Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dilly Beans

Sour, sweet, tangy, crunchy, dilly - these pickled beans are amazing! There is nothing quite like a good pickle, whether you are talking cucumbers, beans, beets, capers, the list goes on. Growing up, every summer my family made a big batch of bread and butter pickles.  It was always a fun activity, measuring out all the spices, prepping the different veggies, filling up the canning jars; just good times spent with family. When I met K, he introduced me to dilly beans which are much more difficult to find than your average pickles.  Remembering my experiences making the bread and butter pickles, I told him that we could make our own dilly beans and can them ourselves.  I am sure he probably looked at me skeptically but we gave it a try and we have been doing it almost every summer since then.

The first year, I did a bunch of research on how to can properly and what equipment to have. We have slowly been increasing our canning tools collection over the years.  This summer was the first year we had one of those massive canning pots, but it made the whole process a bit easier.  Canning jars are pretty easy to find at stores like Target or online and they are relatively inexpensive. Once you have them, you can reuse the jars and rings every year. You just need to purchase new lids each time, so that your cans seal properly.  A pair of canning tongs is a definite must as well.  Be sure to sterilize everything in boiling water to make sure you don't have any funky micro-yuckies that will cause bacteria in your finished cans.  I know the process of canning can be a bit overwhelming but it is pretty simple once you give it a try. I am certainly not an expert, but the method I describe in the directions has been working really well for us over the years.  These dilly beans are absolutely worth the little bit of effort; they are so delicious and a huge hit at parties.  I think the secret to these beans is starting out with raw beans and not blanching them before the canning process. The beans cook just enough while they are processing to take the raw edge off but still be nice and crunchy.  I hope you give this recipe a go, everybody loves to try a dilly bean!

Dilly Beans

Makes ~7 pints

2 lbs green/yellow beans
4 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
2/3 cup white sugar
½ cup pickling salt (can also use sea salt or kosher salt)
1 tbsp peppercorns
2 tsp celery seed
14 sprigs of fresh dill
7 cloves of garlic

Snap the ends off all of the cleaned beans and make sure they fit inside the canning jar. Mix together the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.   Fill the sterilized canning jars with the fresh beans and really try to pack them in tightly. Evenly distribute the dill, garlic, peppercorns, and celery seeds throughout the jars. Ladle the pickling solution into the jars leaving about 1/4 inch headroom (air space) at the top of each jar. Place the lid (make sure you use new, unused lids so they will seal) on the jar and screw the ring on just finger tight.

Process the cans in boiling water for 15 minutes.  This means submerging the cans in a large pot of already boiling water. Make sure the water comes about 1 inch above the top of the cans.  I would recommend putting a rack or a small towel at the bottom of the pan and resting the jars on top of this while they are processing. This helps keep the bottom of the jars from getting too hot against the direct heat of the pot. Carefully use tongs to remove the jars from the boiling water and let cool on a wire rack overnight.

Once cooled, make sure the center spot on each lid can no longer be depressed with your finger. If use can still push this spot it means your jars did not properly seal and the beans will not stay fresh in the jars.  The dilly beans are best if you let them pickle for at least 2 weeks before opening. If done correctly, these jars should keep at least several months in a cool, dark place. Once you open a jar, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, if they last that long! 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Moist yet fluffy, quick and easy zucchini bread with just a hint of chocolate. This lovely bread is perfectly spiced with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. The combination of the zucchini, applesauce, and yogurt keep this bread so moist and tender.  My family and I ate almost half of this loaf before I decided that I better take some pictures before the whole thing disappeared. I stuck the second loaf in the freezer for safe keeping so that we wouldn't be total piggies.  Quick breads freeze really well wrapped up tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and then again in aluminum foil.  It is always a nice treat to defrost baked goods like this from the freezer and have a delicious snack or breakfast ready to go.  This recipe converts really well to muffins or to smaller loaf pans if you have them. Just make sure to adjust the baking time accordingly and you will have portable zucchini bread in no time.  I absolutely love baking something like this or banana bread or granola bars over the weekend and then having a homemade treat to last through the week. As always, customize the recipe to suit your tastes; keep the bread plain, try adding some pecans or walnuts, or even swirl in some nutella right before baking. If you give this recipe a try, let me know what variations you make!

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchinis)
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two loaf pans. In a large bowl mix together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then stir in the grated zucchini, applesauce, and yogurt.  In a separate bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together briefly to help distribute the leavening agents evenly throughout the flour.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir together until just barely combined.  Lastly, stir in the mini chocolate chips and evenly pour into the prepared loaf pans.  Bake for about 60 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes in the pans then invert the loaves onto wire racks and cool completely.

Inspired by Deliciously Sprinkled

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Asian Inspired Noodle Salad

A summertime salad packed with a rainbow of vegetables and tossed in a delicious Asian inspired dressing. This recipe is a great alternative to the more traditional pasta salads that make their usual appearances during the summer months.  The salad is full of different and wonderful crunchy textures and the dressing is so fantastic.  The flavor profile is very similar to what you would find in a stir fry sauce; soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic.  All of those delicious flavors mixed in with a bit of oil and a little sugar for balance tie everything together really nicely.

