Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter's Summer Break

It’s still freezing and the wind has been blowing hard.  Many of us just need a summer moment away from the cold winter sun.  I’m proposing grilled burgers for dinner.  The grill has not blown away in recent storms so we can duck on and off the porch to get our charcoal chimney starter going. If your porch is too bitterly cold and blustery to brave, burgers can be flipped on a grill or iron skillet under the more gentle winds of a stove top fan.

A mid winter cook out deserves some really fresh flavors.  Most can be purchased pre-made but if your family has tired of arts and crafts, snow forts and snow angels, invite them inside to help prepare the sides and imagine it’s summer for an afternoon.  Some easy dishes that you’d normally pull out of a package or freezer are pickles, cole slaw and steak fries.  For the truly adventurous, you can even create your own “house” ketchup.  These are fun “projects” that will give your (younger and older) children a chance to see how easy real food is to make and what pure ingredients go into their summer favorites.  These recipes can all be made in the morning or early afternoon and enjoyed that evening.

One Hour Dill Pickle Spears
Select a marinating container that will cover the cucumber spears so that they are submerged while marinating.  Test containers by placing spears in the container and filling with 1 1/2 cups plain water.  Kirby cucumbers are the little ones (about 4-5 inches long and un-waxed.  If you cannot find Kirby’s substitute one English cucumber and cut into thirds and then into spears.  Do not use waxed cucumbers. 

4 Kirby cucumbers, unpeeled
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon while coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed (yellow or brown)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons dried dill
1-2 garlic cloves- whole
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 1/2 cups water

  1. Wash the cucumbers thoroughly.  Rub wet cucumbers with a bit of salt to remove any specs of dirt.  Slice cucumbers into spears.
  2. Place peppercorns, coriander, mustard and fennel seeds in a mortar and with pestle bruise and slightly break the seeds and peppercorns, just enough to release the flavors.  This does not take much effort and is a good kid project.  If you do not have a mortar and pestle (I pulled mine out of the back of a cabinet), you can coarsely grind the seeds in a mini food processor, spice/coffee grinder or even an emptied pepper mill. Don’t grind more than a few seconds.  A fun method closest to the results of a mortar and pestle and one that will get a few ice packed frustrations out is to place the spices in a plastic bag and go at it with a rolling pin.  Pass the pin around so everyone gets a chance.  
  3. In the marinating container, toss the cucumber spears, salt and spices together using your hands to coat the spears.  Pour water and vinegar over spears.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before sampling.  The longer you marinate them, the more flavor they will draw in. These pickles will keep for 2-3 days. 

If you like pickles on your burger, this recipe works well with cucumber slices too. 

Recipe derived from Wicked Good Dinner’s Kosher-Style Dill Pickles

Cole Slaw
If you are in huge hurry and want to have the taste of cole slaw now, replace the cabbage with shredded lettuce—a combination of ice burg and green leaf is nice.  Combine with the rest of the ingredients and serve immediately.

Serves 4
1/2 head cabbage
1 tablespoon salt
1 carrot, peeled
1/3 cup celery leaves (the tops of stalks), loosely packed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise or plain yogurt
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1-2 teaspoon sugar or honey
salt and pepper

  1. Thinly slice or shred cabbage.  Do this by slicing 1/2 head cabbage into 2 quarters.  Place the quarters down on the cutting board on one of the flat sides and make a diagonal cut to remove the thick stem.  Now slice to create thin strands. Place cabbage in a large bowl.  (Yes, you can buy the pre-shredded stuff but try it once from scratch.  It takes about 2 minutes to slice cabbage.) 
  2. Grate carrot and add to bowl.  Add chopped celery leaves. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.  Taste dressing and adjust for tartness (vinegar/lemon juice) sweetness (sugar/honey) and salt/pepper.  Add dressing to cabbage mixture and toss well.  
  4. Let cole slaw marinate (wilting cabbage) for at least 3 hours before serving.  

Steak Fries
This method of cooking steak fries is fast and results in a steak fry that is crisp on the outside and creamy inside.

1 large baking potato per person
1-2 teaspoons olive or canola oil per potato
salt and pepper
optional seasoning suggestions (pick one): paprika, rosemary,

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F and wash and scrub potatoes to remove any dirt.  Prick potatoes with a fork on one side and bake for about 20 minutes.  (Potatoes will not be cooked through; they finish cooking during the next stage.)  
  2. Remove potatoes from oven with tongs to a cutting board.  Using tongs or a dishcloth to protect your hands from the heat, cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Cut each half into 4-5 wedges.  
  3. Place potato wedges on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  
  4. Return potatoes to 425˚F oven and bake 10-12 minutes longer turning once or twice.  If you are using one of the optional seasonings, sprinkle on as potatoes come out of oven.  Try to time these so they can be eaten immediately. 

House Ketchup
I’m happy to see brands like Heinz eliminating corn syrup from their bottled ketchup.  Recently I was trying to find one without anything but the basics added and decided to make one from scratch based on my favorite Spanish tomato dip used for patatas bravas.  Once I started looking for recipes I recalled I once worked for a natural food company in Vermont famous for its all truly wonderful, all natural ketchup, Uncle Dave’s.  No wonder this journey seemed familiar.  

Ketchup is very simple.  Get the basic ratios down then get inventive and make a version your family loves.  Many cookbooks have recipes.  I like one form Better Homes & Gardens magazine assistant food editor Madison Mayberry.  If you want to experiment with some bolder flavors, I recommend making a batch and dividing it in half.  Serve the simple batch to purists and stir in some extras to the remaining half. Offer the bolder version to your personal research and development team—friends and family.  You may have developed a winner.  

Basic Ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce (try to find one that is only tomatoes and low sodium)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  1. Mix the ingredients together in a small pot.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring as needed, until sauce is cooked down a bit and thickened. This will take about 10 minutes. 
  2. Variations and additions:  Use brown sugar instead of regular sugar.  Try different vinegars.  Add some spices (start with very small amounts): a pinch of ground cloves, celery seed, allspice, ground cinnamon, dry mustard, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, even dill or thyme. 
  3. Pour ketchup into a bowl to cool slightly before spooning onto burgers and fries.
Summer will be back soon.