Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I’ve been on a pickle kick lately, but I’m very new to the whole enterprise. For that reason, I’ve been making lots of batches of pickles with different recipes to try and learn what ingredients and proportions have what effects on the final products. This is why I made both Half-Sour and Full-Sour pickles a while back, and why I made three batches of refrigerator dill pickles too.

One milestone that I would really like to reach is to duplicate the flavor of the deli pickles we get from the local supermarket. I’m pretty sure they’re Deitz and Watson brand, and they can be found in big wood barrel displays (they’re actually in a plastic bin that sits inside the big wood barrel, but the visuals are the same). Whoever makes them and whatever they are called, I want to make them. When I figure out how to duplicate that recipe, I’ll be more willing to venture out and try all sorts of other things.

I’ve found a few recipes on the internet that looked like they might be what I am after, so I mixed and matched the recipes, and converted measurements so they are per-quart jar. Here are the general ingredients for these recipes:

  • Kirby pickling cucumbers. Usually 4-5 per quart depending on the size of the cukes and how you cut them (I cut them into spears). Make sure to remove the blossom end, to prevent softening.
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt (with no preservatives or anti-caking agents)
  • Fresh Dill (to taste)
  • Peppercorns (about a half Tablespoon per jar, depending on taste)
  • Garlic
  • Other spices
  • 3 cups of distilled water (or, if not distilled, give it a good boil)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar

So all that out of the way, here are the three batches I made (from left to right, though you can see that we’ve been tasting them, they’re only half full now):

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Batch 1: Simple

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar

This is a simple batch, and very tasty. For the first week they tasted unexpectedly sweet, but by the second week they were more mild. This is a simple, but good flavor. Our least favorite of the bunch, but were still pretty tasty.

Batch 2: More Complicated

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Dash hot pepper flakes

These are probably our favorite batch of the three. The coriander makes the flavor more mellow and a little brighter. The hot pepper adds a little zing at the end, but doesn’t add much heat or flavor otherwise. Again this batch was unexpectly sweet for the first week, but after that they calmed down considerably.

Batch 3: Apple Cider Vinegar and Garlic

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Extra Dill

I liked this batch more than Dana did. I think the extra garlic was a big help, but the apple cider vinegar is not quite as good as the white vinegar in this recipe. I would say this batch is tied for first, but Dana likes Batch 2 better.

What Next?

I like the ratio of water to vinegar. I think it’s pretty close to perfect. I will play with the ratio, of course, but I think we’re pretty close as-is.

Overall, I think if I make a fourth batch, I think I want to combine Batch 2 and Batch 3 and add a few more ingredients as well.

I’ll use the extra garlic and dill from Batch 3, but stick with the white vinegar and add some hot pepper from Batch 2. I also think I would like to add some extra spices too, like a little bit of bay leaf or mustard seed. The mustard seed, in particular, is probably a major missing ingredient. These changes to the recipe, and maybe a few tweaks to the technique, will probably get us pretty close to the flavor of the deli pickle I am looking for.

I am also considering another attempt at the Half-Sour recipe, this time with a custom spice blend instead of that problematic “Pickling Spice” I used last time. The pre-made pickling spice adds too much bitterness and off-flavor for my purposes.

In either case, we may have to wait till next year. Cucumbers are out of season now and we aren’t going to get any fresh Kirbys again until next year. Maybe I’ll plant a bush and try to grow a few myself.

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Russian Pickled Cherries

I’m in a big pickling kick, and I came to realize that I’ve never really had pickled fruits before. Apparently they’re just the bees knees, so I looked up some recipes in my pickling book to get a feel for things. With cherries being the only thing really in season right now (and, having got a few bags at a great price!) I decided my first batch of pickled fruit would be cherries.

Russian Pickled Cherries

  • 2 cups sweet cherries, rinsed and stemmed
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • part of a cinnamon stick
  • dash nutmeg

Put the cherries and vinegar into a bowl or large-mouth jar. Cover and allow to sit overnight.

Next day, drain off the vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan. Add the sugar, water, cinnamon chunk and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, decrease heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour the liquid over the cherries again. Allow to sit, covered and undisturbed, for 3 days.

Drain the liquid back into a sauce pan, boil and simmer again for 15 minutes.  Let cool.

Put the cherries into a sterilized pint jar, pour in the liquid, and cover with a tight, sterilized lid. Let the cherries mellow for 1 month.

Cherries should keep for about a year.

Notes

The original recipe called for things like “cardamom pod”, “mace” and “allspice”. I didn’t have those things. Mace is similar enough to nutmeg that I made the substitution. Otherwise, I would have just omitted it entirely.

