Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer Squash Refrigerator Pickles

‘Tis the season for gardens bursting with zucchini and yellow squash! Which means ‘tis also the season for those with gardens to become especially earnest in sharing squash with their friends and neighbors. Which means that, whether we’re growing them ourselves or receiving them from a friend, ‘tis the season to find many ways to prepare squash beyond zucchini bread and simple sautés.

So last week I tried my hand at pickling some squash! And I must say that I rather like the result. These are refrigerator pickles, also called quick pickles, which I think just means that 1) you don’t have to go through the extra step of sealing the jars to make them shelf stable and 2) therefore they go straight into the fridge rather than into the pantry. This was perfect for me since I wanted to go ahead and eat them, and canning still scares me.

I looked at lots of recipes for quick pickles, and learned that there are so many variations you can do. You definitely need salt, squash (or other veggies), and some sort of vinegar. Most of the recipes I looked at called for peppercorns. But from there, you can add various fresh herbs, ground spices, onions, other veggies like red bell pepper, or sweeteners to adjust the flavor to your liking. 

I tried a couple different variations—one more basic, and one more flavored—and made a quart jar of each. And I can’t quite decide which one I like better. The basic version (below) tastes very clean and un-fussy, while the slightly spicy variation (see notes) has a more complex flavor. As far as squash quantity, I had one mammoth zucchini plus two smallish yellow squash, which I sliced and split evenly between the two quart jars.

Summer Squash Refrigerator Pickles
Yield: 1 quart

4-5 sprigs fresh cilantro
1-1/2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1-1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 lbs. yellow squash and/or zucchini, sliced into rounds
1/4 cup sliced yellow onion
1-1/4 cup white vinegar
1-1/4 cup water
1 tsp. kosher salt

To a clean, quart-sized mason jar, add the first seven ingredients (through onion). I put my garlic, peppercorns, and coriander at the bottom, and tried to sort of layer the onion and squash. In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil. Pour over the contents of the jar, pressing down the vegetables so they’re submerged. Gently tap the jar on the counter to release air bubbles. 

Allow the jar to cool on the counter, then put a lid on the jar and let it chill in the fridge at least overnight. After mine was cooled and was lidded, I gave it a good swish (that’s gentler than a full-blown shake) every so often to help the flavors permeate the liquid and, therefore, the veggies.

  • For the variation I’m calling Slightly Spicy Summer Squash Pickles, add 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes to the jar, and use cider vinegar instead of basic white. 
  • I’ve only just made these so can’t testify personally, but most of the refrigerator pickle recipes I’ve seen say that these will keep for about a month in your fridge.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Most West Texas Meal Ever

Today I'm thrilled to introduce a guest post from Josh, my second older brother (you get to figure out what that means). There are two recipes below, with results at the end of the post. You may remember Josh from my trip to visit him in New Zealand, from his blog To Insanity and Beyond, or from actually knowing him in real life. Or you may have absolutely no idea who this redheaded dude is. Either way, you're in for a treat today, because not only is he good at playing army men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with you when you're little, but he's also an excellent writer.


At various points in my life, I’ve held the following jobs:
  • Working at a chicken factory.
  • Hauling furniture.
  • Doing the grunt work that no one else wanted on a construction site.
  • Scraping up bird poop.
  • Running a hostel…which required scraping up human poop.
  • Taking inventory in various warehouses.
  • Unpaid youth minister at a church that never realized I possessed actual skills.
  • Painting houses…in the Texas summer.
  • Cashier at a fish and chips shop in an Aboriginal war zone.
Among the very worst of my occupational episodes, though, was that phase I spent working part time as a landscaper.  I hate mowing lawns.  It’s hot, it’s boring, it’s loud, and next week you have to do the exact same thing again because the grass is too stupid to stay down.  Sometimes we’d get a specialty assignment, like laying sod or trimming a tree.  This would take several hours, and of course we still had to get all the regular mowing accounts in too.  I hated that job so much.  I hit rock bottom the day I was assigned to trim a yucca plant.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, you’ll probably die happy, but let me explain what you’ve missed out on.  Imagine a six foot bouquet of spears, controlled by a subtle but intelligent mind that is sadistic and predatory.  Yucca plants bathe in the blood of living things, draining the souls of their victims along with their life force.  They don’t do this for their own sustenance, like a Venus fly trap.  No, they do it because they’re jerks.  Yucca plants are hostile, and they refuse to negotiate.

