Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have a confession to make: Last summer I went on a pretty hardcore bender. In the process I became a living Portlandia sketch. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. Working a couple of days a week at a farmers market meant I got my hands on plenty.

See, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested (okay, obsessed) with preservation and the surprising number of foods we still eat that came about simply to avoid spoilage and to have something to eat in February. Cured or smoked sausages, ham and bacon, jams, dried fruits and herbs all began as a way to avoid spoilage. So did duck confit. Beer and wine likely started as a means to lengthen the shelf life of barley and grapes. As did pickling.

Roughly defined, pickling involves using a liquid base that inhibits bacterial growth. Acid, salt brine and vegetable or olive oil all do the trick. My bender resulted in putting up far too many jars of pickled fruits and vegetables for a normal family of three to eat, and a kitchen that perpetually smelled like vinegar. (Although, between my pickles and the jam my wife made we would have been set if that brutal Midwestern winter dragged on any longer. So, it’s not all bad.)

The Spice House carries a great pickling spice blend that makes a great base for dill pickles, but I think my favorite style is the sweet bread and butter pickles. My mother-in-law agrees and did her part to move a few jars. She started asking politely a few months ago when I’d be making more. Now that cucumbers are showing up at the farmers markets, she’ll be relieved to know that I can start making them again.

After trying a few recipes I found online, I made one that was close to what I was looking for, but was a little heavy on the celery seed, so I pulled back on that. If memory serves, I also had to adjust out of necessity. I think I was short on white vinegar and/or white sugar and made up the difference with cider vinegar and/or brown sugar. The changes not only made a huge difference, but gave me the exact pickles I was tasting in my head.

I made a batch of these last week. Somehow, though, three jars went mysteriously missing. Curiously, my mother-in-law had been over to babysit.

Bread and Butter Pickles
(makes approximately 7 pint jars)

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4-4 ½ pounds of cucumbers

Wash and sterilize 7 pint jars, lids and rings.

Slice cucumbers into rounds about ⅛ inch thick.

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In a heavy sauce pan combine vinegars, sugars and salt over medium heat. Stir periodically until sugars and salts are dissolved.

To each sterilized pint jar add:

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Pack each jar tightly with sliced cucumbers, leaving ½ inch head space.

Fill each jar with hot brine and cap. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel. Place in refrigerator for at least two days to allow flavor to develop, but try to allow them to refrigerate for at least two weeks.

Alternately, instead of refrigerating, process the jars in a water bath and store in a cool, dark space where your mother-in-law can’t find them

 

Chorizo Hash Breakfast Skillet

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

We had long been receiving requests to develop a Spice House chorizo blend. Not long ago, after what seemed like ages of tedious research and development, we finally created a Mexican style chorizo blend that we can proudly put the Spice House seal of approval on. Our Chorizo Casero Mexican Sausage Seasoning recreates the popular mexican sausage that folks throughout Chicago know and love, all with that same Spice House quality we give all of our blends. As a transplant to Chicago, I had not been aware of this popular mexican staple until I sampled it at some local Mexican restaurants. Sadly, not all of our readers have had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago and dining at any of our city’s fantastic Mexican restaurants and taco joints. So I though it might be a good idea to explain a bit more about Mexican chorizo and how you can use our new blend to make some of your own at home. Continue reading

Healthy Dinner for Two, Kale and Soy Glazed Shiitake Sushi

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

I have long enjoyed a lesser-known kind of sushi called battera, it is rarely seen in the States, even at the most traditional of sushi restaurants.  This sushi is comprised of sushi rice, densely pressed into a square wooden form. A layer of rice is pressed down, and then a layer of Japanese mint leaves are placed on top. This is followed with a second layer of rice, pressed, then a layer of salty mackerel and finally topped with sweet pickled kelp. The whole lot is pressed one last time and then cut into rectangular pieces, approximately one inch wide by three inches long. This sushi is  to be eaten in two bites, unlike most maki or nigiri. Each bite of battera fills ones mouth with sweet sticky rice, expanding as one chews. The salty mackerel dances in a sea of rice, perfectly complimented by the sharp mint. I’ve used this experience as an inspiration for the following recipe, featuring soy-glazed shiitake and blanched kale.  Continue reading

Warming Up For Winter: The Classic Hot Toddy

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As the temperature begins to drop, it’s official. It’s time for bourbon. During the summer, the drink of choice definitely trends toward clear liquors, and clean flavors. Fruit and frosted glasses take center stage. But, as soon as the weather begins to turn drizzly, I find myself craving amber spirits and spices. It’s the season for mulled wine, hot buttered rum and, of course, my favorite winter warmer: the hot toddy.  This spiced drink is relaxing, invigorating, and somehow a mysterious cure all. Whether it’s at get together with friends, or just to sip by yourself on some blustery evening, this drink is always warming, and always a hit.

