Saturday, June 9, 2012

grandma's pickles

About six months ago, I bought a dozen pint-sized jars with the intention of canning something. I made three jars of preserved lemons to give as Christmas gifts and promptly relegated the three-quarters-full box of jars to the back of my pantry, along with my cake decorating supplies and three bags of leftover potato chips from Jason's Deli.

But it's summer now, and high time for preserving any and everything this season has to offer. I thought about making strawberry jam just a little bit too long, and the season passed me by. Cucumbers are starting to come in, though, so I decided to make the cucumber lime pickles my Grandma used to put up. She also made strawberry jam, and peach, too, although the peach often ended up crystallizing in the back of our refrigerator (sorry, Grandma!).

These pickles,! Besides tasting like my childhood, they are the highlight of any sandwich--sweet and vinegary, crunchy and sharp and stickily delicious. They take some time, 2 or 3 days, but I promise they're worth it. Make them. Make them now.

P.S. - I have nine jars, lids, and tops left and am itching to make some kind of jam or preserves, even though it's too late for strawberry. If you have a good canning recipe for an in-season (or soon to be) fruit or vegetable, please share!

"old south" cucumber lime pickles
cukes, pre-pickling
from Mrs. Wages
makes 12-14 pint-sized jars

7 lbs pickling cucumbers, sliced
1 c Mrs. Wages pickling lime
2 gal water
8 c distilled white vinegar, 5% acidity 
8 c sugar
1 tbsp salt (optional)
2 tsp mixed pickling spices (Ball and Mrs. Wages both make these)

special equipment:
sterilized canning jars, lids, and screw-on tops (sterilize the jars and tops by running them through the dishwasher; instructions for the lids to follow)
boiling water bath canner (I just bought this inexpensive one)

Stir together pickling lime and water in canner (without rack; that comes much later). Add cucumbers; cover and let soak for at least two hours or overnight.

Remove cucumbers from lime water; discard lime water. Rinse cucumbers three times under running water. Wash canner and put cucumbers back in it; cover with ice water and let soak for three hours.

Remove cucumbers from water; discard water. Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickling spices in canner. Bring to a low boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove syrup from heat and add cucumbers. Soak 5-6 hours or overnight.

Bring cucumbers and syrup to boil in canner and let boil for 35 minutes. Meanwhile, take out sterilized jars and tops, and boil a small pan of water. Once water boils, place lids in it to sterilize them and turn the heat off. After cucumbers and syrup have boiled for 35 minutes, fill jars with cucumbers and syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace (you may have to make more syrup to fill the jars). Remove lids from small pot of water, and top and cap each jar.

Place rack in canner and fill with water. Bring water to a boil, then place jars on the canner rack, making sure the jars are completely covered with water. Bring water back to a boil and leave jars in boiling water for 10 minutes (this step is called processing). Remove jars from water and let sit until cool. If done correctly the jars should seal, and when you press down on the lids they should not pop back up. If they do pop up, try turning them upside-down, pushing the lid in, and letting them sit that way for awhile; sometimes this will seal them. Still no dice? Sorry, you'll need to refrigerate those jars. If the lids don't pop back up, though (yay!), the unrefrigerated pickles will keep indefinitely, probably until next cucumber season. Store in a cool, dry, place, and refrigerate before serving. If you want someone to like you, give them a jar.
a trick grandma taught me

Saturday, June 2, 2012

indian-spiced sesame butter cake

Any time a friend's birthday rolls around, I offer to bake a cake. I like making things for people I love, but I'm also always looking for an excuse to bake--so it's a win-win situation!

Most people request the basics--funfetti, chocolate, the occasional red velvet--and I'm happy to make those. It's a special treat, though, when someone asks for something a little bit different. I get to experiment, try something new, and use ingredients other than sugar, butter, and chocolate. My friend Marriah's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, but she left this morning for the summer. We were trying out my new grill last night anyway (thanks, Emily and Jon!), so I offered to bake her a small birthday/bon voyage cake for dessert. What kind did she want? I quote from her texted response: "almost savory, or middle eastern spices, or anything with strawberries...that's all over the map, i trust whatever strikes your fancy!"

Ah, freedom!

I took her at her word and made a variation on a cake I'd been meaning to try for some time: a peanut butter cake with garam masala. I made it a touch more exotic by switching out the peanut butter for tahini. The resulting cake had a nutty, warmly spiced flavor and tasted like no other cake I can remember having. I served it with this newly popular one-ingredient banana ice cream, drizzled with honey and topped with sesame seeds. Next time I'll go with vanilla ice cream instead, as the banana overwhelmed the cake's delicate sesame flavor. I loved the cake by itself, too, and think it would make a great coffee cake as it's not too sweet. This venture made me want to try some new unusual combinations, so if your birthday's coming up soon and you want a chocolate avocado cake or an elderflower lemon cake, you know who to call! (And to be honest, I also love a good fun-fetti cake as much as the next person.)

Note: I divided the original recipe by three because only a few people were coming over. If you'd like to make a bigger cake, just use the original recipe (link below).

indian-spiced sesame butter cake 
adapted from The Luna Cafe
makes one 8-inch layer or 8 cupcakes

3/4 c flour (3 oz.)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick), at room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c tahini (or peanut butter, if you're fresh out of tahini)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/4 c buttermilk or milk
Optional accompaniments: honey, toasted sesame seeds, ice cream

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8-inch cake pan or line a muffin tin with 8 cupcake liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and garam masala. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar using a mixer at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add tahini, vanilla, and egg, and continue mixing until you have a uniform mixture. Blend in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk. Do not overmix, as this will make the cake tough rather than tender.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan or muffin tin and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If you'd like, top with a scoop of ice cream, a drizzle of honey, and a few toasted sesame seeds.