Easy Quick Pickled Red Onions

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It took restaurant work to learn that almost anything can be pickled.

At the places where I’ve worked I’ve seen cucumber pickles, yes, and giardiniera, but also beets, herring, fresno peppers, cabbage, green beans, radishes, and mustard seeds. And those are only the ones I can remember with absolute certainty.

Pickling makes sense. It’s a way to preserve vegetables through the winter. Fresh winter produce is a pretty new innovation if you, like I, live somewhere where it snows. It’s a way to get something fresh and bright and tart and clean in your food when nothing grows. And it helps that pickles are delicious.

My childhood self has disowned me for that statement. I used to hate pickles- the sharpness on my tongue and the way the acid hit the back of my throat would make me cough. But age and exposure are great cures for all manner of ails, including pickle aversion.

I would be remiss, however, if I made you think that I love the common green cucumber pickle. We’ve come to an understanding. I don’t mind the cucumber pickle, and on occasion I even like them. The worst I can say is they don’t offend me. But I find other vegetables more interesting when pickled. And my heart really sings for the sharp, acidic, and crunchy bite of a pickled red onion.

One thing I love about pickled red onions is that although they are bright and acidic and sharp, they also tame the bite of red onions. They help take red onions from aggressive to assertive, gussying up the red onions with vinegar while the sugar helps bring out the inherent but hidden sweetness of the red onions. I added fennel seeds, coriander seeds, white peppercorns, and star anise to bring in some warmth. The result is certainly a pickle, but a balanced one.  And with what color.

For a long time at work I would end every brunch shift with a sandwich of smashed avocado and pickled onion. It was a happy habit, and one that only ended when the dish using the pickled onions and avocado was taken off the menu. At home I’ll be adding these pickled red onions to tonight’s dinner of red kuri squash, rice, and beans. They make an excellent addition to all manner of tacos, and I’ve plans involving grain salads and these beauties. And I’ve got my current favorite breakfast sandwich coming up later this week, which stars (you guessed it) pickled red onions.

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Easy Quick Pickled Red Onions

This recipe really is a template, and you can take it in a variety of directions, depending on what flavors you want to bring out. These pickles will keep well for weeks at a time, as long as the jar is clean and kept in the refrigerator. Of course, do use your best judgement. If you do smell any off smells, or the pickles become cloudy rather than brilliant, then it’s time to toss them.

Makes 1 quart

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
2 whole star anise

Place the red onion slices into a clean quart jar and set aside.

In a small saucepan combine the vinegars, salt, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, then pour over the red onion slices. Allow the vinegar to cool, then place a cap on the jar and refrigerate.

The pickles can be eaten after an hour of refrigeration, but will taste better after hanging out in the brine for over a day. They will keep, refrigerated and tightly capped, for a few weeks.

 

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Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies with Orange from “Alternative Baker”

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Aaron’s mom is (and has been) under doctor’s orders to avoid gluten. It’s an order she often breaks. The woman’s got a serious sweet tooth, and hasn’t found gluten-free desserts she likes. Packaged gluten-free desserts tend to be weirdly gritty and either bland or with a funky aftertaste. And they’re expensive. Because of this, I’ve been trying to stockpile gluten-free desserts recipes. The best results have been with desserts that are naturally gluten-free. But there are only so many times one can serve meringue cookies. And adapting recipes that generally use copious amounts of all-purpose flour is a little more than a little intimidating.

That’s why I was so happy to find Alternative Baker by Alanna Taylor-Tobin. Alanna uses gluten-free flours joyfully, paying close attention to texture and taste.  Alanna’s recipes are the sort I want to make regardless of my relationship to gluten. I’ve already bookmarked two desserts for Thanksgiving with Aaron’s parents- an elegant chestnut and caramel apple tart, and a comforting pumpkin pie spiked with ginger. There’s also apricot clafoutis with honey and cardamom, raspberry swirl biscuits, chocolate pear tea cakes … among others.

Alanna was a pastry chef before becoming a blogger/cookbook writer, and I love her unfussy but uncompromising eye for detail. Like these cookies, for instance. Alanna uses chocolate in three ways- she has you melt together chocolate and butter with citrus zest (she calls for bergamot, I used orange), fold in chocolate chunks to the batter, and then top the cookie with more chocolate and flaked salt. The layers of texture make for a satisfying cookie. The cookie manages to be both soft and chewy. It’s nutty and deep, with a heady does of orange. They remind me of brownie cookies, except better, because the buckwheat brings out the toasted, rich notes of the chocolate. It’s a subtle addition, but one that enriches the whole thing.

I’m certainly going to make these for my gluten-free loved ones. I’ll also be making these regularly for my glutinous self. And I already know what Aaron’s mom is getting for Christmas- perhaps even with a box of cookies.

