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Sunday, January 11, 2009

picked garlicky red peppers

Picked Garlicky Peppers

Among foods I can eat in near unlimited quantities, pickled things are at the top of the list. Perhaps because when I get hungry I don’t crave anything sweet (though worry not, I have quite the sweet tooth as evidenced by the cavity-forming December), but savory and salty. And there’s vinegar present – all the better.

In Russia, when I was growing up, fresh fruit and vegetables were not available in the winter (other than things like potatoes and carrots) and so we did a lot of our own canning at home. My mother would boil the jars and put place tomatoes, cucumbers, cornichons, or mushrooms in them and pour warm vinegary pickling marinade over, then sealing the jars. How she did this, I haven’t a clue – her canning skills were impeccable, and everyone knew her pickled tomatoes as the best around. To this day, even the best of Brighton’s tomatoes don’t hold a candle. Yes, I had a marvelous, gastronomic childhood.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

We didn’t pickle anything ourselves after coming to America and it’s something I kind of miss. In Russia, pickling was a ritual that got everyone involved in the kitchen, even my father. It was something we did each fall with during the harvest season, to enjoy eating in the cold winter months. Cold winter months in Russia commanded bold, intense flavors and salted or pickled foods went perfectly with a staple like potatoes. Just try putting some marinated mushrooms on top of freshly boiled potatoes, sprinkle some dill and sliced onion and see what happens. For me – it was nothing short of heaven.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

But I digress. I could wax poetic about such simple meals for pages and pages and will only find the deafening snores of everyone around. I’ll quit while I’m ahead and instead tell you that I’ve sort of started to pickle at home. All thanks to Deb and her husband who let me sample some of their pickled garlicky peppers, suspecting, though not knowing fully, the monster they would then create.
The very next day after sampling these amazing things, I marched to my produce place – that manages to sell peppers at reasonable prices this time of year, and picked up ten peppers and a head of garlic. While I always have garlic at home, I see no reason NOT to pick up more of it when there’s an opportunity to do so.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

I’m telling you – waiting twenty-four hours for the peppers to be ready was twenty-four hours too long, and the first moment I could, I piled a generous helping into a bowl, sat on my couch, and devoured these peppers in one instant. Undoubtedly, these will become a regular staple in my kitchen now, because they are delicious, easy to make and go with virtually everything. Or at least I think they do. And while it’s not the traditional type of pickling, it’s close enough for me and serves as a lovely and comforting reminder of a childhood memory.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

chicken liver pâté

chicken liver pâté

All right, I’ll get quickly to the point here. If you are celebrating Christmas, you are probably either traveling to your celebration destination or cooking a meal and preparing for the festive holiday. This is for those of you in the kitchen who might be looking for a quick appetizer that makes you look like a three star French chef, while your guests ooh and aah, and you feign hard work and great kitchen skills – this is for you. You can thank me later, but first go and see for yourself how easy and awesome this is.

chicken livers

I will warn you now that this requires three (that’s 3!) sticks of butter which is probably why it tastes so amazing and luxurious. When I served this at book club, the ladies dove right in – a sign of great success. You can make this tonight and serve this during the cocktail hour tomorrow. When you pour the warm pâté into the dish where you will serve it, don’t worry that it might seem too liquid – it will set, I promise. If you are having a bunch of people over, it might work to chill the pâté in several small dishes that you can set around your apartment or house.

i know raw liver - EW!

Or, if you are running short on small gifts to hand out, these make perfect homemade gifts. Pour the pâté into a small jar, affix a double layer of wax paper with a piece of twine or ribbon and attach a gift tag. And in an instant you have a thoughtful and luxurious gift! An appetizer that doubles as a gift too? Now that’s holiday cooking worth spending a few minutes on!

Wishing everyone celebrating Christmas a wonderful and festive holiday!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

cheese quesadillas with guacamole

memories of high school

My sophomore year in high school, my roommate taught me how to make quesadillas. We had to take turns in the dorm periodically cooking for our floor-mates whenever we had meetings. And Diana, being homesick for her friends and family food, wanted to introduce us to her favorite snack – the quesadilla. Hailing from East L.A., speaking fluent Spanish, she felt torn away from her Mexican roots. We spent many a night on our dilapidated couch talking about home, being scholarship kids in a prestigious school, trying to blend in and make friends. Our two favorite indulgences back then were fried dumplings and cheese pizza – we practically lived on those two things.

the makings of a quacamole

That is until quesadillas came into my life. I remember how the first bite tasted and I remember, I couldn’t stop eating them. While we couldn’t get our hands on real Mexican queso, Diana confided that her family used Monterey jack cheese for years and they liked it just fine. And since I’m a fan of melted cheese in general, it was quite all right by me as well.

not yet melty - but soon!

And so the day after my housewarming party – which was quite a bit of fun and well attended, though I missed some friends who were stuck in airports and under the weather; I needed a lazy day of cleaning up, catching up on reading and some comfort food. It was the first really chilly day of the season and as I went through some old pictures, I came upon a picture of me and Diana, on our first day at school. And I knew exactly what I was making for dinner that evening. With my new kitchen island assembled, I had space to chop the ingredients and set them aside. I enjoyed each bite and even though my tomato went rotten and got chucked, and I forgot to pick up a jalapeno, the quesadilla and the accompanying guacamole were heavenly, making my Sunday evening feel almost like a mini-vacation.

the cheese is INSIDE!

Not that I wouldn’t turn down a real holiday – I’m long-overdue since the last one was in March. Any suggestions where a cash-strapped girl might go? I’m kind of thinking the West Coast.

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