Quick Pickles

I first tasted refrigerator pickles when my brother Peter brought a batch to a family gathering. They were crisp and cool and salty with lots of garlic flavor and they were gone in a flash.

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Quick fridge pickles are super easy to make and perfect for midsummer when the bounty of cukes, hot peppers, garlic and dill are all at their peak.

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This is one of those non-recipe recipes that you can customize to your preferences. Start with ultra fresh cucumbers, either just picked from your garden, the farmers market or the store; slice them about 1/2″ thick. Peel cloves from 1/2 head of garlic; cut the cloves in half if they are big. Pick the sprigs off a bunch of dill and set aside and have handy a mix of spicy hot peppers and well as mild ones.

 

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You’ll need a clean jar with a lid. I use a 24oz. Kilner jar with a clip seal lid but any glass jar will work. Ones that are wider are easier to pack but I’ve also used quart Mason jars with success because that was all I had.IMG_3135

Put 1 teaspoon each of black peppercorns and coriander seeds in the bottom of the jar. Add a layer of cucumbers, a few garlic pieces, a couple small, hot peppers and a layer of dill sprigs, add a larger pepper if you are using. Continue layering in this manner until they reach the top of the jar. Make the top layer cucumbers, small peppers and garlic only to save yourself from having to sift through soggy dill to get to your first pickles.

Put 2 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt in a bowl and stir until salt dissolves. Pour this over the ingredients in the jar until all pieces are submerged. Put the lid on and gently turn the jar upside down a couple times to distribute the flavors evenly, then put into the refrigerator.IMG_3144

The pickles are ready in as soon as 8 hours. The longer they sit in the brine the more flavorful they get. You can use them as an appetizer or on a burger or sandwich. I also like adding them to potato salad for a salty garlicky burst and to the fermented sauerkraut I’ve been noshing with sausages lately. Frankly, they are amazing with just about anything savory and can become addictive. Feel free to add less garlic and to change up the peppers. Sometimes I will use only jalapeños because I love their heat and flavor, other times a combination of hot as hell and mild ones so feel free to experiment. The peppers are also an interesting ingredient to add to recipes or put in cocktails. Speaking of drinks, I want to try using some of the brine in a gin cocktail similar to the dirty martini idea. If it’s any good I’ll post about it.

 

 

 

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A Penchant for Potatoes

The British love their potatoes! In my local grocery store here in London, there are about 15 varieties at any given moment.

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There are potatoes for baking, frying, steaming and mashing.

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There are big ones, small ones and “new potatoes” in red and brown.

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There are ones in bulk and ones in bags and heritage varieties like La Ruffe, Charlotte and Albert Bartlett Elfe.

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But my favorites this time of year are the raggedy-skinned Jersey Royals that have the distinctive terroir of the island where they are grown. These spuds are planted in the rich, well-drained soil of Jersey in the English channel and fertilized with seaweed from the island’s shores. The tubers have been grown in this manner since 1878 and have even been awarded a Protected Designation of Origin by the EU. The taste is golden and buttery with a texture that takes well to being roasted and crisped in the oven.

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My favorite way of preparing these is to scrub the skin well under water then roast them whole in a hot oven (180C) until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Smash them down using a potato masher until they are somewhat flattened; don’t worry if some of the fluffy innards spill out, that just makes for more bits to get crispy. Drizzle each tatty with a generous amount of good olive oil then sprinkle judiciously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pop back in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown and crunchy.

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You could sprinkle the finished Jersey Royals with chives or dab on some sour cream or creme fraiche or eat them just plain. I like to make extras then fry them up the next day for breakfast with eggs – or just snack on them right out of the fridge!

The scruffy spud from the island of Jersey wins my vote every time. And all those other potatoes can find a home in someone else’s shopping trolley!

 

 

Slow Cooker Vegan

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We got a slow cooker for Christmas in our London kitchen and I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks for inspiration: Slow Cooker Italian by Michele Scicolone. I had used my US slow cooker to make sumptuous pots of beans based on a recipe in Michele’s book and decided to give it a go here using black turtle beans. The recipe is simple: 1 cup of beans to 6 cups of water, seasonings or herbs if you want (I used a whole jalapeño and some sprigs of fresh oregano) then cook on low for 8 hours.