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Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies with Orange

Alanna suggests portioning the cookies by the heaping tablespoon. I went a bit more generous (about 2 tablespoons) and ended up with a slightly smaller amount of healthy sized cookies. I like them so much I’ll do the same next time.

adapted from Alternative Baker by Alanna Taylor-Tobin

Makes about 20 cookies

6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter
12 ounces (345 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus extra for topping
1 tablespoon orange zest (1 medium)
1/2 cup (65 g) buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons (15 g) tapioca flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (130 g) cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Flaked salt for topping

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a heavy bottom pan over very low heat melt together the butter, 8 ounces of chocolate, and the orange zest. Stir often, making sure the bottom doesn’t scorch. When the chocolate and butter are warm and melted together remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl sift together the buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the eggs, sugar, and salt. Mix on high using a hand mixer (or do as Alanna suggests, and use the paddle attachment for a stand mixer) for 5 minutes, until the eggs are fluffy and light in texture. Reduce the speed to low, and add the vanilla extract and chocolate butter mixture. Once that’s well combined mix in the reserved flour. Turn off the mixer, and use a flexible rubber spatula to fold in the remaining 4 ounces of chopped chocolate.

The batter should resemble thick brownie batter at this point. If it doesn’t, pop it in the fridge for a bit. I had to let my batter sit in the fridge for 5 minutes before it was ready to scoop.

Using an ice cream scoop or two spoons, drop the batter onto the prepared cookie sheets. Make sure to leave about 2 inches between the cookies. Top the cookies with chopped chocolate and a pinch of flaked salt.

Bake the cookies for 8-12 minutes, rotating the trays halfway, until the edges are set and the tops are cracked. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray before eating. They will keep at room temperature for a few days. Alanna says to store them in an airtight container, but mine have been sitting quite happily in the open- all the better for snacking.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

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I’ve long loved the idea of frittatas, but have never loved an actual frittata. It seems so easy- combine eggs and vegetables, then sauté and broil! But whenever I’ve tried to make frittatas they end up dry and loveless. I eat them, because I don’t like to waste food, but I spend most of the time wishing I had made quiche instead.

That is until yesterday , when I found myself rereading An Everlasting Meal by the brilliant Tamar Adler. Adler gave sparse and urgent directions for making frittata, specifically for using up leftover. About frittatas made from leftover pasta, Adler writes,

“Other than the perfect solitary sybaritic breakfast of pasta eaten directly out of a cold bowl, in bewilderment and utter presence, this is the best use, I believe, of leftover pasta. Glory be.”

I had no leftover pasta to fill my frittata. Pasta tends to fall into the “if it’s on my plate I will eat it” category for me, so there’s unlikely to be leftover pasta frittatas in my future. If there is I will absolutely turn it into a frittata. But for now I wanted a frittata filled with mushrooms and shallots and sage, tasting of a fall walk and brilliant sunsets early in the day.

Because I’ve always had bad luck with my frittatas I did some research. (I consulted here and here in addition to Adler.) It took a bit of reading, a bit of cobbling, and thirty minutes for a gorgeous golden frittata has emerged from the oven.

The two tricks that I’ve never used before and now will never foresake are to add a bit of heavy cream, and to let the eggs just start to form an edge with the pan before transferring the frittata to the oven. Before I was trying to cook the eggs through on the stovetop, and then would broil the top. This ended up with an inferior product, dry and rubbery. There’s no dry spots here. Instead it’s soft and luscious, a happy melding of egg and vegetable and cream.

I chose crimini mushrooms, shallots, and sage for my filling because I couldn’t think of a better counterpart to a fall day than earthy mushrooms, woodsy sage, and sweet shallots. If you don’t have the urge to recreate feeling through food as I do, one of the beauties of frittatas is that they are not so much a recipe as a technique. There may be fillings for frittatas that aren’t delicious, but I cannot think of any.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

Serves 2-4

I used an 8 inch cast iron skillet for this, and it turned out perfect. If you have another oven safe skillet of the same size it work just fine, but you may need more butter.

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
6 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Melt the two tablespoons of butter in the large skillet. Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and shallots. Stir well so that it’s all coated in the melted butter, then add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the ground nutmeg. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and the shallots have all separated into long, loose strings, about 6 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another minute, until the whole mess smells woodsy and fragrant. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, and spread around the pan to let it cool quickly.

While the mushrooms are cooling whisk together in a large bowl the eggs, the heavy cream, and the remainder of the salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are cool enough to touch set an 8-inch cast iron skillet over low heat and allow it to warm. If your mushrooms are taking longer to cool than you’d like stir them often and spread them as thinly as possible. It should only take about 5 minutes for the mushrooms to cool.

Melt the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter in your cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms to the eggs, and stir well. Pour the mushroom-egg mixture into the preheated cast iron skillet. Allow the eggs to sit in the skillet just until edges where the egg and skillet meet start to develop. This should only take two or so minutes. Once that happens, kill the heat and place the skillet into the preheated oven.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Bake your frittata until the center is just set and doesn’t jiggle if you shake it. If your frittata is not there at 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until it is ready. Remove from the oven, and allow it to cool in the skillet for 5 minutes.

Place a plate over the skillet and invert the skillet so the frittata removes cleanly. If it sticks to the side, use an offset spatula or a butter knife to run around the rim.