So when Karissa suggested we include yucca in our gourmet feast, I couldn’t have been happier.  (That is, once a quick Google search confirmed people actually eat yucca and she wasn’t just trolling me.)   This would be my revenge.  This would right an ancient wrong, rebalancing the scales of justice in favor of the downtrodden.  Yucca did me dirty; now, yucca would be my lunch.

The yucca would just be a side dish, though.  Initially, Karissa wanted to make prickly pear barbecue sauce, which sounded rad to me.  Of course, what good is barbecue sauce without meat to go under it?  Most people, when faced with this scenario, would content themselves with a pork roast.  Not us.  Karissa said, “I have some wild boar in the freezer.”  Yes.  Yes.

So our feast would be wild boar with prickly pear barbecue sauce and a side of yucca.  This is also known as the most west Texas meal ever.

Wild Boar with Prickly Pear Tequila Barbecue Sauce

Wild Boar Directions:
  • Eat a pineapple for breakfast.
  • Vertically slice up 1 red onion and spread it around the bottom of the crockpot.
  • If you have a kitchen slave or a butler, have them gently and methodically massage salt and pepper deep into the boar meat.  Lacking either, simply salt and pepper the surface of the meat, then place it in a skillet on high heat to get a good sear on all sides. 
  • Place the wild boar meat inside the crockpot on top of the onion layer.  Then add 1 whole red onion (peeled) to let it bask in the glorious essence of the wild boar.  If you are cooking the boar’s head, place the onion inside the boar’s mouth.
  • Add 1 cup of hot water.
  • Lay the entire pineapple core from breakfast lengthwise inside the crockpot against the boar meat.  Scatter additional pineapple fragments around the meat surface.  Cook on high for four hours.
Pro tips:
  • If pressed for time, you may cut the meat into two or three chunks so as to expedite the cooking process.  As an added bonus, this creates ideal cavities for the pineapple core and fragments.
  • Don’t be a n00b – coat the inside of the crockpot with canola oil so your butler won’t have to spend an hour cleaning it.  He needs to be answering the door.
Sauce Ingredients:
3 medium red onions (two of these are already cooking in the crock pot with the boar)
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1-1/2 cups prickly pear juice
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground coriander (or 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, ground)
Scant 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin (or 1-1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, ground)
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 jalapeno chilies, minced, ribs and seeds removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. lime zest*
1/2 cup white Worcestershire sauce**
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. lime juice***
2 tsp. kosher salt

*For the n00bs, that’s when you shave off the green stuff from the lime peel but not the white stuff.  It’s a pretty thin layer, so don’t go nuts.
**We didn’t have white Worcestershire sauce, because West Texas, so we substituted with the following: 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. white wine, 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 tsp. sugar.
***I juiced the lime I used for the zest and it came out to exactly 2 Tbsp.  Boo yah!

Sauce Directions:
  • Remove onions from crockpot, both whole and sliced, discarding any charred bits. Place in blender with prickly pear juice and blend at high speed until completely smooth.
  • Mince remaining red onion.  Pro tip: Light a candle and keep it near the chopping station.  It’s the sulfur in the onion that irritates your eyes, and the open flame burns the sulfur away.  Your butler will thank you; your kitchen slave won’t, as they have not been granted permission to speak.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. of butter in a saucepan or large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté minced onions until lightly caramelized (about 5 minutes).  Add coriander, cumin, pepper flakes, jalapeno, garlic, and lime zest.  Cook until fragrant.  Pro tip: The recipe recommends “cooking until fragrant” for two minutes, but we say a minute should do.  Garlic burns easily, and you don’t want to burn your garlic.  That would be sad.
  • Add Worcestershire, tequila, cider vinegar, and lime juice.  Cook over medium-high heat until volume is reduced by half.
  • Stir in the onion/prickly pear blend and salt, bringing to a simmer.
  • Remove from heat and swirl in the remaining butter.
These are yucca roots