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I love the versatility of having a pot of beans handy; they can go into bowls with rice, greens, veggies, and any leftover proteins that are hanging around or can be made into a pot of soup or blended into a dip or sandwich/quesadilla filling or added to a wintry mix salad. I chose to make tostadas with some mole sauce I had stashed in the freezer and enhanced those flavors with grated raw beets, juicy ripe avocado and a few baby lettuce leaves.

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If you want to get creative you could make the corn tortillas – they are dead easy but just take a little technique – I like this tutorial from Kitchn. You can get masa harina – the cornmeal mixture you’ll need – at Cool Chile Company online or at their stand in Borough Market.

And if you have some time on your hands and the inclination to do some cooking, try making your own mole sauce. My favorite recipe (this link is to a blog with the recipe and handy photos of the steps that go into making this ancient sauce) is the one from Cafe Pasquale, a fantastic restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It has a long list of ingredients, including a few different types of dried chiles which you can also get at Cool Chile or at Mestizo Mexican Market on Hampstead in Kings Cross, London. The mole sauce is very concentrated and rich – a little goes a long way – and you will have enough to furnish your freezer with 8 to 10 1-cup containers which would garnish the tostadas of a very large party.

One final note – this recipe idea is vegan and gluten free, a welcome thought after all the holiday feasting.

 

One Good Bite

You know you’re in for an intriguing restaurant experience when there are so many great things on the menu you can’t decide what to order: Brew on the North Cote Road in southwest London holds a treasure trove of choices.

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This location is part of a group that includes four Brew cafes and two Antipodea restaurants (all in southwest London) that are inspired by Australia. That means great coffee is front and center with a variety of hot java drinks as well as fresh-pressed juices, smoothies and milkshakes. They have an in-house baker that makes all the bread, brioche, pastries, pizza dough and even bagels. An onsite butcher cuts all the meat, makes the sausages and grinds fresh beef for the burgers. Some locations have wood ovens for pizzas blistered to perfection and the freshness of produce and ingredients is palpable in each bite.

We started with a couple zingy juice drinks that set the table for our day. The Red Rooster was a gorgeous ruby color with a kick of ginger to get the blood flowing while the Forest Berry Smoothie was a rich, deep magenta blend of four types of berries and apple.

On the heels of that healthy beginning came the Brew Melt, a comforting nosh of ham and melted gruyere with tomatoes on Brew’s homemade bread. Two perfectly poached eggs had our forks jousting for yolk position while a dab of pesto spiked up the Indian summer flavors.

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An order of woodland mushrooms with yogurt, spinach and more of the pesto exceeded the sum of its parts; the creamy sauce was a shoe-in for some cholesterol laden concoction but it was really just Greek yogurt stirred into the luscious pan juices of the season’s best fungi. I’ll be making this one at home….

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Of course, you get what you pay for so prices are a little higher than the competition for mains, egg dishes and those fun drinks; our brunch cost about £26 however we shared the sandwich and mushrooms.

That doesn’t seem to put off customers – as we left, a line streamed out the door and down the block, a testament to the popularity of all things Brew, which serves the neighborhood with Aussie inspiration for every meal of the day.

On the Hunt for Olive Oil in Puglia

Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot, is the largest producer of olive oil in the country. The dry, hot climate is perfect for the groves of olive trees that carpet the landscape all the way down to the shores of the Adriatic.

It was there that we discovered gorgeous century old trees, sculpted by sea breezes through the decades. The teeny fruit was ripening under the blistering August sun creating a gorgeous coiffure atop the twisted trunks.

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“People have been coming here and moving these trees to places like Dubai,” Laura Barnaba tells us. “We were losing our heritage so a law was made to protect them,” she continues. The law, passed in 2007, created a system of labelling and surveillance of the ancient trees and is unique to Puglia and the first in Italy.

