill heads, with sprigs (or 14 t. dill seeds)
Optional 12 small dried hot chili peppers
5 cups vinegar (white or cider)
6 c. water
1/2 c. pickling salt


Place 2 cloves garlic. 2 grape leaves, 2 dill heads and 2 hot peppers in the bottom of wide mouth pint jars.   Pack with as many pickle halves and spears as possible tightly in each jar.  Prepare a brine with vinegar, water and salt by placing in all ingredients and stirring and heating until brine boils.  Fill jars to 1/2 inch headspace, place lids and bands and hand tighten.  Heat to 180 F for 30 minutes.   Use a candy or digital meat thermometer to monitor temperature.  Don't allow temp to go higher than 185F or pickles may get mushy.  These pickles will be crispy.

Mother's Kitchen Fresh Dill Pickles (pickling lime method)

It's the same recipe as above, but after slicing pickles, place in a non reactive vessel - a pickling crock or large ceramic bowl works great.  Mix 1/2 cup pickling lime mixes with 1 gallon water.  Be careful not to inhale pickling lime dust.   The solution will look mily white.  Soak cukes overnight in the lime solution, and rinse.  I have read that some folks suggest wearing gloves when handling the lime solution, but I didn't find it to be caustic at all on my bare hands so don't bother.  Soak pickles in clean water for 2 hours and rinse again.   Soak for 2 more hours and rinse again.  There should be no milkiness to the rinse water....keep rinsing until it is clear.   After that, prepare the spices and brine as in the above recipe.   To can pickles, process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.   They will come out crispy.

Even though it is still early, I think these pickles are the best I have ever made.   If you are interested in a fermented dill pickle, check out this blog post I wrote about my kosher dill pickles.  These are good, too, but different than fresh dills.  Naturally fermented pickles take longer to make, but are easy in their own way.   Happy Can Jam!


NOTE:  Check out this update I wrote about how to make these McClure's style pickles WAY EASIER

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Status to Target: 46 Things

In automotive engineering, we have a technique that we use when we design a new car or truck - for lack of a better phrase for it, I will call it "status to target".   It is a way to set a goal for what you are designing (the "target") and then you periodically check out how you are progressing toward that target, which is called your "status".    Eventually, as you progress toward production, your target becomes your "objective" - i.e. you are committing to realizing what you planned, and you have a way to get there.  In engineering, some examples targets are financial, assembly time, quality, weight (because weight translates into fuel economy), power consumption (if you are working on something that consumes power, because that affects fuel economy), wind resistance (fuel economy, again), perfomance based (i.e. damping, spring rate, loads, etc), emissions, horsepower, etc.   I could go on and on...but however, the point I am trying to make is that it is helpful to apply the "status to target" method to just about anything.  While on vacation last week, it dawned on me I should check on my "status to target" on the 46 goals I set for myself almost 6 months ago for my 46th birthday.   How am I doing?  It might be a good idea to check and set up a plan for the remainder of the year.

Here's what I said I would do, and my status....my completed items are crossed off. 

  1. Celebrate the food of the 1960s! Make a gelatin based dish that's not fruity....aspic or vegetable based. I haven't done this one, but maybe I could do it this week.   I've got a lot of carrots around, and some herbs.
  2. Learn how to play "The Entertainer" on the piano.  Haven't touched the piano yet.  It's dusty, in fact, becasue the cherubs are on summer sabatical from lessons.
  3. Hike the Potowatomi trail with friends, and have a picnic en route. Great idea!  I will schedule something with the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers.  I just sent out the note.
  4. Pickle brussel sprouts. This is a fall activity.  I'll do it in Oct.
  5. Swim in Lake Huron when we camp this summer at Harrisville State Park  
  6. Learn how to play "The Shanty Song" by Jonathan Edwards on guitar by heart. Memorize the lyrics.  See number 2...guitar has as much dust on it as the piano does.
  7. Buy a harmonica and learn how to play it.  I was gifted a harmonica....so I guess I am halfway done.
  8. Play guitar when I cantor at church for one Mass.   We have a new music director at church - I am not sure she'll be amenable to this idea.
  9. Sew something.  I would like to make a skirt - cotton with some lycra.  I have been thinking about it.
  10. Find out more about the garrison that was in Dearborn.   I sent a note to myself at work so I could schedule it.
  11. Make a pilgrimage to the Fr. Solanus Casey Center. Ditto - it's something I could do on a lunch break.
  12. Attend a service at a monastery.   I don't have a plan for this yet.  Any ideas?
  13. Visit Hidden Lake Gardens in Tipton.  I'll see if Martha wants to go sometime.
  14. Kayak the Huron River at night when there is a full moon with my friend Martha. 
  15. Visit the Peach Mountain observatory.  Need a plan for this one...maybe when the kids are done with camp?
  16. Use my pressure canner to can soup.  Schedule for fall...
  17. Plant another rose bush.
  18. Make a mosaic.  I would like to make a sign for the camper before our next outing.
  19. Make a hypertufa garden planter.  Maybe in August? 
  20. Try to bake bread again without using a dutch oven a la Mark Bittman - I just want to make it like old ladies do.  
  21. Make a chronicling project.  I am going to have to work on the scrapbooking cover.  Maybe I will make one themed around my mother.
  22. Make one recipe out of the Moosewood cookbook to celebrate the 1980s.  This should be easy enough to do.
  23. Another gem from the 1960s....make a hamburger recipe from 365 Hamburger Recipes.  DONE!  It was a good recipe, too.  I'll need to blog about it soon.
  24. Try caviar.  I'll save this for the holidays.
  25. Visit Parker Mill Park - another good fall activity when the colors are changing and there is are mill tours scheduled.
  26. Visit the Waterloo Farm Museum.  I'll have to schedule it for Oct. 10 - their Pioneer Day sounds interesting.
  27. Visit Savannah, Georgia. I don't know how I am going to do this....I will wait and hope that something more will be revealed about how this might happen.
  28. Play one song on my cigar box ukulele. See aforementioned dusty piano and guitar.  
  29. Complete Tigress's Can Jam by canning one item a month for 12 months straight.   I haven't yet missed a month, and July's cucumber pickles are currently cooling on the counter as I type.
  30. Continue being a canning exhibitionist by demonstrating canning at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. 
  31. Attend the Local Food Summit and speak out on the importance of making sure local food is available for all, not just the rich. 
  32. Make at least one recipe from Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping.   Those raspberry fritters sound awfully good.
  33. Crochet a rag rug out of old jeans.   I am halfway done.
  34. Finish reading the Seven Storey Mountain.  It is still sitting on my nightstand, gathering dust just like the guitar and uke.
  35. Swim 200 yards freestyle. I am going to need to enlist Ellen with this project.
  36. Visit my friend Sheri from high school.   She is not on Facebook.  Help!
  37. Make crumb cake. Need to find a recipe first.   Sounds like a good Christmas activity.
  38. Master making gelato at home.   I found the recipe I want to use - I just need a lb of berries and some whipping cream. 
  39. Visit the Howell Farmer's Market.  Good Sunday after church activity.
  40. Visit the Ypsi Farmer's Market 
  41. Visit the Tecumseh Farmer's Market.  Maybe coordinate it with the trip to Hidden Lake Gardens?
  42. Wintersow some herbs.  I'll do it this fall for next year.
  43. Have a sunset picnic with our neighbors 
  44. Have a bonfire party in the back yard
  45. Make my hammock garden in the woods.  Yikes!   I need some inspiration here.
  46. Go on one 10 mile hike somewhere this year.  Maybe on an upcoming campout?