Serve in fat wedges at room temperature.

 

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Cauliflower and Brown Ale Soup

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Aaron and I just returned from a long weekend Up North. Up North is the mystical land that exists in the Northern parts of the American Midwest. It’s the land of lakes and woods and hills and rivers. It’s the land of sweaters even in the summer, bonfires, and mugs of tea and hot toddies all day. It’s a location, yes, but mostly a state of mind. I’m convinced that going Up North is a requirement for being a Minnesotan. It was my first time experiencing Up North, so it only took me three years to belong to where I live.

It was a wonderful weekend. We were on the shore of Lake Superior, which Aaron casually informed me is the largest lake by area in the world. It was almost like a sea, complete with tides. The color shifted- here gunmetal gray, here dark pink, here churning blue- by the hour, and the shore was strewn with driftwood. We slept with a down comforter and the windows open. Aaron whittled a walking stick. I read a novel in a day. There was a wood fire hot tub. It was the exact mini vacation we needed.

I did not make this soup on our trip. I left most of the cooking to our friends who were with us, save some cookies and pies made in a truly dicey oven. But this is the soup that I made when we returned, and I spend a good part of our three hour drive home planning it. I’d also like to publicly proclaim my love and gratitude to Aaron, who not only tolerates my endless discussions of whether sage or thyme is better with cauliflower, but offers his opinions.

This is a deliciously easy soup. Onions and leeks form a sweet backbone, and the nuttiness of the cauliflower is echoes in the brown ale. The whole mess is seasoned with nutmeg, cardamom, mustard, and thyme (because that was the eventual verdict). It’s warming and comforting, clean but not bland. It’s the type of soup makes sense whether it’s sipped from tin cups in a cabin or served in china with cloth napkins.

The garnishes are completely optional, as always, but I find that they bring the whole soup together and make it feel like a full meal rather than two-thirds of one. If you’re interested supplementing this soup, it would be fantastic with some crusty bread, good butter, and a bountiful green salad.

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Cauliflower and Brown Ale Soup

Serves 4

When choosing the beer for this soup I’d prioritize malt over hops. I went with Newcastle Brown Ale, because it’s nutty and malty and sweet but not heavy. Any beer with those same qualities should be delicious.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced
salt
1 cauliflower head, trimmed and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon (about a pinch) cayenne pepper
2 cups brown ale
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For serving:

yogurt
crushed walnuts
olive oil
pepper flakes, such as Aleppo

In a large pot warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and a pinch of salt. Let the onions and leeks soften, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to take on a bit of color. This should take about 10 minutes.

Add in the cauliflower, garlic, thyme, mustard, spices, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir well, and let it cook until the cauliflower is just starting to break apart. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Add the beer and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft enough to break apart with a spoon.

Using a blender or an immersion blender blend the soup until smooth. Add the apple cider vinegar, and taste. Add as much salt as it needs, and taste again. It should be creamy and mild, nutty but not  boring. Blend again while slowly adding the last two tablespoons of olive oil.

Serve hot, topped with yogurt, Aleppo pepper flakes, crushed walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Radicchio Salad with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts

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Last week I made basically this salad at work for family meal. We had some radicchio to get rid of, and so I chopped it roughly and tossed it with some tarragon, bleu cheese from a new salad on my station, and some hazelnuts from an old salad. It was the first thing to disappear, and while eating it I thought it would fit in well here.

I love that this salad takes almost no time to make, but rewards with some big flavors. Radicchio is a bitter vegetable, with an almost medicinal bite. The tarragon brings in a sweet, anise note. The dressing plumps up currants and hazelnuts both with some red wine vinegar, which brings some sharpness and a wine-y sweetness to the salad. The hazelnuts and bleu cheese, however, really make this spectacular. In one bite you get bitter, tart, nutty, pungent, sweet, sharp, and creamy.

At family meal we ate this along side hoison and sriracha hot dogs. When making this at home I had it along side a baked potato. Neither of those were ideal, but hey, that’s how it works sometimes. If you’re looking for an ideal accompaniment, roast chicken (for meat eaters) or a quiche (for vegetarians) would be killer.

Sorry for the quick note, but I’m off experiencing “Up North” for the first time. I’ll be back with more soon. Until then, happy Monday.

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Radicchio Salad with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts

To prepare the radicchio I cut the head into quarters, then cut each quarter in half and sliced very thinly. A mandoline would also work well. In order to crush the hazelnuts, you could use the flat side of a chef’s knife (or a heavy, flat bottomed glass or ramekin) to push the hazelnuts down until they break.

1 large head of radicchio, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
2 ounces creamy, mild bleu cheese, like gorgonzola
1/2 a shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon currants
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
1/4 cup hazelnuts, crushed

In a small bowl combine the currents, shallots, and red wine vinegar. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl combine the radicchio, tarragon, and bleu cheese. Pinch the bleu cheese off into pieces about the size of a hazelnut. Add the dressing and toss well, making sure the whole thing is well covered and well combined. Top with the crushed hazelnuts and serve.

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