This recipe has been on my 'to try' list for a couple of months now.  That list has been growing extra long lately and I wanted to stock pile some recipes for the blog, so I invited a bunch of family over to be my guinea pig taste testers.  I made a few different new dishes, all of which be coming to the blog shortly, but I think this recipe was the biggest success of the day.  We demolished almost the entire platter in a matter of minutes! So good!  Please let me know if you give this beautiful, fresh noodle salad a try; it will surely be crowd-pleaser.

Asian Inspired Noodle Salad

2 small cucumbers, halved, seeded, and sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/3 small red cabbage, sliced thinly
4 large kale leaves, stemmed and sliced thinly
2 large carrots, grated
1 handful bean sprouts
1/2 cup lightly salted or unsalted peanuts, chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
8 oz cooked, cooled spaghetti

4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 to 2 tbsp sesame oil
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp oyster sauce (optional)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Add all of the prepped vegetables, herbs, and pasta into a large bowl.  Feel free to change up the quantities or types of vegetables and herbs depending on your preferences.  Put all of the dressing ingredients in some kind of container with a tight fitting lid, like a mason jar, and shake really well to combine.  Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and give it a big toss.  Chill for at least 2 hours to let all of the flavors come together.  You can garnish with additional chopped herbs and peanuts, if desired.


Inspired by The Pioneer Woman

Friday, August 7, 2015

Lemon Brownies

Delightfully sweet and chewy lemon brownies that are perfect for the citrus lover in your life! I picked up a bag of lemons while grocery shopping recently because I wanted to make a yummy lemon treat for the weekend. K is a big time lemon fan, and it had been quiet a while since my last lemon dessert. I didn't have a specific recipe in mind, so I turned to my handy dandy Pinterest app and quickly settled on this recipe.  It is hard for me to find the right words to describe these for you. They are fluffy yet chewy, sweet yet tart, cake like yet brownie like all at the same time.  These remind me of the Swedish brownies that I make every year around Christmas. The Swedish brownies are an old family recipe that have a lovely almond flavor and are topped with little pearl sprinkles instead of a glaze.  The ingredient list and method are very similar and both recipes yield a wonderfully textured non-chocolate brownie. I wouldn't classify these as a blondie though; those are a whole other and also very delicious treat!  These simple and delicious lemon brownies are the prefect recipe to try next time you are baking with citrus!

Lemon Brownies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
2 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt together.  Mix in the butter followed by the eggs and then the lemon zest and juice.  Stir everything together until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.  Whisk the glaze ingredients together in a small bowl and then spread evenly over the cooled brownies using a spoon or a knife.  Let the glaze set for at least 10 minutes before serving.


Inspired by The Taylor House

Monday, August 3, 2015

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy

A simple, satisfying, easy dinner that you can make quickly with only a handful of ingredients. Mmm, this is comfort food at its best: fast, delicious, and completely from scratch. I love cooking from scratch, as often as possible. Now, I won't completely knock convenience items because, well, sometimes you just gotta take the easy road. Like those moments when all you need is a big ole chocolate brownie and you only have 2 minutes to spare so you whisk together a box mix, pop it in the oven, and a half hour later you have your chewy, yummy chocolate fix without the work.  Ahh brownies, one of life's wonders!  Most of the time though, cooking from scratch can be just as easy as the convenience items and free of all those preservatives and other whosy-whats-its in there. It gives you a really good feeling to prepare a meal for your family or friends or even just yourself that you put the effort into and you know exactly which ingredients you used.  Choosing fresh, and local ingredients when possible, adds a whole other level of goodness to your meals.  Salisbury steak is definitely a bit of a treat meal, hamburgers covered in gravy and all, but every now and then we all need a bit of that comfort food.  I hope you give this delicious recipe a try!  

Salisbury Steak

1 lb ground beef
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce, divided
Salt and Pepper
8 to 10 baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
chives, for garnish

In a medium bowl lightly mix the ground beef together with several dashes of Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper until combined. Take care to not over mix the ground beef because it will begin to get tough.  Form four evenly sized hamburger patties.  Flatten out and indent the middle of the patties slightly so that when they cook they do not puff up and become more like hamburger balls.

Fry the patties over medium high heat, in a large non-stick skillet with high sides until nicely browned, a few minutes on each side. They do not have to be fully cooked at this point, but close.

Wipe out most of the fat and any brown bits from the frying pan with a paper towel.  Add the butter and the mushrooms and cook over medium until the mushrooms are lightly browned and softened to your liking.  Stir in the flour, cooking for about a minute, and then whisk in the beef broth.  Add another dash or so of Worcestershire sauce and increase the heat to medium high. Be sure to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Bring the gravy to a boil and add the hamburger patties back into the pan.  Let the gravy bubble up around the hamburgers for a minute or two, just until the patties are cooked to your liking.  Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles or whatever you want and garnish with chopped chives.