Yuca con Mojo (Yucca with Garlic Sauce)

4 yucca roots (we did 2 yuccas and ended up with twice as much sauce as we needed.)
1 tsp. salt
Juice from 1 lime
6 garlic cloves, mashed
1 tsp. salt, doesn’t have to be kosher.  Anarchy!
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 chopped red onion

  • Peel and cube yucca.  Cubes must be the exact size of gaming dice, complete with rounded edges and dots etched into each face.  Otherwise you fail at dinner.  And life.  All your loved ones will abandon you.  You will be Gollum.
  • Be sure to remove woody fibers that may be running down the middle of the yucca.
  • Place yucca in saucepan and cover in water.  Add salt and lime juice, then bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender (approximately 30 minutes).
  • Drain and keep warm.
  • Fire your butler; he’s doing a terrible job.
  • Mash garlic.  Add garlic, lemon juice, and onions, and oil in the same pan you used for boiling.  Because you no longer have a butler to wash extraneous pans.  
  • Heat until bubbling, then add the yucca to the pan, sautéing over medium heat until barely brown – but not CRISP!  (Note: the recipe was very adamant about this.  The all-caps crisp came straight from off the recipe page.  If the yucca gets crispy, I can only assume the apocalypse is upon us.)  


Expectations were astronomical.  Could the reality of this meal live up to the hype?  In a word, yes.

For those of you who grew up in the jungle, yucca reminded us both of taro, a tuber that serves as a staple in the Papua New Guinean diet.  (If you didn’t grow up in the jungle, I’m not going to clarify that; you just get to feel left out.  Look, just cook up some yucca and try it for yourself.)  The sauce was a unique blend of flavors unlike anything I’ve tasted before – and it packed a late kick.  We both agreed that next time we might cut back on the pepper flakes and/or jalapeno to make it a bit less spicy.  It wasn’t too spicy to be enjoyable though; not by a long shot.  We’re just white.  And the wild boar was wild boar.  Enough said.

Most importantly, I established my dominance over the yucca.  I remain at the top of the food chain, with the yucca holding company with the likes of chicken and sushi.  Actually, sushi is higher than yucca.  Sushi eats yucca.  It’s science.

Here’s a picture of Karissa’s cat.  I think that’s how we do it on her blog.

LATER EDIT: Karissa fried up some leftover yucca a couple days later, which left it a little crispy on one or two sides.  She declared it better this way.  Pro tip: Never believe the recipe.

Recipe credit: This recipe served as the guide for the boar and sauce, and this one for the yuca/yucca.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Prickly Pear Lemonade (or Limeade)

There are few beverages that feel as summery as lemonade. So in honor of the weather warming up (thank you, Texas, for the gloriously cool May!) and because there’s still a whole lot of prickly pear juice in my freezer (oops, didn’t mean to hoard it so stingily) I bring you prickly pear lemonade.

If you aren’t into harvesting prickly pear fruit, just use some other fruit juice. Maybe some peach nectar or pureed/mashed blackberries?

And for the record, I use the bottled Real Lemon and Real Lime juices. Because really, who has time—and wrist strength—to juice that many lemons?

Prickly Pear Lemonade (or Limeade)
Yield: 1/2 gallon

3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1 cup prickly pear juice
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
Water and ice

In a glass measuring cup, combine sugar with some water. Microwave for about a minute, so the water gets warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Then pour sugar water into a half-gallon pitcher or mason jar, along with the prickly pear juice, lemon juice, and lime juice. Fill the pitcher the rest of the way with ice and cold water.

To make limeade: Simply switch the lemon and lime juice measurements. I like the limeade slightly better with 3/4 cup sugar and the lemonade slightly better with 1 cup sugar.