The original recipe also suggests a small bit of kirsch as an optional addition. I don’t keep kirsch on hand so I wanted to replace it with some other liquor: I was thinking brandy or dark rum. As we have neither of either (Dana being pregnant has pushed booze way way down on our priorities list), I scrapped the idea entirely.

Results

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The resulting cherries are sweet with a bold cherry flavor, but also a distinct vinegar flavor and tartness. They also have a very interesting texture, more dense and firm than I would have expected. These aren’t your dessert cherries, but they are definitely tasty. I suspect they will go well with a pan-friend chicken or a roast pork loin or something like that.

 


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Carrot Review and Pickled Carrots

The carrots I grew were absolutely gorgeous. Today I’m posting a review of the carrots I harvested, along with a recipe for pickled carrots.

At the time of writing this, there are a few small stragglers still in the ground not ready to harvest (they were overshadowed by larger siblings and need some more time in the sun), and I have several still in a bucket on my porch waiting for the right time to be harvested. If I learn any new information when the remainder come in, I’ll include that in a separate post.

Carrot Review

St Valery

The St Valery were a creamy orange color on the outside, with a vein-like appearance when peeled. The flavor was good and carroty, but not nearly so sweet as the Nantes and Danvers you find in the grocery store. Yield for the St Valery was decent, with a few caveats:

  1. They were inconsistently shaped. A few of the harvested carrots were short and stocky, while others were longer and thinner.
  2. They had a tendency to branch. In one or two cases I think the carrot hit a rock and went two different directions, but many of the carrots came up, branched into two or more parts, for no discernible reason. These branches make peeling, cleaning and storing the carrots more problematic, and decreases the overall size of the carrot.

Dragon

True to their description, the Dragon carrots came out a gorgeous purple color. However, much to my intense displeasure, they are pale yellow or mottled orange on the inside. When you peel them, the great color goes away.

Unlike the St. Valery, the Dragons were much more consistently shaped and had a much lower rate of branching. Like the St. Valery, they were not nearly so sweet as the supermarket varieties.

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Here you can see that I couldn’t get a single picture of these things before breaking them open and eating half a jar.

Pickled Carrots

In my book, The Joy of Pickling, I found an interesting recipe for carrots called “Pickled Bay Carrots with Dill”. I made several changes, not the least of which being my use of mature sliced carrots instead of the tender baby ones called for. The recipe also called for a hot pepper, which I thought I had in reserve from my adventures with the dehydrator last year. I took a look through my stash, and the remaining ones were looking a little brown and creepy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was just too much moist air in the fridge? In either case, I substituted some crushed red pepper flakes instead.

I made this recipe per-jar, using half-pint jars instead of the quart batch the recipe calls for.

  • Carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 3.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1 Sprig of Fresh Dill
  • 1 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 0.25 cups sugar

In a pot, mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Blanch the carrots in boiling water for 2 minutes, and immediately move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

In each jar, place 1 garlic clove, a dash of red pepper flakes, about a dozen pepper corns, and the fresh dill. Add carrots to the jars, loosely packed, to fill within a half inch of the rim.

Pour the vinegar over the carrots to fill the jars with 1/2 inch head space.

Burp the jars, put on a clean lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature overnight.

 Results

Let just say one thing: Pickled carrots are probably my favorite new type of pickle. The carrots are soft but not mushy. The flavors are perfectly balanced and absolutely transcendent. I’ll be making more of these this year, next year, every year.


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Pickled Green Beans

I planted two varieties of green beans: Kentucky Wonder Pole and Rattlesnake. Both came with the instructions “harvest regularly for larger yields”. I guess that makes intuitive sense: Energy that was going to the picked beans can be diverted to new pods, helping them grow larger, faster.

As of this writing, Rattlesnake is by far and away the harvest leader. On a daily basis, I can go out to the garden and fill a pint bag with beans. Kentucky Wonder Pole has been off to a much slower start, though I suspect the rabbits had something to do with the poor performance of the lower-hangers. Now that the plant is larger, I can’t blame the bunnies anymore (though I still don’t like them). I’m hoping that Kentucky Wonder Pole gets its act together, it’s going to be very embarrassing to perform so poorly with the word “Wonder” in the name.

Moving on.

Dana was liking green beans for a while, but then she got pregnant and she currently doesn’t eat much besides bagels, microwave pizza and potato salad. With a growing stockpile, I decided to develop and debilitating pickling addiction with pickled green beans.

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(The jar on the left is made of blue glass, they aren’t just greener beans.)

Pickled Green Beans

I followed a recipe from my pickling book titled “Pickled Snap Beans”, with a few modifications. I adapted the recipe to be per-pint, so you can make as large or small a batch as you want.

  • Green Beans, washed, ends removed, and cut into 4 inch pieces or smaller.
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 stem of Dill
  • 1 Tsp Pickling Spices
  • Cider Vinegar
  • Water

In each (clean, warm) jar, add a crushed clove of garlic, the pickling spices, and the dill. Fill the jar to within 1/2 inch with beans.