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Photo courtesy of Sorelle Barnaba

We’ve come to Barnaba’s family farm where olives have been grown and pressed into oil for many generations. Laura and her sisters took over running the business from her parents and are now bottling the fine oil under their own brand name instead of selling it to large producers. The quest for artisan olive oil is in its infancy in this part of Italy and Sorelle Barnaba are hoping to capitalise on this growing business by giving tours and tastings. This aspect of the business is so new that there are no signs on the road to find the farm; we stumbled around with Google Maps pulling into farmyards and deserted fields, finally finding it through trial and error.

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There isn’t much to see in the middle of August, just the mill and some tanks housed in a large barn; harvesting and pressing won’t happen for several more months. But we get to taste the oil from these historic lands, and it gets our attention. The first sample is of the Soffio oil, a bright green label giving a clue of what’s inside. The oil grabs at the back of the throat with bright, grassy flavor and my companions hack, cough and sputter. It reminds me of fresh-pressed oil, spicy and robust. The next is Pizzico, with mellow and smooth flavors, an all-around oil useful for many purposes. Finally we get to taste Il Secolare, oil pressed from trees that are a century old or more. It’s silky with a depth of flavor belying all the years the trees that grew these olives have been on the Earth. The three oils are pressed from 17,000 trees spread over 110 hectares of land; 1500 of the trees are considered ancient. Sorrelle Barnaba produce 600 tons of olive oil each year.

Laura then takes us to one of the most unusual places on the Barnaba property – an underground stone mill. These mills are present all around Puglia and are places that contain a fascinating history of earlier times. The cave enabled the olives to be kept dry and the oil warm irregardless of the weather outside. The fruit was unloaded directly into the large stone presses through a shoot in the side of the chamber and the residue of waste after pressing was easily absorbed by the limestone floor. Mules pulled the wheels to press the oil and man and beast co-existed underground throughout the harvest.

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Photo courtesy of Sorelle Barnaba

The Barnaba’s cave also has evidence of religious symbolism and there is speculation that worshippers – who had to hide their spirituality from the various invaders of Italy though the centuries – found a safe haven in this space. The family intends to one day make a museum to share with visitors the beauty, spirituality and history found in the chamber.

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We happily packed our bottles of Sorelle Barnaba oil into our suitcases as a reminder of a special time in Italy. With each drop of green gold drizzled on soups and avocado toast or whisked into a dressing for a leafy salad, I’m taken back to the beautiful trees of Puglia.

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Love Letter to Lisbon

Dear Lisbon,

I had no idea that you were such an elegant and sophisticated city. Rife with history, culture and natural beauty, you gave us plenty to explore during a recent weekend.

We were thrilled to discover your culinary gems, such as the Mercado Da Ribeira, an amazing amalgamation of a historical fruit, veggie, fish, meat and cheese market combined with a hip food court. The bounty from the area was eye popping, with gleaming fresh fish, roast suckling pig and even snails trying to escape their net bags.

The food court was created by Timeout Publications and offers everything from sushi to pizza, tartare from a Michelin-starred chef and some of the best Portuguese hams and cured meats to be found anywhere. It was here we were almost brought to tears by warm, luscious pasteis de nada, the country’s infamous custard tarts.

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The National Tile Museum, housed in a 16th century convent, was surprising in its offerings with unbelievably colorful tiles from the 14th century on up as well as a couple of jaw-dropping, gilt encrusted chapels filled with relics and paintings. One of the highlights is a mural of Lisbon done in tiles which shows the city in all its glory before the 1755 earthquake that wiped out large parts of it.

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We loved this detail of another mural that depicts a glamorous chicken being taken to a ball in a colorful carriage. Chickens hold a warm place in the hearts of Lisboetas because

in Lisbon, there is a piri piri  shop on virtually every corner. The inhabitants of this great city love to get their chicken fix and one of the best outposts is in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood.

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Step inside and smell the delicious aromas of birds that have been bathed in a sauce of hot chilies originally brought from Africa. Piri piri sauce is a marinade for chicken as well as a bottled sauce that is ubiquitous here and used to fire up everything from soup to eggs. Every cafe, diner and restaurant makes their own and the flavors and textures vary as much as the people who make up this hilly town.

