Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Freezer Sweet Cucumber Pickles

For the first time in years, we have cucumbers in our garden. Every year, we purchase plants and set them out early and wait with anticipation, only to be disappointed at the yield. This year, I ordered seeds - Sweet Burpless Hybrid and Sugar Crunch Hybrid - from Burpee and the cucumber crop has been extremely successful.

With all the cucumbers, I knew I had to make pickles. During my time as an Extension Agent, I canned a lot of pickles, and to be honest, I was not looking forward to the long process of making the brine and then processing the jars. So I turned to my friend Barb and asked for her recipe for Freezer Pickles. I know you are thinking, you can't freeze pickles! Believe me, you can and they are very good. I altered Barb's recipe by reducing the amount of sugar from 1 3/4 cup to 1 cup. If you have a mandoline, it will make the work of slicing all the cucumbers a breeze. For me, the mandoline works better than the food processor.

Freezer Sweet Cucumber Pickles

8 cups thinly sliced cucumbers - mandoline setting 1/8"
1 medium Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
Combine cucumbers, onions and salt in a large container. Let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. Rinse cucumbers and drain thoroughly in a colander. Press to remove as much liquid as possible.

1 to 1 3/4 cups sugar (to you taste)
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
Heat all ingredients in a saucepan to a boil. Pour over the drained cucumbers and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, stirring occasionally. Pack in freezer bags or containers and freeze.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Panzanella and Basil Mayonnaise

When the tomatoes are ripe in the garden, it is time to make Panzanella and Basil Mayonnaise. My inspiration for Panzanella comes from Giada (Panzanella : Food Network). Panzanella is basically a tossed salad with bread substituted for lettuce. I changed a few things and you can personalize my version with your favorite salad ingredients. For the bread, I used a ciabatta loaf from Panera Bread but it also works well with other breads. I first saw Basil Mayonnaise in Southern Living and it adds a new dimension to tomato sandwiches.

1 loaf ciabatta
Olive oil
5 large summer tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated with a microplane
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped green olives
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup (or 1/2 jar) roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
Parmesan cheese, grated

Cut the ciabatta into 1-inch pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 425 degree oven until lightly browned. Toss the bread with the chopped tomatoes.

Combine the vinegar, garlic and olive oil in a jar and season with salt and pepper. Pour about 1/2 of the viniagrette over the bread and tomato mixture and toss to coat. Place half the bread mixture in an oblong serving bowl. Top with half of the onions, olives, capers, peppers and basil. Repeat layers and top with grated Parmesan. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Serves 8.

Basil Mayonnaise
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup basil leaves
Zest of one lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until the basil is finely chopped.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Redneck Surfing!

A new sport was created at Quail Hollow --- Redneck Surfing! Take some innovative teenagers with a lake and a will to do something crazy and you have Redneck Surfing. Watch for Redneck Surfing in the 2016 Olympics!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Granny's Birthday Celebration

Kenny's mom turned 87 on July 17th. On the July 19th, all of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren gathered at our barn to celebrate. Everyone had a great time swimming at the Fairbrothers (thanks Tonya and Scooter), riding the trails, fishing, eating and talking. I loved watching the children as they created and renewed bonds with their cousins of all ages. We have to do this more often!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Retirement Celebration #101

My retirement celebrations continue. Dale treated Susan and me to a wonderful lunch at Maggianno's at Lenox. We enjoyed the wonderful Family Style Lunch and Maggianno's treat for our retirement. As you can tell by the pictures, Susan loved the chocolate!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rainy Day in the Kitchen

There is nothing better than a rainy summer day. But this was not a day to waste napping and watching movies, it was a day to play in the kitchen. With our annual Tomato Festival only weeks away, today is a perfect day to experiment with new tomato recipes.

The July issue of Gourmet has a feature article on tomatoes and the recipe that caught my eye was Tomato Bread Pudding. The finished dish looked delicious, the flavor was good, but it wasn't quite right for our tastes. Juliette and yellow plum tomatoes were substituted for the Romas. Since these tomatoes are about half the size of Romas, there seemed to be more skin that pulp. Next time I will use peeled tomatoes, sliced and layered on top of the bread.

Fish Tales

After several days of fishing and stories about the "one that got away" we finally had fish for dinner.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fun in the Sun!

A trip to the beach is the ultimate summer vacation. I love the hot weather, the sunshine, the water, the seafood... I love it all! And this year's vacation lived up to all my expectations. The Florida Keys are unique. The lifestyle is very casual and slow. There is no traffic, no amusement parks, no putt-putt, and no Internet. The first three were definitely not missed, but I must say, it was very hard to be separated from the world. The only place in Marathon with free wireless access was the public library. After 2 days off-line, I used the handy GPS to find the local library. Unfortunately, the library is closed on Mondays, but you can access the wireless from the parking lot. If someone had been serving coffee in the parking lot, I would have sworn we were at a local coffee shop. The Monroe County Library even has access to power outside in case you have a low battery! I quickly found out that this was a hot spot for those suffering from cyberspace withdrawal.

Our home for the was nothing spectacular, but it had everything we needed - a pool and a boat dock on the canal. We also had a lot of wildlife in the form or iguanas. They were everywhere and some were HUGE! They loved to hang out at the pool with us.

Thanks to Payton and Terri, we had a boat for the week. One night we took the boat to Sparky's for dinner. It was the perfect evening. The water was calm so the boat ride was great. Sparky's is a dockside restaurant that has delicious meals - the best we had during our stay. We started out with the tasty Artichoke and Crab Dip served piping hot. I ordered crab cakes and they were yummy. Reeves ordered his favorite sushi but the best meal of the night was Terri's Shrimp and Bacon Pizza. After dinner we cruised home at sunset to the sounds of beach music and danced on the deck. It was a night to remember.

Dancing with My Favorite Men