In a nonreactive sauce pan, mix water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio. Bring the mixture to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the vinegar mixture to the jars to cover the beans.

Put on sterilized lids and bands. Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The beans should be pickled and ready to eat in 2 weeks.

Results


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Half-Sour and Full-Sour Pickles

For Xmas two years ago I got a book The Joy of Pickling. Overall, I really like the book. It has a huge assortment of recipes, including things that I didn’t even know were possible. Reading through it, I’ve become inspired to try a whole variety of new recipes that I wouldn’t have even known about before hand.

But…there are a few little things about the book that irritate me. Recipes come in all shapes and sizes. Some recipes only fill a pint jar, while others are multiple quarts. It’s not always obvious how to scale recipes from one size to the other, especially if it’s based on how much you can “pack” into each container, and how much liquid it takes to cover. Many recipes call for ingredients that I have trouble finding, and don’t give any indication about variations or substitutions.Very similar recipes, adjacent to each other in the book come in different sizes that aren’t easy to compare directly. Measurements of ingredients sometimes come by volume, sometimes come by weight.

To give an example, there are two recipes for pickled cherries, right next to each other, on opposing pages. The first recipe makes a pint, and lists the amount of cherries by volume. The very next recipe, described as a “variation” on the first, makes a quart and measures cherries by weight.

In the same vein, salt is always (that I have seen) listed by volume, with the caveat that you use special “pickling salt”. Kosher salt or sea salt  tend to have lower density and so you can’t use the same volume measurements for those. You can “make your own” pickling salt by tossing kosher salt into a food processor or spice mill to grind it much finer. However, considering that you are just going to dissolve the resulting salt in water and lose all texture, that seems like a huge waste of time. A real solution, of course, is to just give your salt measurements by weight (or, gasp!, give both measurements).

I’ll stop complaining now, because it really is a fine book despite some of the small issues.

Dana and I would both like to reproduce the deli pickles we can get from our super market. I searched through the book to find two recipes which I thought were the closest. I put up a batch of each. We’ll taste the results, compare them to our target, and maybe try again with a better frame of reference.

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This image shows the two jars of pickles. Full sours on the left and half-sours on the right.

Full Sour Dill Pickles

My intuition is that the “Half Sour” pickles are closest to what we are after, but in the book she describes the “Lower East Side Full Sour Dill” as the kind that New Yorkers would expect to find in their delis. Deli pickles are, after all, what I am after, so I included this recipe in my test. Her recipe for this makes 3 quarts, so I’ve adapted the recipe to be per-quart-jar. I’ve also adapted the recipe to use generic pickling spice, because I don’t have all the individual spices on hand (she calls for allspice and coriander seeds).

  • Pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 Dill heads
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tsp pickling spice
  • 1 Tsp whole black pepper corns.
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt.

Mix the salt and water together until the salt dissolves.

Pack the remaining ingredients into the jar. Add brine to cover. Put the remaining brine into a plastic bag to put on top. The bag helps hold the cucumbers under the surface.

Bubbles should appear after 3 days. Let the pickles sit and ferment for 3 weeks, skimming scum and other garbage off the top daily.

Half Sour Dill Pickles

Her recipe for Half-Sour pickles, in true form, is a 1-quart recipe instead of the 3-quart recipe for the Full Sours. It’s hard to really compare the two like that, but I’ll deal with it. The recipe for this is almost exactly the same as above except for the strength of the Brine (she includes bay leaves here, but that’s already part of my Pickling Spice mix, so they are identical for me):

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

Make these in the same exact way. Let them sit for 2 weeks instead of 3, skimming daily.

Results

The pickles are good, but not great. The first thing to mention is that the “Pickling Spice” I used in these recipes contain several ingredients I wasn’t aware of, and which don’t help the flavor: Cinnamon chief among them. The pickles do have a bitter, cinnamony aftertaste that really hurt the final flavor. Next time, I’ll definitely buy the individual ingredients and mix them together myself. I’ve been looking for things like whole cardamom and coriander seeds from my local supermarket to no avail. I may have to find a different source for these.

Besides the off-flavors of the pickling spice, the half-sours are probably closest to the deli pickle we are trying to get. My next batch will be based on that recipe, with modifications.

The Full Sours were way too salty for our liking. We’ll eat these pickles, but we won’t make that recipe again.

 


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Apricot Jam

I’d like to make an embarrassing confession: Until this summer I’d never eaten a fresh apricot or tasted apricot jam. Sure, I’ve had some trail mix or granola or whatever with little dried cubes of sweetened orange fruitmatter, but a real fresh apricot has never been on the menu.