We happened upon this fantastic chicken place on a walking food tour with Culinary Backstreets. In 6 hours we ate and drank our way around this out-of-the-tourist-fray district, trying traditional cherry liqueur called ginjinha, fish stew, bacalhau (another national dish made from salt cod) that is fried into tasty croquettes, pork vindaloo, cheeses and cured meats all washed down with fabulous (and underrated) red wines from the countryside.

Another reason I fell in love with you, dear Lisbon, is because you are much like my home city of San Francisco. Your hilly streets are also navigated by rickety cable cars,

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you have a scenic waterfront where one can consume red wine purchased from an adorable truck (don’t think SF has one of these yet)

and then used to make a toast to you and your version of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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I’ll be back to visit again, there is still way too much to see and taste to be away too long. Until then, dear Lisbon, keep singing your hip-swinging songs, painting your beautiful tiles and cooking up delicious traditions.

A Classic Use for Leftovers

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If you’re following the local seasonal mantra, then there isn’t a lot of choice here in England in February. Roots, potatoes, onions, cabbage and lots of kale are on the menu, especially for the country’s lauded Sunday roast – a big noontime meal with everything crisped up in a hot oven. The next day frugal cooks take the leftover bits of roasted veggies, mash them together and fry the mass into “bubble and squeak”. Some say the term refers to the sound the cabbage makes as its being fried and some say it refers to the sound your GI system makes after consumption. In any event, on a chilly winter evening a round of bubble and squeak can be quite a comforting dish and it goes rather nicely with salty meats (bacon or ham), poached eggs and early spring vegetables like asparagus.

If you aren’t much for Sunday roasts and don’t have leftovers laying around, you can easily construct bubble and squeak from the ground up.

Slice leeks and sauté with minced garlic until  tender and just beginning to caramelize.

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Boil peeled potatoes with some chunks of peeled turnip (known as swede here) until soft. I purchased this massive specimen at our weekly farmers market in Balham, as well as the leeks, cabbage and potatoes.

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When fork tender, mash it together with some rich mascarpone (you can also use creme fraiche), butter and just enough milk to make it smooth but stiff, as well as plenty of salt and pepper. Stir in the leek mixture and some cooked cabbage.

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Form into thick cakes and chill. The cakes are then fried until browned on each side, perched on crisp tender steamed asparagus and topped with a juicy slice of ham. This dish is really good served with something sweet and fruity, such as Cranberry Apple Pear Relish.

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Maybe not entirely traditional but a California take on a classic, cooking mostly with what is coming out of the fields and farms in England right now.

Bubble and Squeak Cakes with Ham and Asparagus

3 medium potatoes – such as Yukon Gold or King Edward – peeled and quartered

1 medium turnip peeled and quartered

1 leek

olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/4 head of a small cabbage cut in three pieces

2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup milk – or as needed

10 asparagus spears

Applewood smoked ham – either 1 or 2 slices totalling 4 oz or 125 grams

Two poached eggs – optional

Boil the potatoes and turnips together in a medium pot of copiously salted water. Slice the leek in half lengthwise, keeping the root intact, and rinse thoroughly. Make another long lengthwise cut so the leek is cut in quarters horizontally then cut crosswise in 1/4″ pieces. Heat the olive oil in a 10″ frying pan and saute the leek with the garlic until tender and golden. Simmer the cabbage in a small pot of salted water to cover until cooked through; when cool enough to handle, finely chop and set aside.

When the potatoes and turnips are soft, drain and mash them with the mascarpone and butter, adding milk if needed until mixture holds together. Stir in the leeks and cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Form into two 6″X 1/2″ cakes then pop them in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, trim the asparagus ends and get them set up in a shallow pan with a lid to steam; have a frying pan at the ready to cook the ham. Take out the cakes and heat up the pan used for sautéing the leeks over medium high heat. Add some butter and once it’s melted add the cakes. At this point get the asparagus steaming until crisp tender and sizzle the ham in a hot pan until golden on each side then keep everything warm. Peek at the underside of the cakes to see if they are deep golden then turn and repeat on the other side.

To serve, divide the asparagus between two plates, top with the bubble and squeak cakes and then the ham. If you want to gild the lily, crown each stack with a poached egg and wolf down before it gets cold.

Serves 2