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The Dance of the Fish Fry, Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

When I was young, my family would have a fish fry every few weeks. Whenever my mother would bring home a few pounds of fresh cod and buttermilk from the grocery store, I immediately knew I was in for a treat. I used to love the process of it all, dipping the fish in the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the flour again. I loved listening to the oil pop and sputter, being to short to watch my father place the battered fish into the pot. There is such theatre to a fish fry, the purposeful steps forming a dance of comestible intent. The flurry of these dancers’ movement is scored by the scents and sounds of sizzling spiced batter and hot snapping oil. No one person takes a passive role in this dance, while the surrounding viewers may only first stand and watch in anticipation, they later become eager participants in the eating. Food is about more than just the things that we digest, it is also about the process, the participants, and the community that create it. These food traditions become an act of modern story telling, a form of ritual that groups use unconsciously to pass on the customs and teachings that make up a heritage. Continue reading

Aleppo Pepper and White Pepper Honey Glazed Duck with Harvest Vegetable Biryani

Slow times, slow cooking; quickly guests fill the table; good food fills good friends.

Slow times, slow cooking; quickly guests fill the table; good food fills good friends.

Fall flavors start with the harvest of late summer’s produce, awakening some primal urge for slow cooked meals and poultry. Its the time when we dust off grandma’s cast iron dutch oven or our mother’s crock pot, and begin to plot meals laced with sage, starch, and plenty of butter. Fall brings layers of flavors and layers of clothing, layers that both increase and hide our bulging waistlines. A welcome reprieve from the dreaded swim suit season, allowing ourselves another helping of sweet potatoes under the security afforded only by woolen sweaters and understanding family. Yes, it is a pleasure to start to indulge in gastronomic overkill during a time when we all start to huddle around a warm dinner table as opposed to sitting on a warm beach. A time when it is more pleasurable to hold close to the unconditional positive regard of our loved ones, who are keen to set an open chair at the table, so long as we agree to sit and eat in their company. It is a ceremonial offering of the work and toil we all endure in the hot late summer months, a promise kept by our elders who kept the fires warm as the young return tired from their months of play. Fall is for family, fall is for food, and why shouldn’t it? So when the sun starts to set early, and cotton teeshirts give way to flannel button downs, please consider the duck. Continue reading

Chicken-Rub Laboratory, Mark I

The elusive perfect chicken rub.

The elusive perfect chicken rub.

We hear it all the time, “what's good with chicken?” Some workers at the Spice House fear this question, and for good reason. The difficulty here is not that it is difficult to find a seasoning that pairs well with chicken, quite the opposite. As most folks already know chicken's legendary culinary tagline: “good with everything”.  We have a great variety of seasonings we make in house that are wonderful with chicken. We have done the work for you, each blend may have as many as 33 ingredients, you just need to shake on or rub in. For those who like to experiment,  making your own rubs and seasonings from scratch  is both rewarding and a lot of fun. Mad scientist type of fun.  I have thereby taken it upon myself to test out my own personal spice mixtures and recipes, posting updates along the way. Continue reading

Cooking Restraint: Watermelon Gazpacho, salt-free edition

Flavorful and Salt-Free

Getting bored in the kitchen happens, and finding interesting ideas can be a handful. Limiting ourselves to pursue new culinary territory might seem like a good way to just get out of a rut, but it can also apply to real world nutritional needs. There are an awful lot of customers we see who can no longer have certain loved ingredients, due to health problems or newly discovered allergies. Yet the removal of an important ingredient doesn’t mean that bland or lifeless food is the only option, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint. Continue reading

Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet

 I love making ice cream at home. I have had a love affair with my ice cream machine ever since I took it out of the box. It's a labor of love, creating layered and often downright wacky flavors of ice cream and sorbet that can be found in no grocery store freezer. Fanciful ice creams, flavors that combine sweet and savory, sorbets the more offbeat the better. Half the fun of cooking at home is the creative licence afforded there, and that ice cream machine and I have pushed that envelope all over town. Sure, not all of the flavors have been successful, but how can I know that Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is a bad idea until I try it myself? On a side note, Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is certainly a bad idea, but I had a lot of fun finding out why, the hard way. Mishaps aside, let me share with you one of my more successful creations, Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet.  Continue reading

Condiments Quickly: Making Mayonnaise

Some time back we hosted at our Old Town store a book signing with New York Times Food Columnist, Melissa Clark, who had been making rounds to promote her then-new cookbook, “Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.” We entertained a small crowd as attendees had the opportunity to meet the author, get her autograph, and pick her brain as she fielded questions about cooking and beyond. The book’s release, and subsequently the event, landed in mid-Fall, so it was no surprise that many of the questions and much of the advice she doled out, centered on, among other seasonal topics, brining, stuffing, or otherwise preparing turkey. Melissa Clark, I realized then, is uniquely talented. Besides being a good cook, she has a way of making some perennially nightmarish kitchen projects sound and look surprisingly manageable. Case in point: I’d been trying for a good while with limited success to concoct my own flavor-infused mayonnaise when I stumbled upon some classic Melissa Clark wisdom in the form of a recent column, “Mayonnaise: Oil, Egg, and a Drop of Magic.”

Photo courtesy of BlackMasterPiece/Mona-Lisa

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