I was trying out a small batch of pickled cherries, when I saw a recipe for pickled apricots on the opposite page. I took a quick read-through to see how similar the recipes were, and maybe see if apricots (which are now in season) would be a good project to tackle next. There, at the beginning of the recipe, were some words that changed the course of the next few days:

There is no better way to preserve apricots than as apricot jam, but this pickle comes close.

That’s quite a compelling testimonial, from the author of the pickling book! I decided right then that I would make a batch of apricot jam and, after that notch was firmly carved in my bedpost, I would maybe try pickling some too.

I took a trip to the orchard to grab some apricots. The trees had been thoroughly picked over (by people who, no doubt, knew what I was missing), but my height allowed me to grab some of the ones that were hanging just out of range of the average picker. I managed to fill about half of a 2.5 gallon bucket, which was more than enough to do some experiments on.

No sooner had I walked in the door than I rinsed one off and stuffed it into my cake hole.

Wow. These aren’t just smaller peaches. They’re totally legit. The veil has been pulled off, the die has been cast, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon. Apricots, it seems have been added to the list of things I need to buy too much of each year.

(Besides the great flavor, it helps that apricots are freestone and don’t typically need to be peeled. Processing them is much easier than most peaches, though they are smaller and you need to do more of them).

Apricot Jam

  • 6 cups apricots, rinsed, stoned and finely chopped.
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 packet Sure Jell no sugar pectin

Process the apricots and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Add lemon juice and 2 cups of the sugar. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and put the mixture in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, dump the apricot mixture into a large stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.

In a separate bowl combine the remaining sugar and pectin. Whisk to combine (this, supposedly, prevents clumping). When the apricots are boiling so hard that stirring doesn’t make it go down, add the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously.

Being the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims, add sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Good. Really, really good.

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It’s not just a peach jam with an orange color, like I was half expecting. It has some tartness to it, great texture, great color, and fantastic taste. This probably is up among the top few jams I’ve made since I’ve started making them. It’s not better than my favorite cherry jam, but I definitely like it more than peach jam. I will certainly add this to the rotation, we will be making much of this next year.

I suspect that apricots would mix very well with oranges, tart cherries and maybe even cranberries. I’ll play with these ideas and more next year.

 


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Cherry Butter

I have a rule: When cherries get down to 1.99$ per pound or less I pounce on them like a lion who….pounces….on things. Whatever. I’ll work on the metaphor later. Don’t judge me.

Last year I couldn’t even find sweet cherries in the grocery store for any price, but this year they came down to 1.99$ for a brief, glorious moment. I ended up with three bags. Three bags, and no immediate plans for what to do with them. I sat down for some serious brainstorming (and, truth be told, browsing funny cat pictures on the internet. I have an attention deficit thing).

I decided to try out a recipe for pickled cherries I got from my pickling book, but that was only a pint. I needed something to do with the rest. (The pickled cherries take about a month to brine, so I’ll post that recipe with review when I have a chance to taste them).

I have been keeping a recipe for Chai Cherry Butter in the back of my head since I first saw it last year. I didn’t have the spices needed, but I liked the general idea of making a cherry butter. So, that’s what I made (next year, maybe, I’ll try the Chai version).

This recipe doesn’t include any measurements, because they really aren’t necessary. A simple cherry butter has only a single ingredient, and you just cook it down until it’s the texture you want. Things get only a little bit more complicated if you want to preserve the results in a sealed jar, but not by much.

Cherry Butter.

  • Cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted.
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Amaretto
  • Lemon Juice

Put the cherries in a crock pot, along with some sugar (about a cup, to taste) to help release the juices. I added the cinnamon here to really incorporate the flavor, but you can add it later too. Set the temperature to high and just cook the heck out of them for a long time. At least a few hours. Blend the cooked cherries with an immersion blender or, working in batches, with a regular blender.

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Continue cooking the mush down until it has your preferred fruit butter consistency. Stir in the vanilla and amaretto. Cook a bit longer to let some of the alcohol boil off.

Fill warm, sterilized jars with the butter. Add lids and bands, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The resulting butter is fantastically good. It has some of the same character as an apple butter or a peach butter, but with a strong cherry flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. The cinnamon was added very early in the process so its flavors were subtle and mellow. I wasn’t trying to make a “Vanilla Cherry Butter”, I only wanted to add a dash of vanilla to help bring out the cherry flavor. Dana says she can taste the vanilla clearly, but I feel like I hit it right on the mark. The amaretto, like the vanilla, was not intended to change the flavor in a major way. Instead I wanted it to just add some background complexity, which it did.

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I never cook my fruit butters down as far as some people on the internet do. The consistency is good and thick but still spreadable. The flavor is great. Just, great. I don’t know why I’ve never made this before but I will most certainly be making it again.